Cat, Bell, Book and Candle (Part 5)

Eden and I slept late, waking only when weak sunlight came through the window. Eden stretched and got sleepily out of bed. I tumbled around in the duvet, fighting my way out of it.

Shaking, I jumped out of bed and checked on the potion. It was still warm and the colour was slowly turning to a deep red. Little motos of red drifted around. I sniffed and dappled some of my own magic to see what the potion might be like.

Well, it wasn’t a complete Impersonation potion. So, a shade of Eden’s dad might be produced but it wouldn’t last long. My Little Mistress’s hopes of some time with her dad had slipped away.

There would be time to break it to her later. Nothing could be done today.

Eden came back and started getting dressed. I jumped on her desk and said to her, ‘let’s do some baking today for Halloween. Dad will help us carve the pumpkin later or tomorrow. We should make plans for the day and night too.’

‘Can I go to Pendle Hill this year?’ Eden asked excitedly, become more awake.

I shook my head, ‘Too young child. Perhaps, if you had an adult with you…There’ll be many years to come for you to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve in full.’

‘I wish I could go now! I wish things were different,’ Eden muttered into her hoodie.

‘Don’t we all,’ I answered her, ‘come on. The potion is still cooling. Let’s get breakfast.

The day past slowly as it does on the eve of a special day. We made some halloween shape cookies, planned meals, games and movies. Eden’s dad had booked the night off which was rare because Saturday nights were busy at the pub but he had found someone to cover for him.

When he was awake, he said he would carve the pumpkin tomorrow, he was going in work early this evening as they were busy.

‘Few more hours pay is never to be turned down,’ he said, ‘you can have that frozen meal and some snacks to watch a movie with. Then bed early. Do you hear me, Eden and Macavity? Bed by nine at the latest.’

‘Yes dad. It’s a busy day for witches tomorrow,’ Eden added.

Dad cocked an eyebrow and looked from her to me and back to his daughter again before saying, ‘what have you planned?’ in a low voice.

Eden shrugged, ‘just practising my broomstick flying and spell casting. Oh and Macavity is going to tell me some scary stories.’

‘Is this true, cat?’

‘Yes, sir. With a little potion brewing thrown in. There’s magic in the air and young witches need to learn how to grab it. She will be safe with me,’ I added.

Dad signed and looked at his watch, ‘I’ve to go. Be good. Mrs and Mr Mead will be keeping an eye on you.’

We waved goodbye from the front room and I looked up at the darkening sky. The weather had change it was starting to rain again. Never trust a weather forecast man.

Eden plopped herself in front the TV and I watched the rain falling. The wind swept up and soon it was lashing it down. Some kind of autumn storm had started in the sea and come over further than they had originally predicted.

I pressed my nose to the cold, damp glass. There was no point going out tonight, nobody would be out in this weather. So, tomorrow then, on Halloween, up on Pendle hill I’d have to seek out my friends, if they had even come this year.

‘Let’s check on the potion. It needs some finalising,’ I cut into my Little Mistress thoughts.

She left the TV on and went upstairs. There were a few late ingredients to add and the spell words to be cast. Then the potion had to be placed in the dark to be ‘born’ as the old spell book stated.

‘Do you think it will turn out right?’ Eden asked me after we had placed the cauldron in the back of her wardobe.

‘No, child,’ I replied with a deep sign.

Eden looked at me, a tremble in her bottom lip and her eyes growing wet.

‘We didn’t have the right ingredients, nor the power level needed. We shall get something, I can sense that but it may be only a shadow that will last a short time.’

Eden sunk to the carpet and was silent.

‘Do not despair, child. You are still learning after all. There is nothing to be done now. Let’s go watch a movie or do something else.’

My Little Mistress nodded and we went back to the living room. There were snacks and fizzy drinks we watched Disney movies till it was past nine O’clock and I was nudging Eden to bed.

Later, when the storm had passed and the streets glowed wet, I slipped out and went for a walk. A found witch’s familiars watching from windows and tree branches. I listened to the hum of the vibrations and looked up at the dark shadow of Pendle Hill.

Tomorrow, that hill would sing with voices and flow with black clothes and naked bodies. Fires would burn, Jack O’ Lanterns would grin, the sweet autumn air would thicken and magic would be at its strongest.

I passed a raven tucked into a fir tree, I nodded to him and walked on, around deep puddles and rotting leaves. Lights glowed in the windows, I was drawn to them and to spy on the witches within. They looked no different from humans, just slightly odd in their strange in their clothes.

An old witch smiled at me as I peered in on her from a second floor hotel window. She was waving a wand over her spell book, her imp familiar lost in a chat at her feet.

Wandering far that night, I met friends old and new, witches from the area and witches from other parts of the country and the world. The air thunder with magic and the wind whispered spells and the scent of potions brewing. I talked long into night with familiars, catching up on news and hearing about the lives and travels of others.

It was late morning when I came home. My Little Mistress up and eating a toffee apple before the TV. I went to have my breakfast, left in my bowl for me then I got into my cat bed with a hood top and a fleece lining. It was warm and dry, exhausted I fell to sleep.

An hour or so later, Eden woke me. I yawned and stretched.

‘Macavity. Dad says there’s a sound coming from my wardrobe. Like something is in there…I thought you said the Impersonation Spell wouldn’t work,’ Eden hissed in my ear.

‘I didn’t say that. I said it was doing something…’

‘Will you go see? I’m scared,’ Eden whispered.

‘Don’t ever be scared of your own craft. You wielded the power, not the other way around,’ I responded.

‘Then…come with me to see?’

We went upstairs and found her dad in the wardrobe, looking around. He was dressed in PJ, having not been up for long. I pushed passed his legs and walked in slowly. The bedroom light cast in enough to see by but at the back it was in shadows.

‘I don’t see anything,’ Dad said.

‘It was nothing,’ Eden replied, ‘something falling over…’

The cauldron was still there. I peered inside it and saw at the bottom something moving.

It was a whole right hand!

There were all the fingers and the thumb, the back of the hand was a bit hairy and the wrist was there but the top which should have joined the arm was covered by a lump of skin where the joint bone poked out. It was a large hand and looked like it belong to a man.

