Rosemary lived in a tiny cottage on the edge of a tiny village. Her reputation as the local gossip, which she had worked hard to garner, was well known throughout the idyllic little hamlet, but no one held it against ‘dear old Rosemary.’ Being 92 this year and the previous four, she was granted certain allowances in the minds of her fellow village members. The truth was, Rosemary had a secret and found it easiest to avoid the eye of suspicion by ensuring its gaze was well and truly fixed on someone else. So she spent her days shuffling through the streets, buying tiny tea cakes and telling so-and-so you’ll-never-guess-who did you’ll-never-guess-what, and at night when she pulled the thick book of incantations, pouches of ingredients, and a heavy black cauldron out from under the tea table covered with its lacy tablecloth, she felt sure no one suspected a thing.
For weeks, she had been assembling the ingredients for her latest incantational endeavor. It had taken longer than she hoped, but she couldn’t very well march into the butcher shop and ask if he had any cat knuckles available. In a stroke of good luck, her neighbor’s barn had burned down, and when they discovered their beloved cat missing, she had generously offered to help them search through the wreckage, shoving the first scrap of glistening bone she spotted among the ashes into her handbag.
The village had gathered, albeit reluctantly, at Rosemary’s insistence to honor the life and loss of Mr. Pepper. The rector even agreed to say a few words, and Rosemary had looked on in satisfaction, wearing a triumphant, though outwardly sympathetic, smile as she clutched her tiny floral handbag containing its skeletal prize. Cat knuckles were hard to come by, and hopefully the book understood that this would have to do.
The cauldron was set in the fireplace, the candles arranged as pentagonally as possible on the hearth, and the book opened to the worn page entitled, Summoning Familiars: The Cat. The ingredients, along with the purloined bone, were dumped into the cauldron and the recitation begun.
Wind rushed through the room at the utterance of the final word, fluttering the book pages and extinguishing the candles. The cauldron belched a noxious puff of smoke. When it cleared and the candles had been re-lit, she peered inside.
At the bottom, in a not even vaguely cat-like heap, lay a mangled mass of bones and gnarled wings. Clearly the cat knuckle substitute had been insufficient. She promptly hefted the cauldron from the fire to empty its contents into the rubbish bin. She had just reached the kitchen door when one of the wings twitched, stretching out to its full length. A long neck followed, topped with a tiny skull tilting to stare at her with an empty eye socket, and a pale beak clicked once before turning to preen featherless wings.
Horrified, she stared into the cauldron, remembering that her neighbors had kept chickens in their now-demolished barn, but the spell should have failed, not produced a living undead fowl.
The bird, completing its meticulous grooming, hopped to the edge of the cauldron and tried to fly, but naked wings did little to keep it airborne, and it instead ended up in a rattling pile of bones on the floor. With a disgruntled shake of its skeletal body, it began scratching and pecking at the speckles in the linoleum. Rosemary quickly slammed the kitchen door, trapping the chicken inside.
Examination of the entries revealed she had not recited the spell for conjuring a cat after all but the one directly below it called, Necromancy: For Reversing Undesired Death, Intentional or Otherwise. That and an unfortunately similar ingredient list, including, ‘one piece of the deceased’s physical form,’ had been a recipe for disaster.
“Drat these candlelight spells,” she sighed, slamming the book shut.
While necessary to the aesthetic of the occult, reading by flickering candlelight was actually quite difficult, and her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. The book had a spell for fixing that, but she didn’t hate any of the village children enough to harvest the necessary ingredients.
The sound of the chicken rattling around was still floating through the kitchen door, so Rosemary replaced her instruments under the tea table and went to bed, locking her bedroom door securely and hoping the spell would wear off by morning.
The writing prompt for this story was actually a list of words: Rosemary, deathly, “I dare you,” salt and pepper, and rubbish bin.
I’ve been trying to do more editing on my prompts before posting them, including writing them out by hand through the revisions. I’m not sure whether this is actually helping or just confusing me more. I end up re-reading the same thing over and over until I’m not sure whether it’s better or worse. Oh well.
I also will be publishing my prompts on a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule from now on.
~ R. E. Rule