It was with great trepidation that she slowly and reluctantly opened her eyes to the merest squint. She had left a tiny gap, in the closed, thick velour lined curtains, but her first glimpse of the day was that of the beautifully patterned work of the man, we know from our childhood, as Jack.
The playful Jack that can enchant and enthral us with his night's work, but could make the life of Susannah a living hell. Even the intricacy and delicateness could not bring any sense of wonder to her lined, haggard face. The cold,pinched face was beyond all recognition of the once beautiful bride,whith her delicate white skin, now so blue with winter's savagery.
Ousted by her husband's family in Hungary, for not being a perfect wife to him, he had set her up in this hovel of a bed-sit and try as she may, to get on with her life, most of her winter days were spent huddled beneath the feather filled quilt that she had bought for a few pounds at the local charity shop.
She had missed many a winter's social gathering at the Hall and people could not understand her apparent lack of support for her husband, but with all their fine and fancy ballgowns, she dreaded the guests seeing her cold, blue skin.
Oh, she tried.
She bathed in water so hot it would scald a cat, she wore thermal underwear discreetly, of course and painted her blue tinged nails the deepest shade of red..
But it was to no avail and Susannah’s husband made it clear that she had become a social embarrassment and that whilst he still loved her it was not doing his social image any good.
As beautiful and elegant as she was, he needed an ornament that looked, at least, halfway normal.
The money had dwindled after the death of his parents and the Bayswater room that he had rented for was devoid of any form of heating, but Susannah would put light a gas ring on the dilapidated cooker and warm her deadening fingers for a while.
Money was tight, but the library was a free one, if you returned the books in time, that was. So today, being the last day before their time was up she put on her warmest vest, two jumpers, a waistcoat, shawl and an old Burberry, that a friend had been all set to throw out.
Topped with a woollen cloche hat, a mohair scarf and her sheepskin mittens, she ventured forth into the refrigerated air.
It didn’t take too long and she walked at a brisk pace, entering the building with an air of expectation.
As she put her books on the desk, Susannah noticed a new person working there. She thought that maybe he felt the cold too, as he was dressed in leather from head to toe, even in the climatically controlled environment. He nodded his greeting and winked one beautiful green eye at her. Her heart raced and she would have loved to have seen the twinkle in the other one, but a black leather patch hid it from her curious eyes.
He shuffled her books with one hand and Susannah’s immediate thoughts were that he’d been in a motorcycle accident, but as he turned to place then on the returns pile she saw, quite clearly that he had a suitcase handcuffed to his arm.
She would have pinched herself to make sure that she was not still dreaming, but so unfeeling was her cold flesh, the answer would probably have been yes.
He beckoned her to a quiet corner and proceeded to unlock the suitcase.
Written on old parchment were letters and symbols that she did not understand.
He whispered, slowly and deliberately that she was to take it home and when she woke the next morning she would know what was required of her.
She slept fitfully that night. Excited with anticipation as to what was to happen and when she woke she knew that she would get her husband back and return to her rightful place.
There was much to be gathered, herbs, essences and green candles, and the incantation which, had somehow, deciphered itself in her mind.
She was ready and after all was done she looked at her skin and it had turned the most glorious shade of delicate green, with just a few silver sparkles for good measure.
She knew her husband would be delighted as he had always found the colour green attractive.
It was rent day and his familiar knock at the door signalled his arrival. He could hardly contain his joy and amazement at his pretty, green skinned wife. He bundled her few belongings into a carrier bag and carried her, like a new bride to his waiting car.
He was ready to show off his beloved wife. Who despite the harrowing gale, the sleet and the ice, was warm to his touch even although all she wore was a silky, strapless nightgown.
Copyright Penny Little 2004
"She'll be fine",said Mrs Maloney,as she sprayed a final puff of "Angel" perfume around her creamy,white throat.
"She doesn't sleep much,but she has every toy you can imagine, so just let her play and sleep
when she's ready,it will probably be about midnight".
Fat chance,thought Esmerelda,I haven't come around here for a few measly pounds,to be a playmate.
The Maloneys headed off, she ensconced in fur and whinging about her husband not having had the car heater running for
the past hour,they bade her goodbye and good luck.
Luck,she pondered,I won't need any of that. Just my bag of tricks and she'll be out like a light so that I
can settle to my work.
Drusilla,the thoroughly spoiled and pandered to offspring,began emtying her toybox,with gay abandon.
