Authors: Adele Abbott
I woke early the next morning. I hadn’t slept particularly well because my mind had been working overtime trying to figure out what I was going to do about Kathy. The whole thing was such a mess. I wished I’d never mentioned Candlefield to her, but at the time I had no idea of its significance. If it was just Kathy, I’d use the ‘forget’ spell, but this time Peter and the kids were involved too. I planned to speak to Aunt Lucy and even to Grandma if necessary—that’s how desperate I was. Maybe they could come up with some kind of long-term solution. In the meantime, I had to find the missing holiday money, and I had to find it fast.
I flicked through the book of spells. There was a much wider range of spells in level two than there had been in level one, but as Grandma repeatedly emphasised, they also required far more focus. Some of the spells looked downright dangerous. For example, ‘fireproof’, would allow me to walk through fire unscathed. That was one spell I’d better get right first time otherwise I’d be toast.
One spell in particular caught my eye. The ‘ageing’ spell would apparently allow me to change my age. When I first spotted it, I’d got all excited. The prospect of losing a few years—even if it did only last for a maximum of twelve hours—had been quite appealing. Then I read the small print. The ageing process only worked in one direction—and it wasn’t younger. Bummer.
What would I look like when I was older? Did I really want to know? Call it morbid curiosity, but I did. I read and re-read the description and instructions to be absolutely sure that I knew how to reverse the spell. I was in no hurry to become a permanent member of Mrs V’s blue rinse and tiara set. The number of years I aged would depend on the strength of the spell I cast.
I stepped in front of the mirror, closed my eyes and cast the spell. I didn’t want to overdo it, so I didn’t focus for more than a few seconds. When I opened my eyes, an older version of me was staring back from the mirror. The grey hair was something of a shock, but nothing compared to my face. How old was I? Fifty? Sixty? It was hard to tell. Thank goodness I hadn’t focussed on the spell for any longer.
I jumped when my phone rang. Still transfixed by my reflection, I said, “Hello?”
“Are you okay? You sound—funny.”
She was right. Even my voice was different. “I’ve got a sore throat.”
“Are you sure you weren’t on the pop last night?”
“What do you want? I have to get to work.”
“Okay, Miss Grouchy Pants. Jeez, you’re turning into a right old woman.”
If only she knew.
“I wondered if you’d had time to talk to your Aunt Lucy about us going over there yet?”
“Not yet, but I will, I promise. Got to go. See you.”
I ended the call.
Thank goodness the spell reversal worked first time. I didn’t think much to being old, but it had given me an idea.
Mrs V was at her desk, and did not look happy. If that stupid cat had been stealing her scarves again, I’d stick his flags where the sun didn’t shine.
“I thought you were working in Grandma’s shop for a few days.”
“Don’t mention that woman to me.”
“Do you know what she did?”
I dare not imagine.
“I’ll tell you what she did.”
Must you? Blissful ignorance is fine by me.
“She said I needed training.”
That didn’t sound too bad. It could have been much worse. Toads or slugs could have been involved.
“Training? Can you believe it?” Mrs V continued. “What I don’t know about knitting isn’t worth knowing.”
“What did she say exactly?”
“That I needed to update my skills.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her she could stuff her job, and her shop.”
“And how did she take it?”
“I didn’t stick around to find out. She was still ranting and raving when I left.”
“But you’re feeling okay?”
“Of course. Never better.”
“Fit as a fiddle. You know me.”
I knew Grandma too. And I knew that crossing her wasn’t a smart thing to do.
“You look a little peaky yourself,” Mrs V said. “You work too hard. If you aren’t careful, this job will age you before your time.”
“What do you mean? Do I have a wrinkle?” I ran a finger across my face.
“Of course not. Don’t be silly. You’re in your prime. I just don’t want to see you run yourself into the ground. How about I make us both a drink?”
“Thanks, that would be great.”
Mrs V stood up from her desk, and walked across to the coffee machine.
Oh no! No! No! No!
“Where is she?” I screamed at one of the assistants. “Where is she?”
Ever a Wool Moment was much quieter than on ‘grand opening’ day.
Before the terrified assistant could reply, Grandma appeared from the back office.
“What’s all the shouting about? Are you trying to scare away my customers?”
