The Gallowes and Poppy
It only took two days after the incident for Ivy to realize something strange was happening; her headaches were gone. Not gradually. They had been there one day, and gone the next. Ivy had never experienced such painless bliss before. Once she had noticed this, she immediately told her parents and Tip.
Her parents were skeptical about whether the headaches were gone for good. “We’ll have to wait and see,” her father had said gently, as if he were already preparing her for disappointment.
Tip, on the other hand, was about as happy as Ivy was. “Oh, Ivy! I can’t believe it!” she cried while jumping.
Ivy grinned. “Me neither!”
To top it all off, Mustard Hair had apologized for dropping her off the building. Ivy still hadn’t remembered his name; she didn’t like him enough to. As if that wasn’t enough good for a while, the Gallowes was coming up.
The Gallowes was a celebration; on this day, the sun never rose. It would be pitch black all day. Her teacher explained that while there was no explanation for this event, the witches and wizards of back then would light candles and make special food to appease the sun, and to make sure it rose the next day. Back then, the Gallowes wasn’t good. But now, it was guaranteed that the sun would rise, and they were to celebrate this miracle.
When Ivy awoke on the day of the Gallowes, she woke to blackness, and an excited itch started in her stomach. Soon, her parents would be lighting candles, and cooking celebratory food no one ate anymore. Maybe they would make salted caramel, or fried newt, or even stuffed chicken! Ivy’s mouth began to water.
After she had gotten dressed, her parents were sorting out their many, many candles. “I’d like to light the honey one!” Ivy yelled.
Her parents chuckled. “How about we each choose two?” her mother offered. In the end, they had six candles lit; lavender, honey, pine forest, apple, cotton, and vanilla cake. The house smelled more fragrant than it had since last year.
Mother declined to cook this year, much to Ivy’s disappointment. “I think we’ll be going to the Bonfire this year,” she said as an excuse.
But it was a good excuse. “The Bonfire?” Ivy shrieked. She had wanted to go for as long as she could remember, but her parents always said no, that she was much too young. “Am I old enough now?” she wondered aloud.
Her father chuckled and ruffled her hair. “You’re old enough to be in school, yeah? I think you’re old enough to go to the Bonfire,” he explained.
Ivy jumped about so much, she began to involuntarily float. “Oh!” she yelped, stunned, and immediately flopped back to the ground. “I can’t wait! When’re we going?” she asked.
Her mother stole a glance at the old grandfather clock. “Oh, maybe… At 4:00, perhaps,” she said.
Ivy jumped up and down. “Okay!”
She rushed upstairs to call Tip. “Tip, Tip, Tip!”
“What?” Tip asked.
“I’m going to the Bonfire tonight. Are you?”
Tip shrieked on the other line. “Yes, Ivy! My mom and dad said yes too!”
“Yay!” Ivy nearly floated again. “I can’t wait, Tip!”
“Me neither. Ohh, I gotta go. Mom’s cooking. See you!” Ivy responded in like before hanging up.
Hours later, Ivy stood in front of the mirror. Without her knowing, Yvette had bought her a dress for the Bonfire. It was the color of clean snow, but had a jet black sash around her waist and a black over skirt. Black ribbons were stitched into her sleeves as well. “Mama, it’s so pretty…” she whispered, brushing her fingers over the delicate fabric.
Yvette walked out wearing a dress the color of fire, with yellow ribbons. “I’m glad you like it,” she said warmly.
“You look pretty!” Ivy cried as she saw her mother’s dress.
Yvette smiled. “Thank you, sweetheart,” she said. There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Yvette called.
Ferdinand walked in. “You two look absolutely lovely,” he said before kissing his wife and hugging his daughter.
“You look amazing, papa!” Ivy said. Her father’s hair had been neatly combed, his suit was a deep navy blue, and his shirt was a nice cream. “Can we go now?” she begged.
Yvette and Ferdinand burst into laughter. “My goodness, Yvette. I do think that she got the impatience from you,” Ferdinand chuckled.
Yvette scowled playfully. “No, you!” she cried.
“You two…” Ivy whined, and they laughed some more. Eventually, they relented. As she was still six, Ivy hadn’t gotten around to learning how to handle a broom yet, so her mother rode her broom with Ivy sitting behind her. Her father led the way with his broom.