"Shoose",she said,"You Shoose".
They all looked the same,bright,primary pieces of plastic and sugary,sweet pink sets of little girl apparell.
"Ah,but come see my pretties", she whispered in her slow,husky voice, and proceeded to delve into her bag,constucted of of every conceivable shade of purple velvet,
The bag,in itself,was enough to enthrall the small child. She stroked it and be bent down closer to look at her reflection in the
sequins that Esmerelda had randomly sewn onto it.
The tasseled tie swang temptingly to and fro,and with a deft motion,Esmerelda untied the knot and the gathered top
Feathers in abundance,rose from it's base,flying to the ceiling and back to the floor,a cascade of eyed peacock plumes,plummeted from the ceiling and attached their quills firmly into the straps of the small girl's dress,giving her the appearance of majestic fairy. Next,the Swan feathers,as downy as the finest silken plumes,circled themselves into a band and settled on her golden curls.
"But look deeper in the bag,my pretty",whispered the old woman,softly.
"You liked the pretty sequins,do you like the ball"?
"Bounce ball,throw ball,catch ball" cried the child,excitedly.
"No,look at the ball,hold the ball,see what's in it,see the Sandman,sprinkling his dust,feel your eyes,they are heavy and tired.See you little bed,so soft,so warm and snuggle down deep and dream your dreams"
Mesmerised by the crystal's shine,the child's eyelids closed slowly,opened and closed once again.
Esmerelada gently lifted her relaxed body,laid her in her bed and turned out the light.
It had been seven and half minutes since her parents left, was she losing her touch? All the other children that she had babysat for had been fast asleep in seven minutes precisely.
Money for old rope really,and set her candles in a circle on the hearth
Copyright Penny Little 2005
Clinging to hope
Snow had all but covered the path, yet still they heard the footsteps.
So determinedly, so full of self- importance and greed, they strode their heavy stride. Thunder to their ears.
And yet a sense of ending. They knew it would happen sooner, rather than later. For weeks now, they had been shunned, taunted and spat upon by the very people that they considered to be their friends.
Mab peered through the sliver of a gap in the threadbare curtains and bowed her head as if, at that very moment, it were ready for the hangman’s noose. Nelly, her mother, fainted clean away, whilst her elder sister Annie, flew, for all she was worth, up the rickety stairs to rouse their little sister from her slumbers. Amy had gone to bed that night, with a rattling, heaving chest and the red flannel poultice had grown cold and clammy to Annie’s touch. The lingering scent of herbs filled her mind with the smells of three decades of summers. She knew she must hide little Annie, the men, in their black cloaks, probably knew nothing of her existence. A sickly child from the start, on just one hand could be counted the number of times she had stepped over the threshold of the tumbledown cottage. As one or the other of the three women were always at home, whilst the others worked at the Manor, the townsfolk were unaware of her too. A hole in the bedroom roof, proved to be the perfect hiding place.
It had only been there a matter of weeks, when Greta, the family cat, had fallen through a gap, on the roof and could not be coaxed down.
Nelly had cut it with a kitchen knife, just wide enough for Annie’s frail body to be gently lifted and put through, to retrieve the wayward feline.
Hurrying, she wrapped the child in a soft, woollen blanket, ran to the scullery and returned with the contents of the larder and pitchers of water from the well.
It would not be for long, the court would surely find them innocent and they would all be back together before the little one realised they had even gone anywhere.
It was no use them running, or trying to hide, the Duke was dead, his son, too, and now his wife was ailing fast.
The rest of the family needed an answer, as the finest physicians in the county were baffled as to the cause.
They went with dignity, their heads held high, and looking straight into the eyes of those who had come to jeer and heckle.
At the first hearing, the accusations were read, that Mab had been found making waxen dolls whilst at the Manor and that the women’s knowledge of herbal remedies, for which many of the townsfolk had been grateful, would also include knowing of deadly potions. Added to the fact that the cat had a name and lived, for the most part, indoors was enough to prove that they were guilty of witchcraft.
Mab, told them that the dolls were for a niece, in another county, whose parent had fallen upon hard times and that she had intended to dress them, from scraps of rag, and take them to her.
Annie invited an inspection of their garden to find the deadly herbs and Nelly defended the cat’s indoor living, by telling them that she had been most dreadfully bitten by a neighbour’s dog, that she was too terrified to venture far from their living rooms.
