Neighbourhood Witch

By RK Moore

Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal

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440
8 mins

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER ONE


No one had ever seen Mrs Bleasdale running, not even during her years as headmistress at the local primary school. So it was quite a surprise to find the elderly woman galloping along the high street of Little Changeling. She was going at such a speed, that she almost mowed down a pair of young mothers pushing prams past the Post Office.

‘Sorry,’ she shouted, with barely a glance back as she raced onwards. Giving the road the same amount of attention, she crossed the quiet street and barged through the door of the newsagent’s, startling the three people inside.

‘What on Earth’s the matter, Audrey?’ exclaimed Maurice, watching from behind the counter as Mrs Bleasdale leant a hand against the drinks compartment and got her breath back. ‘Worried we’d run out of the new scratchcards, or something?’ he joked.

His wife, Meryl, sat on a stool nearby, applying a coat of bitch-red nail varnish to her talons. She gave the older woman a brief once-over. ‘No, Mrs Bleasdale thinks gambling’s a sin, don’t you, love?’

‘Hardly,’ Mrs Bleasdale answered between heavy exhaling. She cast a disdainful look back at her ex-pupil. ‘I said it was a waste of time.’

‘Do you need a seat?’ the young man, in for his morning paper, asked her.

‘Good idea,’ agreed Maurice, coming out from behind the counter. ‘Alfie, help me sit Audrey down.’ He looked across at his wife. ‘Meryl, get off there and let the poor woman rest for a minute.’

Mrs Bleasdale waved a hand. ‘No, no. Thanks but I’m alright. Really. Not used to running, that’s all.’

Accepting her reassurance, Maurice rested against the front of the counter and folded his arms. ‘So what’s got you flustered, Audrey?’ he asked.

‘She can’t keep away from you, Maurice,’ teased Alf, rolling up his paper and tucking it under his arm.

Meryl, who hadn’t shifted from the stool, let out a small ‘Ha!’ at the suggestion and continued painting her nails.

‘It’s about the house,’ explained the older woman.

‘Your house?’ echoed Alf.

‘No. Of course not my house. My goodness, how long have you lived in Little Changeling? I mean, THE house.’

Meryl’s ears pricked up at this. Putting the pot of nail polish on the counter, she looked up. ‘Someone’s bought it?’ With her question answered with a nod from Mrs Bleasdale, Meryl raised her freshly-plucked eyebrows. ‘It’s been so long I thought it would stay abandoned forever.’

‘I just got a call from my sister, Enid,’ Mrs Bleasdale went on.

‘Your sister’s bought it?’ Alf asked.

‘No!’ she answered, sounding a little ratty now. ‘Her neighbour, Derek, is an Estate Agent in the city. A man went in yesterday, saw the house in their books, and snapped it up, right there and then!’

‘God, it’ll be some nutter,’ Maurice said. '

‘I know,’ Mrs Bleasdale agreed. ‘According to Enid - well, Derek, really - the man’s coming to see the house tomorrow!’

‘We should warn him,’ Maurice went on. ‘Let him know what’s what.’

‘But that would mean someone actually going near the house. Near her,’ Meryl said, almost spitting out the last word.

‘Ah, come on, love. No need for that. The poor thing can’t help how she is,’ Maurice said, diplomatically.

‘I bet she can,’ Meryl shot back. ‘I bet she loves causing harm to innocent folk.’

Alf regarded the couple for a moment. ‘This fella might be different. Maybe he’ll be immune to her.’

‘He’d have to be to live there,’ Meryl muttered. She addressed Mrs Bleasdale again. ‘Do we know the man’s name?’

‘Enid never said,’ came the reply.

‘So, do we warn him or not?’ Maurice prompted.

‘Why bother?’ sniffed Meryl. ‘None of the others listened. Look what happened to them.’

The door swung open and an imposing black labrador bound in, causing immediate chaos. The dog nearly knocked Mrs Bleasdale off her feet as it scrambled around the shop.

‘Oi!’ Meryl screeched, watching as the creature paused to sniff a pile of broadsheets still bound by string. ‘Maurice, do something about that mutt!’

‘Oh Rupert, please behave,’ came a weary voice from the doorway. A tall, weathered-looking man stepped into the shop, carrying the unmistakable aroma of a farm worker. The labrador bound back to his master and giddily leap up but the man walked passed him and up to the counter.

‘Morning, Graham,’ Meryl said, a fake smile glued to her face. ‘Don’t say you never received your papers? I remember putting them in the paper boy’s bag before he left.’

‘Oh no, I have them, thank you,’ Graham replied. 'I saw Audrey running down the street and wondered if something was amiss.’

