“Don’t want to step on the same rakes all over again? Come visit us for a wide assortment.” — advertisement at the local agrarian store.
How did I end up here, in this quintessence of boredom? When I first came to Burnaville to open my magic potions store, I fell in love with the town, with its decorated balconies, stone pavements, and brightly painted wooden buildings. After the crowded capital, Burnaville felt like a real home, charming and cozy.
Yet only two years later I am in a constant fight with the impenetrable monotony. To keep myself sane, I started writing a journal and had to listen to Puck grumbling all day that paper should not be wasted on activities that aren’t directly linked to profit-making or finding a wealthy husband. Like any ancient house spirit, he is remarkably frugal but eminently indispensable.
Had to incite Cat to nick a pack of paper from Puck’s cupboard.
Morning was unpleasant. Rain was unpleasant. Lack of clients was unpleasant. I played cards with Cat and Puck, lost five times in a row, and called Puck a swindler, with which Cat agreed wholeheartedly. Puck called Cat a traitor and locked himself in a chimney.
Madame Grundell came into the store today and almost broke the display stand when she hoisted her hefty arms on top of it. These arms could have easily made any forest troll proud and came in the same package as the voluminous breasts that had successfully raised seven Grundell daughters. As the display stand squeaked pitifully, I sold Madame yet another weight-loss potion. What a waste of magic! No weight-loss potion will work if it is consumed along with two liters of mead, a whole-roasted chicken and an apple pie in the Dirty Duck Tavern, which, by the way, thrives in completely unsanitary conditions amid underground bootlegging and petty crime. Yes, I tend to know everything in this town and don’t even need to look into the astral plane for that…I am a hereditary witch in the fifth generation, after all!
Madame stepped on Cat on the way out. Cat barely regained consciousness, affirmed that when Madame Grundell was born the food chain turned into a food spiral, and went to apologize to Puck, because you never know when somebody might step on you next time.
A neighbor’s rooster woke me up right before the sunrise. No compassion for witch’s tiresome work schedule whatsoever!
Mixed a year’s supply of a black dye potion to color my red hair that sadly does not adhere to Black Witch Protocol. What choice do I have? After all, I made an oath to comply with a traditional witch look after graduating the Magistrarium Academy.
Cat providently locked himself in a closet. His hair is also red and likewise contrary to the Protocol. I think he might be damaging my reputation. . .
My innate curiosity will certainly kill me one day, not an uncommon thing in our witches’ sisterhood famous for being experimental. Today I decided to try out a new recipe and completely forgot that my oak stirrer—oak being a masculine tree—does not react well with the aggressive fire energy of jalafuego pepper. Their convergence resulted in a spontaneous exothermic reaction…or, as Puck called it, a big, big bang.
I made a mental note to use a softer birch stirrer next time.
I got up in the middle of the night, having been wakened by loud wails, and found Cat on the roof singing something about nine lives minus two accompanied by Puck abusing an old accordion with all his might. That fluffy red ass chewed a whole valerian root and, together with my mature house spirit, they went on a rampage, spooking neighbors and polishing their musicianship. I remember promising Cat a full shave in the morning.
Cat gets very foolish when drunk.
Getting rid of me is officially on our governor’s bucket list. According to him, Burnaville is no place for a witch. Today he sent Father Alfred for the exorcism of evil spirits.
Cat, Puck, and I quite enjoyed the show Father Alfred put on at the entrance of the store, with the threats of holy inquisitions, the drawing of ominous signs in the air, the dramatic shaking of the thurible, and the pouring of holy water on the front steps. Too bad Lucinda was busy today. Ever since we moved to neighboring towns after graduation, we have always tried to share moments like this. It is arguably the only source of entertainment in our days, mostly occupied as they are by the tedious preparation of antidotes for hair loss, immunity-boosting pills, and health potions for cattle.
After his brilliant performance, Father Alfred came in for a bit, and we had a cup of mint tea spiced with theoscientific debates, during which we agreed that magic is surely one of the branches of science and, for now, the most promising of them.
It is always nice to deal with a professional.
If only the storefront did not smell like lavender…
This morning I went to the governor’s town hall. I told the guards I needed to see their manager. They didn’t want to let me in, so I had to curse them with an electrical paralysis. No magic. Just confidence and épatage. I think Lucinda calls this a neurolinguistic programming or something like that. In all fairness, it was their own fault: no respect for magic whatsoever. They should have known that I am the sort of woman before whom all the doors open. Otherwise, I tear them down.