I withdrew and sat there. How had this happened? The potion and spell must have been strong enough for this construct but not the rest of the body. My Little Mistress had more power and skill then I realised…Though the energy of Halloween had also aided.

What to do now?

‘Macavity?’ Eden called me.

I twitched my tail, swallowed the lump in my throat and went to tell the truth.

‘What is it?’

I stepped out of the wardrobe and jumped on the desk, ‘There’s something in the cauldron,’ I stated.

Eden rushed inside then let out a scream. She fled back and flung herself at into her dad.

‘What is it?’ he cried.

The disembodied hand, using the tips of the fingers walked into the light. It stopped on the edge of the wardrobe and hesitated. It seemed to be sensing what was around it.

‘Is that thing real? Where did you get it from, Eden! Tell me!’ her dad cried.

He knelt on the floor, holding his daughter by her shoulders.

‘I wanted to help you,’ Eden sobbed, ‘you said you wanted a double. I wanted more time with you. I…’

‘Did it come from someone?’ dad demanded.

Eden shook her head.

‘It was potion born,’ I cut in, ‘I oversaw it. I knew the full spell wouldn’t work and I was expecting, a shadow or ghost of some sort.’

‘That thing looks solid enough to me,’ Dad pointed out.

I nodded, ‘it shouldn’t last long. A few minutes or hours and it will disappear as if it never was.’

The fingers stepped out of the wardrobe and the hand scuttled around the room like a spider. It came to some of Eden’s discarded clothes and processed to put them away.

Dad and Eden sat on the bed, I stayed on the desk and we all watched the hand tidy the bedroom. Somehow it could ‘see’ and knew where to put things.

‘I didn’t mean any harm. I’m sorry,’ Eden said after a few moments.

‘Well, it doesn’t seem dangerous,’ dad spoke.

‘It’s doing its job too,’ I pointed out, ‘lending hand with things,’ I hide a chuckle.

‘It creeps me out,’ dad uttered.

The hand had finished tidying and was heading towards the bedroom door, out it went, fingernails gripping the carpet and soon we heard it moving in dad’s room. No doubt tidying.

‘Promise me that next time you do something like this, Eden, you tell me before you do it.’

‘I promise, dad,’ Eden said, ‘does that mean you’re not angry?’

‘Oh, I’m angry and I’ll have to punish you for it-‘

‘Not tonight! Of all night!’ Eden shouted, jumping off the bed, ‘we are going Trick or Treating and I’ve to stay up to look out demons when the veil openings! Please, I will do anything! Give me any punishment you want but not tonight, I beg you please.’

Dad rubbed his head, it looked like he was getting a headache.

I stayed silent. A familiar can only be punished by their mistress or master. I knew letting Eden create the hand had been wrong but I couldn’t have predicted that would happen… I scolded myself and told myself in future to be more careful and firmer with Little Mistress.

‘Promise me something first,’ dad spoke, ‘don’t sneak off to Pendle Hill tonight. I know all the witches are gathering up there. I saw a few last night in the pub, eating and drinking and talking in hushed voices about certain plans. I know you are one of them but you are still my little girl. I don’t want anything to happen.’

‘I promise I won’t go. Macavity has stopped me before,’ Eden spoke.

Dad looked at me and I give a single nod, ‘she is too young for all that goes on up there tonight.’

‘Right…What can we do about the hand, cat?’ dad asked.

I paused and thought, ‘we could lock it in somewhere or something,’ I said, ‘or we can just leave it to tidy up.’

‘I’ll go find something, a cage or a padlock to put on something.’

‘Then can we carve the pumpkin?’ Eden asked.

‘We’ll see,’ he replied.

They left and I went to find the disembodied hand. It had finished tidying dad’s bedroom and was moving on to the bathroom. I sat on the window sill and watched it putting things away, wiping things down and changing the towels.

It was a strange sight because it acted like it was attached to a body and was able to just carry out the instructions from the brain. It knew where to put things and where things were and what to do.

My Little Mistress’s spell had worked extremely well even though it was just an unattached hand and not a whole person.

Dad found a suitcase padlock and decided that would do. However, when he saw how clean his room and the bathroom was, he decided to let the hand do the rest of the house before locking it away.

I joined, him and Eden carving the pumpkin in the kitchen. When the evil grinning face was done and the candle inside ready for lighting, dad placed it in the front window, next to the fake pumpkin.

The hand moved into the kitchen. I watched it tidying the mess made by the pumpkin, washing dishes and then it put the dirty clothes in the washing machine and turned that on too. Next it cleaned my litter box, put food in my bowl and then began stroking me.

The hair rose on my back, I went to hiss but the hand was warm and soft. It rubbed gently at my back then my head and scratched behind my ears. It was just like a normal human hand!

Then the hand left me and went back to do more chores. I eat my food then went into the living room.

‘Let’s have an early tea and then you can go get ready,’ dad was saying, he saw me and asked, ‘where is the hand?’

‘Finishing tidying the kitchen,’ I said.

Eden and her dad went to eat and the hand joined me in the living room. I watched it tidying then the doorbell rang. The hand paused then crawled out of the room and into the hallway.

I chased after it and grabbed it by the thumb as dad came out of the kitchen.

‘Keep that thing out of sight!’ he said going to answer the door.

‘No one will think it’s real,’ I said, having thrown the hand back into the living room, ‘they’ll think it’s a Halloween prop.’

‘Let’s not take the chance,’ dad said.

He opened the door and children’s voices called out ‘Trick or Treat!’

‘Looking scary there, kids!’ dad said then handed out the bowl of sweets.

The children laughed, said ‘thank you’ and left.

Dad stopped by the living room. The hand was plumping the sofa cushions.

‘Keep that thing under control and don’t let it out of your sight, MaCavity.’

‘I can,’ I replied slowly, ‘but when you come back, I’ll be going out for the rest of the night.’

‘I can lock it in the suitcase then,’ he replied.

