As some of you may know The Museum of Witchcraft held its first short story competition this year and as promised (as it's now September) I am publishing the winner, runner up, and the two other short listed entries online. The story had to relate to the museum in some way and the opening line was set as 'Mother told me not to come...' We had a great response and the standard was very high. Thanks to Morgan from Pagan Dawn, and Hannah and Joyce from the museum for judging this year's competition. All entries were judged anonymously so our judges did not know who had written each story. Graham had the deciding vote from the short list. The winner received a copy of The Museum of Witchcraft ~ A Magical History and was published in the Friends newsletter along with the runner up. We will be having another competition next year so we'll be announcing that around May 2013.
Please remember copyright remains with the authors. Hope you enjoy them...
Winner Simon Bleaken AN ENCHANTING WELCOME
Mother told me not to come. She had always warned me against entering this place, said that no good could come of it. And so, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I stepped defiantly inside the front doors of the Museum of Witchcraft, heart hammering in my throat, wondering what to expect.
“Please, come in,” a smiling man with a bushy beard said, welcoming me to step further into the building with a grand sweep of his hand.
Uneasily I handed over my entrance fee, and then did just that – moving further from the sounds of families and everyday life echoing from the harbour outside, and passing into an older, more secretive world of pagan gods and magic. The building seemed to wrap itself around me like an old cloak, whispering of charms and enchantment, spells and curses, and love and dreams, hope and anger. Each little charm, each pierced poppet and dusty bottle spoke their own story, called to me to learn more and to understand the passions that had gone into their crafting. And so I moved deeper in, my eyes travelling in curious astonishment over jars of twisted roots and dried herbs, over the carved faces of mandrakes, and over old bellarmine witch bottles that once had been so carefully hidden away in walls and under floors.
What had I expected to find here? Perhaps a group of haggard and ancient crones with hooked warty noses and tall black hats, cackling cruelly as they stirred vast cauldrons bubbling and hissing with toxic fumes? There was none of that. There were certainly charms of anger and malice, but also of healing and of hope, and of love too. Mother had never told me that I might find things like that here. Perhaps she had never known.
I wandered silently through the displays, pressing my face as close to each case as I could, absorbed in the tale being told by each curious thing held inside, my breath frosting the glass. Time no longer seemed to exist here.
The further I went the more a hidden world was opening up around me, showing me a glimpse of a reality that was all around us, and yet that most people were oblivious of. I marvelled at the spells of the cunning folk and root magicians, and also at the ritual tools of the witches, Wiccans and Pagans still practising their craft in the modern age.
“Are you enjoying the museum?” a voice asked suddenly, and I turned to find the bearded man had appeared beside me, still smiling. There were leaves caught in his beard, and I reasoned he must have been outside in the breeze.
“It’s not what I expected,” I admitted, realising that the unease that I had felt earlier had all but vanished, replaced by a growing sense of wonder. “I thought it would all be curses and tarred babies.”
He laughed at that, turning to gaze across the room, and I frowned. Was it me, or were those leaves actually growing from his beard, not merely caught in it?
“Many people come with misconceptions,” he nodded, his eyes sparkling as he turned back to me.
“My mother didn’t want me to come at all,” I confided, “but I’m glad I did in the end.”
“That’s good to hear,” he chuckled.
“So, do you own this museum?” I asked.
“No, not me – but I have been here a very long time.”
I smiled, but tried not to stare – it looked like there were green shoots growing out of his mouth and nose. I shook my head and blinked – I must have been in here staring at these cases for too long, I reasoned, my eyes were obviously playing tricks.
“Well,” I said, glancing back around the room, my eyes settling for a moment on the representation of a goat-headed deity sitting nearby. “It’s very impressive.”
When there was no reply I turned back, only to find myself alone once more.
Perplexed, I glanced quickly around – wondering where he had gone. My confusion grew when I realised there was nowhere for him to have gone. It was at that moment that I heard a voice say: “Excuse me?”
I turned to find a lady crossing the room toward me, an apologetic look on her face.
“I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid the museum is closing now.”
