It was the house opposite us. For some months it stood empty and abandoned after the Richardsons had moved. It had been built fairly recently, some five years ago and three years ago the Richardsons moved in. Then Bill Richardson got a job at a university elsewhere and the family moved out.
A little after that, I was surprised to see a group of women on the covered porch and seated on the steps talking. I waved and went indoors remarking to Louisa May that it looked as if the house was occupied again. She 'hmmed' and continued with her book. I went to my study, followed by the cat and marked papers while the cat sat on the desk and slowly settled.
A week later it dawned on me that I hadn't seen the women around. I hoped they were alright and decided to go across the road and see if they were alright. I strolled across the road and up the lawn, for there was no clear path to the steps of the porch. Before I could knock at the door, it opened and one of the women appeared on the porch. I was struck instantly at her almost ethereal beauty. Her hair was dark brown, like molten dark chocolate and framed her face in waves and curls. Her skin was as pale as her hair was dark and the mouth was small and full, the lips pale and un-made up. Her dress was long, made of a dark red satin that seemed to have black tones to it. The neckline was high, almost like a Victorian dress and just like that, it was trimmed with old lace. The effect was charming.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Hello," I began, "I hadn't seen anyone around for a while and I wondered if everything was alright."
She smiled and said it was sweet of me to ask but that everything was fine. I said I was glad to hear it and asked if she and her friends worked at the university. She said they didn't and said,
"You live across the road. With the cat and the rather pretty woman."
It wasn't a question, more a statement and I smiled and said I did and that I would tell Louisa May that she was thought pretty. I said that she and I were married. For a moment it seemed that all conversation was dead and that being the case, I said that we were happy to help if we could and that they shouldn't hesitate to ask. I was glad that they were alright though. I bid her goodbye and left with a wave. She seemed a lovely young woman, but a little intimidating for some reason I couldn't put my finger on. I turned at our door and glanced across, but she had gone indoors. I went in too and told Louisa May about the young woman and what she'd said. She smiled and said it was sweet of the young woman.
The following morning I woke up and having prepared myself for the day went down and opened the door to get the paper and the post. My eye was drawn suddenly by the sheer riot of colour from across the road. The whole of the front garden was full of plants. Small trees and bushes, but mostly lots of flowers. The whole garden seemed to be composed of nothing else. I saw that there was a pathway but that it had been moved to the side of the garden and it was definitely there. I picked up the paper and straightened up. The cat meowed to hurry me in to feed her. I went back indoors and shook my head vigorously. Surely all those plants could not have grown overnight?
Yet they had the look of plants that had not jsut been planted but had been there for some time. I fed the cat and sat down with the paper but I could not concentrate. The sheer abundance of the flowers, the intensity of foliage - the burgeoning bloom of nature all seemed somehow unreal and strangely shocking. As if I had been told that a bishop had been seen publicly doing the Can-can.
Then Louisa May came down to breakfast and I told her about the garden. She remained unimpressed until she had seen it for herself. Then she raised an eyebrow and said she should find out who their gardener was and if he or she would be available to do our garden. I shook my head in amazement and kissing her goodbye went off to work.
The following day I saw that the building, barely visible behind the plants had changed. Where it had been red brick and modern double glazed doors and windows, now it was something strange and wonderful. There was an onion shaped dome and minarets. The top of a colonnade was just visible through the foliage. It looked like a fairytale Oriental palace had suddenly been transplanted there. It made me smile at the sheer dreamlike quality of it.
But the day after that, it had changed again. It was now a Gothic edifice with pointed towers and arched windows with decoration around the frames and sills. Even as I stood and watched in the late evening, just before night fell, the building changed again. Its dark stone became lighter and more honey-coloured stone. The windows stretched and broadened. The arches lost their points and became more rounded. The tower seemed to shrink and become an Ancient Greek style facade complete with a carved frieze of figures. I went indoors quickly and shut the door hurriedly. When I mentioned it to Louisa May she smiled. I told her I was serious - either that or I was losing my mind.
"Oh no, you aren't losing your mind, the building is changing. I don't think the ladies have made up their minds yet," she said calmly.
"What do you mean?" I asked her incredulously.
She threw me the paper and I glanced at the page.
"Witchcraft in the Neighbourhood"
read the headline. I was truly astonished. The very idea of witches in our quiet suburban street seemed utterly preposterous. Yet, when I glanced out of our front window at the house, I could still see it changing its shape.
It seemed, from the article that a coven of witches was believed to have moved into the neighbourhood. There were six witches and one of them had been seen in the local market. A local boy in the street had been paid for collecting spiders and three newts the article reported.
"Good grief! Has the whole world gone mad?" I asked.
"Darling the world has been mad for centuries. Didn't you notice?" Louisa May answered, not looking up from her book.
"Well really, I mean... witches?!! It's absurd. Still at least they aren't preparing to burn them at the stake," I said sarcastically.
"Well we are in the 21st century sweetheart. We don't want to offend the witch community. After all, they aren't doing any harm," my beloved wife replied dryly.
I harrumphed and stomped off to my study, which earned me severe teasing from Louisa May who said I'd flounced. I said I most certainly had not, but she would have none of it. I had definitely flounced. The following morning, I went across to see the women. I strolled a little anxiously up the path, with the plants either side of me. I had the distinct impression that the plants were sizing me up.
The building seemed to have settled for now in the Art Nouveau style. It was a little extreme in its interpretation of the style, but rather lovely in its own way. I was again not permitted to knock on the door, for it was opened it when I was almost within reach. This time a tall very thin young woman with red hair answered the door and greeted me.
I handed her the paper and said that I thought it was a disgrace to accuse her and her friends of being witches. The woman smiled and then giggled. She handed me back the paper and thanked me for showing it to her.
"Most amusing," she said.
"Well I'm glad you see the funny side of it," I answered, and was about to say more when she looked straight into my eyes with her green intense eyes and grinned.
Opening her iridescent wings she turned and went back inside the house leaving me gawping until I recalled myself and returned home. No wonder the faerie found being called a witch amusing.