The hand was still tidying when Eden and her dad went out. Eden was dressed as a bride of Dracula and her dad had put on a Frankenstein monster’s costume. They left, Eden chatting happily about going Trick or Treating whilst her dad carried a fake lantern and looked tidied.

The hand vacuumed, dusted, polished, wiped picture frames and the TV. Soon the house looked as clean as it had never done before and the disembodied hand flopped down beside me on the sofa.

I look it at. I was laying down, legs tucked under me, tail swaying from side to side. I had been watching Tv to distracted me from the pulls of going outside. The evening was clear and dry, clouds blew across the sky and the delicious smell of autumn hugged the air.

Magic tingled through me like electricity. Like the beating a drum and humming of power, the magic called me and Pendle Hill, high above was the centre point for it all. From here, I couldn’t see it but I could smell fire all ready and my ears thought they heard singing.

The hand stayed with me for the rest of the time. One or two of the fingers twitched now and then as if the hand was asleep and dreaming. I dozed whilst the light from the TV and Jack O’ Lantern glowed around the room.

I was asleep when they arrived back home. The key in the lock woke me. I raised my head and looked towards the living room door. Eden entered, out of breath, cold but full of energy still.

‘I got so much!’ she gasped and put her Trick or Treat bag on the coffee table. Some sweets spilled out of the overflowing bag.

I sniffed and smelt the night clinging to her; it was fire scented, damp, leaf rotten and sweet underlined.

Dad came in and looked at the hand.

‘It’s been fine,’ I told him.

I got off the sofa and went to Eden. I rubbed against her a few times then we headed butted and I went out.

The night welcomed me, parting around me as I walked quickly. I broke into a run at the end of the street and headed out of the village and towards Pendle Hill.

I passed children and adults going from door to door, flicking Jack O’ Lanterns in windows and decorations on doorsteps. I spotted a handful of witches and familiars making their way along.

A stopped to walk every now and again and catch my breath. If Little Mistress was with me we would be flying on her broom as was traditional. By myself though, I had to use my own four paws.

I looked to the sky and saw with my powers that a few witches were flying passed undercover spells. Their capes and hats stood out most against the dark clouds. I spotted a cat on the end of one broomstick and a few birds and bats about.

Looking to the hill, I saw it a blaze with light. I still had so much longer to go. Well…there was another way. I cast a simple flying spell then an invisible spell and within seconds I was flying low along the path. It was so much easier and less tiring.

Soon, I arrived and cast off the spells. The hill top was packed with bodies, animals and demons. I made my way through the dancing and singing to find a spot by the large fire.

Soaking in the atmosphere, I breathed deeply of Halloween night. My whiskers tingled with all the magic and my ears ached with all the voices.

‘Macavity,’ someone called me and a large black cat came to my side.

I nodded and greeted an old friend.

‘What have you been doing this festival day?’ he asked.

I smiled, flashing my fangs and told him about the disembodied hand my Little Mistress had created.

The End

***

This story is fictional but I did use some real references which I have linked below. This story was inspired by watching the musical Cats whilst in lock down. I’ve seen this musical countless times on screen and at the theatre. It’s one of my favourite musicals and I love the poem book; Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats as well. 

Macavity began speaking to me during the musical and I knew straight away I had to write his story as told by him. As with all the times my characters start talking to me, I have no idea where the story will end up but I always enjoy the journey. I hope you have too. 

Hayley.   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Possum%27s_Book_of_Practical_Cats

http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/

https://www.visitlancashire.com/explore/pendle-hill

Cat, Bell, Book and Candle (Part 1)

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I sat before my front gate and watched the world going by. Everyone was in such a hurry that no one noticed me. Perhaps, if I had been a wholly black someone would have given me a second glance. Even if you weren’t superstitious, there was something about black cats that made people pause.

Luckily then, I was a white and black cat. I had three white legs and one black leg whilst my tail started black then white the rest of the way. White blots mixed with black along my back whilst my underside and chest were white. My head was black as were my eyes then my face was white with a patch of black around my left eye which then joined the black on my head and upper neck. My nose was black with a beauty spot above and my whiskers were white.

My eyes were amazing blue like quartz crystal or shads of frozen ice. They came from my Siamese side but also because I wasn’t your average pet cat. Magic flowed in my blood and I could see it, smell it and use it to do whatever I wanted within my abilities….Most of the time though, I acted normally and brought no attention to myself.

I smelt the air, my whiskers twitching and could pick out so many scents; the perfume the woman next door was wearing as she got into her car. The open sewer the three workers were struggling to fix down the street. The dog at number thirty-one who was barking in the back garden because he wanted to be let back in. The mouth tingling aromas of lots of dinners being cooked, plus the waft of another burnt potion….

I stretched, limbering up my legs and tail for scaling the house wall. The small silver bell and name tag on my purple velvet collar jingled together. I limboed under the gate and avoiding the cracked flagstone path, stepped through the flower boarder, leaving four perfect paw prints in the soil. I jumped up the wall, followed it along to the end then jumped down into the dimness of the ginnel which was the covered alleyway between the two terraced house.

Trotting along side the wall, I came to the end and clawed my way up the brick wall to the right side and over it. I was in my back garden then. Well, if it could be called that. The space was a long rectangle with a flagstone floor and jumble of potted plants growing along either wall.

A wire cable that was a washing line ran from the house to the back fence and on it today were tea towels and bath towels, moving gently in the breeze. A number of girl’s toys were laying about; a pink bicycle lent up against the back wall, plastic dolls like dead bodies on a beach, a skipping rope, an old paint tray full of chalks, pencils and papers, a football, a tennis ball and a broken racket.

I picked my way around it all and scaled the drain pipe. The house was narrow and only had one upper floor. There was a peeling green painted back door, a single window that looked into a kitchen. There were two windows in the floor above; a small one that was glazed over for the bathroom and the window I was heading too; that of a newly turned twelve year old girl’s bedroom.

I reached the sill and sat for a moment. I wasn’t at all out of breath but I liked to survey what was around me. From here, I could see the gardens of the other houses and the cobbled path that ran between the terraced houses’ backs. It couldn’t get anymore Victorian then this.

