Sarah was getting excited about the forthcoming Halloween, although in the times of Covid, the sweets and the visits would have to be virtual, so it might not be as much fun as usual. Nonetheless, it would be a full moon on the night itself, and she had visions of witches on broomsticks silhouetted across its silver disc. Black and red would be the colours to wear, of course, and she fished out her lantern and her plastic raven. There must be some dried-out spiders somewhere in the house that she could use.
Still, the dark festival was a couple of weeks away, and she decided to take a walk along the beach. It was clear, crisp weather, and every object seemed preternaturally precise, almost as if it had a black line round it. She thought of Keats’ view of autumn: “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” October mists were like fog, the dank air seeping through into your lungs. Sarah imagined the darkness as it came rolling in, bringing dread and anxiety in its wake, and the death of the old year. Soon. Soon.
But then she saw something odd. There was a blindingly white mist coming from the sea to the land. It seemed crystalline as it rolled in silently, and it conferred tiny icicles onto everything it touched. They melted soon. It was the Haar.
The Haar was a summer phenomenon, though. It was caused when warm air passed over the cold North Sea, and it occurred mainly in Scotland. So both the season and the place were out of kilter. Nonetheless, the sea fret (as some called it) was real enough now. The air was laden with droplets. Everything became muffled and indistinct. You could not tell who was who, what was what. Everything was changed. And Sarah began to feel that this was a far more powerful occurrence than the tired rituals of Halloween. That had become Holloween. It was stale and gestural. But some new magic was drifting ashore from the Haar, and she ran to meet it.
The white swirls enveloped her. She became brittle almost, and was afraid that if she was careless, a finger or a toe might be knocked off. She was cold, but alive in a new way. As the mist subsided, she realised that she was utterly changed. Other people on the beach had been caught in the Haar. Like them, Sarah looked as though she were made of ice. But she found that she now possessed the power to make people freeze or melt, merely by spreading her hand. Lovers, friends or enemies could flourish or fade at her will. This was a fresh witchcraft.
And so it was that Halloween ceased to be celebrated, except in tiny backward pockets of the country. The animal symbols of the Haar were not bats or spiders: they were snow leopards, polar bears and arctic foxes. White cats replaced black cats as the familiars of choice. The fire and the terror of Halloween were replaced by the aching iciness of the Haar. And its chief celebrants were now Sarah and the others on the beach: the people of the snow.