Once the governor saw me, his face went pale and his mouth twitched. Good! Long overdue respect for my profession. I told him that the next time he sends an inquisition to my store, I will burn his town hall in an eternal fire and turn him into a phoenix stuck in a constant loop of reincarnation. He hid behind the chair, which I didn’t hesitate to turn into an angry monster. Harmless illusion, but darn effective.
I left smiling at the rising sun, as the screeches and yelps behind me gradually died down. This is what I call the triumph of justice.
I should remember to send the governor a pack of calmative drops and anti-stutter pills as a conciliatory gift. Talking about remembering things, I completely forgot that I wanted to send Lucinda an invitation for the full-moon ritual! It is true that when you are busy spoiling somebody else’s life, you tend to disregard your own.
I sent an express owl message.
Owl came back with a reply and a bunch of mead commercials.
Full moon. Lucinda came over for our monthly get-together. We opened the astral plane, charged our artifacts, caught up on news from the international witch community, and got a couple of bottles of red wine. Then we spent the whole evening discussing (and arguing about) the consistency principles of the universe. Cat decided to stand by my side. And he did. Then he fell asleep and rolled over to Lucinda’s side. Then back to my side. We decided that everything is permanent in the universe, except Cat.
Somebody from the astral by the name of Schrödinger concurred with this hypothesis.
I need a better astral lock.
In the morning, Mr. Hamm, our local baker, came in and bought ten bottles of toothache-causing powder. He most certainly has a pact with our local dentist for a percentage commission. I think I might have been the one who recommended that scheme. Sometimes my genius surprises even me.
I am running out of potion components, so today Puck and I inventoried what was left. A dozen herbs are missing. Half I can get from my little garden behind the store, where I grow some of the medicinal herbs, but for the other half I need to take a horse-cab to the city gates and do a good replenishment in the forest. By the way, this year the plants in my garden are growing stupendously. Even the rare specimen Phytolacca acinosa, which I thought would not get adjusted to the local climate, took root!
The forest was magical in the morning as the sun started to appear behind the tops of the pine trees and the first rays glided through the pillow of fog and sparkled in the morning dew. If I didn’t have to go back to the store, I could have spent all day wandering through the pine trees, collecting herbs and listening to noisy woodpeckers.
And just when I was enjoying some well-deserved peace and quiet, I noticed a pair of eyes glinting at me from the bush. Seeing a pair of eyes is rarely a good sign as they tend to come along with sharp claws, a mouth full of fangs, and a digestive tract, in that order. But it turned out to be Victor, my old werewolf friend who lives alone in the forest…well, maybe with the exception of Vampire Draculus, a Magister of Philosophical Sorcery, who lives in a log hut not far from here. But both are quite antisocial. The thing is that Victor’s second guise is that of a grizzly bear, making him a bit of an outcast from werewolf society. That is how he appeared now. And then he is also very introverted. Every time we have solstice celebrations or marathons through the harvest fields, he says that he is either terminally ill or too busy. And Draculus…well, Draculus writes his magical dissertation and claims he cannot be distracted from such important academic research.
“Victor, what are you doing here? And why haven’t you turned back? Full moon was three days ago.” I smiled at my old friend.
“Hey, Arelia, I wish I could. I am sort of in an uncomfortable situation here,” the huge fluffy bear grumbled,“Fleas are eating me alive. I can’t concentrate for long enough to turn back.”
“Ah, fiddles! Come here, let’s make you a free man again.” I gestured to him.
“Yeah, right! The last time you decided to pick a thorn out of my paw, the fur didn’t grow for two months!”
“Fine, so I overdid the healing a bit, and it converted into a beatification spell. So what?”
“‘So what’? I was the laughingstock of the whole werewolf commune!”
“Oh, come along, Victor! What are you going to do, anyway? Sit here until the winter comes and the fleas freeze to death?” I argued, climbing on the closest snag.
Victor sighed once again and resignedly plonked himself before me. With a triumphant smile, I laid my hands on top of his head and concentrated. Victor quite contrarily broke into a sweat and just in case closed his eyes with trembling paws. I sent a fiery swirl through his fur, a very mild one, counting on the likelihood that only the fleas would get affected. Casting spells is not an exact science and like most arts it is often a crapshoot.
