Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"The Halloween Tree" Chapter 14

In Chapter 14 of Ray Bradbury's completely intoxicating The Halloween Tree, the boys fly through the night on brooms and learn a thing or two about witches... oh, and that riding on brooms ain't so easy!
"But, Pip, it's awful hard to ride a broomstick, I find!"
"Funny you say that," said Henry-Hank.  "I agree."
Everyone agreed, falling off, hanging on, climbing back.
 To add to the difficulty of the situation, it's not just the nine of them on their nine brooms.  There are many brooms, hundreds of brooms, maybe even thousands upon thousands of brooms, all competing for the same airspace.  And with so many broomsticks, and the elements of the wind and the clouds and the darkness, the boys get pretty beat up in their flight.

Now, little gay boys, such as myself, hate getting hurt.  I get a paper cut and I'm complaining about it for days.  But straight boys?  Gosh, they love it!  Pain is so thrilling to them, and each cut or bruise is like an award they brag about...
"Hey, I got a bloody nose!" gasped Tom, happily, looking at the red on his fingers.
"Shucks!" cried Pipkin, going into a cloud dry and coming out wet.  "That's nothing.  I got one eye shut, one ear bad, and lost a tooth!"
 They're also unsure as to where exactly they are supposed to be going.  Pipkin has been saying to meet him for sometime now, but he's never been very specific as to where exactly.  And when Pipkin is suddenly swallowed up by a cloud, they have no way of following him anymore.
"Meet him in the air?" Tom snorted.  "Good grief, talk about horrible directions to nowhere!"
"See even more horrible directions!" said Moundshroud, sailing by on a broom that looked like a wet and angry cat on the end of a mop.  "Would you see witches, boys?  Hags, crones, conjure wives, magicians, black magics, demons, devils?  There they be, in mobs, in riots, boys.  Skin your eyeballs."
And down below they could see the witches!  Stirring cauldrons, making fires, yelling up at the night sky.  The boys are surprised, they never knew witches were real.
"Real?" Moundshroud, insulted, almost fell from his bramble-cat broom.  "Ye little gods and fishes, lad, every town has its resident witch.  Every town hides some old Greek pagan priest, some Roman worshiper of tiny gods who ran up the roads, hid in the culverts, sank in the caves to escape the Christians!  In every tiny village, boy, in every scrubby farm the old religions hide out. You saw the druids cut and chopped, eh?  They hid from the Romans.  And now the Romans, who fed Christians to lions, run themselves to hide.  So all the little lollygaggin' cults, all flavors and types, scramble to survive.  See how they run, boys!"
The witches below all run and hide, quick as black cats.  The boys begin to ask Moundshroud what the witches are able to do, and are disappointed to find out that witches only thought they had powers... really, they weren't able to do any of the stuff people thought they could do.

 Moundshroud explains that the word "witch" came from the word "wits" and that in those days, anyone who seemed to be smarter than the rest was said to be a witch.  And some of those people played along, and really believed it of themselves in the end.  From some distant place, a song is heard, which explains it all even more:
"The Broomworks makes
The Broom that looms
On sky in gloom and rising of the moon
That broom which, groom to witch, flies high
On harvestings of stormwind grass
With shriek and sigh to motion it
In ocean-seas of cloud, now soft, now loud...!
Did witches feel the night wind in their bed
And reel and dance with devils and the dead?
But that is what they bragged and claimed and said!
Until whole continents, hellbent
Named 'witches' of the Innocent,
And did conspire
To burn old women, babes, and virgins in a fire.
Through all of Germany and France,
Ten thousand so-called evil witches
Hung to kick their final antic dance
No village but what shared a dread uproar
As each side named the other for a devil's pig,
Old Satan's sow, the Demon's maddened boar.
All Europe was a cloud of witches smoke.
Their judges often bound and burnt with them
For what?  A joke!
Until: 'all men are spoiled with guilt!
All sin, all lie!'
So, what to do?
Why, everyone must die!"
And as witches are rounded up below and put to death by hanging, the boys fly on.  Until they land on a street in Paris.

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