27 Oct


WITCH IN BED photo: Witch MortgageWitch3.jpg
  “There’s only one thing to do at this time of the year, and that’s hibernate,” thought Griselda Entwhistle to herself.
Winter was threatening. Mind you, it had been threatening for most of that particular summer, and she was fed up with casting warming spells (which used an awful lot of ground mandrake, which came expensive).
“I’m going to hibernate,” she told Thomas the Greek as he served her in the Crown and Anchor. “I’m going to make my bed, put two thick duvets on it, climb aboard and stay there until spring. I’m going to sleep the sleep of the innocent and righteous…”
“No sleep for you, then,” scoffed Thomas as he polished a clean glass with his handkerchief, an elderly scrap of cloth that was as stiff as a board after being in his pockets for six months.
“That means I won’t be in here, propping up your bar and paying for your diluted provender,” she added.
“Won’t make much difference to what I put in my till,” grinned Thomas, “you hardly ever buy more than a half pint of mild!”
“Diluted mild,” she corrected him. “I’ve a good mind to get the weights and measures people onto you, the amount of water you slip into the drinks you serve when nobody’s looking.”
“It’s a service,” smirked Thomas, “it prevents unnecessary hangovers. My customers should be grateful.”
“Bah!” sniffed Griselda, and she stomped out of the bar, calling “see you in the spring, losers!” at the rest of the sober drinkers in the place.
She made her bed exactly as she had described to Thomas, with a thick quilt on top of another thick quilt so that the whole affair looked disgustingly cosy. Then she prepared a highly nutritious cup of herbal tea, a drink that only she of all the people in the world could tolerate because of its infinitely foul flavour and settled in her knobbly armchair to drink it.
“Delicious,” she crooned to herself.
Then she went to bed.
Let me describe how she prepared for hibernation.
She removed far too many layers of clothing until she got down to her vest and pants, which she kept on because, truth to tell, she hadn’t removed them in years and wasn’t quite sure they hadn’t become permanent fixtures to her body. After all, she’d heard that things can attach themselves to living flesh given long enough and the right conditions.
She pulled a fleecy nightgown on, knelt by her bed and prayed to nobody in particular about nothing at all, sighed, spat and stood up.
Then she climbed into bed.
It was a smallish bed, a single because she never intended to share it with anyone and she had a suspicion that the hideous hag Henrietta Blackboil had plans to curl up with her when she wasn’t looking. Henrietta was adamant that there was no sexual component to her plans, but Griselda was far from certain. A single bed, though, reduced the possibility considerably, a thought that comforted her since she had discovered that Henrietta had stolen a spare key to her own front door..
The first problem to trouble her was the simple fact that she wasn’t actually tired, and the more she tried to make her mind go blank and thus encourage unconsciousness the more vivid her thoughts became.
For instance, she tried to picture a field of sheep so that she could count them as they jumped over a gate. In her head the field became immense, the number of sheep unbelievably huge, and she lost count when she was almost at a thousand and still wide awake. Then she tried to pretend she was painting a picture and covering a huge sheet of paper with a grey wash, but the grey turned to anything but grey and more sheep appeared romping through a multicoloured pasture in time to an old Beatles hit.
And she was nowhere near asleep.
“I need a sleeping tincture,” she thought, and she muttered a darkly ancient spell to herself and a bottle of green liquid appeared in one hand. She unscrewed the top and drank the contents, a green foul-tasting fluid that appeared to be based on pulverised frog. It made her feel quite ill, and there’s only one thing that nausea can’t allow, and that’s sleep.
So she staggered to her toilet and vomited heartily – and tried to work out where her spell had gone wrong. In the end she concluded that she didn’t know, and having emptied her stomach she proceeded to return to bed feeling as bad as an old woman on her way to the guillotine during the French revolution might have felt.
“Oh mercy me,” she moaned, “let me get some shut-eye.”
But that shut-eye wouldn’t come even though the feeling that she might projectile vomit at any moment went away.
She tried blanking her mind, but once she started on that course she instinctively knew that her mind would increase its activity and keep her awake. It always does. It’s as if the feverish activity she’d stored up over a long life-time was all unwinding there and then. She remembered where she’d put that key she lost eighty-three years earlier when she’d been locked out of her home for three weeks. She suddenly realised what it was that she should have said to her teacher of ninety-three years earlier to escape the caning she hadn’t escaped from. Bright as day and twice as sprightly she relived a moment when she might have fallen in love and lived a very different life, but that was all of seventy-nine years earlier, and the youth had got away.
Shame, she thought.
“I need to hibernate,” she grated through clenched teeth, and in the end she resorted to the deepest kind of magic. It was easy, really. She closed her eyes and simply went to sleep like any normal person might.
The trouble was, she woke up the very next morning, still like any normal person might, and just had to get up without hibernating for more than a few measly hours.
© Peter Rogerson 27.10.14


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