Flash Friday 25/11/2016: Went Off Without a Witch
The knock on the wooden door was quick and sharp. It caused Sarah to startle from the sound alone. Whoever wanted in, wanted in now.
Cautiously, she opened the front door to the cottage.
“Good afternoon,” said the tall, pointed-face man standing on the other side. He adjusted his spectacles to peer at Sarah better. Sarah instantly recognised him as the landlord. “Sorry to intrude on this rather relaxing day, but it has come to my attention that I haven’t performed a proper house inspection since the three of you moved in.
“Given how good you said you’d be with the property, I take it a surprise inspection would be no trouble for you whatsoever. I don’t want to see any mess, any rot, and especially no witches. Can’t be having them smuggled away during these witch hunts, now, can we?”
“Yes,” Sarah nodded. “Yes, yes. No witches, I agree. Awful, awful people. Really…really quite awful. Can you excuse me?”
Sarah half-closed the door and reached over to the picture frame on the wall that read ‘WELCOME TO: THE WITCHES ABODE. TOUCH NOT WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW, FOR MANY THINGS CAN CAUSE YOU WOE’. She flipped it over, the other side showing an innocent countryside painting.
“Nothing,” Sarah beamed, opening the door again. “Come in, come in. I’ll let everyone know that you’re–”
“If your house is as clean as you claimed you’d keep it,” the landlord said, stepping in, “you won’t need to warn anyone, now, would you?”
“Right,” Sarah begrudgingly agreed. “That’s fair.”
The landlord found nothing wrong with the bottom floor rooms. Of course there wouldn’t be; those had ground floor windows, and couldn’t afford to look suspicious. It was the upstairs that Sarah dreaded most.
“Alright then,” the landlord said, a smile on his stone-cold face. “I’ll admit you’ve done a tremendous job. I wasn’t warned you’d be keeping so many black cats around, but everything seems to be in order. Now, time for the bedrooms upstairs, shall we?”
Bertha’s room was the first bedroom at the top of the stairs. Sarah had hoped he would knock on the door and allow Bertha to get ready. Instead, he rapped three times on the door and stormed in, at which point Sarah could only hope Bertha was engaged in some innocent knitting, or novel reading, or putting bows in a cat’s fur.
Bertha hadn’t heard the knock, for she was still standing around her huge bubbling cauldron, swaying as she stirred a huge spoon from side to side, her large frame silhouetted in the green glow against the otherwise pitch black room.
“Double double, toil and trouble,” Bertha cackled, adding ingredients to the pot with a hiss. “Fire burn and cauldron bubble! Fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron boil and bake! Eye of newt and toe of…of…”
Bertha met eyes with the landlord, her stirring slowing to a standstill. The landlord folded his arms, his eyebrows raised.
“Toe of…” Bertha continued. “…of…sage, pinch of salt and ale of age. Spot of pepper, bit of lime, add some oil to pass the time. Touch of beef and flank of ewe, and now we’ve made a lovely stew. Yes, a stew, that’s what this is.”
“Bertha, why are you making stew in your room?”
“Because…if I make it downstairs, the cats get into it. This is all going to the, uh, poor and needy, and we can’t have cats hairs in it, now, can we?”
“Quite. Mind if I try it?”
“Oh, but you–” Bertha began, but the landlord had already snatched the ladle away and taken a sip. Bertha winced.
“Mmm,” the landlord said, smacking his lips. “Definitely an interesting taste. Maybe add some garlic next time. And…” the landlord spat out something into this hand. “Is this a lizard’s leg?”
“Very regional tastes!” Bertha quickly stated. “It’s all the rage.”
“I’m sure it is. Let’s see how your room is doing, shall we, Sarah?”
The problem wasn’t that Sarah’s room was messy; it never was. It was the books she kept on the bookshelves lining the room. Sarah had to defend that ‘Making Potent Potions’ was an ale brewing guide, ‘Love Charms And How To Cast Them’ was a guide on flirting, and ‘How To Summon Beings from the Netherrealms’ was a very good novel, but the hero dies three quarters of the way in, so she wouldn’t personally recommend it.
Once Sarah had been deemed adequate, it was time for Mary’s room. Unfortunately, as the landlord opened the door, Mary was nowhere in the room. She was, however, hovering several feet in the air on a broom, visible through an open window.
“By the gods!” the landlord spluttered. “Is she flying? Using magic?”
“Er, uhm,” Sarah began, but this was proving hard to explain. Without thinking, she ran to the window and yelled, “Mary, are you okay? Did the wind carry your broom away again?”
Mary turned with a look of confusion on her face. The moment she saw the landlord, her eyes went wide and she ‘fell’ off the broom, holding on by one hand. “Yes, that’s right!” she called out. “But it’s okay! I have this under control!”
“Honestly!” the landlord called out. “You have to be more careful! For a moment there, I thought you were a witch!”
“Don’t worry! The, uh, wind is gradually lowering me to the floor! No need to panic!”
After Mary had both her feet back on the ground, the landlord breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that concludes the inspection, then,” he said. “Keep reading books, but do tell your friends to get better at cooking and to be more careful. And if you see any witches, let the authorities know, okay?”
Sarah just nodded as the landlord left the room. Maybe a run-down shack next to a swamp in the middle of the woods wasn’t such a bad idea after all.