The Witches


The two witches cackled in front of their fiery cauldron. The Witch of the West held the ancient wooden spoon with both hands and carefully stirred the mighty concoction, muttering incantations under her breath. The Witch of the East danced alongside her, summoning spirits. Her limbs flowed in a circular motion as though she had no bones in her body and she rocked her head back, chanting mythical words. The Witch of the West joined in the chant and the two met in harmony. The Witch of the West tapped the cauldron with the spoon and smelled the mixture with her long crooked nose.

‘Hmmmm…’ she said.

The Witch of the East froze for a second and awaited the verdict.

‘Needs more blood,’ hailed the Witch of the East, ‘and the teeth of a mammoth.’

The Witch of the West, still stiff in her contorted posture, abruptly started moving again, time jerking and jutting out her arms and legs at impossible angles to a rhythmic beat which she mirrored with ancient sounds.

‘Ha… Hi….Hoo…’ came the noises from her throat as she picked up a drum from the floor of their cave and started banging it with her palm. The Witch of the East proclaimed the full set of mammoth teeth with both hands and threw several into the cauldron, one by one.

‘These pearly whites will purify the souls of the dead,’ she murmered, swaying with the beat of the drum.

‘Ra-Ha-Ha-Ha,’ cackled the Witch of the West, for no reason other than because that’s what witches do. She joined in the chant for a moment before raising a crooked finger importantly.

‘Just two more ingredients we need,’ she croaked, swilling her finger in mid-air.

‘Ho – Ha – what are they Me Hearty… Ho – He…’ replied the witch of the East, deep in trance.

The Witch of the West turned and frowned.

‘You can’t call me that, I’m a witch not a pirate’

The Witch of the East continued banging and chanting but opened her eyes.

‘Ho-Ha, Oh-Ar.’ She smirked slightly and held the spoon in the air for a moment, ‘All the best witches have many guises.’ Her drumming resumed.

The Witch of the West shook her head and searched around the cave for the vital missing ingredients.

‘Here,’ she held up a bundle of thick black hair, ‘The hair of an Arabian prince.’ She tossed it into the pot and the Witch of the East stirred it in.

‘All we need now is the blood of a vampire bat and the hex will be complete.’

‘More blood,’ echoed the Witch of the East. They cackled in unison.

The Witch of the West rummaged in the cave and returned with a bottle.

‘The blood of the vampire,’ she whispered, making her vowels as long and slow as possible.

She squeezed the contents into the cauldron. It was the mahogany red of dried blood and spilled over the sides of the pot. Both witches leant forward and their eyes narrowed. This was the moment of truth.

Bang, Bang, Bang.

The witches looked at each other with a momentary sense of alarm. The cauldron bubbled and some of its contents overflowed into the floor.

Bang, Bang, Bang.

‘Girls, what are you doing in there?’ The Witch of the West put her finger to her mouth.

‘Tara. Lilly. Open this door.’ The door suddenly opened. ‘Oh, you didn’t lock it, good girl.

There was a gasp. ‘What are you doing?’


‘What is that? Is that… Is that my Jo Malone, my Chanel, my Ralph Lauren? You’ve emptied everything. And… And… Oh lord. Are those my antique pearls? Is that hair my dye?’

Lilly looked at the floor. Tara groaned.

‘No Mum, we’re witches’ said Tara.

‘Get out of this bathroom at once young ladies. Lilly, you’ll have to be sent home. Tara, straight to your room. Where did you get that bucket from?’ Mum’s hands her on her hips and she had that special look she saved for when you were really in trouble. Lilly shuffled towards the door and Tara bent down to pick up her spoon.

‘Leave it there, its covered in goodness knows what. I can’t believe this’ Mum had steam coming out of her ears.

But before Tara could reach the door, she stepped on something soft and slimy, stumbled backwards slightly and instinctively reached out her hand to steady herself, grabbing what she at first thought was the sink. She caught her balance and let go quickly, turning just in time to see a waterfall of thick mahogany red, pour onto the brand new white bathroom floor.




Tom’s lunchbreaks

Tom did go to school that day, but hid behind every corner and stayed as far away from the bullies as he possibly could. At lunch, he ran out of the playground and sat at the top of the hill overlooking the school. From high up on his vantage point he could see everyone in the playground. He was too far away to tell who was who, but there were groups of friends playing games and chasing each other. He unrolled his sandwich from the tinfoil and took a bite. Yuk, he thought, Not cucumber and pickle again. It’s was the worst flavour but it was his sister’s favourite, so he and his dad were given the same. He looked out at the rolling hills of the Devon countryside that sprawled all the way to the horizon.

