A Witch in Time (2)

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This concludes a story written in by my mother under the pen name Emma Payne. It’s pitched at the YA market and pre-dates the Harry Potter inspired flurry of supernatural tales. Previously 10-year-old Melina began to suspect that the things which made her mum perfect might have a catch, what if she was a witch! Start with Part 1 or read from here.

The final straw came when Miss Jeffers started to cast the form play. I had hoped to be the Princess, but Miss Jeffers chose Lucy Merkon. I was given the part of a lady in waiting, and Lucy’s understudy.

Lucy and I were old enemies, which made it worse. She turned round, her face a mixture of triumph and spite and poked her tongue out. I was furious and when I got home I told Mum.

“That Lucy Merkon! I’ve never liked her,” Mum said, “you’d make a far better princess. It would serve Lucy right if she fell ill and you took over.”

“She never so much as catches a cold,” I said gloomily.

“She might catch something worse,” Mum said darkly.

I thought no more about it until Mum was proved right, as usual. Lucy developed a rash and a fever after just three rehearsals, so I took over the part.

When I told Mum that Miss Jeffers said the doctor was baffled by Lucy’s symptoms, I caught her smiling and it gave me a horrible thought. Had Mum cast a spell on Lucy?

Next day when Mum was at the shops, I went into the kitchen to look at the strange book again: I wanted to compare the words with the witches’ scene in Macbeth. ‘Grockle the muncheon and slowly plebide the turlow’ did not sound much like ‘eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog,” but then, perhaps Shakespeare had been guessing.

The book wasn’t on the shelf, so I began to rummage in other drawers in the kitchen. At the back of the knife drawer I found a strange little figure sculpted in pastry and embedded with seeds that made it look horribly spotty. I picked it up and tied round its neck with green embroidery silk was a label which read Lucy Merkon.

I dropped the figure back into the drawer as if it were red hot. That did it! Mum’s witchcraft was really out of hand now. Mrs Bearman had been talking wildly about witches and spells recently, she’d also been giving Mum strange looks. I didn’t think anyone believed in witchcraft nowadays, but the part of East Anglia where we lived historically had a strong witch tradition. It must have been closer to the surface than I knew, for that afternoon in the playground, Will Gandy said, “I hear your mother’s put a spell on my aunt and her dog. She’d better take it off or I’ll make you suffer. You’re a witch’s child.”

His friends began to chant, “Witch’s child, witch’s child,” and soon a menacing group had gathered. I was scared and began to cry, frightened as much for Mum as for myself. I burst out of the circle, through the school gate and ran home, where I threw myself sobbing into Mum’s arms. I told her what they had said.

“And don’t try to tell me it isn’t true, because I know it is.” I managed to say between hiccoughing sobs.

She hugged me tightly. “I’m not a bad witch, Melina.”

“But you are,” I wailed. “There’s Harold and Mrs Bearman and now Lucy.” I told her I’d found the strange book and the pastry person. “How come you’re a witch?” 

“It’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain. Have you ever thought what would have happened if some important event in history had turned out differently? If Richard III had won the battle of Bosworth, there would have been no Tudor kings.  Supposed America hadn’t fought the War of Independence and it had remained English, history would tell a different story, wouldn’t it?”

I nodded, I loved history, but I couldn’t see where this was leading us.

“Imagine time is like a huge tree, with the creation of the world the thick part of the trunk at the bottom. Each time an event occurs, that could have two possible outcomes, the tree branches so the two results exist as branches of equal thickness. Then when another crisis moment comes, the tree branches again.

“Each of those branches is another world or timeline. Beside the world where William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, there is an alternative world where King Harold won.

“My world had the same history as yours until 1590. In that year Elizabeth I was queen of England and James VI king of Scotland. James had not yet married and his heir was Francis Stuart, earl of Bothwell, who was secretly leader of the Scottish witches. Have you ever heard of the Plot of the North Berwick witches?”

I shook my head.

“No? Well it’s only a footnote in your history books because it failed in your timeline, but in mine it succeeded. Three covens of witches, under Francis Stuart’s guidance, raised a storm that drowned the King as he was bringing his new queen home from Denmark. So in my world Bothwell became King Francis I and witchcraft became an accepted way of life.

“People with second sight and people who could harness magic were encouraged, instead of being hunted down and burned as they were in your timeline. We developed communication by mind-power and human energy instead of electricity. Transport was achieved by focussing minds instead of using engines. People learned to work with animals. America was colonised by traders rather than persecuted religious minorities. Hosts of other things were different.

“I’m not saying my world was perfect, trouble was caused by greed and fear because humanity is fallible, but I liked my world better than this one.”

“If you liked it so much, what made you leave?” I asked.

Mum laughed. “I didn’t mean to. It happened by mistake. I was working on a space-travel project that involved the pooling of mind power. I was using my technical manual (the ‘spell’ book you found) and was endeavouring to add the force of my mind to that of many others. Accidentally I turned over two pages, saying half of one formula and half of another. That sent me sideways in time and into your world. While I was trying to figure out how to get back, I had to blend into this world. Then I met your dad and fell in love, so I stopped searching for a way back. When you were born my decision to stay in this world was made.

“At first I tried to live by this world’s rules, but a little bit of witchcraft made life so much easier. I used my powers sparingly and thought no-one would know. But I didn’t fool you and it seems I’ve now made other people suspicious. I need to think how to correct this.

“Why don’t you reverse the spells, Mum? That would take the pressure off.”

Her eyes lit up. “I can do better than that, I’ll make them forget and we can start afresh.”

“Wonderful,” I said “and you must promise not to use spells any more.”

“Not even to help in the house?” she said wistfully.

“We-ell ,” I said wavering, “little spells for cooking and cleaning should go unnoticed.”

“Perfect,” she said smiling, “and I can teach you spells, you’d be easy to train, being half witch.”

“No thanks, I prefer to stay the way I am.”

Mum laughed and went off to undo the magical mayhem she’d caused, while I went upstairs to do my homework. I’d forgotten, until I opened my bedroom door, that I’d rushed out that morning and left my room looking as if a tornado had struck.

“Oh fiddlesticks,” I said to myself, “I wish I could use a little magic to tidy this mess.”

There was a noise like a rushing wind and my clothes lifted off the floor and bed to arranged themselves tidily in the open wardrobe. Books floated back onto shelves and the duvet shook itself and spread neatly on the bed.

I sat down, overcome by shock. I was stunned, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. They say blood will out and I was, after all, a witch’s daughter.

THE END

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