“Change them back!” I screamed.
“Change what back? You aren’t making any sense.”
“You know what I’m talking about. Mrs V’s legs—change them back.”
“They look so much better than her own legs. Those varicose veins—yuk.”
“You’ve given her frog’s legs.”
“Toad’s actually. You really must learn to tell the diff—”
“Change them back.”
I glanced around and realised that the customers and sales assistants were all staring at us.
“Let’s go into the back,” I said.
Grandma led the way.
“Change her legs back right now!”
“Relax, she doesn’t even know she has them. No human can see them. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”
can see them. How am I meant to work with her when I know she has frog’s legs?”
“Whatever. You have to change them back right now!”
“Or what? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were threatening me.”
I was shaking with rage. “If you don’t change them back, I’ll never come to Candlefield again—and I’ll renounce my witchmanship.”
“Witchmanship? That isn’t even a word.”
“You know what I mean. If you don’t do it, I’m done with being a witch, and I’m done with you.”
My heart was racing. Had I totally lost my mind? This was Grandma I was dealing with. You don’t mess with Grandma. Any moment now I could find myself transformed into a rat, or a flea—or mouse droppings.
Grandma’s wart was glowing red; that couldn’t be a good sign.
“Very well. Just this once, but don’t think you can go around threatening me, young lady or you may discover how powerful my magic can be.”
“So you’ll change her legs back?”
“It’s already done.”
“Where did you go?” Mrs V said when I arrived back at the office, breathless. “Your coffee is going cold.”
“Sorry. Minor emergency. All sorted now.” I tried to see her legs under the desk.
“What did I say to you about overdoing it?” she said. “If you’re not careful, you’ll end up old and decrepit like me. When you get to my age, everything starts to wear out.” She swung around on the chair, and began to rub her calves. “My legs are giving me gyp today.”
“Varicose veins,” I said. “You have varicose veins.”
“Had them for years, dear. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed them before. They’re the bane of my life.”
“Mrs V, I love your varicose veins.”
“You’ve changed the password,” Winky said, as I walked through to my office. He was hammering on the keyboard in frustration.
“How am I supposed to log on?”
“You aren’t, that’s the whole point. There’s to be no more selling stolen scarves, ordering treats or eye patches. The computer is off-limits.”
“What about a smartphone then?”
“No computer, no smartphone, tablet or any other device. The digital world is not a place for felines. It’s time you went back to being a normal cat.”
“I am normal. Are you saying I’m not normal? It’s because I have only one eye isn’t it? That’s discrimination. I could report you.”
“It has nothing to do with your eyes—sorry, eye. It’s all the other stuff you get up to. You never used to do those things.”
“Of course I did. Every cat does. It’s just that humans are too stupid to realise. Since you upgraded—”
“Became a witch. Since then, you’ve been able to see the real me.”
“The stealing, computer hacking, semaphore-signalling you.”
“The computer is still out of bounds.”
“It’s only a matter of time before I crack your password. You’re so predictable.”
“I am not.”
“Jack, Jacky Boy, Maxwell? Am I getting close?”
Damn, I’d have to change it again.
I’d never actually set up a profile on an online dating site before. Daze had sent me the information and photograph that I was to use. The name she’d picked for me was Scarlet Hill—oh dear! The woman in the photo was taller, slimmer and more attractive than me—I hated her, whoever she was. Daze seemed confident that my false profile would attract the rogue vampire. I kind of hoped it wouldn’t. The thought of those fangs sinking into my neck brought me out in a cold sweat.
Profile completed, I paid the first month’s subscription which made my details available to others, but which also meant I could browse other members’ profiles. Just for a laugh, I did a few searches based on my ideal man: breathing, not a cheating scum bag, doesn’t pick his nose—that kind of thing. To narrow the results even further, I re-ran the search specifying only members within a fifteen mile radius. The results weren’t what I’d expected. I’d assumed that I’d be presented with a gallery of ugly, no-hope losers, but instead the majority looked like normal human beings. Several of the men were quite handsome, and a few were really hot. Which begged the question, why did they need to use an online dating site? Perhaps they had busy lives, and didn’t have time to meet women in the conventional way. Or perhaps they were psycho killers. They should include that in the profile questionnaire: ‘are you a psycho killer?’