On moonlight nights, I would go up to the roof and sat close to the chimney and reflect on my passed lives. A witch’s cat is immortal and must live nine lives with nine different witches. I had sat on rooftops in Paris, Roman, Russia and London looking up at the same moon that lit up the night sky.

And now, I was here; Lancashire, England, home of the Pendle Witches.

I pressed my face to the window and looked in. She was in the room, my Little Mistress; Eden Raine Crowe. She was lent over a small camping gas stove and the black pot that was balanced upon it. Open books, bottles and jars lay scattered at her feet. She was wearing a handmade black dress with a white bow at the back as a symbol of a child witch.

I miaowed and pawed the glass, my claws scratching against it.

Eden turned her head, spotted me and dashed over. She flew the window up with such force, I had to dig my claws into the sill to stop myself flying along with it.

‘Macavity!’ Eden cried and scooped me to her chest. She held me there, saying things I could barely hear as she suffocating me against her dress. I wiggled out bum first and dropped to the carpet.

‘What earth are you doing, child?’ I chided her as I batted away an empty glass bottle.

‘Trying to make a de-stress potion for dad,’ Eden explained.

I approached the simmering cauldron and sniffed cautiously, ‘it’s wrong,’ I spoke.

Eden fell to her knees before the little stove, her dress riding up to show her knee length black socks with white bows on top. She put her hands in her lap and hung her head.

‘I know,’ Eden uttered, ‘I’m no good at this, Macavity.’

I sat down, curling my tail around my paws and studying my Little Mistress.

‘Potion making is a magic unto it’s self,’ I announced.

Eden nodded and I could see her bottom lip trembling and her eyes tight trying to hold back tears.

I got up and padded around the books until I found the right one. I pulled it over to her and made the pages flap to the right page. This book was handwritten by Eden’s great-great grandma and other witches had written other spells and notes in the crackled yellow pages.

‘This one,’ I said and tapped it with a paw.

Eden took the large book into her lap like a toddler with a teddy bear and looked at the fancy, curly black ink on the page. Speaking the words softly, she underlined each one with her finger.

‘You should have enough left,’ I said as I nosed one of the bottles, ‘you really must be careful with how much you use, Little Mistress,’ I added.

‘I know,’ Eden uttered and started collecting what we needed.

Putting on protective gloves, she took the cauldron off the burner and onto a cork mat on a metal slate. Then she dug out another cauldron, this one a spotted grey colour and placed that on another cork mat.

Slowly, I taught her through the potion. Making sure she added just enough of each ingredient and stirred in the right places. We spoke the incantation together then left the potion to simmer for an hour.

Eden sat back on her heels, tried and flushed with the heat. She rubbed her eyes and toyed with the edges of her dress in an absent-minded way. Her long, black hair had tumbled out of the bun she had tried to put it in and now lay fanned down her back.

‘Time to tidy up, child,’ I said and nudged her with paw and nose.

Nodding sleepily, Eden slowly cleaned and tied everything away. I did most of the work though, using my magic to pick up things and place them back on shelves or in boxes. The pages of the books fluttered closed and the books slotted into the small bookcase once more. The bottles and jars floated back into their places in the racks then into the wooden boxes which kept them safe.

As for the failed potion and pot, I neutralised the warm orange liquid which made the potion stable and non-usable. It is safe for Eden to put in the bathtub, turn the taps on and wash out the black cauldron.

‘What time is your father coming home?’ I asked Little Mistress from my perched on the closed toilet seat.

‘Late,’ Eden replied, ‘he told me there was a microwave meal in the freeze. There’s cat food for you, Macavity.’

‘I prefer fish, a raw egg and a bowl of cream,’ I said.

Eden pulled the plug in the tub and watched the water spiralling down, ‘we’ll see,’ she added.

To Be Continued….

The Cry #FFFC

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Magic was something that everyone had. We were all born with it but had different quantity of it. Of course, I had been doubly blessed and sent off to be with grandma as soon as I could walk. Here at her cottage and gardens, I and the other apprentices learnt the crafts and what our lives really meant.

Though I had often wondered, late at night or whilst sweeping out the pig pens, what the other side of magic looked like. There were many different kinds but the Dark was the most fascinating. And despite what everyone thought, it wasn’t all evil. I doubt any of the rumours surrounding those people were true but unless you were on their side, you didn’t know.

Leaning on the broom I was daydreaming about the dark witches when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned, thinking I was about to be told off for not working but it was Elan.

She was dressed like me, in a plain blue working dress but she had on a leather apron which meant she had been working in the lab. On her head was a small, bronze tiara which marked her as head apprentice.

Elan began speaking slowly and moving her hands in a directional way.

I watched and waited. Trying to figure out what she wanted. Sometimes, I picked up what people were saying easily and other times I didn’t.

I had been born deaf. I could speak a little but preferred not to. I could lip read and hand signing was always useful. I had been trying to learn how to mind read but it was tricky.

Elan paused, signed and took out a notepad. We could all read and write. She wrote something then turned it to me and I read;

Go fetch a mandrake 

I shook my head, the colour draining from my face.

Elan snatched the broom from me and hit me over the head with it. Straw and muck rained into my hair and headache like pain thumped into my skull.

I turned to get away from her and she began beating me with the broom. I ran off and I guess she must have been shouting after me because I saw the looks on the other girls faces.

All the way to the back of the garden, were the dreaded greenhouse was. Ivy covered the glass thickly, blocking out most of the light. The door too was covered but with a sharp tug the ivy would give way. Dead plants and broken pots were scattered around. A rubbish dump lay around here and wild roses grow amongst other things that had survived and planted themselves.

I crept up to the door which I know was stupid. I felt for the handle and slide the door back. Stale air crept out, hot with the heat of summer. I went in and didn’t look around. The layouts were all the same in each greenhouse, even the order of plants by ages. New seeds to the back, the oldest at the front and then a procession of growth in between.

The pots were black hard clay and sticking out of them were dark, thick leaves. Elan hadn’t told me which one to pick. I debated going back to ask her but decided to take a chance and picked not from the first group- the oldest- but from the middle and still fully grown.