Suddenly, Victor let out the roar of a horribly wounded animal, “ARELIA-A-A-A!” I did not like that, nor did I like the wild look on his face. So I quickly picked up my herb bag and decided to scarper. The bear ran after me with new-gained agility. Nothing makes the energy surge quite like a couple of half-burnt fleas under the tail. I think we ran for a good mile until the remaining fleas fell off. At which point both of us fell to the grass with exhaustion.
“See, I told you I could do it!” I said.
“Don’t push it, Arelia, and please disappear now. I need to turn,” Victor snarled, preparing for his guise transition.
“Phooey, what haven’t I seen there?” I responded, packed my stuff and ran to the forest gates. As my granny used to say, the only thing worse than an angry bear is the angry bear beside you.
Puck broke my favorite cup today. I declared war! Cat declared neutrality. A traitor, indeed! On second thought, let’s see what Puck is cooking first. War is war, but lunch should be according to schedule.
A bunch of men started demonstrating in front of the store, swinging rakes and shovels. Apparently, the neighbor’s donkey cashed in his chips and fell over dead. Naturally, this was presumed to be my fault. Somebody remembered that I glanced at the poor mammal two months earlier, and now the former donkey owner was screaming the most intricate imprecations under my windows. I stepped outside for a second to wave to the frightened public and to clarify that all their disgraceful insinuations were a complete understatement of my true nature.
Amusing. If ever I decided to collect the weapons that I have been threatened with, I could have opened an antique store by now.
I lied to Cat that I saw a mouse in the kitchen. Cat entered the warpath. Now he does not sleep at nights but rather lies in ambush.
The governor came and apologized today. He says he has no territorial claims and that all he wants from life is to meet his death naturally. Now I can stay in this town for as long as I desire. That’s better!
Cat claims to have caught a mouse while I was sleeping. I choose to believe him.
Father Alfred asked for an anti-rheumatism balm. I told him to take care of that old spine and to decrease the radius of the swing of his thurible. He said that suffering purifies us. Then we somehow got into a discussion of the role of witches in the ecosystem of religions, and the next thing we knew, a whole day had gone by. He is such delightful company! I think the fact of our mutual existence brings both of us a lot of joy.
I noticed that he poured out a litre of holy water onto the store’s stairs again. Next time I will ask him to aim more towards my three rose bushes—pink sunrise type—that I imported from the Valley of the Elves. Holy water makes them grow better.
Today is a solstice celebration. Very strong sun energy today, so my favorite fire element is literally on fire. Puck, Cat, and I are making a big bonfire in the garden for the walkaround dance.
Madame Rouge came in today with her usual pheromone-perfume request and an unsatisfiable desire to inspect the doings in my store. She belongs to the category of beings that I cannot stand. Her professional vocation is composing denunciations, and her hobby is spreading gossip and organizing squabbles with the speed of an infected cockroach. At the mere mention of her, Cat starts scratching compulsively, Puck’s radiculitis flares up, and one of my eyes starts to twitch. Unfortunately for us, her negativity also spreads to her appearance, so I get nonstop requests for perfumes, third-degree décolletage illusions, and long red knifelike nails.
There is only one way to get rid of her, I suspect, but what will I do with a body? The closest necromant is three hundred miles away, and teleportation is not my thing.
After Madame Rouge left yesterday, Cat burnt a sage twig to cleanse the energy space. Well, a twig, more like a whisk. It stank for hours, with smoke pouring from every cranny, and I could barely clear my throat. I need to come up with a plan to stop her visits, or next time Cat might burn down the whole house. Potentially, I could lock her in the astral. But where would she go? She will not get into the better worlds, and demons in hell will not accept her. After all, who needs competition nowadays?
Speaking of demons, Burnaville’s personal demon, Izuver, paid me a visit today. Only Great Mother knows how he got stuck in this hick town, but he decided to make the best of it. He now works as a door-to-door salesman, trading souls for obsolete material possessions.
“Heyyaa, missed me?” he shouted and flashed his usual grotesque smile. With that charm, he should be selling nothing less than shares in financial pyramids.
“Like a werewolf misses his fleas,” I muttered.
“Oh, you hurt me right at the center of my heart.” He produced a fake sob and lay his hand on the right side of his chest. Though that may be where his heart is, I would not be surprised if he had none at all.
“Does it lurch?” I asked politely.