For weeks the women were subjected to the harshest interrogation, beaten and tortured, they did not give in to what, to some, would be the easiest way to end it. Confession did not come easily to women who knew their truth. Death was still their enemy, not their redeemer.
At the final hearing, the priest who had, in days before, been a regular visitor to the cottage, stood to their defence.
He could be silent no longer, he knew these women well, and he had watched them over the years and finally spoke out for their freedom.
The rest of the jurors were mindful of his power and it was decided that his words were the truth and that he had been guided by God to speak them.
And so, ugly and twisted, beaten and bruised the three women were freed.
Not one single minute had passed without thoughts of Annie, and they feared the worse.
Running, without pause, they reached their dwelling.
All signs of Annie were gone. Not a crumb, nor a sip, not a blanket or a pillow.
Death must have come slowly, she had been so ill when they left and guilt overwhelmed them.
Neighbours must have found her body, they thought, and arranged for her burial.
But they did not ask, for fear of more accusations.
Remaining, for the last of her years, so utterly bereft and sorrowful, Nelly searched every graveyard around the county, for a final closure on her neglect.
Some forty years later, frail and tired, she ventured to the next county.
Whilst walking along a hedgerow, she happened upon a small fallen down cross, covered in the most vigorously growing Ivy she could not make out the inscription, and had a feeling of being watched by someone.
Turning her stiff bones, slowly, she happened upon a beautiful woman, carry a young baby, who was wrapped in the softest and finest, woollen shawl.
Their eyes met in knowing.
“Mother, my new grandaughter is in my arms and our beloved cat, Greta, is at your feet.....
Copyright Penny Little 2004
She was just a little odd, she talked to herself, constantly and consistently in her everday life. Now she smiled to herself as she uttered the words that she had memorised so well,repeating them over and over, on her way to her job, on the train home and in that sanctuary of sanctuaries, her bathroom.
Fast, fierce and furious, the warrior witch was going to work.
Words so powerful, words so strong, that they would lift the curse once and for all.
Many an incantation, a plea or a spell had been performed there and most had been successful.
But this time,she knew she must put on her imaginary cloak of warmness, and brave the icy winds in her circle
Send it back,from whence it came, no more would she suffer the pain and indignity of their wrongful venom. "Oh, it's all in your mind", they would say, "pull yourself together" if she dared but mentioned her thoughts and suspicions to even the most trusting, believing soul.
But she knew better, it had followed her fom birth,a curious array of circumstance and happenings that had culminated, in a face to face confrontation with the one.
She had tried, at that time, to send it back, but the circumstances were wrong and her power was not strong enough.
He had smirked as he left, he had allies the realms of magic and they,too would strengthen his intention, and from that moment, she knew that things would worsen for her.
The words,now flowed so freely from her tight pursed lips, learned like a baby learns a nursery ryhme and can still recall each syllable even when approaching death.
The objects were ready,too. Gathered over two years,their significance and importance to the ritual was perfect.
But there was just one thing missing and for that she needed to travel a fair way. She had been there before, but this time could find no excuse to tell her husband where she was bound for.
Racking the deepest part of her brain,to find a way she came to a plan. She would suggest a visit to the town when they next went away in their van.
It wouldn't be too long now, the days were lengthening and she didn't work for so many hours now and it was a pretty old place, full of the history of the land that they both love to see and read of.
And water, he loved the water, so she could leave him to gaze while she set about her mission.
No graveyard dirt for her, the pomp and importance of the family concerned had led to them being entombed in the church, sealed against the outside world but still, from those dark recesses, of airlessness, blackness and stillness, able to reach her.
She had been there once before, felt the shame, the anger, the persecution and had cried a fountain of tears.
This time, she hoped that she could be stronger and face her emotions to gather what she needed.
Alone, she tentatively pushed open the heavy wooden door. The atmosphere threatened to overwhelm her once more, but she gathered her composure and pulled from her pocket her treasured athame and an empty lip gloss pot.
A scraping from each was all she needed,that grey,grey stone,that like a tape recorder, had held the curse within, would soon be hers to do with, as she must.
The CCTV cameras had gone unoticed to her, and just as she had finished her task, the verger,accompanied by a fresh faced, young policeman, rushed in and caught her.
Hauled off to the local police station, her plea of temporary insanity, did not go down too well, and her spoil was taken for evidence. She was arrested and ordered to appear at the Magistrates court the following week, for defacing a place of worship.