Ivy smelled the Bonfire before she saw it. The thick smoke clung to the air, and the chill of the night began to melt away like chocolate. At first, the smoke itched and burned down Ivy’s nostrils, and she had to resist the sudden, strong urge to sneeze. But as they neared the Bonfire, the bad smell of smoke lingered, but was overshadowed by stronger, better smells. Among the scents were lilac and rose, pine, vanilla and cinnamon, mint, grass, and petrichor, the smell of dust after rain. “Mama, it doesn’t smell like smoke now,” Ivy commented.
Yvette laughed lightly. “No, it doesn’t. It’d be too strong, Ivy. You should be happy about that.”
“I am, mama. The smoke itched.”
Finally, they began the descent back to earth. Once Ivy’s feet touched the earth, she began to run. “Ivy! Where are you going?” Yvette called.
“I’m finding Tip!”
“Not yet you aren’t!”
Ivy stopped running and sighed. “Okay,” she mumbled. For a while, the Bonfire wasn’t as much fun as Ivy had expected. She had wanted to run and jump and dance and shriek and play with Tip. Instead, she had to stay right by either Yvette or Ferdinand’s side at all times. It was terribly boring.
About an hour after they had arrived, Ivy heard something above the rumble of voices and crackling of the fire. “Ivy! Ivy? Is that you?”
Ivy turned around, a big smile on her face. “Tip?”
Tip ran up to her. “Hey!” she cried. Even Tip looked amazing that night. Her blonde hair was usually a frizzy disaster, but that night, her hair was clipped away neatly. Her dress was a light pink color, and it had small white rose buttons and clips on it. It managed to flatter Tip’s chubby frame.
“I love your dress!” Ivy said.
Tip laughed. “I like yours, too!”
Ivy pointed towards the food stick in Tip’s hand. “Where’d you get that, Tip?” she asked. At this point, her stomach was beginning to growl.
Tip pointed towards the left. “Smoked turkey leg. I’ll show you!” she said.
Ivy hesitated. “Umm, I have to ask mama.” She turned to Yvette. “Can I go get food?” she asked.
Yvette chuckled lightly. “All right, sweetie. But here’s some money, okay? Spend it well,” she advised.
Ivy nodded. “Okay!” Over the next hour, Ivy and Tip bought and sampled several types of food; smoked turkey legs, fried bread and pumpkin sauce, and pecan bread. Finally, they each opted for dessert: Tip took pecan puffs, and Ivy took a slice of pumpkin cake studded with salted caramel and stuffed with honey. It was messy and dripped down her fingers as she ate, but it was worth it.
Well, up to a point.
“Oh no!” Tip cried. “Ivy, look!”
Ivy’s eyes widened at Tip’s cries, and she glanced down at her dress. Her heart skipped a beat. “The honey! It dripped on my shirt!” she shouted.
Tip sighed. “Your mama’s gonna be mad, Ivy.”
Before Ivy could respond, she heard the sound of trumpets. Her skin went cold, and she dropped the rest of her cake. “Wh-what?” she sputtered.
Tip had gone pale. “Oh no…” she breathed, and then a magnified voice burst through the crowd of people: “Everyone, a Blue Psyche has been spotted fifteen miles away. Return home and lock the doors, and cast the best protective spells immediately. Time is of the essence.”
The reaction was immediate. There were shrieks and gasps and running feet. “I gotta find mama and papa! You too, Tip!” Ivy shouted.
Tip nodded gravely. “Good luck, Ivy!” she called as they separated in the crowd.
Psyches were bad enough. Whenever one bit you, you were infected. But rather than getting a disease of the body, it was your mind that was under attack. Ivy knew she could deal with physical pain and illness; her headaches had forced her to have an incredibly high pain tolerance. But mental illness sounded like a completely different battle.
At least it’s not a Green Psyche… Ivy thought. Of course, Blue Psyches were plenty dangerous, but Green Psyches were known to cause the most deadly illnesses, and could destroy entire towns. “Mama! Papa!” Ivy howled.
Finally, she heard someone shriek, “Ivy! Where are you?”
“Papa! Over here!” She saw her father in the crowd quickly.
“Ivy! Get over here, now!” he bellowed.
“Yes papa!” She ran over towards him, and he turned around. “Yvette! I found her!”