Picking up one of the mandrakes, I walked carefully to the cottage and to the back door. I guess the girls who had been around before had told the others what I had been sent to to and they had all left the area. No one wanted to be around, even outside incase something happened the mandrake got loose.

The kitchen door was open but the room empty. A well stocked fire and going in the massive fireplace and pot was bubbling. Vegetables half cut lay on the table and a plate with the remains of a meal had also been abandoned like even the servants had known my task.

The door to the basement was the lab and I went slowly down the stairs which were lit with candles that dripped globs of red wax. I smelt burning of something harsh which I couldn’t put my finger on. I felt the steps more then seeing them and arrived at the last one before I knew it.

Lowering the mandrake which had been blocking my view. I saw the lab which was full of tables, bookcases and equipment then ahead of me was an open doorway. I saw a shadow go past and guessed everyone was in there.

I walked over and stood in the doorway. There was grandma, Elan and three other woman. The room was circler and empty but for the markings on the floor, the black candles and a bowl which was were the burning was coming from.

Elan waved me over and I walked around the markings on the floor, the bricks of the wall scraping my back. I held out the plant to her, but Elan shook her head and pointed me over to grandma. I went with dread filling me. I didn’t need a note telling me what I had to do as I could sense it.

Grandma handed me a dagger then floated across the floor. As one the witches put earmuffs on and pressed themselves near to the door. They watched me whilst their months carried on moving, I guessed saying the words to the spell they were casting.

I set the pot on the floor and grab all of the leaves of the mandrake in one hand. I didn’t want to do it. Why couldn’t they have picked someone else? I put one foot onto the lip of the pot and gritted my teeth. Of course, I knew why they always picked me; because I was deaf and less affected by the mandrakes’ evil crying.

I yanked as hard as I could, felt the soil give way and the leaves move up in my hand. I shut my eyes and kept pulling. The dagger shook in my other hand and I felt my fingers start to go numb.

I opened my eyes and saw that the top of the mandrake was coming up. Soil was raining down and the pot was cracking under the pressure. I grabbed tighter, knowing as soon as the mandrake felt air that it would try and borrow back down. Breaking the pot would help but would also send the mandrake into shock and that kind of scream could kill everyone.

I shut my eyes again, concentrated and pulled as if my life depended on it. I felt the pot and more soil giving way. Something brushed my skin and I opened my eyes to see a small branches trying to curl around me.

With the dagger I tapped the branch away and pulled the mandrake up the rest of the way. The horrible thing popped out. It was a dark brown colour, all wrinkled and covered in soil. Many branches that made up the limbs were thrashing around, dirt going everywhere and roots were desperately clinging to whatever they could, including myself.

It was hard to pick facial features out of the folds of flesh but I could just make out the screwed up eyes either side of the bulbous nose. The mouth was torn up in a terrifying scream showing off rows and rows of fangs.

I could hear the screaming. It rang in my head and made me feel dizzy. I was deaf, so the mandrake’s crying and screaming should have no effect on me but for some reason it did. Before I could feel anything else, I stepped into the circle and placed the mandrake into the bowl of burning herbs and green liquid.

I swung the dagger up and brought it down into the mandrake. I didn’t want to see if I had killed it or not. I fled the room, tripping over someone’s foot as I did so.

Laying sprawled across the cold lab floor, I felt the door shoving me further along as someone shut it behind me. I felt sick, dizzy and there was a ringing my head that I knew shouldn’t have been there.

I let time passed for awhile then got up on my hands and knees. I crawled to the stairs. Feeling like I was a ship on a stormy sea and at any moment I was going to be tossed into those monstrous waves. Reaching the stairs didn’t stop it. I climbed them like a baby for the first time and at the top I pushed opened the door and lay down on the warm kitchen floor.

I threw up, everything coming out of me and covering the floor. I was spinning like a child’s top and flying off into nothingness. After everything in my stomach was gone, I dry heaved until blood appeared.

I hugged myself, gulped in air and curled up on the floor. Tears washed my faces and the screaming in my head wouldn’t stop. I felt like I was dying.

Slowly, everything began to fade. My body felt better, though exhausted. I stretched out, feeling waves of sleep taking me.

Next time, Elan could get her own mandrake.

 

(Inspired by; https://fivedotoh.com/2020/05/11/fandangos-flash-fiction-challenge-65/ with thanks).

Noyade #AtoZChallenge

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Noyade – an execution carried out by drowning.

The ropes bit deeply into her wrists but she held her head high. Around her, villagers chanted, ‘witch, witch, witch!’ She ignored their cries and walked bare footed to the edge of the pond.

Everything was already set up, the witch hunter hadn’t delayed. He pushed her into a chair and she was tied into it. More ropes cut into her skin and cold prickled through the under dress she had been stripped too.

She said nothing. Knowing there was no sense in talking to anyone. They all believed what they wanted to believe and how could the single voice of the accused sway a crowd like this?

A crank handle was turned and slowly she rose up. Men pulled her out over the surface of the water. The villagers started yelling and waving their farming tools or whatever else had been to hand before they had come storming to her hovel.

The witch hunter called for silence and spoke out, ‘if she floats she is a witch. If she sinks she is not!’

‘Witch! Witch!’ the villagers yelled.

She felt the cold swirl of the pond water against her toes then her whole body was plunged into the water as the rope holding her snapped. She heard the screams of the villagers then nothing as the water closed over her.

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Deracinate #AtoZChallenge (Part 2)

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Deracinate – to tear something up by the roots

(Please note there is some adult content in this story)

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I got up and went outside to the well. There was no one there but signs that people had been gathering water earlier. I pulled the handle around and drew up the rope which the bucket was attached too.

Birds were singing in the trees, animals were being noisy – demanding food-  there was no wind and the sun was all ready warming. I could smell the start of peat fires as water was heated and food cooked in the little huts.

