(Photo found at this site: http://tinyurl.com/afm58yu)
Nightfall was close at hand. After hours of watching the silent girl, whose eyes stared vacantly before her, Mandrake the cat jumped onto the work table.
At first, Luena did not acknowledge the cat’s presence; she was off in the land of Nod, quietly anesthetized. Decidedly, Mandrake attempted to jump onto the little girl’s narrow lap. But each subsequent leap ended with him sliding precariously toward the sod floor. Finally, after the fourth try at this ludicrous game, Luena reached out dimpled arms and caught the feline in an absent embrace.
The coolness of the cat’s sleek, furry body brought the child’s conscious mind back to Brunda’s cottage. Nestling her face deep within the fragrant, black fur, Luena didn’t feel quite so hopeless. She held Mandrake too tightly, but though his throat was in his mouth, a weak `mew’ was the only protest he made.
Then after what seemed like an eternity, Luena let her arms slacken slightly and with one free hand, began to stroke Mandrake’s silky coat. A contented purr rumbled forth.
Meanwhile, Brunda sorted through herbs that she had picked the day before. Some would be hung from the ceiling to dry while others would be pickled in vinegar or alcohol for later use. Once Luena heard the herbalist mutter beneath her breath, “Children, got no use or time for them.”
Brunda held up an empty jar. A beam of moonlight glistened off the glass as she shined it once again. “This will be fine for that batch of medicinal verbena,” she said aloud and selected another jar that dripped with wet and dotted translucent soap bubbles.
The second jar proved to be more slippery that Brunda had anticipated for her fingers suddenly lost contact with its surface and it went plummeting toward the floor. After an unsuccessful attempt at catching it, Brunda braced herself for the sound of shattering glass and the mess that would ensure…
When the crash did not come, Brunda glanced downward and saw to her amazement that the jar hovered half an inch or so above the sod floor. She reached down to touch the jar and it drop undamaged onto the ground with a soft plop.
Straightway, Brunda snatched up the jar and turned to find Mandrake. It had been years, maybe centuries, since he had been a full-fledged warlock, but he still liked to play tricks every once in while. When she spied him resting luxuriously in Luena’s lap, the old woman clicked her tongue and shook her head. The child sat patting Mandrake while the `silly old thing’ loved it.
Then Brunda let one of her rare smiles flit across her face. “Thank you old fellow. Times being what they are, I do not relish having to go into that town for replacements.” and she nodded toward the glass receptacles.
Luena ‘felt’ the cat’s reply. “Sorry old girl, wasn’t me.” Then he wrapped his sleek body around Luena’s neck and meowed loudly.
Brunda stared in wonder at the mass of blonde curls that cascaded down the back of the wooden chair. “No!” was all that she could say.
It seemed ludicrous. Brunda walked over to Luena and peered curiously at the child. Luena did not return the look. Her melancholy eyes transfixed, staring, it seemed, at nothing in particular. Brunda’s gaze followed Luena’s until it came to rest upon her own work table. There she found a most unexpected thing. For just above the table’s wooden surface, several of her round-bottomed flasks swirling and shimmering in a queer, beautiful dance as the light of the silvery moon glistened within.
Glancing back at the little girl, Brunda watched as Luena’s left index finger danced like a conductor’s rod while her right hand continued to stroke Mandrake. “My, my”, Brunda mused.
Abruptly, the receptacles ceased their cavorting as Luena froze in place. Then just as suddenly, the little girl reached for the porridge spoon and began eating ravenously.
Brunda turned to the stove and drew up a warm bowl of soup. Then with a brusque motion, she snatched the congealed porridge from in front of the child and replaced it with the fresh one. Luena hardly noticed the switch; both were food and she was so very hungry!
Brunda scratched her chin. “Seems I’ve found the true ‘Pierce’ witch. Always knew those idiots couldn’t tell a real witch from an ordinary person.”