Which Witch by James Hartley

Jul 10 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

My friend Peggy, who lives down the street, is a witch. Well, sort of. She’s not supposed to be a witch, she’s only nine just like me. She shouldn’t be a witch until she’s older, maybe twelve or thirteen, I’m not sure. I think it has something to do with what the kids in school call “getting her development.” Peggy’s mother Mrs. Haledon is a witch, and Peggy’s older sister Susan who’s sixteen is a witch, and I don’t think they even realized that Peggy could do witch stuff. If they had known they might have been more careful to keep their tools and books and like that locked away. They didn’t, and Peggy kept borrowing them.

She borrowed the tools, she used them, but she really, really didn’t know what she was doing. She got away with a lot of stuff because it was small spells, magic that wasn’t very noticeable. She would duplicate nickels and dimes until we had enough money to buy from the ice cream truck. By the end of the day the magic coins would have disappeared, but the driver would have no idea why he was short. Same thing when we’d go over to the Mini-Mart. A couple of times she did stuff that was more obvious, but she was lucky and got away with it. Even when it was totally gross, like Mrs. Perkins’ dead cat.

Mrs. Perkins is an old lady who lives across the street from me, and she has a bunch of cats. She was getting a little, well, forgetful. I don’t think she really knew how many she had, or which were really hers and which were strays that showed up for food. But one day she found a dead cat under the chair on her screen porch. She did like she always does for a problem, she called my mother for help, and Mom sent Dad over. I tagged along, and so did Peggy who was over at my house at the time.

Well, that cat looked like it had been dead several days. I caught a whiff of it and it really stank, I almost upchucked it was so bad. Dad got a couple of shovels and scooped it up and put it in a box, then he took it around to Mrs. Perkins’ back yard and buried it while Peggy and I watched. When he finished I started to follow him home. I expected Peggy to come back over to our house, but she said to me, “Kendra, I just remembered something I gotta do, I’ll see you later,” and headed down the street toward her house. I had a funny feeling she was going to try something.

The next morning Peggy showed up carrying two boxes. One of them had dirt clinging to the sides. I was pretty sure it was the box the cat had been buried in. “Hey, Kendra, let’s go over to the woods, I got something I want to show you.” After a little hesitation I went with her.

The woods was a couple of blocks away, just over the town line. Most of the kids around spent time playing in the woods. There was a nice clearing a little way in, Peggy used it for a lot of her witch stuff. When we got there, I saw that the one box did indeed have the dead cat, while the other box had some of her “borrowed” magic tools. She quickly set up her stuff and went to work. I don’t think I was supposed to see the magic or hear the spells or whatever, but Peggy never worried about it. I kinda liked to watch her do magic. Sometimes I got a sort of tingly feeling from it, tingly but pleasant.

After about ten minutes of work, she said “viviarimatius!” and the cat stood up. It tried to meow, I think, but the noise it made was kind of funny. Peggy packed up her tools in one box and gave it to me to carry, she put the cat back in the box it had been buried in and she carried that. We went over to Mrs. Perkins’ yard and dumped the cat near the food dishes. It went over to the food, it acted like it was hungry, but it seemed to have trouble eating. We watched for a couple of minutes, then went to Peggy’s house to sneak the magic stuff back.

I told you Peggy didn’t really know what she was doing? Well, a couple days later I saw that cat and most of its fur was gone. A week later, really, really gross, the cat was falling apart. One leg was nothing but bones, all the flesh was gone. Mrs. Perkins had poor eyesight, but I’m surprised nobody else around the neighborhood saw it. I told Peggy, and I guess she did something, reversed the spell or whatever, because I never saw the cat again, and nobody ever found out.

Nobody ever connected the homeless guy with Peggy, either. We found a frog in the woods one day, and she said she was going to turn it into a prince, and she kissed it, but nothing happened. I never thought that was for real, just a fairy tale, but maybe for a witch it’s different. Peggy was disappointed, but then she put the frog in a box and went and got a wand and some other stuff. After some hocus-pocus she kissed the frog again, and darned if it didn’t turn into a man!