What would she tell her husband. Quick thinkng was of the essence, so on their homecoming she told him that she had met an old friend from school there and she had invited her up for the day, for some childhood reminisence.
He was working that day, so she booked her train ticket and set off with a heavy heart and great trepidation.
Ten o'clock found her sitting in the dock, her eyes downcast, but knowing they would have to meet those of the judge.And at that moment, a look between them of pure and utter recognition and she knew it would be alright. Kind eyes, believing eyes, eyes from a long past time. A man of God, who had had his doubts.
He couldn't let her off without a fine, but that was a small price to pay compared to the wonderful gift he gave her as she left the courtroom, her jar of dust.
"I think you need this more than the rubbish bin" he whispered softly, "take it and do what I know you must, and I am so very sorry, that nobody believed you the first time around".
Many years later,she told her grandchildren about it, but no one believed her,of course.Why should they?
Copyright Penny Little 2007
Copyright Penny Little 2005
She held the cup as if the very stem would burn her bony fingers.
Her chalice was old and battered but she would use no other, it had seen
her at her happiest and had been with her when she felt her heart would
break into a thousand shards of glass,
She knew in her heart that this would be the day. Her preparations had been long and arduous and the timing on this Samhain Eve, was the most appropriate one that she knew.
So many, that she had loved, had left our earth this year, that she felt, that tonight of all nights, she may see then again.
All Summer long she had picked her berries well, had crushed the brilliant red ones, from her Yew tree, and added it to the already waiting dark and deadly Belladonna ones that were simmering out their lethal juices.
She added honey, from a silver ladle, to sweeten the bitter taste of death and stirred the mixture gently and deliberately.
Chanting the names of those whom had gone before, and calling on her gods and goddesses, to give her the courage that she needed, she imagined seeing her two best friends, her mother and her beloved cat that very night.
She lifted the cup to her lips slowly yet determinedly, and then she stopped, it could not have been the breeze, the night was as calm and still as a summer’s night yet the gentle breathe upon her face, let her know she was not alone. And then a whisper, so hushed and gentle, three words were all that were uttered and all she needed to hear.
“The final betrayal”
The nectar of death became a libation, a gift to the earth and a promise of hope to come.
Copyright Penny Little 2004
“We can’t keep her, she’s not normal, look at that one, solitary eye in the middle of her forehead, people will think that we are not normal too”.
“But she’s our baby, and I don’t care what she looks like”, replied her mother.
“And what, my love, do you intend to tell our friends?” Nathan asked, with an arrogant look upon his face.
“Not what you would have us tell them, that’s for sure”, whispered Suzy in a still, small voice.
She knew that the baby would be an embarrassment to them, in their circle of influential and perfect friends.
“Stillborn, that’s all we will say, leave everything to me and you just concentrate on getting yourself looking glamorous again, we have the ball in two weeks time and I don’t want you looking like a sack of potatoes for that”
Nathan arranged for the baby to be taken to the Tower House, where, for a hefty sum, he would employ a woman to look after the child.
Suzy grieved the grief of a bereaved mother, but her only aim in life was to keep and please her husband, so, slowly, over the years she convinced herself that Allie, the name she had given the child, in her heart, had never existed.
It was twenty five years later that Nathan, met his end, while driving a car that was much too fast for his quickly slowing brain.
Suzy, arranged the funeral in double quick time, she did not want to lose one single day before she could see her daughter and drove straight from the service to Tower House.
She knocked the bat shaped doorknocker with hardly and trepidation, but when the wizened, old woman eventually opened the door, her heart gave a quick turn.
Miranda, the old woman, knew instantly who she was and bade her to come upstairs.
Dressed from head to toe in black lace, with long flowing hair, stood Allie, her one eye, made up as well as any top fashion model. She was beautiful and special and as if Miranda knew that her days of looking after her had come to an end, she packed Allie’s bag with what few things she possessed, she had had no need for going out things as for the whole of her twenty five years, Nathan had specified that she be kept behind locked doors, in case she was ever seen, and the truth revealed.
Trundling along the country lanes, Allie's face was full of wonder, it rained and then the sun broke throut,creating the most glorious double rainbow imaginable.
"one for you, Allie and one for me" laughed Suzy.
They arrived to the sound of Ben barking his greeting.
Settled, cuddled and loved the three if them sat on the sette and gazed at the rainbow's end.
They had found their treasure
Copyright Penny Little 2005