Dreamtime (Part Three)


fantasy cat

I need to introduce you to someone,’ Edward said, as he watched Katie fussing around the bike. ‘You might find him useful on your journey.’
Katie looked round at him, a frown on her face. ‘I don’t need anyone else,’ she replied, her tone a touch acerbic.
Unruffled as ever, Edward said, ‘Then I can’t help you.’ He took hold of the bike’s handlebars and when Katie tried to wrench it back, he stepped away, taking the bike with him.
She glared at him for a second, then her shoulders slumped in defeat. ‘Very well,’ she said, ‘who is this person?’
In answer, Edward smiled and called out, ‘Hibiscus, where are you?’
I emerged from my hiding place and sprang up onto the counter, next to the girl. To my surprise she recoiled with a look of horror on her pale face.
‘A cat?’ she quavered, ‘You want to introduce me to a cat?’
For the first time since I’d known him, Edward looked angry. ‘You don’t like cats?’
‘It’s not that, it’s just …’ Katie trailed off and her eyes filled with tears. She sniffed and delved into the pocket of her skirt to retrieve a rather crumpled tissue. After blowing her nose, and straightening her skirt, she looked up and went on, ‘I do like cats – in fact I love them.’ I purred loudly and rubbed up against her arm. She scratched me absentmindedly behind my ears and I felt as if I was in heaven. Katie smiled down at me. ‘It’s just that they remind me of what I’ve lost and why I want to go home.’
Edward gestured towards a pair of chairs behind the counter, and as they sat down, said, ‘Tell me what happened.’
There was silence for a second, before Katie took a deep breath, and then blurted out, ‘Well, it all began when I was trying to find a cure for premature hair loss…’

tub
…The valley was a wonderful place, filled with sunshine and flowers, and herbs in abundance. The tiny village, where Katie Marigold had been born, nestled amongst the trees, its tiny, red roofed cottages peeking out between the foliage like scattered jewels.
Katie Marigold stood in her flower filled garden, hands on hips, and regarded the wooden tub with cautious optimism. The dark water it held contained a number of herbs, which she hoped would cure her latetest customer’s problem. She poked the rather murky contents with a hazel twig; it made a “boing” noise. Perhaps it was a tad too thick? She shook her head. No, it was fine. She knew it.
In truth Grimbold the wizard was her only customer and the reason he’d come to her was because he’d tried everywhere else – she was his last hope. The not-so-talented magic weaver was desperate, so he’d told her. If she didn’t help him, he didn’t know what he would do. A magical experiment, to create an artificial flying dragon, had resulted in an explosion that had left him bereft of his eyebrows and hair. Unlike most other wizards, Grimbold was young and handsome and he’d become the object of affection of most of the village ladies. His good looks, as far as they were concerned, made up for his ineptitude in the magical department. Rumours were rife that he and Griselda Montmorrisey, the village’s leading witch, were in a relationship. True or not, Griselda made it clear he was out of bounds as far as the rest of the female population were concerned. As for the young man himself, he was far too scared of Griselda to gainsay her.
Katie couldn’t have cared less. Magic was her life and Grimbold held no allure for her. All he ever did, when they ran into each other, was blush and stammer; quite frankly, he got on her nerves. The only interest she had in him was as a client. If she could cure him of his baldness, then her career as a hedge witch would soar to new heights. She wanted to become the best and usurp that overbearing harridan, Griselda.
There were two reasons for this. Firstly, Griselda was a stuck up cow, whose exclusive circle of friends did not include Katie. Secondly, many years ago, she’d cheated in the village’s annual witching competition. Katie’s late mother, Hortense Gerber Marrow, had been robbed of the gold medal for her spell to cure the common cold. Griselda had secretly cast a glamour upon the assembled villagers filling the marquee, in which the competition was being held, with illusions that made everyone else’s entries appear shoddy and second rate. That had been bad enough, but what she’d done to Hortense had been even worse.
Katie remembered it well. When Highbold Knockworthy, the village mayor and leading wizard, had approached the long line of patiently waiting competitors, he’d been sneezing his head off. His bulbous nose was bright red and he constantly blew it into the large, and rather soggy, handkerchief he carried in his right hand. Every year Highbold was plagued with a summer cold and so it was with particular interest that he stopped at Hortense’s table, and regarded her potion with watery, yet hopeful eyes.
‘Does it work?’ he asked, pointing an imperious finger at the dark blue flask containing the spell.
‘Yes, your worship,’ Hortense replied with a sweet smile. ‘I tried it out on the cat and it worked a treat.’ True, it had worked and the cat was cured of its cold. What Hortense failed to mention was that the unfortunate animal had also sprouted a pair of donkey ears and a pig’s snout. Yes, the side effects had worn off after a few days, and she was sure she’d sorted it all out; nevertheless she was a little apprehensive, when Highbold grabbed the flask, pulled out the cork with his teeth, and then swallowed the whole contents in one go.
Everyone held their breath, as still clutching the empty flask, Highbold smacked his lips and waited for the spell to take effect. After a few seconds, a smile wreathed his plump features and he turned to face the waiting crowd.
‘It’s worked,’ he said gleefully. To demonstrate the veracity of this statement, he inhaled deeply through his hitherto blocked nose. ‘See?’ he added.