I pulled the bucket full of water out of the well and began washing my hands and face. Then I did my feet, arms and legs, following the washing pattern I had done all my life. Normally, I would have been in the Temple bathhouse, naked with my dorm Sisters. There would have been hot water, steam and fragrant soaps.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had had a full bath or washed my hair. I wasn’t ashamed of my body but I was aware of the trouble being naked could cause. Sighing, I finished off washing and poured the water into one of the buckets that was used for washing clothes and other things, when anybody could be bothered to do so.

Back in my hut there was a warm pot of tea, a jug of ale and a bowl of thin porridge for me to have. The old woman who had woke me was serving the breakfast out. There was a low mutter of talking and I caught a few words of that but it was mostly complaints about things and a challenge for who could pick the most apples today.

Out in the orchard, it didn’t look like we had made much progress yesterday. There were many trees looking weighed down with apples. Wood ladders were laid against the tree trunks with baskets and carts drawn by old horses were under the trees. I stood with everyone else and listened to the orders given then it was skirts tied up and climbing the ladder for me once more.

My legs and arms were still aching after yesterday but I tried to ignore that and get on with bringing the apples down once more. Twisting them off, I threw the apples down to the catchers below – who were old people and children- and they put the fruit into the baskets. The large men came and put the baskets onto the carts and left an empty basket behind.

The sun grew hotter throughout the day, it made me sleepy and desperate for a cold bath. Like yesterday, we were allow to stop a few times for drink and food but it didn’t help that much. The ale tasted strange in my mouth even though I should have been use to it by now. Nobody drank much water but I would have preferred it. The food was always bread and cheese, sometimes it was fresh other times it wasn’t.

I stole two apples. I had climbed higher into the tree, balancing on the thinner branches to reach the apples at the top. Everyone’s attention was drawn to a woman with child who had fainted. It was easy for me to slip the apples into the pockets of my underskirt and take a rest on a thicker branch. From here, I could see a lot of people gathered around the woman. She was placed on a cart and taken away with some women and perhaps her husband following.

‘Come on, get back to work!’ someone yelled and everyone walked back to their choice tree.

I threw down the last of the apples and came down the ladder. The rest of the day drew itself out as if it didn’t want to end. The smell of the apples and trees clogged my other senses. I felt I could just curl up on a branch and sleep forever. Even the children who seemed to have boundless energy were tried and some had fallen sleep at the bases of trees.

Drinking some ale, I heard my stomach growl in hunger. Soon it would be time to eat. I looked up at the sky and saw that the sun was in it’s setting position but it had no intention of going down for another two or three hours. The ale tasted too malty and slightly gritty, I drank it all, too thirsty to stop.

Petting the old shire horse, who’s cart I had been leaning against, I helped pick up any apples on the ground as the pickers decided to shake the trees out. Some of these apples could be added to the collection and others would go to the animals.

I stumbled over something and decided I’d had enough of these shoes. I took them off and in my bare feet carried on working. The earth and grass were cool, reminding me of times I had run around the Temple and it’s gardens. And I felt the call. The earth whispering to me asking what I wished of it.

I had to ignore it and get back to picking up apples. I put them into the ‘basket’ I had created with my dress. It was an easier way. Then I tipped them into the wicker baskets and went back together more.

Finally, the sun was setting. The bright blue sky turning paler and darker as the sun dipped. We collected the last of the day’s apples and followed the horses and carts back. People began going their own ways. I went to the well and joined the queue for water. It as too long and I decided to go to the stream instead.

Other people were heading there too but I could walk along to find a patch of my own. There wasn’t a lot of shade out here, there was just fields. I passed some cows who were getting ready for evening milking. The sheep hadn’t been brought down from the hills yet but there were some goats milling around.

At the stream, I walked by people who were drinking or collecting or taking clothes off for a wash. I saw some naked children splashing each other. An old woman with her skirts all bunched up as she dipped her feet and legs in. A few men just in their breaches pouring water from jugs over their heads and three young women watching them and giggling.

I found a quiet spot, far down from everyone else and also beside a small tree. I took all my clothes off. Wishing I had clean ones to put on. Beside from a few undergarments, I had nothing else to wear. In the Temple, I had worn white dress with sliver thread edges to show I was a novice. I could wear a clean one everyday if I had wanted.

I took the cloth strip from my head and pulled my hair down. Leaving my clothes by the tree, I stepped carefully into the stream. It was blissfully cold. Stones felt rough under the feet, so I moved a few of them then crouched down in the little exposed area of stream bed I had made. I cupped the water and splashed it all over me. The cold of it prickled my skin but it was too nice to stop.

I tried to imagine myself in a Temple bath, cooling down after a long day. The chatter of my Sister around me. Everything was cool and clean. There would be robes to wrap in, clean clothes and lots of food to eat this evening. Autumn time had also been my favourite season of year because of that.

‘What we got ‘ere then?’

The man’s voice broke through my thoughts, I stilled and looked up at him. He was grinning, showing missing teeth, rough black stub covered the lower half of his face. His brown eyes were shinning as if he was delighted by the sight before him. He was grubby, thin and a youngish look about him, maybe in his twenties?

‘You’re the mute girl, ain’t you?’

I shook my head and wonder if I did speak would he leave me alone? Panic swelled in my stomach. I knew I should go, put my clothes on and run but wouldn’t that expose me more and invite him to give chase? Not moving might be better but I really wasn’t sure….Maybe, if I had kept some clothes on it would have a made a difference.

‘Yes, you are,’ the man said in a low voice, ‘no one has hair like your’s….’

I looked at my hair, the cherry red colour had darkened with the water and felt heavier, the long wet strands were giving me some cover. I brought more of it around to hide my chest. The man noticed the movement and one of his eyebrows raised.

‘I think you need some company,’ he said and began taking his clothes off.

I shook my head and panic made me flee. I stood, water dripping off me and rushed to my clothes pile. Without throwing anything on, I ran naked into the opposite field. He chased after me, not shouting – I guess so he didn’t draw attention. I didn’t look back, I concentrated on finding some cover but of course there was none to be had.

I dropped a shoe and tried to pick it up. A heavy weight flew into the back of me and sent me tumbling to the ground.

‘Oh, yes! That’s how I like my women!’ the man spoke, his voice full of lust.

I twisted around and saw him dropping his breaches down and his manhood on display.

