Peekaboo, I see you!
Kettle screamed in readiness. Without much fanfare, its silver whistle flipped off as the old black cast-iron steamer moved itself onto the cool wooden chopping block by the hob side.
Mother Harper always enjoyed the late afternoon, especially if it involved sitting down and putting her feet up and not having to speak to anyone who was pushing out a baby, pushing out blood or needed help removing something that shouldn’t have been pushed in there.
“That’s enough, Pug; you can take a breather.”
She was especially enjoying this afternoon because no one had pushed the envelope of stupidity and ended up taking a trip to her hospital. Sometimes, on a rare afternoon, the population of Bone Valley used their brains instead of splashing them about.
Pug, the smallish dark green dragon who lived below the witches’ hob plate, snorted quietly as he settled down back into his nest, munching peacefully on a dried pig’s ear. His scales created a rasping noise as his tail curled around his body and munching snout.
Kettle carefully poured some of its boiling contents into the overly large ceramic cup waiting patiently to be filled; a little water splashed on the hob in the process, causing a hiss.
Mother Harper absentmindedly patted the soft grey head of Ned, her miniature war elephant, who happily snored as only a miniature elephant can when snuggled on his ‘mummy’s lap’ relaxed and off in the land of nod. “Mind how you go, Kettle. Don’t wet Pug; he hates baths at the best of times.”
With a shuffle and slow wiggle around the marbled hob surround, Mug presented itself to the old witch.
“I hope you put in tea leaves this time!”
Mug shimmied its confirmation.
“Good, I won’t be holding with having fancy dried dandelion petals; just straight old boring tea does the likes of me.” She eyed Mug, who quivered as she picked it up from the edge of the hob and took a sip. “Ahh, just lovely. Thanks you, Mug, Kettle ‘n Pug.”
The front doorbell dinged and danged loudly down the flagstone corridor of Mother Harper’s Home for the Injured, Pregnant and Medically Stupid.
“Bugga! Cross ya legs and don’t cough; come in through the courtyard; I’ve just mopped the floor”, was shouted out by a resentful witch as she drained Mug, put Ned in his wicker basket by the hob and then gently put the flowered Mug down near the sink.
A cold and slightly royal ‘looking down on the dirty lower classes’ toned “Oh, it’s you!” rang out into the darkening evening. Mother Harper wasn’t one to mince words or hide her true feelings.
In the lengthening shadows, Torren blushed deeply, “Yes, and this visit has absolutely nothing to do with lye or my sinuses.”
Beatrix bustled past the frowning witch and into the hospital’s courtyard, “She means me.”
The hospital’s old wooden carriage door was lifted by the young witch and bolted out of harm’s way. “Here you go, bring him in.”
Beatrix continued to ignore Mother Harper, who stared with steel-hard blue eyes at the blushing Torren as he led Sally through the open cart door.
“Aren’t you the one who needed the cream for your nether regions? I remembers something about you and homemade soap!”
Sighing, the young man paused. “Yes, the cream worked wonders, and as I’ve said many times to you, on so many of my visits, I burnt myself with lye when trying to remove the dragon smell. The wound was not on my privates as everyone keeps on saying; it was on my arm; you put some green goopy stuff on it, then dressed it, then it heeled in under three days.”
“Oh, that’s good to know it worked on you then.” Mother Harper smiled a wide, broad and all-teeth intact grin before whispering very loudly. “Snotty nose and nappy rash, ah yes, he’s tha’ big namby-pamby boo boo baby.” Then she commented louder, “I wonder who gave everyone the idea the burn was on your private bits? Mind you, that virgin rumour didn’t last as long as I thought it would!”
“What do you mean… that’s good it worked?” Torren’s levels of suspicion had exploded.
“Well, I’s just found the green gloop in the back of the cupboard when I's scrounging up sum fing to slap on ya arm! I’m sure I labelled it properly, but maybe the label fell off at some point in time.” Mother Harper’s grin widened a little, showing just how far her wrinkles could stretch before a smooth patch of skin appeared.
“You just slapped something on my arm when you didn’t even know what it was or how long it had been hanging in the back of your cupboard, or if it was out of date, stale or too strong. You just slapped it on my burnt arm?”