whiskers
Everyone started to applaud, and was on the verge of congratulating Hortense, when Highbold let out an ear piercing yowl. Everyone stared in alarm, as his ears lengthened and grew into points, which in turn became covered with fine black hair. His nose shrank into a tiny triangle, a definite improvement on its former state, and the splendid handlebar moustache that had formerly graced his upper lip, split and divided into slender whiskers. A tearing sound caused everyone to turn their gaze on the seat of his pants, where a beautiful black tail now protruded.
‘Meow!’ The former mayor screeched and bolted from the tent, leaving Hortense the focus of multiple glares and accusatory stares. Little did she know that she was not responsible for the catastrophe, but five-year-old Katie Marigold knew who was really to blame.
Peeping out from behind her mother’s skirts, the little girl had observed Griselda muttering beneath her breath. As Highbold swallowed the potion, the witch’s fingers wove a pattern in the air and a chill little breeze blew through the tent, unnoticed by anyone but the child. She’d tried to tell her mother, but Hortense was too absorbed watching Highbold; by then it was too late.
Katie shut down anymore thoughts about that long ago day and returned her attention to the hair restoring potion. The garden gate creaked and she looked up to see Grimbold advancing up the path. Today, in place of his usual wizardly robes, he wore a blue and white check shirt and jeans, which fitted his athletic figure to perfection. The only thing that marred his otherwise handsome appearance was an overlarge baseball cap, which came right down to his ears, barely allowing him to see where he was going.
‘H-hello Katie,’ he stuttered, I’ve come about-’
‘Yes, yes,’ she said, waving him to a nearby chair, ‘sit down and take your hat off.’
She was almost blinded by the glare from his bald pate. When he looked up at her with sad blue eyes, she resisted the urge to pat his head; he looked just like an overgrown baby. ‘We’ll soon have you right again, she said as kindly as she could. ‘Just relax, while I apply the mixture.’
As she began to smooth the mixture over his head with a spatula, Grimbold made an attempt at conversation. ‘This’s really good of you,’ he burbled, trying not to cringe, as the mixture oozed into his ears, ‘d’you think it’ll work?’
‘I’m sure of it,’ Katie replied, smearing one last dollop across the top of his head. ‘You’ll soon be in Griselda’s good books again.’ She was surprised at the vehemence in her own voice as she said this, and even more surprised when Grimbold scowled at her.
‘Now look here,’ he retorted, with uncharacteristic anger, ‘Griselda and I are not-’
He was interrupted by the clang of the garden gate, as it was thrown open. They both turned to see Griselda Montmorrisey storming across the lawn towards them. ‘Grimbold!’ she shrilled, ‘What in Hades name are you doing in this charlatan’s garden!’
‘Well, you know,’ he mumbled, indicating his hairless head. ‘When you couldn’t cure me, I thought I’d try-’ He broke off and looked down at his feet to avoid her killer death ray glare.
As she continued to stride towards them, she pointed an accusatory finger. Too late, Katie realised what was happening, and tried to pull the young wizard aside. Before she could do so, he threw up his arms so violently, his chair tipped over, depositing him in a heap on the ground. For a moment, silence fell, then Grimbold made a snorting sound, before scrambling to his feet.
‘What have you done to me?’ he whispered, staring at Katie with eyes that had now turned green. The pupils had narrowed to slits and as she watched, Katie felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. Hair began to sprout from Grimbold’s head, spreading rapidly down his face and neck. His shirt and jeans began to twitch, as though something was moving beneath the fabric, and then there was a horribly familiar tearing sound, as a tail protruded from the seat of his pants.
‘What have you done to me!’ Grimbold said again, but this time with a definite yowl in his voice. Then, without warning, his clothes collapsed in a heap on the grass. Both women stared in alarm, as the shirt apparently became infused with a life of its own and galloped off across the lawn. When it reached the gate, it shook itself, falling away from a sleek black shape that rocketed out into the lane, and across the fields opposite Katie’s house. Horrified beyond measure, she watched the cat hurtle away, until it was out of sight.
‘Do you know what you’ve done, you rank amateur?’
The sound of Griselda’s cold voice shook Katie out of her reverie and she stared at the older woman in dismay. ‘I didn’t mean to,’ she said, her voice choked with tears.
Griselda looked down her long nose. ‘You Marrow’s are all the same, stupid and incompetent. Well this is the end for you now, girl. You’ll be banished to the mortal world forever – I’ll see to that…’

running cat

…’And she did,’ Katie said sadly, staring at Edward with tear filled eyes.
For a moment he said nothing, then after glancing at me, said, ‘I think there is a way you can get home, but it won’t be easy.’
Both Katie and I leaned eagerly towards him. ‘Tell me,’ she said.

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