Mrs Bleasdale blushed. It was no secret to the villagers that she had a fancy for the well-spoken farmer. ‘Oh, that’s very decent of you, Graham. I’m perfectly well, thank you,’ she said. ‘I was just telling everyone that someone’s bought the house.’

‘Really?’ Graham said, in a gasp. 'How extraordinary. Who?’

‘A man from the city,’ Maurice chimed in. 'That’s all we know.’

‘And is he aware of…?’ Graham’s voice trailed off.

‘Don’t think so,’ Meryl told him. ‘But apparently he’s coming by tomorrow to have a look. Can you believe he bought it without seeing the inside?’

‘Gosh. Well, I wish him the best of luck, obviously,’ Graham said. ‘Rupert, stop that!’ He slapped his leg sharply. The dog lowered its leg from the corner of the drinks cabinet and padded over to the farmer. ‘I’ll have to take him outside.’ He took hold of Rupert’s lead. ‘Well, glad that’s everything’s alright. Good day to you all.’

The farmer hadn’t even closed the door properly behind him before other villagers started streaming in, wondering if Mrs Bleasdale was alright. Pretty soon, the news that someone had bought the house next to the witch had spread throughout the village, and that evening in the pub it was the hottest topic of conversation.

***

Henny Wilson stood before the kitchen window, listening as the rain pummelled against the glass, her reflection staring back at her. ‘You know, somebody could be standing outside, looking in, and I would be none the wiser,’ she said with a heavy sigh.

‘Like those ragamuffins that call you Professor McGonagall?’ came a plummy voice. ‘Turn the light out and see.’

Henny smiled. ‘No, it’s okay. I was just... making conversation.’ She returned to the table and sat down.

The turnip sitting on the table shifted its position until it was facing her. ‘What’s wrong?’ it asked. 'Oh, I know. You’re lonely.’

‘No I’m not.’

‘Yes you are. You always get like this when you’re lonely, which is becoming more frequent, by the way.’

Henny folded her arms and leaned back. ‘And why would I get lonely when I’ve got you to speak to?’

‘Oh, you can’t tell me that you’d rather spend time with a talking root vegetable than real people, madam.'

She looked beyond Tip’s carved-out eyes to the glowing candle within. The flame which had brought him to life flickered in the draught of the room. 'I’d only end up hurting them,’ she said finally.

‘It’s too early in the evening to get maudlin. At least crack open a bottle of wine first.’

‘You can’t drink,’ Henny said, nonplussed.

‘I know,’ replied Tip. ‘But you are rather funny when you’re tipsy.’

Henny gave a tired smile and yawned. ‘An early night, I think,’ she decided and rose from her chair.

‘Watch out for the... shelf,’ Tip called out, a second too late. Henny had already hit her head against the book shelf above. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Yes,’ she said with a wince. This was the seventh time this week she’d hit her head. She was just surprised her skull was still intact. ‘Want me to snuff you out now or later?’ she asked, rubbing her head.

‘Um.... later, I think. I’m not particularly tired at the moment.’

Henny pursed her lips and stared at her unlikely friend. ‘In other words, I’ll be up all night listening to your chatter?’ she teased.

‘Well, I’ve never been so insulted in my life... or death,’ Tip gasped.

Henny laughed. ‘Yes you have.’

The gap that served as Tip’s mouth curved into a uneven smile. ‘There, knew I could cheer you up.’

‘What would I do without you?’ she said, her eyes scanning the room. 'Now, where’s that cat gone to?’

‘Oh, he’ll be out cruising the village night life with gay abandon, no doubt,’ said Tip, in a withering tone. ‘Lucky thing.’

‘Well, he’s welcome to it. Come on. Bed time.’

By the time Henny had put Tip on the bedside table and gone to change into her pyjamas and brush her teeth, she’d had two minor accidents. The first was a toe-stubbing incident involving her right foot and one of the bedstead legs. The second saw a fleck of toothpaste hit her in the eye as she cleaned her teeth. As a result, Henny came to bed grumpier than before. She punched the light switch. With Tip’s candle giving off a small glow, got into the safety of her bed, the only place she’d never had an accident.

‘At the risk of sounding like a broken record, are you alright?’ Tip asked.

‘Yes,’ she replied, in a dull tone.

‘I’d help if I could.’

Slowly Henny pulled the duvet from over her head and looked at him. ‘I know. Thank you,’ she said, warmly.

Tip yawned. ‘It seems I am tired, after all,’ he said. 'Would you do the honours?’

‘Of course. Good night.’

‘Sweet dreams.’

Henny leant over and blew out the flame. As the wisps of smoke rose into the air, she lay back in her bed. Despite going through all the spell books left to her by her foremothers, Henny couldn’t find an incantation to shift Tip’s soul to something less conspicuous. It was a good job the community shunned her. If they ever saw her talking to a large turnip with carved-out eyes and mouth...