I couldn’t let this happen! The Sisters prepared us well for sex and bearing children but they taught us it was an act of our faith. Our bodies were vessels for the next Sisters and we shouldn’t just lay with any man. There were rites to be done…

I scrambled upwards but the man threw himself down on top of me and grappled me to the ground. I tasted dirt and blood on my lips. His breath was harsh in my ears and I could feel the hardness of him pushing against my rear end. He tried to part my legs with his own but I strained against him.

My hands clenched around the dry soil and before I could think, instinct took over. I told the earth to blind him as I threw the soil into his face. He cried out and moved his hands off me to try and get his eyes clean. I wiggled out from under him and sat facing him, my chest heaving with deep breaths.

The man swore at me, calling me nasty names as he rubbed his eyes and blinked. His eyes had turned white.

‘I can’t see!’ he screamed.

I plunged my hands deep in the soil and felt the power growing within. The ground shook, the grass shaking wildly then the earth began splitting, a hole appearing under the man and because he was distracted by being blind, he fell into the hole. He screamed but it was cut off by the ground coming back together and the soil closing around him.

‘I didn’t mean it,’ I whispered looking at the spot the the man had disappeared from.

Grass brushed against my naked skin, the soil was cold underneath me. Licking my lips and tasted blood and dirt on them still. I turned away, saw my clothes and quickly got dressed. I ran back to the stream, washing the soil away then rushed to my hidey hole.

There I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and curled up. The Sisters taught us to control our powers. To not use them without thinking nor in anger. I had broken that lesson. What was I going to do?

Tears washed down my face, thoughts flooded my mind and I couldn’t calm down. All I could see was the earth swallowing that man!

Darkness pressed against my makeshift shelter. I looked out from a hole and steadied myself. No one knew what had happened and if anybody asked me, I was a mute who couldn’t utter a word. The man was gone so he couldn’t say anything against me. I could carry on as normal. That would be the best thing and no one would ever know.

I got up and went to the well, I sorted myself out, tied my wet hair back up and under the cloth, brushed grass from my clothes and put on my shoes. I went back to my hut and found a little stew and tea left for me to have.

Some people were smoking in chairs beside the fire and others had gone to bed all ready. No one looked or spoke to me. I tried to act as normal, tipping the stew into my mouth and swallowing down the cooling tea. I got into bed and pulled the woollen blanket over my head.

I lay breathing deeply, my eyes squeezed shut and trying to blank my mind. I had made a terrible, terrible mistake but I would learn from it and never again would I act like that.

I was alone now. I had to control my gift. I had to stay hidden.

 

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Refused

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The hag held out the shinny red apple but Snow White refused it. The princess turned away thus changing her fate forever.

Chill #WritePhoto

The snow froze the ground and lay not as a solid blanket but more patchy and lumpy. The Wastelands were like that, rising and falling, all wild with long grass, spiky bushes and stunted trees.

A small cabin, easily missed, stood nested in between two hills and the cover of trees. Smoke rose from the chimney as the clouds blocked the last rays of sun. The chopping of wood echoed and the whooshing of an axe came from the behind the cabin.

Lance collected the newly sliced logs and juggled them with the axe. He could have left the heavy tool outside but he had lost his last one to the Imps. Going inside, he knocked the snow from his boots and dumped the wood and the axe by the fire.

The two dogs growled at him then settled again on the sofa at the sound of his voice, ‘it’s only me. It’s fine.’

Lance went outside to get the rest of the wood. It was dark now the sun had set and a few flakes of snow fluttered from the heavy clouds above. Lance couldn’t see that far into The Wastelands but he knew the layout as if the map was drawn onto his skin.

Back inside, with the rest of the wood, he put two pieces on the fire then put the other logs into the basket beside. It felt too early to light the lamps but if he didn’t the Imps might try to use the shadows to sneak in.

The lamps went on to the two window sills and on the small table next to the door. Lance touched the holly above the door, the leaves were bright green and the red berries shone in the light. There was also dried sage and other plants that The Hollow Witch said should help to keep the Imps away.

The snow was falling faster now and sticking to the ground. A chilly wind was creaking the cabin and creeping through the gaps to try and freeze the inside up. Night rolled in, claiming The Wastelands in darkness.

Going back to the fire, Lance sit in the only other seat in the cabin, an armchair. One of the dogs thumped his tail, whilst the other didn’t even raise her head. Lance didn’t mind, when the dogs were calm it meant the spirits were away.

‘Let’s hope we have a quiet night,’ Lance uttered, ‘the snow is coming down again and that should help keep things at bay but other things might be seeking warmth and we don’t ever invite anything inside.’

The dog grumbled in agreement and rest his head on the arm of the sofa to watch Lance.

Looking into the fire, Lance fell into wondering why him. He could see things people couldn’t for as long as he could remember. It had drove his parents away and he had been left as an apprentice to a shoe maker. That had only last a year though because he hadn’t been able to stop talking about the little elves who mended shoes in the night.

Lance had tried to be a baker, but couldn’t stop talking to the Spirit Keeper of the Ovens and the bread ended up burning too many times. Next, he had tried to be a blacksmith but the Talker for the Horses had kept telling him he wasn’t doing it right and Lance had kept getting in trouble even though it was the Talker making the mistakes.

He had found not pointing out the spirits was the best thing to do but somehow everyone in the town and the neighbouring ones knew he could see things. That unknown was frighting to simple people so Lance had moved away and tried to be a guard in the King’s City. But the spirits were worse there and Lance found seeing them and hearing them all the time too much.

Seeking out the help of people of magic or others that saw the spirit world had helped. Though it had also lead to him being exploited. As a young man he wasn’t aware of this, just glad to have found he wasn’t alone and someone wanted to help him.

As time went on and Lance become more awake to things, he realised that some of those magic people couldn’t see like he could and were using him to trick people into spending money and sometimes getting their houses robbed.

Lance had come all the way out here, to The Wastelands were people didn’t live. He had wanted to be away from everything and not bothered by spirits. He had built his cabin and made a living for himself as a carpenter. He carved bowls, cups, spoons, buckets, children toys and other useful items which he sold anywhere he could do.