“Does your heart lurch?” I said. “Or do you feel a radiating pain elsewhere in the body? For example, if you feel it in the right side, it might be the liver. Then you should cut down on your alcohol consumption. Or it could be a muscle spasm, and I have just the right remedy for that.” I pulled out a set of special needles from the east astral side with what I hoped was a predatory smile. “I have been told these silver needles do magic on the energy meridians, and I have been looking for the right opportunity to try them out.”
“I am fine,” he said, the grin was suddenly gone. “Get your needles away from me.”
“What do you want, then? If you need the souls of sinners, talk to Father Alfred. He has plenty of that stuff.”
“I saw him yesterday. He told me to come back after the Easter confessions. No, something better: I found a way to get back home!”
“You mean hell? From which you were kicked out?”
“I was not kicked out! I am in…voluntary exile. And now I know how to end it!” Izuver briskly gesticulated and knocked his cap to the ground, revealing his bare head. Something familiar was missing.
“And what do I have to do with this?” I demanded, and then I recognized what was absent. “By the way, where are your horns?”
“Oh, I wear them only according to the moon cycle and my personal style. Anyhoo, I need you to activate a fire circle that will teleport me all the way down,” he said with a smile spreading out on his face like an oily blot in water.
“Do you think you can make me do one of the most complicated rituals just because you ask nicely? Did the stomach acid get into your head?”
“I usually do not think and consider this a very futile process in general. Regarding the fire circle—I will compensate you generously. A small fortune, in fact. Buddy Puck will be very happy,” he said, patting Puck on the shoulder. When did these two become buddies?
“Oh, yeah? And where did you get the money, may I ask?”
“I sold my good reputation,” Izuver said with a grin.
“Did you sell your brain as well?”
“Can I pay you extra so you do not grouch during the process?”
“I do not accept impossible tasks.” I tossed my head scornfully.
The things one must do for money…I mean, friends.
Early in the morning, I went to the local market to get vegetables, milk for Cat, and a few other little things. One of the stall keepers pulled out a wooden cross with a clear intention to poke me with it to my resurrection. I promised to gnaw her alive, at which point she sank into a faint.
Funny people. It is about time they realize that I am a vegetarian!
I am so envious of Lucinda right now. She can clean the whole house with one sweep of an arm, one of the perks of specializing in air magic along with levitation and telekinesis. My specialties are fire and water elements, which allowed me to create a freezing food cupboard and a self-heating bath…and I would not trade them for anything in the world! But it also means that I cannot fly the broom and must use it as intended: for sweeping the house clean. Or I could ask Cat and Puck to help, without my lifting a finger. Caaaat! Puuuck!
Cat and Puck began their cleaning from the kitchen…well, more precisely from the food cupboard. By the way, the cleaning ended right there. Now the gluttons are begging for stomach medicine. As if!
Ran out of coffee again. Puck, you little troublemaker, I know you are reading my journal! Stop drinking a liter of coffee from the mead mug every day. You thought I would not notice? You know how hard it is to drag objects back from the astral. I basically use all of my magic reserves just to get you this morning coffee! And Burnaville Academy is having its annual exams this week, so I need at least several kilos of beans to stock up on wake-up pastilles.
Very tired. I’ve just returned from the astral plane, where I spent hours in the astral market searching for the right bean quality. Finally, I found a Mayan shaman who agreed to trade three kilos of coffee for twenty glass potion bottles and a bunch of crystals.
As soon as I finished making a big pile of wake-up pastilles, a bunch of youngsters flocked in. I patted myself on the back. From a vast pool of my underdeveloped talents, intuition definitely stands out.
All the representatives of the future intelligentsia of Burnaville had swollen faces and red eyes. They were either drinking all night at the Dirty Duck Tavern or studying, or both. Freshly made pastilles got immediately consumed. I tried to stop them by explaining the dangers of overdosing on stimulants, but did they listen to me? Oh, that juvenile all-or-nothing thinking. Fine, I will wait until their bodies’ natural resources deplete themselves and then we shall see who will run back begging for recovery potions!
By the way, while I was packing the pastilles, a bunch of girls advanced on an unsuspectingly napping Cat and yelled, “Soooo fluffy!” Cat woke up, fluffed his fur, optically gaining at least four and a half kilos, and then clawfully decorated the hands of his attackers with a mix of herbal and oriental patterns. That was one beautiful design. I taught him well.