She stared at the streak of moonlight stretched across the ceiling from the closed curtains. She wasn’t tired. Not really. But when you were so accident-prone you didn’t dare turn on the television or even read a book, there wasn’t much else to do than sleep or...

Henny switched her bedside table lamp on, and got out of bed. Besides being asleep, there was only one other time when the curse backed off. She didn’t understand the reasoning behind it, but she was not going to start complaining.

Even as she donned the black attire, she sensed the invisible weight of the curse lift and peace descend in its place. She stood in front of the vanity mirror in the corner of the room and undid her ponytail. Her long hair fell past her shoulders, framing her face perfectly. The last item on the list of witchy apparel was, of course, the dark pointed hat, which stayed in the tall shoe box the boots had come in. Opening the lid, she removed the hat with reverence and placed it snugly on her head. Her reflection gave her a satisfied wink.

‘Very sexy,’ it said. ‘Though there’s one thing you’ve forgotten.’ Henny watched as, with predictability, the reflection popped open the top two buttons of her red shirt, revealing a cleavage. She didn’t even bother to look down at herself. Whatever her reflection did in the mirror, the same action would occur in the real world. She walked through to the hallway, tingling with that familiar buzz of knowing there would be no accidents for the next hour or so.

The broom sat propped against the wall near the front door, unadorned by the rune marks and pentagrams preferred by other young witches. As she stepped towards it, the handle pushed away from the wall, standing upright to await its mistress’s grasp.

The cool summer air teased Henny’s face as she left the house. As she passed the empty building next door, she glanced at its exterior for any signs of vandalism. A few of the bored teenagers in the village had taken to spraying graffiti or leaving their rubbish lying around on the weekends.

A group of them had tried to sneak into Henny’s house when they thought she wasn’t in. She’d been in the bath at the time and had heard the front door’s familiar creak as it opened. Even when she heard the loud whispers and giggles, she didn’t move from the tub. Despite the numerous accidents Henny had within its walls, the house acted as something of a guard dog when it came to trespassers. She never found out what had befallen the teenagers while she had been in the bathroom. After the screaming and the hastily retreating steps, however, no one ever tried to get into her house again.

There was no graffiti. She did notice that the old, battered For Sale sign was lying on the unkempt lawn. The estate agents must have given up any thoughts of selling it. Henny wasn’t surprised. Why have a sign in the first place? No one stayed more than a couple of months. On occasion, when the accidents were at their most painful, Henny wondered if she were to move into the empty house would the mishaps stop? But her house wasn’t cursed. She was.

Broom in hand, she walked the path to the field at the back of the houses. The moon was full and bright, revealing a small creature padding towards her.

‘Fun night?’ she asked it. The cat had stopped a few feet away. Its eyes glimmered and the creature purred. Henny laughed. ‘That good, huh? Would you like to join me or are you heading back?’ The cat sat on its haunches and licked its paws. ‘Thank you,’ Henny said. ‘You know, I wish I could understand what you say. Don’t get me wrong, Tip is fun to have around but it’d be nice to have someone else to speak to. Or maybe you are able to speak to me, but just pretend you can’t. It’s because I named you Fluffy, isn’t it?’ The aforementioned Fluffy chose that moment to turn around and wait with its back to her. Henny laughed to herself and continued onwards, Fluffy padding beside her.

The field she usually took off from, occupied by a dozen or so cows, belonged to Graham Plum, the farmer who owned much of the land surrounding the village. Graham was aware she used it, but did nothing to stop her. Henny thought he was one of the nicest men she knew. If she was taking a walk through the field and Graham was there, he would say hello - but keep his distance - unlike most of the other villagers. More than once she had discovered some milk or jam lying by her doorstep, left by persons unknown. No notes had been attached, but Henny had a feeling the genial farmer was behind it.

There was a large space in the centre of the field to take off from - the cows having chosen to sleep nearer the stone walls enclosing the land. Henny came to a stop and whipped the broom between her legs. No matter the countless times she had did so, she always felt a little silly as she squatted on the long broom handle. Mindful not to sit too far back, she made enough space for her companion. Fluffy launched himself to the top part of the broom, balancing perfectly as only a cat can.

‘Hold onto your knickers, Fluffy,’ Henny muttered, readying herself. She put a bit more weight onto the broom, which acted as a sort of springboard. Seconds later, both witch and cat were soaring upwards towards the cloudless ink-coloured sky.

Hands grasped tightly around the handle, Henny whooped despite herself. It was so exhilarating to be in the air, passing bemused owls and other night birds. And most of all, it was so nice to know not one accident would befall her during her stint in the sky. As she veered towards the burnt orange lights of the village, Henny wondered if it was possible to live out the rest of her days flying her broom.



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