Maggie Watson Witch Extraordinaire
I love to eat mushrooms. I thought I'd make that clear before I begin my tale. See I'm apprenticed to Xivinina Healer Connoisseur and, to put things honestly, it is quite boring. I want to be able to romp in the fields chasing after butterflies and collecting slugs. The slug collecting part does actually happen but the slugs we use are big, ugly, and poisonous. I like the small, gooey, common ones better. Anyway, while I was grinding up my beloved mushrooms, X came in with a handful of the disgusting mucus balls and proceeded to search for an iron pot to put them in. She fished around in a cupboard and extracted a rusty iron caldron. She plopped the oozing sluggish mess into it and set it on the coals in the fireplace. I could almost hear the vomitous mass screaming as they were boiled alive. Yeeech! X opened the breadbox and took out a handful of smelly herbs. She dropped them on the wood table and fetched a large cleaver from her dish rack. She then attacked the herb pile, chopping them vigorously. Little bits of green things began to fly through the air. I dived under the nearest chair to avoid becoming a casualty. When the plants were reduced to a mushy pulp, she scooped them into her warty hands and carried them over to the slug stew and dropped the mass into the iron pot. She waddled over to my chair and kicked my rump. "Get up! Peculia Leech is coming over for dinner and I need the front steps swept. Get up off the floor and get to it!" she rattled. With that command issued, she flounced out of the room. Bah! How she makes me seethe! Peculia makes up for all the trouble X causes me. Peculia lives about six streets over to the west in Leecher's Lane, where all the blood letters do business. Peculia is one of only two woman blood-letters. The other lady is a creaky young woman with stringy black hair. She scares the Beejezzes outta me. Anyways, Peculia is short, wrinkly and looks like a raisin. She has only four teeth, so she whistles and spits whenever she speaks. Despite all that, she loves ale, brown bread, and pickled herring. She laughs all the time, but cries over every little holy, sad, or pitiful thing. She cheats at chess and can out guzzle any drunk on Lucifer's Lane. I want to be like her when I get old. Well anyways, I waltzed off humming "Hatty's Laud" to fetch the dry-twig broom. As I whisked the dust off the stone front steps, I looked down the winding, dreary cobblestone street on which our leaky shop was located. And who was sauntering towards me? None other than Ferguson McClune, the local village idiot and milk boy with his feathered hat atilt as he tripped his way up the way. He hollered at me when he caught sight of the dust cloud I was creating.
"Hidi-ho Hee-deedle dee! Good afternoon. How you be?" he hollered at me.
I yodeled back, "Inchy-squinchy Dingly-Doo! I am fine, how 'bout you?"
He didn't answer me immediately, instead he burst into a run and leapt right into my neatly swept pile of sand, scattering all my hard work all over the steps.
"Bonsoir!" He proclaimed. He threw his arms out and waited with an imbecilic grin on his face. I sighed and tackled him. He landed with a grunt on the hard stone street. I stood up and looked down at him. He began to laugh uncontrollably, snorting and sputtering loud enough that the Bakers on Bread Box Lane could hear him. I just stared at him. "16 year-olds don't let 14 year-olds tackle them." I said simply. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked up at me with his demented grin still on his dirty face.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because then everyone will think you're weird." I sniffed
"They already do." He grinned. He laid back down and began whistling "The Bard's Ditty" to the gray sky. I let out an exasperated sigh and started repairing the damage to my dust mountain. He finished the last note in his strange version of the classic tune and jumped to his feet. He began dancing around my new pile and sang a bizarre song in make-believe German. I groaned and began hitting him with the twig broom.
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" he said as he dodged the broom. He dodged to slow and the broom landed SWACK! on his head.
"Oh my God! I'm so sorry!" I said.
He looked at me and said, "Ow."
I stood there watching him with my hand over my mouth and a look of terror in my eyes. He rubbed his head underneath his felt hat and said slowly "Creeeeeeeek!" My hand instantly went down and the terror turned into confusion.
"What's wrong with you?" I asked.
"It's warm out here!" he said simply.
"Did that broom hit rattle your brains or what?" I said giving him a strange look.
"Nope! I think I don't have any brains to rattle!" He said with a smile. He began to inspect a hole in his bright orange sleeve.
I sighed and turned my back to him. The broom made whisking sounds as I resumed my sweeping. Ferguson made cow noises behind me. Without turning around I said to the moo maniac, "Don't you have anything better to do than bug people with moos and other rubbish? Leave me alone, McClune the Loon!"
I turned around and eyed him menacingly. "Because the king has ten toes! That's why!" I said to him.
He scratched his head. "You've counted the king's toes?" he said. He was genuinely confused.
"EEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHH!" I said dropping the broom and flying at him with my fists. We fell onto the road, biting, clawing, screaming, laughing, and punching.
Our brawl was interrupted by a curt "Vhat in heaven's name arah youwa doin'?" from behind us. We both paused, Ferguson stopped mid pinch and my fist froze a mere two inches from his bulbous nose. We both immediately scrambled to our feet and looked sheepishly at Peculia.
"Now en vat iz ze meanin o all zeez? Vat are oo doin ere McClune? Don oo ave malk ta delivar? Get oo gone!" she barked at Ferguson whose bottom lip began to quiver. He slowly trudged away dragging his feet along the rough gray stones embedded in the pavement. I watched him leave with a bit of sadness, but I was jarred back into the real world by Peculia's callused fingers gripping my ear. She began to drag me into the house by my ear, but I was too tall for her to do this comfortably so she let go of my ear and gripped my hand instead. Peculia banged open the heavy front door and screeched, "XINY! XINY! I'MA HEARRE!" Holy Bejezzus! That woman's loud! X came hurrying into the hazy front room carrying the pot of boiled slugs bare handed. Her hands didn't even burn. It hurt just to watch her. X set the heavy pot onto her only piece of furniture in the front room, a small sturdy oak table. The table was covered in a ragged piece of gray velvet that had holes in it from all the mice and dropped candles. Both of these were on the table among the tarnished silver tea set and the various strange foods. The mice sat under the lighted candlesticks and munched on dried apples by the light of the candle stubs. X shooed them away and fetched two chairs.
