This week’s words were:
charm :: inverted :: herb garden :: mistaken identity :: terrorist
Alfie was a patch of salt-and-pepper fur amid the wildflowers. She watched from the kitchen window as he stalked a cabbage butterfly with the dedication of a lion hunting a wildebeest, smiling over her cooling cup of chamomile and ginger tea. With a grimace, she made herself swallow the last of it, telling herself it was packed full of health benefits; seconds later, she was standing in her herb garden, her feet planted in Mother Earth, her face turned to the benevolent sky, her arms spread wide in thanksgiving.
Today would be the day, she knew. She felt it.
A sudden feeling of warmth on the backs of her legs made her jump, but it was just the cat, slithering his way around her calves, looking for some appreciation. I’ve worked hard, hunting butterflies for you, she imagined him saying. You’re right, she answered him, on a soul level. You have worked hard. I appreciate you, little lion.
‘Well, you tiny terrorist,’ she murmured, bending to scratch him behind the ears, just as he liked. Thrumming, he flopped onto his back, exposing his tender belly for a rub. She watched him stretch, extending his claws in delight, as her ministrations hit the mark. ‘Putting on a charm offensive, now, are we?’ she said, with a laugh. Alfie could only yawn in response. Grinning, she gave him one final tickle under the chin, before rising to her feet once more. Affronted, Alfie flopped onto his belly and started cleaning his paws, pretending he was the one ignoring her.
‘Today’s a big day, Alfie,’ she told him. He ignored her. ‘Everything’s in place. He’ll be arriving today, I know it.’ Alfie just kept licking, his tiny red tongue sliding up first one paw, and then the other. ‘I can see you’re not interested,’ she said, watching him with affection. ‘But you should be. From today, you won’t be the only man around here. Just you wait!’ With a yowl, the cat leapt up and stalked away, tail held high in what looked like indignation. Stop putting human emotion on your animals, she told herself. Honour them as they are. She blessed Alfie’s retreating figure, and turned back to her garden, where everything was growing as it should.
Everything was perfect.
‘Hello?’ came a voice, out of the blue. A man’s voice. ‘I’m sorry, I… My name’s Joe, and I…’ She spun around to greet him, smiling, only for her words to be stolen right out of her throat. This man was not what she had ordered. Her smile died.
‘Are you… lost?’ She asked, impatient. ‘It’s just, I’m expecting someone, you see?’
‘I – um. I’m Joe, and… where am I?’ He murmured. She watched him, horrified. The look in his eye was right, and the dreamy tone of voice. He’s ensorcelled, she thought, with desperation. Oh, goddess!
She picked up her skirt and ran, the bells on her hem jingling as she hurried toward her Spell. She could have sworn aloud when she saw it, hanging there in a mess of twigs and string, her carefully chosen pattern completely destroyed. The whole thing was inverted, for a start, knocked sideways as though taken by a strong gust of wind. Several of the most important feathers – the ones for height, and hair, and youth, oh no! – lay on the ground, powerless. A hole was ripped right through the centre. Deflated, she fell to her knees, trying to pick up the strewn pieces she’d worked so hard on. Spun in a circle for eternal love, wound with my own hair for neverending passion… It had been her best work, by far, and now it was ruined. Something caught her eye as she searched the ground for lost pieces of Spell, something small and sinuous and covered in fur… Something which was pacing back and forth, watching her with a beady gaze. A knowing gaze.
‘Alfie!’ she hissed, suddenly realising what must have happened. ‘Did you do this?’
The cat yawned at her, his eyes glinting. She knew she wasn’t imagining the grin on his tiny face, but before she could reach out to grab his collar he was gone, like lightning, lost amid the tall grass.
‘Miss?’ came Joe’s voice again, from above her. ‘Can you please help me? I’m… I don’t know why I’m here…’
She straightened up, full of purpose once more. All she needed was one lock of his hair to cast a new Spell, and this poor fool could be on his way, none the wiser. She was pretty sure she had some Lethe-water left inside – just the thing. She fixed the hapless man with a bright, businesslike smile, and he did his best to return it, through a haze of fear and bedazzlement.
‘I’m so sorry, Joe – was it Joe?’ He barely had a chance to nod. ‘This has all been a case of mistaken identity, I’m afraid. Would you care for a cup of chamomile and ginger tea? Yes? Come on inside. This way, good boy.’
As she led the man into her kitchen, she wondered whether she could bring herself to turn Alfie into a frog, just until this new Spell was completed. That’d teach him to meddle… No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than, somewhere out in the garden, a loud feline wail sounded, cutting off rather more quickly than expected. She heaved in a deep breath, her lips fixed in a grim, determined line. Still got it, she thought, with satisfaction.