Four old ladies walk into a pub – Part One

“Here they come. Seven pm on the dot.” Harold, landlord of the Graveyard Tap public house, nodded to the four elderly women as they sauntered in.

“They’re not regulars.” Sally finished pulling a pint of ale.

“They’re here every Halloween,” he said. “We always reserve the table by the fire for HAGS.”

“That’s a bit mean.” She handed the pint over to the waiting customer. “I know they’re old, but you don’t have to call them names.”

“No, HAGS,” he said. “H. A. G. S. It’s an acronym for their club.”

“What’s it stand for?”

“No idea.”

The four old ladies shrugged off their coats, strangely dry for such a rainy night, and settled at the fireside table. One picked up the handwritten reserved card, squinting at it through her thickly lensed glasses.

“First question,” she said. “What do we think HAGS stands for, if Harold asks?”

“He never asks, Babs,” said another of the ladies as she peeled off her dainty white gloves.

“But if he does, Constance,” said Babs. “I’ll go first. Halloween Assembly of Geriatric Spirits.”

“I’m not geriatric, thank you very much,” said the third. “I’m mature.”

“Like cheese?” said Babs. “Go on, Sheila. Play the game.”

“Cheese.” Sheila rolled her eyes. “Fine. How about Horror Association of Grimm Spellcasters?”

“That’s a bit on the nose, don’t you think?” said Constance.

“What’s your idea then?” said Sheila.

“I think it should be the Happy Ancient Grandmas’ Society. I have grandchildren, you know.”

“You had grandchildren, dear,” said the fourth lady, patting Constance on the hand.

“I’m not a grandma,” said Sheila. “Can’t stand kids.”

“What would you suggest, Gwen?” said Constance.

“Let’s see.” Gwen fiddled with one of her sparkly clip-on earrings as she thought. “HAGS stands for Hideaway for Ancient Goddesses Sisterhood.”

“Goddess,” said Constance. “I like that.”

“Agreed,” said Babs. “That’s what we’ll tell him.”

“If he asks,” said Constance.

“Which he never does,” said Sheila.


Harold knew exactly what drinks to serve the HAGS gathering. It had been the same every Halloween for as long as he’d worked at the Graveyard Tap. He’d started out as junior barman over fifty years ago before eventually taking over the place. The ladies’ drink order was always this: a murky absinthe cocktail with a sprig of rosemary for Babs, a lavender gin fizz for Gwen, a white whisky sour with a maraschino cherry for Constance, and a flaming whisky with an orange slice for Sheila. The drinks hadn’t changed and, strangely, neither had the ladies. They were old when he first met them, and they looked exactly as old on this Halloween.

Babs always looked slightly dishevelled, with flyaway grey hairs attempting to escape from under her knitted beret. She wore large circular glasses that gave her the look of a startled owl, and a long, heavy sweater over a floral print dress. A chain of silver charms hung around her neck. Her flesh-shaded support stockings wrinkled around her skinny ankles and above a pair of sensible leather brogues. She walked with the help of a scratched, old, wooden cane, which bore the remains of what must have once been carved symbols.

With her shock of curly grey hair and cherubic face, Sheila appeared the picture of a sweet grandmotherly type. She wore a frilly pink cardigan dotted with cats over a polka dot dress, tights, and soft white sneakers. A large cross hung on a chain around her neck, sitting on the fabric of her dress. Harold had rarely seen her smile but when she did, her teeth always looked just a little too sharp. Unlike Babs, Sheila walked with a youthful bounce in her step rather than an old woman’s shuffle.

Constance was a petite, rail-thin woman with wispy white long hair tied into a loose bun. She wore a pristinely pressed, white lace blouse over an ankle-hiding burgundy skirt. A string of pearls adorned her neck and her white gloves lay smoothed out on the table in front of her. She always moved slowly and with impeccable posture.

Of the four old ladies, Gwen was the most likely to smile and laugh.  She was a cheerful, plump woman with rosy cheeks and curly silver hair. She wore a lacy pink dress with a blue cardigan, chunky pastel bead necklaces, and soft ballet flats. Her sparkling clip-on earrings would catch the light when she moved, creating a fairy-like twinkle. In one hand she gripped a tall wooden cane decorated with flowers and vines. Whenever Harold met her, he always noticed the scent of fresh flowers and baking bread.

“Thank you, Harold,” she said as he served their drinks. “How’s life treating you? Is it all you wished for?”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” he admitted. “But not bad. Could be worse.”

“So much worse,” said Sheila. She took a sip from her flaming drink. “Perfect.”

“Sally will be over with your food in a minute. In the meantime, Happy Halloween to you all, ladies.”

“And to you, Harold,” said Constance with a ripple of agreement from the others.

“He’s not getting any younger,” said Babs as Harold dodged in between costumed partygoers and grumbling regulars.

“Neither are we,” said Sheila.

“Yes, but we’re not getting any older either,” said Constance. “Well, I’m not.”

“How long have you been body-liberated now?” asked Gwen. “Three hundred years?”

“No, over four hundred,” said Constance. She took a lady-like sip from her drink. “Of course, it feels nearer to three hundred because I went rather mad for the first eighty or so years. That slice of my afterlife is a feverish blur. So how are you all? Good year, bad year?”

“Slow year,” said Gwen. “People just don’t crave things the way they used to. They actually like to put in the effort these days. Be seen to achieve. And I just can’t get my head around Insta-telegram and Tock Tock.”

“Well, I’ve had a hell of a year,” said Sheila. Her glass was empty, and she was licking the singed slice of orange.

“Is that good?” said Constance.

“Not really,” said Sheila. “Babs, how about you? Cheer us up with tales of magical success, why don’t you?”

“I wish I could,” said Babs. “But spell-craft ain’t what it used to be. Everyone seems to be doing it these days, writing books about it, blogs, podcasts. The mystery has gone.”

The four looked down at the table-top, nursing their drinks – or empty glass in the case of Sheila – as their thoughts returned to the good/bad old days.

To be continued...