A Good Witch or A Bad Witch?
Caladia’s clientele was quite small, mostly girls wanting a love potion or pregnant women coming around to have the little one’s fortune told. Today it was serious. Mr. Whinge needed to get rid of his carbuncles so he could attract a new wife. The old one had died, probably just to get away from his constant complaining.
Nothing suited the man. The last wife had been his fourth. Wife number one he’d left behind when he moved to Six Cornered Wood. Number two left him and number three was rumored to have deliberately drowned herself. Caladia worried that the next would do the old fellow in herself after finding where he hid his money.
A potion book perched on the sill of an open window because her eyes weren’t as sharp as once they were. On the shelves above her sat an assortment of jars, bottles and boxes with her ingredients, some with very faded labeling. Vixtor, her familiar, a chameleon she’d inexplicably poofed here from the darkest depths of South America, watched from the shelf as well. He knew someone needed to keep an eye on her.
“Stump water. Fresh,” she read from the potion book. Caladia took an empty jar and went out to an old, blackened stump that could hold rain water for days after the last shower fell. Filling it, she went back into her shack without giving the sample more than a cursory glance or noticing that the wind had turned the page for her.
Next ingredient, wild strawberries. She had some dried and that was a good thing because wild strawberries didn’t grow in late summer. The wind flipped two pages in the time it took her to locate the goods and sprinkle it into her mortar. Vixtor hissed a warning but she ignored him. “Legs of fly,” she read. A page turned and Vixtor bobbed his head furiously. “What is wrong with you?” she asked but since Vixtor couldn’t talk she put the next thing, caterpillar hair, into the mortar. She steeped it all in a pot, filtered it into a bottle and set out for Whinge’s house.
She lived in the middle of an old forest filled with hardwoods. Their nuts attracted deer which attracted wolves which attracted hunters. Caladia delighted in setting traps for the humans. Not dangerous ones, no. Things like dinging the birds so they’d set up a ruckus instead of falling silent. The crows were especially noisy and the wolves were so grateful they agreed to leave her chickens and ducks alone.
By the time she’d walked to the big pond it was late morning and she still couldn’t recall the words for that darn spell! “Vestro incillius?” she grumbled. “Bibesto umbilicus?”She knew better than to speak incantations with her wand in her hand unless she was serious but she also knew better than to run with a knife in her hand. Caladia ambled along, racking her noggin for the correct words. Just as she said, “Giganimo corbundumii!” her toe caught in a root and down she went. A streak of light shot out of the wand and struck the water.
“Oh, bother!” Caladia cried, slowly working her way to her feet. She dusted off her skirt, straightened her apron and made sure Whinge’s potion was still in the pocket. Her faithful beechwood wand remained intact in spite of it looking like the old crack in it might have become a teensy bit wider in the fall. Caladia continued walking, not noticing the ripple heading toward the bank.
Two feet away from the edge, a round, dark head appeared wearing a cap of moss. It had beady green eyes and said, “Greep!” Shaped like a seal but also a fish, it waddled out of the pond and made for town.
Mr. Whinge gave her five silver pieces for the potion and she went on her way. She needed some sewing needles and had planned to do a little more shopping while in the village, primarily for old shoe leather that she needed to boil down for a particular type of salve. First she stopped at Ludwella’s for a cup of grasswort tea and some gossip. Her sister witch, (in the companion sense, not the sibling one) told her of the night before, of the commotion around midnight. Pointing out Baxter Doofus, who was eyeing every man, and his wife, with great suspicion, she brought her attention to the squashed holly bush beneath their bedroom window. The carter had been late coming home and this morning Sidelbus Marney had asked Ludwella to remove a large patch of stickers from his bum. It all made Ludwella titter with excitement.
She had no shoe leather to spare so Caladia made her way to the shoemaker’s and, of course, got some scraps there. Next stop was Madam Orbitt’s where she purchased her needles and got a few yards of gingham that she tucked into her knapsack. “Did you hear about Widow Little’s well pump?” Madam Orbitt asked her.
“No,” Caladia said, tsking.
“Remember when you came last week? That very evening she went to get a pail of water and the well is giving milk now!”
“Do tell!” Caladia said faintly, suddenly not feeling so good. She remembered, all right. She’d been trying to recollect the incantation for making liquored lemonade. Toros godda actum. Naturally, she’d been carrying her wand. Witches were supposed to carry wands, weren’t they? Had she honestly said poura lotta lactum as she’d passed the well pump? She’d best keep it to herself. At least the widow wouldn’t have to worry about where her next drink of milk would come from and she could sell off the excess. See? It all worked out nicely.
As she was passing the hostler’s there came a loud screaming and two women fled the butcher shop, tearing at their hair, eyes rolling in terror. Shooting out the door behind them was the oddest-looking thing Caladia had ever clapped a rheumy eye on. It flopped along on its belly, a fishy sort of tail curled up behind it. Short pointed ears splayed on either side of its furry head and in its mouth was someone’s Sunday roast. “Snork! Snork!” it bellowed from its nose, its mouth being full of raw meat.