It turns out that when you’re old you don’t need magic to become invisible.
Time was running out to find my mother’s ring. Although she hadn’t said anything to me herself, I knew from what Alberto had told me, that it would ruin her wedding day if she had to make do with a substitute ring.
The story I’d got from the nursing home didn’t ring true (pun intended). My best chance of finding it was to get inside there, and what better way to do it than undercover. I’d slipped through reception using the ‘invisible’ spell, found a storage cupboard where I could change into some ‘old lady’ clothes I’d brought with me, and then cast the ‘ageing’ spell. I’d focussed for longer than on my first attempt, with the result that I now had the face and body of an eighty year old. I also had aches and pains in every joint.
I’d been worried that one of the staff might question who I was, and why I was there. I needn’t have worried. The moment I became eighty, I also became part of the furniture. I was able to wander around the building without once being challenged. After twenty minutes, my old bones were ready for a rest. The ‘community room’ was in the centre of the nursing home. A TV on the wall was showing reruns of a murder mystery series—not that anyone was watching. The residents were mostly asleep in their chairs. One woman was crocheting, another was reading a magazine. Men were in the minority—I’d seen only three so far.
I hobbled over to the patio doors, and lowered myself gently into one of the high-backed chairs. An orderly was doing her rounds with the tea trolley. I took a cup of tea but declined the biscuits which were mixed together on the same plate.
“Hello, sexy,” said a voice to my right.
My neck was stiff, so I could only turn my head slowly.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” The man, who had taken the seat next to mine, was eighty if he was a day. Toothless, he gave me a gummy smile. “I’m Charlie. Chas to my friends.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance, Jill.” He put his bony hand on my bony hand. “About time we had some new talent.”
Unbelievable! He was coming on to me. My eighty year old self was already getting more action than my younger self ever did.
“Have you been in here long, Chas?” I said.
“Getting on for two years now. Guess there’s only one way out for me.”
“Don’t you have family?”
“Got a son. The boy’s a waste of space. He’s just waiting to get his hands on my money.” He laughed a chesty laugh. “He’ll have a long wait. I spent it all on booze, cigars and women. Had one helluva time doing it too.”
I bet he had. Good for him. If his son was anything like Hector Vicars, then who could blame him?
“What are the staff like here?” I asked.
“Most of them are okay. The nurses are really good—hot too, some of them.” His eyes lit up. “Wouldn’t trust some of the others though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just rumours, I suppose.”
“What did you hear?”
“You’re pretty nosy for a new ‘un. Did you used to be a cop or something?”
“Cop? No. I’m a private investigator with special magical powers.”
Chas roared with laughter. “Magical powers eh? I could do with some of them magical powers.”
I was afraid to ask what he’d use them for. “One of my friends was in here recently.”
“What was her name? I know most of the ladies.” Another gummy grin.
I just bet he did.
“Darlene?” He scratched his chin. “Can’t say I remember no Darlene.”
“She was very ill when they brought her in. She wouldn’t have been here for long before she died.”
He nodded—more solemn now.
I continued, “Her daughter told me Darlene had been wearing a ring when she came in, but it had disappeared when they came to bury her. She asked about it, but the staff said her mother hadn’t been wearing one.”
“Happens a lot.”
He looked around to make sure no one could overhear. “That’s what I hear. Usually happens where there are no close relatives, so there’s no one to notice.”
“Someone should tell the police.”
“Who’s going to listen to a bunch of old codgers? They think because we’re old, that we’re stupid too.”
Chas was definitely not stupid. Frisky, maybe. But not stupid. He’d been in Daleside long enough to know his way around, and to have an idea who might be behind the thefts. I picked his brains for the next hour.
“Time for my afternoon nap,” I said, pulling myself to my feet.
“Like some company?” He gummed at me.
“Maybe another time.”
Chas must have been a real lady’s man in his day—he was a natural.
Pretending to be dead felt kind of strange. I’d found a spare room, climbed into bed, and waited. Sooner or later I knew that one of the staff would check the open door. Sure enough, just over an hour later, I heard footsteps come into the room. That was my cue to cast the ‘still’ spell. It was risky because I’d only had chance to practise it once before. The spell stopped my heart. It was a scary sensation—knowing that my heart was no longer pumping, but the spell somehow kept me alive.