No one at school had even noticed that he’d gone. Or that he’d been eating here alone every lunchbreak since term started back three weeks ago. It was the only way to stay out of Luke’s way and not be terrorised keep his dignity intact. He’d had so many wedgies that he’d considered not wearing underpants to school, but he was sure that Richard would probably just pull his trousers down instead, or something equally as embarrassing. If he couldn’t stand up to him like everyone said he should, then he could at least get out of the way altogether.

He heard a whistle and saw the school football team practicing in the field adjacent to the canteen. The football field seemed so far away. It was visible but felt completely out of reach. There was someone else in goal now. Someone with longer legs, who could reach the top bar of the goal without having to jump as high as they could. Someone bigger and stronger who could dive for the ball when it came hurtling towards them and do crowd roaring saves. ‘Come back and try for the team when you’re bigger,’ they’d said. His mum said they shouldn’t have let him on the team in the first place, but that hadn’t made him feel better at all. If anything it just showed that everyone thought that he was too small to be good at anything as well. Even his own mum.

Further past the football field Tom saw the woods that he walked through to get to school. It was his detour to avoid the school crowds and of course Richard and his gang. The trees were still bare and looked spindly against the clear blue skyline. He preferred the woods in spring when the leaves gave him more hiding places. His teeth chattered with a gust of the brisk February wind and he huddled himself tighter in a ball. He blew on his hands to keep them warm, took another bite of his sandwich and forced it down. It was too cold to eat outside and the cold was seeping through his coat and giving him a numb bum.

The sun burst through a break in the clouds and briefly warmed his cheeks. Tom thought of his Gran. She tended to notice every change in the weather, moment by moment, and took great pleasure in spending at least ten minutes at the start of every conversation updating whoever she was talking to with a weather report of the previous day, just in case they missed it. Tom thought she should have been a weather lady. He could just about see her house from up here, just beyond the woods on the far side. If he ran there it would take about fifteen minutes, but it felt like it was in another world.


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Tom gets bullied


Tom furiously swung his arms infront of him, fists balled. Even reaching as far as he could, they swung empty, not reaching Ricky’s the fat pulsing stomach as he laughed even harder. The ringing in Tom’s ears preserved some of his dignity by blurring the laughter all around him, but his eyes stung wildly. The giant hand on his forehead that was holding him in place and stopping him from hitting the bully back felt like it was squeezing his brain shut.

‘Get off me…’ shouted Tom, letting his arms flop by his sides but still leaning his head into the hand at Ricky’s arm’s length. He tried to focus on Ricky’s tattered black school shoes to block everyone out and try to figure out what to do next.

Get off me’ mocked Ricky, in a whiny voice, ‘Christmas is coming Pipsqueak, better get your elf suit ready!’. Ricky, Jonno and Dylan laughed like hyenas. Suddenly, Ricky pulled his hand away and Tom, who was still leaning into it, fell forward. He landed on the grass face first and lay there defeated, while they laughed above him.

‘You’re so small your mum dresses you in doll’s clothes’ he heard, from above the grass. Reluctant at having to face reality, Tom pushed himself up to standing, his ribs acheing from the pummelling he got from being squashed in rugby earlier. He hated playing rugby, it was like torture. It was an opportunity for the bullies to crash into him in plain sight in front of the teachers and not get told off. They would do it as hard as they could as if seeing how much they could squash him until he broke. Dylan had Tom’s schoolbag and had emptied the contents onto the ground. A sinister smile took over his spotty face as he took out Tom’s phone from the front pocket.

‘Ha!’ he stuttered with excitement at the look of dread on Tom’s face.

‘No!’ begged Tom, hurtling towards Dylan and trying to grab the phone ‘Give it back!’. Dylan held the phone high above his head at arm’s length and started scrolling through the messages. Tom’s leaping outstretched arms couldn’t even reach Dylan’s shoulders. He jumped up at it regardless, desperately trying to get it back. Ricky and Jonno laughed and copied him mockingly.

‘OMG! OMG!’ Dylan shouted at the other two, ‘Listen to this: Have a fabulous day at school Tommy Wommy, love and kisses from your Mummy xXx’. Ricky and Jonno laughed so hard tears streamed down their faces.

‘Oooooo Tommy Wommy’ they mocked, ‘Tommy Wommy loves his mummy’.

‘Stop it! Stop being horrible. I don’t care what you say. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ said Tom through blurry eyes, aware of the burning in his cheeks that defied his words. Tom stopped jumping for his phone and started putting his things back in his bag, trying very hard not to cry.