The butcher came pounding out after it, cleaver in hand, but the animal was surprisingly quick and agile. “Let it go, Costi!” his wife urged. “What good is the roast now? The thing’s slobbered all over it.” The butcher stopped but every dog in town charged into the underbrush, nose down and tail up.
Caladia went home and found Vixtor sunning himself on top of her potion book. She made them a lunch of dandelion greens, fatback and rice cakes and fussed at Vixtor when he left most of the greens on his plate. She took some leftover corn bread and scattered it for the ducks. The chickens got jealous and left her no eggs that afternoon. Caladia didn’t give in to their demands. She knew there was no way they could just store them up and refuse to lay purely out of spite.
She picked turnips and carrots and eyed the ducks for a while to choose which one she’d stuff on Friday, keeping her plans to herself. It was better that way. Nervous geese can be dangerous. She followed the bees to their hive and coaxed a lovely honeycomb from them, her reward for planting the right kind of flowers and vegetables.
The next morning as Vixtor was waiting for the coffee to brew there came a thunderous knock on her door. It was Whinge. Red splotches covered his face, neck, hands and carbuncles. He waggled the bottle in front of her as he raged, “Woke up last night with a house full of skeeters! They like to have ate me alive!”
That’s what he got for leaving the cork out, she thought.
Caladia marched to the stump and peered down into the water to see it teeming with tiny, squirming mosquito larvae. Whinge was stomping across the yard and Vixtor was hopping up and down in the doorway to let her know he was ready for a cup. She was, too, but she doubted if a little coffee would mollify Whinge. “I want my money back! You’re a menace, Caladia! What woman is going to want me like this?”
“No woman with half her wits wants you,” Caladia muttered to herself.
What indeed! She saw Immasalas glide out of the trees, his tall, felt wizard’s hat tipping over at the point. His wand swung by his side, tied to his belt by a leather thong. His beard was white as was his hair, both long and occasionally sporting a grass burr or living bug. The wizard came to Whinge’s side and took his elbow. The leather thong knew when to let go and curled away as he drew his wand. “Let me help you, old boy.”
“Sister, cousin, aunt and uncle
Once upon a time there was a carbuncle
Egrets dance and piggies trot
It used to be on his face and now it’s not”
Blinking, Whinge shook himself all over and gaped at Immasalas, not sure of what to say. “The lady keeps her money,” Immasalas told him, knowing good and well what to say.
“Yeh, yeh, yeh. Sure,” Whinge agreed and jogged on.
Flushing with pleasure, for who wouldn’t want to have Immasalas stop by?, Caladia invited him in for coffee. Vixtor waited for his saucer full to cool, trying to convey to Caladia that he’d warned her of the pages turning in the wind. Meaningful looks and croaks didn’t translate very well and the humans mostly ignored him until he took a beetle off Immasala’s hair with his tongue.
“Let me get to the point of my visit,” he said, reaching into his pocket. Out his hand came, holding a pair of spectacles.
Caladia clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, how kind of you!”
The old wizard looked at her fondly and wagged his head, sighing. “My dear, you really need to take care. How old are you now? A hundred and five?”
Caladia sniffed delicately. “You know very well I’m not going to tell you my age.” Vixtor could have told him but he wisely kept his own counsel.
“I found them at the wishing well. What have you been wishing for?”
After she’d poured another cup and given her guest and the chameleon a refill, she admitted, “I’m trying to remember that spell to make the broom work so I won’t have to do the sweeping.”
Immasalas laughed heartily at that and advised Caladia to instead give a girl from the village a few coppers once a month to come and tidy up. If he’d known what was going to happen he might have spelled the broom himself. Instead, he finished his coffee, tipped his hat and said farewell.
Caladia sat in the old rocker that stayed in the yard, a veteran of many rains, snows and the baking heat. She recited one incantation after another and flicked at the broom. One of them turned a flowerpot into a toad. Then in the middle of yet another she sneezed. There was a terrific whoosh! and a flash of heat so intense she could feel her eyebrows singe. “Oh, dear!” Her house was gone. In one second it had been reduced to a pile of ash and her poor apple tree was sporting tiny blazes.
A burning cinder flew over and Vixtor stepped on it. “Beebeebeebee!” he cried, limping as he held his injured foot high. Caladia picked him up and crooned as she kissed his hurt foot then put him on her shoulder. Worn out, he sighed and shut his protuberant eyes.
She closed her hers and drew with her wand as she spoke.
“Magic, magic, restore the past
What my stupidity reduced to ash”
Caladia opened her eyes and cried out in delight. She hadn’t meant to go this far, but she had said “the past,” hadn’t she? In front of her, all granite and gold was a castle! An honest-to-Pete castle! Vixtor woke up long enough to exclaim “hmmph!” and went back to sleep.
She hugged her cheek to the lizard’s back. “Oh, love, when I finally do get it right, I get it very right.”