It was unbelievable what these witches did without any concern for the consequences. Torren felt that a penchant for recklessness must have been part of the selection process to be a witch. They’d all line up and be asked – ‘Do you care what happens if you poke a bear with a very sharp stick?’ And if the answer was no… then they were accepted into the witch academy.
Mother Harper’s wrinkles stretched further, “Well’s my young fine fellow, considering you slapped on homemade soap which you had no idea how to make or how strong it was or what it was going to do to your skin… I's thought, if he don’ care, then why should I?” Mother Harper's blue eyes twinkled with delight. It wasn’t often she got to parry with anyone who was obviously smart, and it did her health the world of good to beat him.
“Point taken. I apologise. And I didn’t wash with homemade soap because of the virgin rumour; I was just sick of everyone commenting on my professional smell, and normal soap does nothing at all to get rid of it.” Sally’s reigns were checked as Torren’s face once again imitated a red apple as he encouraged his horse to walk on.
“Right, you are my darlin', whatever you say. It just be pure coincidence that you wanted to get clean; the very weak the old virgin rumour was running around without its knickers on. By the way, my young laddie-boy, did you'se get your leg over? You knows it’d do wonders for ya sinuses!” Mother Harper took a deep sniff of the general area as Torren walked by, then gave off a gravelly snigger.
Calling back over his shoulder, Torren quipped, “Sorry, can't hear you!”
Sally walked forward and, in doing so, presented Sir Dri AsaBone’s ‘private side’ to Mother Harper, who got an unexpected surprise as she closed the wooden doors.
“Why is he slung over that bony horse, and why does he have no pants on? No! Pray don’t tell me!” Mother Harper patted Sally as the old grey mare ambled past her and to a stop. After a second or two of inspecting Sir Richard’s tooshy, the situation got the better of the old witch’s curiosity, “How’d the knight of our fine city ends up with a big red old derriere? And furthermore, why does everyone think I can fix up their ills after they have indulged in their little private funny ways? Aren't you all aware that you should put your shampoo bottles somewhere safe in case you slips over?’ An’ why does everyone feels they needs to share their excuses for their dark behind closed doors history with me? What you gets up to or what youse don’t gets up to in your own bedroom is a mystery to me, and that’d be the way I’d like it to remain.”
She then slapped poor Sir Dri Asabone’s bottom as he was carried past her and into the centre of the paved courtyard, rendering the man into another flood of tears. “Oh, go on then, tell me, Ricky, what’s happened to ya, tooshy?”
“Good woman, I plead of thee do not touch my nether region with such a calloused hand. I seek your tender womanly administrations to ease my suffering.” Sir Richard couldn’t stop the shivering. The cream Torren had lent him seemed to be evaporating along with its calming nature. “You gave my man some cream to aid him from the results of one of his anti-social hobbies.”
“I’m not your man.” Was said quietly from the front of Sally. “And for the last time, I wasn't, …oh forget it, I can't be bothered.”
“What ho, I beg of you, old woman, help me in the way you helped my man, but please don’t touch my botty again. I need a softer, younger, genteel hand to administer the cream, such as the delightful maiden who accompanies me on my adventures.”
Torren rolled his eyes at Beatrix, who held up a calming hand, or maybe it was a slapping hand, but since she could only reach Sir Richard's backside, she did the honourable thing and kept her hands to herself. She did, though, quipped angrily, “I wouldn't gently touch your behind with a 10-foot barge pole, and if I had access to a 10-foot barge pole, touching any part of your anatomy gently would be the last thing I'd be doing with it.”
Sir Richard continued ignoring the negativity that surrounded him. “I am in desperate need of more of this such cream as I feel my private positions are beginning to glow coal red.”
Mother Harper lifted the little blanket covering Sir Richard’s private areas. “Good Gods, man, what have you been doing? Did you try to bobsled down the main street in summer and have a bit of a tumble?”
“No, my good woman, I did not.”
“Oh, so it’s running through thistles and brambles to prove you’ve got a big set, then!”
“No, my good woman, I did neither.”
“Hmmm. Let me guess; the other knights decided to let you into their secret little society, the one where you have to ride a dragon in the nuddy, which is just code for butt scooting your behind along the carpet in the grand hall.”
“No, my good woman, that is not the case at all!” Sir Richard began to whimper as the last little bit of cream gave up its relieving powers.
