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  • Writer's pictureSteve Haywood

A Tricky Brew - A Short Story by Steve J Haywood

Marvin adjusted his hat in attempt to make it sit more comfortably, but inevitably it only grumbled. In his mind hats just had too much attitude these days and no respect for tradition. As if that wasn't enough, it was too damn itchy, and had an annoying habit of flopping disrespectfully, especially when he had company.

"Things just aren't like they used to, are they Gretchen?" he moaned. The cat just stared back nonchalantly at him from her prime vantage point in the middle of the kitchen table. Even Gretchen wasn't quite right; witches were supposed to have black cats, all black. She'd grown a white patch on her back when she was six months old. Any witch worth their salt would have drowned such a mongrel beast, but he just didn't have the heart. Too soft, that what the Head Witch had said. Pah! He'd show them!

He stirred the mixture in the pan, smiling wickedly as he did so. Yes, this would show them. In the old days, he'd have had a cauldron, but even the smallest cauldron wouldn't fit on his stovetop, plus the modern witch rarely needed to make a big enough brew to warrant such a large receptacle. There was that time when the whole town came down with a bad case of hallucinations – they thought they could see purple goblins everywhere, poor things – it had taken all of the pans he had and then some to cook up a cure, but that was a rare occurrence. This would be a smaller batch; he hoped he wouldn't need any, but if he knew the children of Dun Heath, they wouldn't be able to resist.

This was a recipe he hadn't needed for the better part of thirty years, so long in fact that the pages of his spell book were sticking together with, he sniffed deeply, rat's blood. The odour was unmistakable. He'd need some of that for this concoction, plus eye of toad (not just any toad, but a certain rather rare species of Peruvian Dead Leaf Toad), crushed black tulips and a few other ingredients he didn't dare name out loud. He reached for the glass vials one by one, and carefully measured out the required amount. He was running low on some of his most important ingredients; he'd have to order more when he next went online.

The brew was coming on just fine. It was thick and black like engine oil and smelled of rotting meat. He inhaled deeply; he just couldn't get enough of that smell. It wouldn't do at all for his intended recipients however, it would have to smell like fine perfume, with a taste that was simply irresistible. He reached into a bowl on the side and carefully picked up a pinch of magic dust and sprinkled it into the pan; a little of that really did go a long way. He muttered the magic words – ho hum, chokum, grunge and muck – and stirred it into the pan. Within a few short seconds the aroma changed to one of roses, orange blossom and vanilla. He pulled back, clutching his nose and trying not to gag.

Finally, when it had thickened to the consistency of a good swamp, it was ready. Carefully he ladled the mixture into the tray of tiny moulds and left them to set. As they started to cool, the sweets took on a shiny, pearlescent look which would make them all the more irresistible. Good, good. All that was left then was to put the wrappers on and they'd be good to go.

Halloween was always an exciting day for witches, but this year had definitely put a dampener on things. The whole county was in lockdown, and trick or treating forbidden. Too right, Marvin thought, at his age he didn't want to get Covid any more than the next person. Those young children with their fancy werewolf or vampire costumes were usually a delight to witchkind, willing test cases for the latest (mostly) harmless little spells, but this year they were plague carriers. Lots of them would be round as usual, spreading the dreaded disease, lockdown and fines be damned. He knew how it was, those snotty nosed kids tugging on their parent’s arms, giving them hell until they relented. Well, this year they'll wish they hadn't given in!

Just as the light was dropping, he went out and made sure the pumpkins were lit (he still had his reputation to uphold after all), and the sign was prominently displayed. It read: NO TRICK OR TREATERS ON PAIN OF A MOST GRUESOME DEATH. He'd added rather convincing blood, dripping off the letters (it should be convincing, it was real blood after all). He then placed the bucket filled with sweets under the window and retreated into the house to wait.

Sure enough, within a few minutes of it going dark, they started to come. He sat in his study at the back of the house, watching them on screen through his wireless security camera. The first group looked at the sign, glanced in confusion at the lit pumpkins, then departed. A lucky escape for them. The next, a horned demon and a spotty faced girl in a cheap Maleficent costume, barely glanced at the sign before taking a handful of sweets from the bucket. The third group, a group of children in Harry Potter costumes (what was it with these new fangled stories, weren't the traditional Halloween costumes good enough for them?) ignored the sign completely and knocked loudly on the door. The parents hung around by the gatepost, talking loudly in an obnoxious manner. No way he was going to answer the door to anyone tonight. Catching Covid on Halloween was worse than any other night, the spirits would make it much worse and he'd be in that soulless hospital on a ventilator in no time, his protection spells not worth a damn. No, he'd stay safe in here. Eventually the filthy midgets left, but not before helping themselves to half the bucket of sweets.

A couple of days later, Granny Samira called him on Zoom. Uh oh. She was brandishing that day's Gazette.

"This is your work isn't it?" she said furiously. "Look at this! Over fifty people – adults as well as children – come down with the pox. Warts, pustules, vomiting from dawn till dusk. If they find out, it won't be just you that will be in trouble, the whole coven could be exposed!"

"Relax," he said. "They're not going to find out are they, and come on, they had it coming to them. They broke the rules, spreading infection all over the place. Now they'll get a taste of their own medicine." He cackled loudly, before descending into a fit of coughing. When he'd finished, he mopped his sweaty brow, glancing back at the screen and the stern face of Granny Samira. "Will that be all?"

Granny Samira looked sharply at him. "Ha! Taste of their own medicine indeed." With that she signed off, leaving Marvin staring at a blank screen wishing it was any year but this one.

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