Of course in all the fairy tales you get a handsome prince in a fancy suit. That’s not what really happened. Look, the frog wasn’t wearing clothes, and so the guy wasn’t either. He also still looked a lot like a frog, and had about the brains of one, too. When Peggy found herself kissing an ugly guy with no clothes, she screamed and he got scared and ran off. The cops caught him running around with no clothes on, but they just figured he was another feeble-minded homeless dude, so there was no fuss at all.

There were a few other foulups like this, but finally Peggy pulled one that couldn’t be ignored. We had a guy in school named Franky, and he was a real horse’s butt. He was in our grade at school, but he was at least three years older than the rest of us. He’d been left back several times. He was a real bully, always picking on the other kids, taking someone’s lunch money, beating kids up after school just for the fun of it. Franky was a nickname, his real name was Francis, but heaven help anyone who’d use it–it was too much like the girl’s name Frances and he hated it.

Most bullies, male bullies anyway, concentrated on torturing boys, but Franky wasn’t so fussy, he worked over some of us girls too. I was lucky, I never got more than an arm punch or two. Franky got away with it until he made the terrible mistake of taking Peggy’s lunch money … three days in a row! I was watching the third day, and as he was walking away I saw her make some kind of witchy gesture. A dirty handkerchief came snaking out of his pocket, and she grabbed it and stuffed it in her pack.

“What was that, Peggy?” I asked after he was out of earshot.

“I needed something personal, preferably with some body fluids on it. Snot’ll do as well as anything. I’m gonna get even with that jerk.” She paused, then added, “Tomorrow’s Saturday, Kendra. Meet me at the clearing around ten tomorrow morning, we’ll do it then.”

When I got there she had everything set up — five candles in a pentagram, the handkerchief on top of a miniature altar in the middle, and chalk pentagrams on two flat rocks. She stood in one and motioned me to stand in the other. “What’s this for?” I asked.

“Protection, Kendra. This is the most powerful spell I’ve ever done, it involves summoning a demon, we need to be inside those pentagrams.” Well, I knew how flaky her magic could be, and I was tempted to get the heck out of there, but I really wanted to see this so I climbed on the rock and stood in the pentagram.

She lit the candles and started the spell. She was chanting, I couldn’t really make out the words. She was waving a wand, occasionally she would throw a pinch of some powder into the flame of the nearest candle. Finally she yelled “Ashmedai!” and something appeared inside the ring of candles. The tingly feeling I usually got from Peggy’s magic was really really strong at this point, stronger than I had ever felt it before. The something in the ring of candles was kind of blurry, I couldn’t see it very clearly. I shivered a little. I didn’t think I really wanted to see it any more clearly, in fact I didn’t think I really wanted to see it at all!

The demon–I suppose it was a demon, what else could it have been?–mumbled something, and Peggy replied, “transmogrificatius!” The demon mumbled again, and Peggy said, “francis! frances! minimalixus!” Usually both forms of the name sound alike, but she said it, like, Franz-ih-s the first time, and Franz-eh-s the second time, so you could hear a difference. The demon mumbled one more time, and Peggy said “So mote it be!

It was a clear sunny day, but all of a sudden the sky was dark with clouds, and I saw a flash of lightning over near our houses. A few seconds later there was a deafening thunderclap. Then the sky cleared, and the demon vanished in a burst of air that blew out the candles.

I looked over at Peggy. She smiled and said, “That will take care of Franky! OK, you can step out of the pentagram now.” She stepped down and started to gather up her stuff. I found out later that she had actually changed Franky from Francis, a boy, to Frances, a girl, and she also shrunk Franky so that even though he, er, she was three years older, she was about the size of the rest of the girls in our class, about the size of a typical nine year old girl.

It had apparently not occurred to Peggy that this bit of magic was far more obvious, far harder to miss, than things like the dead cat or the frog prince. The lightning and thunder were kind of obvious, too.