‘Text her back!’ said Jonno to Dylan.

Tom spun around. The breath fell out of his chest.

‘Yeah, yeah, text her back!’ agreed Ricky, ‘Say Dear Mummy Wummy, Tommy Wommy love you so much he wants to kiss your boobs’

            They fell about laughing.

‘Yeah, tell her to take him to the early learning centre to get some toys!’ added Jonno.

‘No!’ shouted Tom, ‘Give it back’.

Dylan started typing.

‘Boys! What’s going on here?’ boomed a deep voice ‘Dylan, is that your phone? You know phones aren’t allowed until after school. Hand that over to me, you can collect it at the end of the day’

‘Yes sir, I’ll come and collect it later’ said Dylan with a smirk.

‘No, it’s mine Sir.’ Said Tom to Mr Helps

‘Well, you shouldn’t have it out in the playground.’ He looked at each of the boys in turn, ‘Maybe then it wouldn’t get lost. You can collect it after detention’

Tom’s cheeks throbbed. Jonno snorted.

‘That includes you three!’ snapped Mr Helps ‘4pm. Main hall. 100 lines!’. The three bullies groaned, grunted and kicked the grass.

‘Inside, the lot of you! Didn’t you hear the bell? Chop Chop!’ Mr Helps spun on his heels and marched towards the double doors ‘If you want to be productive, you have to be a master of your minutes!’ he blared at their indignant faces as they passed. Mr Helps was anything but helpful. He seemed to think that spurting motivational phrases was helpful, but he always said them so aggressively that they sounded like threats. His complete mistiming of unsolicited advice made everyone groan inwardly as soon as he started speaking in that special tone of voice reserved for quotes. Tom had even seen other teachers roll their eyes when he said them during assembly.

The boys frogmarched through the double doors. Tom shuffled through last, grateful for Mr Helps’ interruption, but not for the detention that he didn’t deserve.



Max loses his best friend

It started when Max was trying on his school uniform for the upcoming new year. Last year’s trousers had turned into ankle swingers and he could poke his elbow through the hole in his blazer. Max had grown tired of the staples scraping his back. They were stuck there from the time Richard Pilchard had stapled a ‘kick me’ sign on Max’s back. How max got bullied while a boy called ‘Richard Pilchard’ didn’t, was beyond him, but clearly there were some benefits to being the tallest and widest in the class.

It wasn’t the prospect of going back that unsettled him. Nor of a scratchy new uniform. To be honest he quite liked new bits of uniform to make his mark on, although this made it difficult at the start of term to find the right clothes after P.E. Much better once everyone could tell whose was whose, by the signature of scuffs and holes.

While standing in the musky uniform shop, surrounded by rails upon rails of navy blue, what struck him the most was the thought of what it would be like to go back to school without his best friend Marcus. The ‘M&M’ duo would now just be ‘M’.

He’d been at Marcus’ house when Marcus was told the news. They were playing Mario Kart and Marcus’ dad barged into the room without knocking. Max was losing because he’d crashed into Wario’s castle wall half way around and he was trying so hard to catch up that his face was screwed up and his tongue was sticking out to the side. There wasn’t even time to pause the game before Marcus’ dad started speaking.

‘Marcus,’ bellowed Marcus’ dad. ‘It’s been decided. We’re moving to Australia in July.’

At first Max had carried on, secretly delighted by Marcus’s distraction so he could overtake and sneak a win, but after he overtook Marcus’ static car and neared the finish line he pulled over to the side and took his finger off the red accelerator button as a mark of respect, just yards from the chequered flag. When the bedroom door slammed shut again they sat quietly, both cars motionless and spluttering as Mario occasionally whooped ‘Yahoo’ to the solemn blue bedroom.

After a while Marcus picked up his controller again and got on with the race, rear ending Max’s car and nearly pushing him over the finish line. Then he reversed and sped across himself.  A minute later, Marcus got up and took the game out, as though it was tainted and could never be played again. Max watched silently as Marcus put Donkey Kong on instead.

‘There are alligators in Australia’ said Max as his best friend sat down in a heap on the floor next to him.

‘And loads of poisonous spiders.’ He continued, feigning excitement. ‘If I did a hole deep enough, I could put half the can string in it and we’d be able to talk in secret.’

Marcus turned slowly, one eyebrow raised. They lived in houses opposite each other and spoke every night via two empty bean cans connected by a twenty foot length of string that went across the width of the street and was held up in the middle from when they tossed it over an electric cable.