Yvette ran up to them. “Oh, thank God!” she gasped. “We have to get home, now!” she said. Both she and Ferdinand took their brooms out of their bags. “I bet you’re glad we bought some brooms that favor speed now, huh?” she asked. Ferdinand had wanted heavier brooms that resisted wind more than light, quick brooms.
He sighed. “Yes, honey, I’m glad,” he admitted. “But we have to get home. That’s all that matters now.”
Yvette nodded and got on her broom, with Ivy in the back. “Hold on, Ivy,” she whispered gently. Ivy nodded. “Yes, mama,” she said.
The sky was crowded with brooms and their occupants. The evacuation was taking much too long, even Ivy knew that. “Mama, I’m afraid.”
Yvette sighed. “Of course you are, sweetie. I’m scared too.”
That wasn’t the right thing to say. Ivy gasped, and her heart skipped a little. Even her mom was afraid. Anything that could make mothers afraid wasn’t good. Not good at all. “But it’s going to be okay, sweetie. It’s far from our house, okay? No need to be too scared.” That didn’t help either.
It took a whole hour to make it home; it was enough time for Ivy to calm down and nearly fall asleep. She suddenly felt the familiar bump and roll of the belly that meant they’d landed. “Mama, what-?” she began, but was cut off by a sudden cry nearby.
Ferdinand and Yvette turned around. “Ferdinand, what was that?” Yvette whispered.
Ferdinand shook his head. “I-I dunno, Yvette.”
Ivy caught a glimpse of someone running. “It’s someone!” she cried. “A person!” she said to clarify.
The person was an older woman, big and clad in a dress the color of periwinkle and lavender. From this distance, Ivy thought she could make out frizzy gray hair. She hollered something at them.
“What’s she saying?” Ivy asked, though it was pointless; neither Yvette or Ferdinand understood a word the woman was yelling.
The woman ran closer and closer to them, and Ivy finally made out the words, “Please! Help me! I have nowhere to go!”
Yvette gasped. “Ferdinand, what do we do? What if…” she trailed off, too afraid to say the rest of a dreaded sentence: What if she’s infected?
Ferdinand shook his head. “We’ll see, Yvette. I don’t think it’s yet time to worry.”
Finally, the woman caught up to them. “Oh!” she gasped. “Please, I don’t live here. I came for The Bonfire. I know no one. Let me stay with you, I’m begging!” She was borderline hysterical.
Yvette gripped her wand a little tighter. “All right. Fine, we’ll let you in. But if I believe that you’re suspicious… I will stop at nothing to defend my family. Do you understand?”
The woman choked a little. “Oh, I don’t blame you! I would do the same,” she whispered.
The moment they hurried into the house, the woman tore open her bag and yanked out bottles filled with gooey black potion. “What are you doing?” Ferdinand shouted.
The woman stared at them. “Saving our lives,” she snapped, and immediately yanked open the windows.
Ivy was startled; it was as if the hysterical, scared woman outside was gone, and instead, here was someone incredibly over confident who would get them all killed. “What’re you doing? We’re going to die!” she screamed. The woman paid no attention, and she dashed out the door. Ivy caught a glimpse of her running around the house, pouring the gooey black potion in a big circle around their house. It stank of sulfur and tar. Ivy gripped her nose. “We have protective potions. This is weird…” she whispered.
The woman suddenly ran back into the house, and she shut every door and window. “There!” she cried.
Ferdinand snarled, “Ma’am, I don’t understand what you’re doing. We have spells and potions. What was the point of that?”
The woman fluffed her gray hair. “Those potions and spells are weak. That potion outside is stronger. Nothing can get in for a total of twelve hours.”
“Can we go outside?” Yvette begged.
The woman nodded. “Yes, but there’s a Psyche somewhere out there. I wouldn’t advise it,” she said.
Ivy raised her hand. “Ma’am?” she asked. “Who are you?”
The woman looked at Ivy for a long moment. “Now there’s a good question, dear,” she said softly. Ivy had noticed that the woman seemed to be a classic grandmother type; plump and soft, and plenty gray. But her eyes ruined the image; they were a bright silver color, but they weren’t soft. They were sharp and intuitive, and Ivy felt like her soul was being analyzed whenever the woman looked at her. It was very uncomfortable. The woman leaned down a little. “My name is Poppy, dear. I came to this town to speak specifically to you.”