"Here you are Peculia." She said as she set the two chairs by the table. Peculia sat down in one and scooted herself up to the feast. X turned to me. "Maggie, go to the kitchen and bake some poppy seed bread for Dermin on Hagglemas Street. Add some betony, go easy on the barley, but follow my recipe exactly other than that. Now shoo!" she said and pushed me towards the kitchen door. I looked back and watched her sit down just as Peculia shoved a particularly large mountain of boiled slug into her mouth and began to chew with elation. I turned around and tromped off through the kitchen door. I began to gather all the ingredients for the bread but my growling stomach told me "eat or die!" so I waltzed over to the pantry and scanned it for something edible other than slug. All there was was a crusty hunk of moldy bread, Swiss cheese, a stoneware jar of prickleberry preserves, six bundles of dusty dried flowers, and two dead mice. Poor mice. I removed them and threw them into the fire. I turned back to pantry and took out the cheese and prickleberry jam and set them on the cluttered table. After a bit of searching in every single cabinet, I found a clean silver knife. I set that on the table by the cheese and pulled up a rickety wooden stool. I sat down heavily and opened the pickleberry jam, accidentally smashing the Swiss cheese with my elbow. Bother! I scraped cheese bits off of my sleeve and began to slice a wedge out of the smooshed cheese. I set the wedge on the table and pushed the rest of the holey cheese away. Too much cheese makes me sick. I began to scoop jam onto the cheese when X barged through the kitchen door.
"My cheese!" she screeched. With a whoosh she rushed over and scooped up the remainder of the smooshed cheese. "Miggle! Frinin fer glockinoc herdan sem! Whallamini sevin! Tu tu tu!" she cursed at me in gibberish, shaking her fist at me. With that said she whooshed back out of the kitchen. Sheesh! She is such a fussbudget. I finished spreading the glob of jam on the cheese wedge and began to eat. The cheese was a bit crumbly and the jam a bit too sour, but I ate it anyway. When I finished chomping away, I discreetly dusted the crumbs off the table onto the floor. X would never notice.
Now came the boring bit, making the stupid ole bread. I don't know why X calls it poppy seed bread, heck, I don't know why she even calls it bread. It's more like a very thick paste with chunks of strange weeds in it. It smells of fish and old radishes and it makes me sneeze, but people keep ordering it, so someone must like it. I began to rustle around the kitchen looking for all the stuff in the recipe. A fistful of garlic, a dash of oats, a bit of betony, a can and one-half of flour, and various other ingredients piled up on the counter. I grabbed a large bowl and began to mix the stuff together with some olive oil. Sticky drops splashed all over me, the counter, the cabinets, and everything else within ten feet. Bleck! I began to stir with a bit less zeal. Mix in water generously, then stir rapidly. Cool. I reached for the water pitcher and poured some water, a bit too much water. Well, this batch of 'bread' was ruined, so I flung it heedlessly out of the window above the counter. It landed in a large sucking, gooey mess on Ferguson.
"Mighty strange rain is fallin', egh, Maggie?" he said as he held his hand out as if he was waiting for more of the stuff to fall from the sky. I sighed.
"Ferguson, you're loony."
"Aren't I though?" he said with a wicked little grin.
He climbed through the window with globs of slimy dough sticking to his greasy hair. He sat on the counter face to face with me. I glared at him as best I could. He smiled.
"What?" I said.
"You remind me or Mr. Molone's pet Dachshund. Silly, mean, and skinny."
"Bah! Are you implying I'm low to the ground too?" I said disgustedly.
He ignored this. Instead, he leaned foreword and rubbed his nose against mine. I boxed his ears, then went to start making the smelly paste again. He watched me as I worked, playing with his fingers pretending they were little people. I finished the nasty concoction and stuck it in the pantry.
Ferguson slid off the counter onto the wood floor, put his hands behind his back and grinned like a school boy who had found his daddy's beer and drank a bit too much. I ignored him.
"Do you want to go to the apple orchard with me?" he asked. I looked at him like he was crazy. He is. He made his brown eyes big and stuck out his bottom lip.
"Pwease?" he said in a little baby's voice.
I sighed, I do that a lot when he's around, and said, "I guess".
He threw his hands up in the air and cheered. I rolled my eyes. He climbed out the window and motioned for me to follow, so I did. As we walked through the stony streets he told a long boring story about how there was this one guy who lived in this one place with some dog that went Grrrr. I suffered through it until he began to make up a song about it. I pinched him and he was silent. When we got to the orchard he had to circle each tree and taste and apple from each as well. Finally he seemed to find a tree that looked all right and tasted all right so he sat down under it.
He patted the grass next to him, "Here, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!" he called as if I was that stupid little dog he talked about earlier. It was getting late and the sun was setting. My feet hurt so I joined him. We watched the sun light up the sky in pinks and purples. He leaned on me but I didn't bother to lean away, I was too busy watching the sky. He snuggled closer like he was a little boy of six, not a young man of sixteen. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
"Maggie?" he mumbled. I looked at him.
"Will you marry me?"
I looked at him. His eyes stayed closed and it looked like he was asleep. "My answer is the same it's been for the past three years," I said softly to him, "No".
"OK" he said in a barely there whisper. He was asleep. I sighed for the millionth time that day and began to gently play in his wild brown hair.