It was raining, cats and dogs (well, a witch’s cat and a sort-of werewolf with bones for brains – she really shouldn’t say that, even in the privacy of her own thoughts, but bless him it was true) were taking cover, and she still had to finish this blasted potion. Never, never, never, the dripping young woman thought to herself, brew a potion from a recipe book that actually specifies it be made ‘on ae righte blasted heathe on ye first true dark midnight after th’ full moone, and thatte at the height of ae summer storme’.
But here she was, soaked to the skin and getting more and more drenched by the moment, frantically stirring a bubbling cauldron with a long hazel stick (‘exactlie five foote in lengthe’), as the wind blew against her trailing black cloak and threatened to take her with it. She’d already seen her hat go whistling away over the horizon. ‘I tried to tell you,’ said a voice from under a pair of wet, flattened-down ears somewhere in the undergrowth.
‘Not helping …’ she muttered, leaning on the stick to hold the cauldron steady as it wobbled precariously over the hissing fire – without touching the burning-hot sides. ‘Sometimes, I just love my job,’ said the witch.
In fact, ‘witch’ wasn’t really a fair term to use, in the circumstances. Witches were supposed to be wicked, and bent and wizened and ugly, too (though leaning like this over a cauldron full of noxious fumes and damp woodsmoke, she began to understand how they got that way), whereas she … wasn’t.
‘Are you sure about this?’ she called again over the wind.
‘Look,’ said a feline voice, complainingly. ‘That recipe book was hard to track down. I had to call in all kinds of favours just to borrow it. It’s right there, in black-and-white: ‘To Cure thee Witche’s Curse’.’
‘Well,’ she called back, her damp hair flying out behind her, ‘if you’re sure …’
A big bounding shape rollicked past some hazels into the clearing. ‘What’s going on?’ he said, shaking himself vigorously.
There was a hissing nearby. ‘Watch where you do that, you stupid mutt! I was nearly dry!’
‘Sorry, Algie …’ The wolf hung his head, then brightened up, sniffing at the cauldron, inching towards it.
‘Rex, stop that! Desist at once, I say— Priscilla, look out!’
‘Rex – no. No …’ She tried to hold on to a collar and keep the cauldron steady at the same time. But he was strong … ‘No – no, it’s hot! You’ll get burned.’ He stopped pulling.
‘Um. Should that be doing that?’
She looked back at the cauldron. Something was going wrong. Instead of a clear delicate blue, it was turning an unpleasant molten red, hissing like it was about to—
‘Gangway!’ said a streak of black fur zipping into the night.
She was conscious of a mass of wet dog cannoning into her and pushing her out of the way.
The cauldron exploded. A small mushroom cloud rose over the hillside, green smoke edged with yellow …
The first light of dawn crept shamefacedly over the horizon. It fell on a book with singed edges, rainsoaked and lying open on the ground. The storm had passed over now, just a few drops of rain falling like teardrops on the bare hillside.
A wet cat, bedraggled and snuffling, trudged its way over the hill. Every so often, it sneezed violently, sending itself up into the air.
Algie would be the first one to admit that he had embraced cat-hood like one born to it, that he was lazy, selfish, and bad-tempered, often unscrupulous, and that unattended (cooked) fish in his vicinity was liable to disappear in mysterious circumstances. So, obviously, when he found the still, unmoving figure on the grass, it was only raindrops trailing down from his luminous green eyes …
He heard the sound of a collar tinkling. A large dog-like wolf limped slowly nearer.
‘Go away, Rex …’ said the cat, tiredly. ‘… Please. Now is not a good time …’
‘Sorry, Algie.’ He turned and started limping away …
A hopeful doggy face turned back.
‘… Stay. Please.’
Rex limped back nearer.
‘If you tell anybody about this, I’ll … I’ll … Well, just don’t tell anybody, okay?’
Rex looked down at the unmoving girl and flopped down sadly on the ground. ‘She … she really gone?’
Algie didn’t say anything.
‘She looks peaceful.’ Rex huffed out a mournful breath. ‘Guess because she not a witch no more. Guess she got her wish …’
Algie’s tail flicked back and forth. ‘… Guess she did …’ He risked a glance back. Rex’s eyes were closed. Algie stalked closer to Pris, lying there on the ground. Rex was right. She did look peaceful … He nudged against her, hoping against hope. Nothing …
‘Well, kid,’ he said quietly in her ear. ‘… You’re free …’ He nudged at her again. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘if you were to wake up now and say you were only fooling – I’d believe you … I wouldn’t mind … please … It shouldn’t be like this …’ He curled up next to her forlornly and closed his eyes.
He wasn’t sure how much later, but he could feel dog breath over him. Wait a minute. ‘Rex …’ he said quietly, opening his eyes. ‘Can you … turn back into a human?’
Rex shook his head, slobbering only slightly. ‘Nope … Nope, nope, nope … Werewolf curse … Pris say …. Pris say that why have bones for brains. Curse went wrong …’
Algie sighed deeply as only a cat who is suddenly tired of life can do. ‘Yeah … That’s what I thought. It was worth a shot …’ Probably wouldn’t work, anyway. Had to be a human for a kiss to wake someone under an enchantment, or something … didn’t you? He glanced back at the girl on the grass. If this works, he thought, you owe me fried fish for a month …
He stepped up, carefully, up over her stomach, and closed his eyes. Eugh … the things we do for …
A pair of hands gripped his fur urgently. ‘Don’t even think about it,’ said a girl’s voice weakly, coughing on the remains of the smoke caught in her lungs. Algie opened his eyes. Pris was pale as death, but breathing … ‘C’mon, furball – get …’
He hopped down and flicked his tail nonchalantly. ‘See,’ he said turning to Rex. ‘I told you there was nothing to worry about … Er, how much did you hear exactly?’ he asked her.
She smiled slightly out of the corner of her mouth. ‘Not a word …’
As they walked (well, strutted, in Algie’s case; and limped, in Rex’s; and to be fair, Pris was floating a few inches off the ground on a broomstick) towards home, he asked, ‘So, does this mean you’re still a witch?’
‘For now,’ she said, sadly. She reached down and scritched behind his ears and then leaned over to pat Rex on the head.
‘So …’ said Rex brightly. ‘What are we doing tonight?’
‘The same thing we do every night, pooch,’ she said, with a smile that might even have reached as far as her eyes. ‘Try to break the curse … well, curses. All three of them …’
And together they wandered off into the drizzle and the sunrise. It was raining, there was a cat and a dog (sort of), and there was always tomorrow …