It is late—3:29 am by the hotel clock. My body has been tripped up by travel. I am awake, sore eyed, and with an ache worming along my lower back. I remember someone telling me that the witching hour is between 3 am and 4 am. So this is the time when ghosts, witches, and all forms of magic are supposed to be strongest.
The wide hotel window is soundproofed and I cannot hear the wicking of witches on their brooms or even the song of a car alarm. All is quiet.
I try to think of the magics that I know. In Japan, they say ghosts can’t walk in zigzags. In Scotland, they say witches can’t cross water or enter a house with a rowan tree outside. I wanted to plant a rowan tree in my small garden, but I’m not there enough these days. Does it matter if a witch visits when you’re not home?
Many countries have traditions of travellers carrying charms. Leaving home is frightening. As I write this, I am in Midwestern Canada. I am wearing my lucky bracelet. It is lucky both because it is red and because it was borrowed from my mother and so carries the promise of home. Is its magic stronger now in this silent hour? I roll the bracelet around on my wrist.
In less than a month, I’ll be embarking on a different trip, this time to Amsterdam and the Crossing Borders conference. I haven’t figured out what charms I’ll need there. I berate myself for my fears. I am the luckiest of travellers. I have an itinerary plotted and planned by someone else. There will be laundered hotel sheets.
The clock ticks 3.41. When I was very young, I was also lucky. People tell you to count your blessings, as if they were children on a school trip and you might lose one. I was very lucky. But, I couldn’t sleep. I lay in my soft, safe bed and wondered who else might be out there, also not sleeping. I thought of all the people the sun was touching and how they were going about their lives while I was listening to the clicking of winter trees. I used to wonder if I’d ever sleep again. Later, when I was older and away at university, I found friends to stay awake with. We’d lie in the hallway feeling cold tiles against our necks, listing all the reasons not to sleep. Later still, I’d find a sleep that would hold me in warm arms. These days, I dream easily and early.
It is only when I go abroad that I travel back to that witching hour. To the long silent nights and the minutes that seem to tear something out as they run through me.
This witching hour will pass, but I suppose it is always witch-time somewhere. Can you feel the dark running its fingers along your windows?