The nurse lifted my hand and checked for a pulse. Then she tried my neck. After a couple of minutes, a doctor joined her. He took only a few moments to confirm her diagnosis. “Time of death, three-forty five pm.”
I lay there for another thirty minutes before I was transferred onto a trolley, and wheeled down a series of corridors to what I assumed must be the mortuary.
“I don’t have any records for her,” a male voice said.
“No. There wasn’t meant to be anyone in that room. No one seems to know anything about her except Chas.”
The other man laughed. “Trust Chas. He never misses an opportunity.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Leave her with me. Someone will claim her sooner or later.”
The first man left.
“So who are you, darling?” The man lifted the sheet off my right arm, then walked around the trolley and lifted it off my left arm.
“What have we here?” He took my hand. I rarely wore jewellery, but had put on the ring which Kathy had bought me for my twenty-first birthday. It wasn’t particularly expensive, but it might have fetched a few pounds.
“Come on!” He pulled at the ring. “There you go!”
He pocketed it, turned to me and said, “Thank you, darling. Just you wait there, I’ll be right back.”
He’d no sooner walked out the door than I reversed the ‘still’ spell, and then reversed the ‘ageing’ spell. It felt good to get my younger body back, and even better to feel my heart beating again. I was out of the morgue in time to see him disappear through a door at the far end of the corridor.
He spun around when he heard me enter the room. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“All of the jewellery you’ve stolen from the dead.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well for starters, I’m talking about this ring.” I pushed my hand into his pocket, and grabbed my ring.
“Who are you?” His face was full of rage now.
“I’m the person who is going to hand you over to the police.”
He almost caught me off guard with the first punch, but I managed to duck just in time. His hand hit the door behind me with a thud. Now he was really angry. I cast the ‘power’ spell in time to catch the second punch. I twisted his arm up his back, turned him around and pushed him hard, face first into the wall. The crack I heard was probably his nose breaking judging by the stream of blood which ran from it. He crumpled onto the floor. I picked up the large padded envelope, which he’d dropped, and tipped its contents onto the desktop. There was an assortment of rings, bracelets and necklaces. Even though I’d never seen it, I instinctively knew which was my mother’s ring. I pocketed it, put the rest back in the envelope, and then made my way to the manager’s office. En-route, I walked by Chas who stared at me open-mouthed.
“That anti-ageing cream is really good,” I said, and gave him a wink.
The manager was in a meeting with his second in command, but he soon agreed to see me when I threatened to call the police. I threw the padded envelope onto his desk, and told him he had one week to find the owners of the jewellery, otherwise I would get the place closed down. He looked genuinely horrified to learn what had happened, and promised to do what I asked. He also promised that the offender would be off the premises within the hour.
I know. I know. I should have called the police, but how would I have explained my presence there? The main thing was that I had my mother’s ring. Plus I’d given Chas a great story to tell—not that anyone would believe him.
I saw it, but I still didn’t believe it. How was it possible? The first time had been a shock, but a second time? Something was seriously wrong with the world order. The woman on Mr Ivers’ arm this time was a leggy brunette with a tattoo of a dolphin on her right shoulder. She was much younger than him, and could have graced any catwalk. My curiosity needed to be satisfied.
“Mr Ivers!” I stepped out from behind a tree. “How are you?”
“We’re just on our way out.” He tried to sidestep me, but I was too quick.
“We?” I had to know who the mystery woman was.
“This is Dee.” He beamed at his companion.
“DeeDee actually,” she squeaked. “But everyone calls me Dee.”
“Dee? Right. Nice to meet you, Dee.”
“We have to be going,” Ivers said.
“Going to the movies?”
“Movies? No. Why would you think that?”
“I just thought—the newsletter—?”
“I’ve given that up. We’re going for a Chinese. Got to rush.” He didn’t risk the sidestep this time. Instead, he gently shoulder charged me aside.
What was going on? The man had gone from film nerd to Casanova, seemingly overnight. How could that have happened? And more importantly, how was it that Mr Ivers could pull, and I couldn’t?