The money he used for food and to pay for The Hollow Witch’s services. Lance was grateful to have discovered her. She had come to his cabin one night, seeking shelter and warmth from a snowstorm.

Lance had been unsure at first then The Hollow Witch had told him she could see that he was being hounded by a group of Imps and in return for a night or two of shelter, she would get rid of them for him.

Agreeing, Lance had let her in and once she was warm, The Hollow Witch had cast spells about and got out some sage to banish the Imps.

‘I’m the Hollow Witch because I live in a tree hollow down in the valley on the edge of The Wastelands,’ she had told him, ‘I can help you with your other spirit problems too. But I can’t take away your Sight, only help keep things at bay.’

‘Do you know anyone who can take the Sight away?’ Lance had asked her as the wind had whipped the snow outside and the fire had crackled away.

‘No one can take away your gift or your curse if that’s what you call it. It is your’s alone. You can use it as I have, to aid people and yourself or you can try and ignore it. But some spirits won’t like that,’ The Hollow Witch spoke.

‘The imps?’ Lance had pondered.

‘Yes. They will stop at nothing till they have your attention. They will steal from you, pinch and bite you, laugh and scream in your ears. Anything that makes you speak of them. Then they will continue because that is what they do. They plague us, trick us and led us to danger.’

Lance nodded and had fallen silent. He had felt coming out here would help him escape but it seemed he had been wrong.

Coming back to the present, Lance heard the growling of the dogs. He watched them get off the sofa and go to the door. They stood with ears and tails up, fur raised, growling deeply.

Lance followed them and tried to look out the window but it was too dark. He pressed the side of his face to the door and listened. He could hear laughter like a child but he knew it wasn’t.

He stood back and repeated what The Hollow Witch had told him to, ‘you are not welcome here. Go away. Don’t do anything to this place nor myself or my dogs. Stay away. I banish you from this space. Return to where you come from. BE GONE!’

Taking a few deep breaths, Lance pressed his ear to the door again and heard the wind blowing the snow.

The Imps were gone now but he knew they would be back soon enough.

 

(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2019/12/12/thursday-photo-prompt-chill-writephoto/ with thanks).

Casting The Curse

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I curse you.

May your blood boil and fill you with rage. May you destroy all you love. Let the rage consume you and spill into the earth.

Let poison be in your cup and you drink deeply. The poison shall course through your veins, turn your blood black. Let your body be sealed. No blade can open you skin, you shall not be cut.

Stitch your mouth and eyes closed. Burn your fingers so you can’t feel. Let only you ears hear the screams.

Boil, boil, boil. Rage, rage, rage. Burn, burn, burn. Flow, flow, flow.

I cast this curse on you.

Harbinger #Writephoto

It was the last day of September and a Monday which meant that Sadie had been super hectic at work. Finally, she was free to go home and though she was tried, she had a busy evening ahead.

As the bus engine vibrated underneath her, Sadie listed off her plans; home to eat and shower, then off to the coven meeting. There the practising witches would welcoming the coming of October at midnight. Afterwards she could go home to sleep.

Getting off the bus, she hurried down the road to her small house. The sky above was almost dark and Sadie hoped it wouldn’t rain. She opened the gate to her house and went up the path. On either side, Sadie’s front garden grew wild with a mix of things she used in cooking and magic.

Something rustled close by the front door. Sadie paused and looked down. There was something black and white sticking out of a clump of rosemary. Sadie peered further and saw a magpie trying to hide.

‘What are you doing down there?’ Sadie asked.

The magpie let out a soft, distressed cry. One of his wings was sticking out strangely and there was dried blood.

‘You are hurt!’ Sadie spoke, ‘wait a minute.’

She dug out her keys, let herself in and rushed into the kitchen. Getting a clean towel, Sadie went outside again and scooped up the magpie.

The weak bird allowed himself to be wrapped up and taken in without a fight.

Sadie placed him inside an old wicker basket then wondered what to do.

‘I’ll take you to the coven,’ she said aloud, ‘someone there will know what to do with you. A few of the witches have bird familiars.’

Sadie kept the magpie warm, give him little bit of cooked chicken and some water. When he seemed settled, Sadie got something to eat herself. After, she showered and changed in her black dress and purple hooded cloak.

Tucking the magpie carefully into the basket, she carried him to the basement of the abandoned factory where the coven meet.

Candles light all the walls and corners of the room. Chairs and tables were dotted around, some with witches sitting on them. Other figures moved across the centre, making markings on the floor.

Sadie found a male witch, Alex, who had a raven familiar, to help the magpie.

‘Looks like he’s been hit by a car,’ Alex told her, ‘this wing is broken and he’s in shock. You did the right thing. I’ll look after him.’

‘Thank you,’ Sadie replied, ‘I knew I couldn’t leave him to die.’

The welcoming of October began and they joined the others in the nighttime celebrations.

Hours later, the witches closed things and said their farewells. Sadie was too tried to give the magpie anymore thought and went home to bed.

 

Days later, there was a knock at Sadie’s door. She opened it, thinking it was the postman or a neighbour but it was Alex.

‘Oh, my basket!’ Sadie cried, ‘I’d forgot all about it!’

Alex smiled and added, ‘and your new familiar too!’

‘Familiar?’

Said looked into the basket and saw the magpie. He was looking healthy, his broken wing fixed and he had been well fed.

‘Yes,’ Alex replied, ‘I asked him if he wanted to be released or stay with you. He decided to thank you for saving his life by becoming your familiar. His name is Harbinger.’

Puzzlement crossed Sadie’s face and she looked from the magpie to Alex, ‘I don’t know anything about birds or having a familiar…’

Alex laughed and replied, ‘Harbinger and I will teach you all you need to know.’

 

(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2019/09/26/thursday-photo-prompt-harbinger-writephoto/ with thanks).

The Witch’s House

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The children called it the Witch’s House and told tales of a horrible old woman who kidnapped people and used them in potion making. There wasn’t any truth behind it but seeing the state of the house the tales were easy enough to believe.