‘That wouldn’t work’ said Marcus

‘Why not?’ asked Max, even though he knew why.

‘The strings too short’ said Marcus, deadpan, looking straight at Max, ‘Plus if you cut the string it doesn’t work.’

Max’s eyes went wide. They both stared at each other, Marcus screwed up one side of his face, shook his head and snorted with laughter.



The Artist

The little girl with the chocolate brown fringe was in full flow. Kitted out in her navy blue overalls, she dab-dab-dabbed onto the splotchy paper.


The sea of newspaper did little to protect the table from the army of rogue globules that ricocheted with each splat, stroke and squelch onto her increasingly fragile paper canvas. She swished the brush ferociously, oblivious to the streams of colour slicing into the walls, fridge and cooker. The mess affirmed the importance of her work. All around her, blue and red ponds soaked through to the aged wood underneath.


All around her paint bottles lay sideways, pouring their contents onto yesterday’s news. Choosing the last one standing, she squeezed a mighty squeeze into the blue willow china bowl. Her eyes lit up as emerald green cascaded into the bowl and over the edge. Scooping a dollop onto her brush, she flicked it at the page (and unwittingly, the ceiling) then swung her short arms diagonally to add stripes across it. The drizzled dog groaned as paint landed on his sleeping back.


She paused to assess her progress, pondering her options and casting a big green ‘L’ across her dimpled chin. There was something missing, but she couldn’t figure out what.  Twizzling her paint crusted pigtail, she scanned the kitchen for inspiration. An idea started to form.


Forgetting to wipe her hands on the multicoloured mayhem of her overalls, she padded to the larder, giving the cat a friendly emerald stroke on the way. She picked up the fattest potato she could find, turned it over and frowned.  It didn’t have a star shape on the bottom like the one at school did. Neither did the others. Hands on hips, she scanned beyond the multicoloured spuds for another idea.


She carefully carried the egg back to her workstation. Holding it high she squeezed it until it popped, clear and orange goo splatted down onto her paper.


She gripped her pointiest brush in a clenched fist and slowly lowered it until it touched the yolk. In one sweeping movement she made a big ‘O’ on the page.


She picked up the glue pot that was pebble-dashed in glitter and poured some onto the page to stick the egg in place. For the piece de resistance, she dunked both of her hands into the glitter, held her breath dramatically and emptied two entire handfuls onto the sticky swamp below.


Reaching the crescendo of creativity, she scrunched her face and bared her teeth like an animal possessed. She grabbed her biggest brush and raised it like a dagger about to strike the fatal blow. On impact, paint splattered in the air like fireworks celebrating her victory.


“There!” She exclaimed triumphantly.


Tossing her redundant brush to the un-newspapered floor, she admired her work. The untrained eye could mistake this paint-logged sagging piece as the work of a novice, but to her, it was a masterpiece of her favourite colours, toys and hobbies.


Delighted and with no time to waste before the sheer weight of toppings threatened to tear the masterpiece in half, she jumped off her chair and ran with it draped over her hand to show her mum in the next room, oozing a sticky trail of paint and egg all the way from the newspaper to the brand new carpet beyond.






A Treasured Gift

Tamsin knew where heaven was. Her Grandpa took her there the second he picked up his golden saxophone and played those first syrupy notes. The magic contraption with complicated buttons sparkled like glistening treasure and made melodies sweeter than milk and honey.

She’d lay tummy down on the floor, butterfly hands cupping her dimpled chin, gazing adoringly at the show he put on for her, strutting up and down the room striking the intense crooked poses she’d seen on record sleeves. He’d grin through ballooned cheeks and lean back like a diva to project the high notes and make her giggle. It was like witnessing a spectacle, something beautiful being created that was unique to that perfect but fleeting moment. Every moment was caramel.

She learnt to feel the music, noticing how the notes related to each other and what a difference it made it they were played with love. Her dancing fingers found rhythm in their patter and her feet swung in time like chubby little metronomes.

At night she was sometimes woken by the wonky chorus of instruments tuning up and getting ready to play. Over the distant hum of chatting and laughter downstairs, she could hear the stretching and yawning of brass and string.

She’d quietly slide out of bed and tip-toe down the stairs, carefully hopping over the creaky step. Sweet, wispy smoke tickled her button nose as she peeked through the gap in the front room door.

The musicians faces turned to her Grandpa, and as though he had spoken, their instruments suddenly came alive. Her imagination ran wild with the stories told by each melody, each instrument telling a different part. They conversed without words, lifelong friendships forged from meeting at the perfect harmony.