As Peggy was packing her stuff into a box, there was a shimmer in the air behind her where I could see it but she couldn’t. Suddenly Peggy’s mother Mrs. Haledon and her sister Susan were standing there. “Peggy,” said Mrs. Haledon, “what have you done? And how did you do it? You’re not supposed to be old enough to do things like this.”

Peggy spun around in surprise. “Oh, Mom, I just took care of our class bully. How did I do it, I don’t know, I guess I just got my witch powers a little earlier. I’ve been doing stuff for a while. I, well, I, er, kind of borrowed some of your tools … and Susan’s.”

About then I noticed that Susan was pointing at me and saying, “Shouldn’t I do something about the witness?” The mother nodded, and Susan made some sort of gesture at me. I felt numb all over and collapsed to the ground. Susan said, “There, at least she won’t be able to tell anyone about this.” She must have thought I was unconscious, but I could still see and hear everything.

Mrs. Haledon said, “Peggy, tell me exactly what you did, what demon you invoked, what spells you used, everything. Right now!”

Peggy went through all she had done, all the details. Finally when she had finished her mother said, “Oh darn! Ashmedai is irreversible, there’s no way to change this Franky back. About the best we can do …” She turned to Susan and said, “See if you can come up with some sort of memory erasure spell, make all the locals forget that Franky was ever a boy. People out of range will remember, but maybe we can catch them if they come visiting. And throw in amnesia about ever seeing Peggy, or us, practicing magic, while you’re at it.” Susan nodded, then began to take things out of a bag she was carrying and set them up.

“As for you, Peggy,” Mrs. Haledon continued, “I guess we should have watched more carefully, it wasn’t really your fault you developed powers early. But I am going to have to bind your powers for a few years until you reach a responsible age.” Peggy began to cry. “It won’t hurt, darling, you just won’t be able to do magic for a few years, until you’re twelve or thirteen.” She spoke a spell and gestured at Peggy, who was briefly surrounded by a green glow which quickly faded.

By this time Susan had finished her amnesia spell, but for some reason I could remember everything that had happened, both today and all the other times I had watched Peggy. Susan gestured at me and the numbness vanished. I sat up. Peggy’s mother came over to me and said, “Are you OK, Kendra? Peggy said you two were walking here when you got dizzy and fell down, so she came and got us. But when we got here you seemed to be waking up.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I did feel a little dizzy, but I’m OK now. I guess maybe I should go on home and lie down and rest a little, though, just in case.” I very carefully did not say anything about Franky, or Ashmedai, or how Mrs. Haledon and Susan popped up magically. I didn’t want her to try a stronger amnesia spell, one that might work.

Later I caught Peggy trying–unsuccessfully–to do magic, and I told her that I remembered, that Susan’s amnesia spell hadn’t worked on me.

My mother has a book about our family–I’m not supposed to read it, but I did. There were several female ancestors who were tried–in and around Salem–for some unspecified offense, and executed. I guess I have some witch blood, and had latent powers. Latent powers that were stirred up by Peggy’s magic, all that tingling I felt. And that were fully awakened by the incredibly strong magic emanations from Ashmedai.

I’m gonna wait a week or two until things settle down, then I’ll tell Peggy. Using my powers we should be able to go back to “borrowing” stuff, and I’ll bet I can track down the binding spell Mrs. Haledon used on Peggy. Track down and reverse the binding spell so Peggy gets her powers back.

Then just think of all the fun stuff Peggy and I can do together.

*

James Hartley is a former computer programmer. Originally from northern New Jersey, he now lives in sunny central Florida. He has published two fantasy novels, “The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge” and “Magic Is Faster Than Light” and has two more, “Teen Angel” and “Cop With a Wand,” due out soon. He has had stories published in the “Desolate Places”, “Strange Mysteries 1,2,&3”, “Book of Exodi,” “Christmas in Outer Space,” and “Free Range Fairy Tales” anthologies, and in various e-zines and print magazines. He is currently working on a new novel, “Princess on a Quest.” He is a member of IWOFA and the Dark Fiction Guild. His website is http://teenangel.netfirms.com.

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