Karen's just glad she knows ahead of time. It's only a few days, but still – enough time to hastily prepare the house for what is bound to be known by all of Stoneybrook as The Christmas Apocalypse.
Or maybe, That One Time Morbidda Destiny Smoked Half of Stoneybrook Off the Map.
The Black Winter. Tinsel-Season Terror. Witchy Winter.
Karen is pulled out of her daydreaming by Kristy knocking on her bedroom door. She looks down at her desk, which has scraps of coloured paper scattered all over it.
“What are you doing?” Kristy asks.
“Making decorations,” Karen says innocently. “Will you help me put them around the house?”
“Sure,” Kristy says. “These are pretty.”
“Yes,” Karen agrees, and she thinks how fortunate it is that stars blend so well into regular Christmas apparel. “It is very important we put a lot of them in the dining room.”
“Well, let's go ask Mom,” Kristy says, collecting a handful of stars. “The dining room might be covered already.”
Karen knows it won't be. She specifically asked for decorating privileges in the dining room, knowing that their guest would be spending most of her time there.
“Is Mor – uh – Mrs. Porter definitely coming for Christmas dinner?” Karen asks, following Kristy with a pile of paper stars in her hands.
“Definitely,” Kristy says.
“Kristy,” Karen says painfully, “inviting a witch into your home is suicide. Everybody knows that.”
“It's not,” Kristy says, and she gives Karen a look – a look that Karen recognises well. (Kristy has slipped momentarily into President Baby-sitter Mode, and Karen knows this doesn't bode well for her.)
“It is,” Karen insists, not able to give up just yet. “We may as well just –”
“Karen,” Kristy says sharply.
Karen bites her lip and jumps the last two stairs. Elizabeth is at the front door sorting through a pile of mail.
“May I decorate the dining room?” Karen asks, knowing that the decorating must take place with a happy spirit and no-trouble-whatsoever. (Trouble only makes Evil Powers more powerful. Karen needs the atmosphere to be a very Christmassy one if she's going to save the entire neighbourhood.)
“Sure,” Elizabeth says, smiling. “Those are beautiful, Karen. I like the gold ones.”
“You may hang the gold ones,” Karen says graciously, aiming to bump the goodwill and happiness up another notch.
Her father, Charlie and Andrew all file in to help. Charlie stands on the table in socked feet and hooks stars to the chandelier with string, which pleases Karen greatly. “Make sure the point goes straight up, Charlie,” she says. “They need to be straight.”
“These ones, too?” her father asks. He waggles a star in his hand. “Don't you want them a little askew? Jaunty?”
Elizabeth laughs at the word jaunty.
“No!” Karen says. “The point must go straight up. It is very important.”
Kristy has a suspicious look on her face, but everyone follows directions, and soon the dining room is decorated with coloured paper stars, a pentagram pencilled very carefully onto the back of each one.
“That will have to do,” Karen says critically. She waits for everyone else to file out again, and makes double-sure all the stars – pentagrams – have a point directed straight up. She knows that an inverted pentagram will backfire with the worst possible consequences. An inverted pentagram would, as she had warned Kristy, be suicide in a situation like this.
Karen finds Sam in the kitchen, wiping milk off his lip and putting the carton back in the fridge.
“Sam,” she says. “Have you seen any suspicious behaviour next door today?”
Sam is the only one she trusts to tell her the truth. Kristy does not like Sam telling her the truth. Karen does not like that Sam thinks the truth is so funny, but she's willing to put up with his badly-stifled laughter for snippets of information.
“Uh, no,” Sam says, looking over towards Morbidda Destiny's house. “Not lately.”
“Did you know Daddy has invited Morbidda Destiny to Christmas dinner?” Karen asks in an urgent whisper.
“Yeah,” Sam says. “I hope she doesn't bring witch food, huh.”
Karen's eyes widen. “Do not eat anything she brings,” she says urgently. “Only eat what Elizabeth cooks.”
“Gotcha,” Sam says solemnly.
“Inviting a witch into the house is a terrible idea,” Karen says. “If you invite them in, their magic is more powerful. They do not have to leave again. They can do terrible, terrible things.” She widens her eyes as much as she possibly can, and is gratified when Sam looks less amused and more worried.
“Karen,” he says. “First of all, I don't think Mrs. Porter is going to do anything on Christmas Day. Even witches need to take a vacation, you know?”
“That's exactly what she wants you to think!” Karen says.
“And,” Sam says, holding up a finger to silence her, “that rule only applies to vampires, and I’m absolutely positive Mrs. Porter is not a vampire.”
Karen folds her arms and thinks about this. “Vampires?”
“Yes,” Sam says. “If you invite a vampire in, it's trouble. But witches? Nah.”
Karen frowns at him. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Sam says. “Also, I’m sure you've noticed a distinct lack of Bad Activity coming from next door lately.”
“That just means she's saving up for something big!” Karen explodes.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees, “but I think she's going to shoot fireworks from her chimney on New Year's Eve.”
Karen's heart skips a beat. “Really?”
“Yeah, and it takes a lot of magic to do that. You need permits from the council and everything. So she's probably going to save up for that.”
“Oh.” Karen expels a relieved breath. “How do you know this?”
“I can't reveal my sources,” Sam says solemnly.
Karen stares at him for a long moment, but she doesn't think he's lying. He's being serious, and it's without the weight of Kristy's Baby-sitter Glare upon him.
“Okay,” she says eventually. “But, Sam?”
“Will you sit beside me on Christmas Day? Just in case?”
“You got it,” Sam says, and he holds out his hand for a high five. Karen slaps his palm and goes to check on the pentagrams again.
Just to be safe.