The makeshift audience of wives and close friends were transported by familiar songs back to the days of youth and freedom. Red wine was sipped through lipstick smiles and cigarettes suspended from dainty fingers.
Although mesmerised by the the band’s unity, it was him she loved watching the most. She craned her neck to witness him fully each dreamy note inviting her closer. He was mid solo, gently puffing his cheeks with the face of an angel. Eyes closed, completely relaxed.


He’d had the same peaceful expression years later when she visited him in the chapel of rest. He’d taken her to heaven many times and now he was there to stay. She kissed his cold, clammy forehead and said ‘Sweet dreams Pumpkin Pie’ just like he used to say to her, all those years ago.


The house seemed so empty without his music. Records weren’t the same, even with eyes closed and memories as vivid as yesterday. Her grief was consoled by love, but life had a piece missing.


She read the note again, welling up at the sight of his spidery handwriting which could have been written yesterday.


Pumpkin Pie,

Wish I could be there to hear you play.

All my love,




Down under

She scrunched up her face and squinted her eyes to get a better view through the magnifying glass. As an explorer it was very important to get a good look at things. Squatting down on the grass like a gangly frog, she lent forward between her knees.
The magnifying glass was like a portal to another world. All this time, she had been unaware of the hustle and bustle taking place underfoot. At ground level, concealed within the grass, this world was hidden in plain sight, tucked away from prying eyes.

She pursed her lips and breathed noisily through her nostrils, taking her work very seriously. Through the oversized lens, she saw what appeared to be a river streaming through the grass.

How peculiar.

This definitely warranted investigation.

She moved the magnifying glass back and forth like a trombone until it focussed closer to the earth.

Suddenly she realised that the trickle was in fact a flow of ants, making their way through the grass in rows of threes and four. They hurried along with such coordination and focus that’s he wondered if they were soldiers.

She quickly drew an ant in her notebook, before continuing her observations.

She squeezed her left eye shut, making her right eye as wide as possible. She jutted her chin to the side and slowly brought her right eyeball closer to the convex glass. This was how to look through telescopes and lenses properly. Only proper explorers knew this.

With her highly trained eye, she noted that some of the ants were carrying pieces of leaf at least ten times the size of the their own body. How was this possible?

If she carried a piece of leaf ten times her own body size, it would weigh as much as a car. And if it was as flat as a leaf, it would surely get caught in the wind and blow away like a giant kite.

Yet the ants seemed unfazed. Maybe it wasn’t windy down there in the grass.

But before she could analyse this further, she gasped. There were even smaller ants on top of the leaves that the larger ants were carrying!

She immediately wrote this in her notebook.

Despite their tiny stature, the endless flow of their footsteps had carved a clear route into the ground. It was so precise that she became curious about what would happen if it was compromised.

An experiment was necessary.

She held her breath as she gently placed a twig across their path.

Chaos immediately reigned at ground zero.

Some circled aimlessly whilst others scuttled haphazardly from side to side. More and more ants arrived on either side of the twig, increasing the confusion and disarray on both sides.

Her shoulders and cheeks drew closer together and her bared teeth felt cold. Pangs of guilt pulled at her stomach like a bungee cord. She hovered her hand in the air ready to remove the twig, but was frozen in fascination.

Out of nowhere, like a river that had suddenly burst its banks, the ants cascaded over the twig.

Several leafless ants had climbed on top of each other and formed a makeshift ant ladder so that the others could climb up and over the branch.

She wrote ‘ant ladder’ in her notebook and underlined it several times. It seemed very important. She underlined it several times. It would definitely become useful later.

Where on earth were they all going? From their urgency she did used that it must be very important. She decided to find out.

She carefully padded sideways along their trail like a crab, maintaining her focus on the ant trail at all times. Time was of the essence, but she knew that she needed to stay calm. The best explorers kept their cool under pressure.

Her mind flickered to the possibilities that lay ahead. She knew that ants had queens like bees did. But what kind of palace would be fit for an ant queen? Maybe instead of bricks, it was made with the leaves brought in by the foot soldiers.

The trail approached a big oak tree. Just short of shouting ‘Eureka!’ She realise that the tree was not the queens palace. She tutted to herself for nearly jumping to a conclusion before assessing the facts. Before the trail reached the tree, it disappeared into a small hole in the ground. From this hole, several ant trails flowed in and out, like a spaghetti junction around the eye of the storm.

This was not what she was expecting.

However, she knew where all holes led to. This simple discovery had given her the answer!

In her notebook, she wrote in capital letters ‘AUSTRALIA’.