From the author: What can possibly go wrong when two centuries-old witches, one who loves cats and one who loves birds, become neighbours in modern suburbia? First published in the T. Gene Davis Speculative Blog.
SHE’S EVIL, THE WITCH next door, she and her feline fiends. She with her hooked beak, they with their killing claws and dagger teeth that take my darling pretty birds.
I grab my broom. I throw the back door wide as her cats come creeping and leaping down into my garden. Black cats with marble eyes, brown streaky ones, milk ones with sulfurous spots.
My robin lovebirds dance on the seed table, pecking together in the morning mist. My blessed ravens squabble below in the weeds over scraps. I keep one eye on the weathervane, perched high on my leaky roof. The wind comes from the east north east, it’s safe and true; one degree westwards and it’ll blow me a deadly note. But I shan’t be caught out; I won’t be distracted whilst tending my herb garden to perish the way my wicked-hearted mother went, felled by the cursed changing of the wind. No true witch can endure the faerie wind which blows from the west with all its pale magic. My mother was careless, the faerie wind won’t get me, the oldest witch of Suburbville.
The cats though, and she next door, they ooze constant sneakiness and cunning; my feathered ones always dine in mortal danger.
I rattle my broom in the air; the furred ones pause in their wickedness.
“Woman! Cats!” I screech, stumbling to the fence, swiping at stalking cats. I bang on the wooden slats until my crooked teeth jangle.
And at last she appears, the cantankerous one, all bone and pallid chops, draped in washed out cloths and feathers, feathers I say, the worm.
“What yooou want?” she drawls.
“Ya ‘ed on me corvid table for starters. An’ ya cats ‘eds. Stop ‘em, the murderous blighters!”
“Catsss don’t take orders,” she grumbles.
“Stop ‘em or else!”
I brandish my sweeper, I stomp back into the house. One way or another those cats will be gone.
The Black Witch’s Cookbook on my kitchen table gives forth a mushroom cloud of mould that makes me cough and retch. The last time I resorted to it King Henry was on the throne, but she drives me to it.
I haul my iron cauldron from under the stairs, fill it full of Witch’s Brew, add some flakes of lizard skin and powdered dinosaur bone then add the final touch: a lovely black raven feather.
I heat it up. It bubbles. Its stink alone could fell a host of ravenous sabretooths. When it’s done I place it in the garden beneath the seed table.
And almost at once a flapping and a squawking starts coming from the bowl. I lick my lips and watch as a great black bird rises, dripping greenish liquid back into the stew. My eyes go round like twin full moons. The magic raven’s as big as my ivy-strewn woodshed.
I watch as its piercing purple eyes swivel, taking in my tangled garden and its fragile feathered inhabitants. It shall protect them, my shepherd bird, my beauty; my sorcerous powers remain undimmed, clearly.
The weathervane shifts a negligible five degrees westwards, it’s safe enough.
I retire to my bed. I lie beneath the moth-holed drapes and recall how our petty squabble over yard space wasn’t always so; once she and I fought over continents. We were queens both, queens of dark dimensions where we ruled over paradise hills and emerald plains, spicy deserts and dank jungles.
Yet eventually our ungrateful people blamed us for their endless warring; they revolted and cast us out into this tedious place of test tubes and Bunsen burners. Here our magic holds so little potency, here we’re at the mercy of the meanest faerie thing. But I’m not beaten yet, oh no, not while she remains to be squashed like the warty toad she is.
I sleep at last. Yet it’s in the night that I’m woken by a fearsome racket. Throwing the bedroom window wide I see my giant raven locked in battle with a monster supernatural cat all black and blazing eyes and fangs, refracting moonlight. My blood grows hot as I scuttle down the stairs muttering obscenities. A distant hooting laughter comes from the evil side.
I grab my broom and my magic spoon. How dare she cast spells on my garden; how dare she trespass with her pilfered devilry. As if her mortal carnivorous beasts weren’t enough.
I point my spoon at the abomination now struggling for possession of my vegetable patch and recall secret words. Green fire sparks from my hands. The craggy face of the witch next door appears leering over the fence.
I pause in my work, a spasm of rage twists my features. I seize a jar of eyeballs from the kitchen table and hurl it. She ducks her head.
I shake my fist, and turn back to my vegetable patch. At least I manage to get the panther thing to explode in orange debris. Although it’s too late for my lovely sorcerous raven, its noble blood lies smeared on the grass.
I shed a heartfelt tear for my lost bird. Curse her, the bag next door. She has it coming.
There’s a chill in the air and a wayward breeze, the weathervane stirs, but my little ones are singing and I have a subtle plan. I creep into the garden, frying pan hidden beneath my skirts.
“Woman!” I screech. “Tis time we make peace!” It’s heavy as lead this pot, a great cast iron thing I won from my mother and she won from hers. My gnarled fingers grip its wooden handle tight as old roots. My precious birds fly as I shuffle over to the fence.
“We never make peace,” she says, sneaking from her stinking house. “My catsss, they just do their thing.”
“You put bells on their necks, woman, tis the modern way. So my pretty birds, they hear cats coming.”
“Never!” she shrieks.
I grip my pan until my knuckles hurt. She can’t see it, the fool, hidden behind the slatted fence. I grind my teeth.
“Never!” she shrieks one last time.
I lift the pan high. I let out a gleeful cackle; I shall bring it down on her nasty head. There’s no hiding it now. Her eyes go as wide as watery bird baths.
But she’s not even looking at me or the pot. She’s looking at my leaky roof. She’s looking at the weathervane that balances there.
And too late I see it too, the wind is changing, the vane is swinging north north west towards the faerie lands. I cannot move, I cannot bring the blasted pan down. I curse myself for my inattention to the weather, but it’s too late now, we are doomed, she and I. Already I feel it, the grip of creeping silence on my blackened heart, the fearsome touch of white magic. My bones are rigid; my wrinkled flesh is cold and numb.
And yet even as my wizened frame turns to marble I smile. Pest control will clear the rancid house of cats. My pretty birds will flutter free. I’ve beaten her in the end; my remaining empire, she never conquered it. New neighbours will wonder at the strange ornamental features in their gardens, but that is all.
I look into her pitchfork eyes and she knows it too.
It’s taking some hours, this solidifying. My eyes are growing dim, I swear she’s dead already; she’s so much dolomite and limestone.
I’m nearly blind and oblivious but not quite yet. I still see them, my dear little lovebirds. They swoop and dive as the darkness comes. I fear it not though unaccountably a tear rolls down my hardened cheek when, at the last, my round-eyed robins perch upon the old crone’s head, and poo.
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This story originally appeared in T. Gene Davis Speculative Blog.
Eight stories of remarkable, genetically different people. After 150 years, a mutated people have to face the danger of reconnecting with humanity. Elsewhere a unique group are threatened by a belligerent overlord. Here also are tales of extraordinary animals and fantastic creatures. Of talking alligators and magical birds. Humorous tales and touching tales. Half are reprints from places like the Aurora Award nominated anthology Strange Bedfellows. The rest are original stories.
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