“Right, well, that only leaves the fact that, like the pretty young boy over there with the sweet green eyes, interesting scent, and lack of personal confidence, you, like him, would have had…” she looked at Sir Richard’s bottom end again with a discerning eye. “Oh, about half a bottle of Monk plonk then!”
“Yes, my good woman, that’s the one. Is there steam radiating off my tooshy?”
“If you call me good woman once more, there will be my size nine hobnailed boot radiating off it!”
“Can you help, Mother Harper?” Beatrix looked down at the grey cobblestones. For some reason, meeting the witch's steel gaze was not on the young woman's list of things to do today.
Both of Mother Harper’s eyebrows acted like a public disseminator of her mood. One rose halfway up her forehead whilst the other narrowed to a sharp point. “Why don’t you help him? …Witch!” The final word was spat with personal disgust.
A blush as red as a pomegranate seed spread across Beatrix’s face as she stammered. “I. I. You. Well. I. I’m not very good at potions.”
“Have you tried?” Mother Harper's courtyard seemed to darken around the trio as Beatrix continued to stammer away under pressure.
“I. I. Well. Its. Difficult, kind of to, just, that I find when I’m.”
Torren stood in disbelief as Beatrix seemed to cave in on herself under the older witch’s gaze. Where was the haughty, confident, knight-slapping woman who’d been logical and somewhat calm…ish in his garage? Here, though, in front of the old witch, Beatrix stood next to Sally, running the edge of her black cloak through her fingers like a desperate squirrel; she was nothing more than a nervous flailing child.
“Ahh, young man.” Mother Harper turned her gaze upon Torren, who was steadfast; no witch was going to intimidate him. Blush, yes… intimidate, no!
“You’re wondering what’s happening to young Missy Britches—supposed to be a witch, they says. Supposed to be the future of witchdom, they says. Plucked out of a carpet shop when she was but seven by Mother Heggerty, her sen.” Mother Harper’s steel blue eyes daggered the young witch where she stood, then after a moment, she sadly warbled, “The child, they says, showed more potential than I, my sen, when I was but a child. And I,” Mother Harper turned to Torren and sniffed at him deeply, “…set a whole village alight when the local lord tried to punish my father for kill’n a deer. But her.” She nodded towards the cowering Beatrix, “her potential has withered and faltered under her own fears! She’s no more a witch now than you a hero!”
The shadows of Mother Harper's courtyard deepened to chard black as a wicked smirk traversed her features.
“Did he what?”
Torren smiled calmly, “Kill the deer?”
Mother Harper’s steel eyes bore into the clear crystal green of Torren’s as a headache brewed behind them.
“Ha!” The shadows disappeared as sunshine radiated upon Sir Richard’s twin red moons. “He surely did! My ol’ Da’ was a terrible poacher, but we were starving, so all bets were off!” She smiled a complete set of white teeth at Torren.
“Where did the villagers go after you burnt all their houses down?” Torren wasn’t one to get into a physical fight, but a war of words, parry with an intelligent cutting statement… well, yes!
A grin marched its way over the wrinkled features of the elderly witch. “Oh well, pretty eyes, that’s where I showed my true value. Easy enough to burn a village, but it takes real talent to unburn it!” A slight shadow cast its presence one more as she leant closer to the dragon night cart man. “If I was you,” she sniffed him once more, then smiled like a loving grandmother, “I’d be damn sure not to tell anyone else about the wine or the bottles. Keep that one very close to your heart.” She poked a bony finger into Torren’s chest, “Ooo”, she warbled, standing back and smiling at Beatrix, “didn’t realise he was so muscley under all that leather and lump bumpy jumper. Maybe I should have looked closer at where he needed the cream.”
A red apple blush once again covered Torren's features as Mother Harper turned and bellowed at no one in general, “Get Ricky the lightning bug off ya horse and bring him in. This is going to need more than just a bit of cooling balm. I gotta go looks in me cupboard ta see if I’s got any of the ol’ green dragon snot left.”
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About the Creator
I have a dark sense of humour, which pervades most of what I write. I'm dyslexic, which pervades most of what I write. My horror work is performed by Mark Wilhem / Frightening Tales. Pandora's Box of Infinite Stories is growing on Substack