"This is it," Kate said, getting out of the car.
Cooper and Annie climbed out and looked around. The cabin they had pulled up in front of was surrounded by pine trees. Behind it, the woods gave way to a sandy beach, and a short dock stretched out into the gently rolling waters of the lake. The cabin itself was small and painted white, with green shutters at the windows. It belonged to Kate's family, and the three friends were using it for the weekend.
"The lake might be warm enough for swimming," Kate said. "And there's a rowboat up by the house if we want to paddle around."
Annie checked her watch. "The ritual starts at six", she said. "We should probably eat something and get dressed."
"Okay," Cooper said as they made sandwiches in the cabin's little kitchen a while later. "Tell me about what's going on tonight. All I really know is that there will be a bunch of witches and pagans running around. Did Tyler tell you anything else?"
Kate shook her head. "Not really," she said. "He was kind of secretive about it. He just said that lots of different covens get together and do a lot of fun stuff. It all seems to center around this dance in the woods, which is why Sophia told us to make costumes. But that's all I know about it."
"I see you dyed your hair for the occasion," Annie commented as she gave Cooper's pale green hair an approving glance.
"It seemed sort of Midsummery," Cooper said. "Not that I really know much about what Midsummer really is."
"I looked that up," Annie said, clearly pleased that someone was giving her a chance to show off her recently acquired knowledge. "Midsummer is the longest dayof the year, which also means it's the shortest night. Pagans also call it Litha, although I couldn't really find out what that means. I think it must have something to do with light."
"That's it?" Cooper said. "That doesn't sound like anything to make a big fuss about."
"Tell it to the old witches who made up the Wheel of the Year," Annie replied. "I didn't do it."
"I'm sure we'll learn more about it when we get to the gathering," Kate said. "And I'm sure it will be interesting. Every other sabbat celebration we've been to has been."
That was true. The three friends had only experienced two of the eight sabbats, or holidays, that made up what was called the Wheel of the Year, but both of those sabbats had had unforgettable results. At Ostara, the sabbat commemorating the beginning of spring, they had met two people who quickly became important in their lives. One was Sasha, a runaway who had later been taken in by a member of a local coven. The other was Tyler. He was Kate's boyfriend--for now. She'd broken up with someone else to go out with Tyler, and recently a kiss between Kate and this ex-boyfriend, Scott, had raised some doubts in Kate about her feelings for Tyler. At the May Day sabbat of Beltane, Cooper had had her own experience with the power of magic when she'd come face-to-face with a dead girl who had been haunting her dreams, dragging them all into a roller coaster of an adventure that had culminated in Annie's kidnapping and the unmasking of the girl's murderer.
Now they were about to celebrate the third sabbat of the year and a day they had committed themselves to studying with their Wicca class. School had ended for the year only a few days ago. Finals were behind them, and they had the long, lazy summer to look forward to. Starting it off with a celebration with their Wiccan friends was the perfect beginning to what was sure to be a great couple of months. They'd each been working on a costume for the big event, and now it was time to show one another what they'd decided to be.
"What do you think?" asked Cooper, showing Annie what looked like a short green dress covered in artificial leaves and flowers.
"Now I understand the green hair," Annie replied. "But what are you supposed to be, the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant?"
"I'm a wood nymph," Cooper said, holding up the dress. "I'm going to put leaves and flowers in my hair, too."
Annie looked doubtful. "I never really thought of you as the nymph type," she said.
Cooper reached into her bag and pulled something out. It was a flute. She played a few notes on it." I'm the kind of nymph who leads people astray in the woods by tempting them with music," she explained. "I never thought taking those stupid flute lessons when I was nine would pay off."
Annie shook her head. Cooper just wasn't the spritely, sunshiny type. There was always an edge to her. She couldn't be just a nymph; she had to be one with an attitude. That was okay, though. Annie had made a rather unusual costume choice as well. She opened the box she'd made Cooper pack so carefully and reached inside. She lifted out the mask she'd spent all week making out of papier-mâché and then carefully painting.
"What is that thing?" said Kate.The mask Annie held in her hands looked like a giant pincushion. It had a short, rounded snout, and long points of rolled-up newspapers protruded like spikes all around it. The entire thing was painted in various shades of brown.
"I'm going to be a hedgehog," Annie explained, putting the mask over her head so that it settled on her shoulders. She peered out at Kate and Cooper through the two small eyeholes above the snout.