“Happy Halloween, Leanne!” Chloe’s sing-song voice cut through the otherwise quiet office like a chainsaw in a china shop.
I looked up at her, taking in the orange wig, stuck-on nose and the black, pointed thing on her head, which was more Harry Potter Sorting Hat than it was Samantha from Bewitched. “What the Hells are you supposed to be?”
“I’m a witch! Mr Wells said that it was OK for me to dress up to raise money for the local children’s hospice.” She rattled a pound-shop plastic cauldron at me.
“You know Chloe, you’re really not.” In all my years working in the offices of Lovecraft and Wells Engineering Ltd. (Est: 1890) I’ve never really figured out what it is that Chloe does. I mean, she’s the office organizer, the fundraiser, and there’s that whole rumour that Old Mr. Wells still has an A3 copy of the picture she took sitting on the photocopier with her pants in her hand a couple of Yuletide Parties ago. But as to her actual job – I had no idea.
“Well?” She shook the cauldron again, from the jingling I heard, there sounded to be at least a few pounds in there already as well as some paper. “Dig deep, Leanne – It’s for a good cause!”
I fished in my pocket where I normally keep the change for the coffee machine. All I had in there was a five pence piece, which seemed a little stingy even by my standards, some unidentifiable fluff, and a chunk of rose quartz that had fell off the hilt of my athame during a particularly boisterous cleansing ritual. “I’ll just need to get my purse.” I let out a quick plea to the Father God, asking that there was a fiver in there – because I’ll be damned if I was going to give her a tenner, orphans or not – Threefold return my left teat.
“When you’re ready Leanne, your lot are supposed to love this time of year.”
I heard a gasp from Mrs Geddes in the corner. And there was the unmistakable sound of an idiot, who’d just realized what she’d said, clamping her mouth shut.
“My lot?” I dropped my purse back into my coat pocket and slowly turned around to see her trying desperately to become invisible, “and, exactly which ‘lot’ would that be?”
Her flusterment was approaching critical mass, “I… Erm... You know… I mean… Devil Worshippers!” She pointed at the pentagram around my neck.
Mrs Geddes excused herself and left the room, presumably to hide in the disabled toilet until things had all blown over, like she normally did.
“You’re going to need to try again Chloe, I’ve got no problem getting HR involved.”
“HR? Erm… You’re a… I think that…” A look of panic grew in her eyes, “I want to use the right word, I… don’t want to…”
“Give it your best try.”
“You’re a witch!” she cried, and her entire body sagged as if she was trying to hide behind her desk.
“Close. In fact, I am a card-carrying member of the Wiccan faith.” I looked at her confused expression, “And before you ask, no, we don’t carry actual cards.” Well, we do, but she didn’t need to know that, it’d just confuse her even more, It helped separate us from the Hedge-Witches.
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
“Wiccans and Satanists? No, not really.”
“I just assumed…”
“A lot of people do… Look, would you ask Mr Balil over there why he worships an Elephant?”
She seemed to be on firmer ground here, “No, of course not, because he’s a Sikh, not a Hindu.”
“Good, and what about Sven in the workshop, would you ask him about what he has to do on a day-to-day basis to appease the God Mars?”
“Well, obviously not, because Mars is a Roman God, and Sven follows the Norse gods.”
“Precisely! Which technically makes him a Pagan you know?”
“I didn’t know that, no.” She looked genuinely proud of herself as she was answering these questions, and I had the desperate urge to wave a biscuit under her nose to see if she’d sit up on her hind legs. “I have a GCSE in Religious Education.”
“And yet you don’t know the difference between Wiccans, Pagans and Satanists?”
“They weren’t covered in the syllabus.”
I shook my head, “They never are. As a matter of interest, which religion are you Chloe?”
“I’m a Christian.” She replied, her chest swelling with pride.
“Which type?” I asked, more for devilment than anything else, “Protestant, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Adventist, Seventh day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Millerist, Quaker, Unitarian, Apostolic, Christian Scientist or Nontrinitarian?”
She looked at me as if I’d just asked her to lick the tyres of my pushbike clean, “I’m C of E.”
“Do you attend every Sunday?”
“Not every Sunday, no.” she mumbled, “Mostly at Christmas and Easter.”
“Very Christian that… Not that I’m one to judge you understand. Each to their own.”
By this time, she was looking guiltily at the floor, “Can I ask you a question?” she whispered, looking at Mr Balil. I nodded and she came over and breathed it in my ear so as not to be overheard.
It was all I could do to not burst out laughing as I answered, “Yes, we sometimes do, but we call it ‘being skyclad’ and we only tend to do it in the warmer weather – Of course, I’ll let you know when the next one is.”