“Closing? What time is it?” I frowned, checking my watch and blinking with astonishment when I realised somehow the whole afternoon had passed by without me noticing. “I didn’t realise it was so late,” I murmured.
I made my way quickly back toward the main entrance, and was just leaving the museum when my eye fell upon something hanging on the wall close to the door – a small carving of a green man, his broad smiling features staring down at me with eyes that seemed to twinkle out from the mass of foliage sprouting from around his face. I recognised him at once, and oddly enough, though I should have been startled and unsettled, somehow a part of me wasn’t surprised to see it was the face of the man who had welcomed me, and spoken to me when I had been browsing the displays upstairs. Instead I smiled back and whispered a small ‘thank you’ before slipping out and into the cool air of the late afternoon.
It seemed mother had much to learn, after all.
Runner Up Sally Case THE VISITOR
Mother told me not to come but I haven’t listened to her. I always feel this museum pulls me back, or maybe it’s what you have here that does. You’ve got some of our old things from home and I like to drift back in from time to time to have a look at them. It’s funny how we have connections to things isn’t it? I mean, if a fire had burned our cottage down years ago and destroyed everything it wouldn’t have really mattered as long as the people were safe. Things are just things at the end of the day. And, you know, how much stuff does a person need? Not much at all. These days people seem to think that to practice the healing arts or magic you have to have a this or a that but back in the old days we were lucky to have a cracked cup to brew something up in. Mother says that in her time life was all about living from day to day and never mind your fancy ornaments.
When I was young I liked to walk on Crackington Haven beach and look for nice pebbles. There is nothing like a smooth, round pebble to feel in your hand, a piece of Mother Earth to pull your spirits back to where they should be. Right from when I was a little girl I used to line pebbles up on the windowsill at home. Mother was always throwing them outside again but I didn’t really mind that, it was where they belonged after all, mingling with the sand and the soil. There were always more.
When I was older people often used to come to me asking for cures and help with all sorts of things. Bless them, there’s so much that can go wrong in life but then there’s much to celebrate too. I didn’t have a wand or a knife or many of the tools like you’ve got in your display cabinets. Sometimes I wouldn’t even do anything, I’d just advise people to go and walk along by the edge of the sea. Where the waves break on the shore is an enchanted place, a proper world between the worlds, being neither land nor water. Tide’s reach is another such place. And with the sun warming you from above and the breeze blowing away the cobwebs, a person has all they need to get by and get on.
So you see somebody like me didn’t really need any thing. I mostly listened in my day. Lots of people just need somebody to talk to and then when they’ve got it all out they feel a lot better. I was like a cooking pot filling up with their worries and cares. After they had gone I would go for one of my walks along the shore and gently tip out all they had said into the waves. After all, they were not my secrets to keep, only to carry to a safe place. I put them back where they belonged to tumble with the elements and get all smoothed out.
But when you do have things that you keep, you can get a bit attached to them. That ornament you have there, the fortune teller looking at the girl’s palm, that was my mother’s mother’s, you know. She won it at the fair one year. The thing itself is pretty enough but I think I like it just because it reminds me of my grandmother. She would have chuckled if she had known her fairing was going to be in a museum. It was her pride and joy sitting on the mantelpiece in the old days. Then, when she died, my mother had it but she didn’t like it, she said it was superstition to believe you can read a life in a palm. I sometimes wonder if the art of healing skipped a generation and missed my mother or if she just chose to ignore it.
That poppet there was one my grandmother made when her sister took ill. It didn’t make any difference, you know, great aunt Biddy died just the same. When it’s a person’s time to go on, it’s the Goddess’s decision, not ours, and we have to respect that. You have to let go because a person has a right to die and that’s how it should be.
The little black mirror here was something I bought from a travelling peddler many moons ago. I seldom used it. It is a fearsome thing to look to the future. It takes a brave soul indeed to risk foreseeing a death or a loved one going off, or barrenness in a woman who wants a child. I know it can be useful but I suppose I didn’t have the heart to look ahead too much. I always told people to be glad of today and count their blessings.
Well, I must be going. It’s been nice to stroll around and see the old things. I know you look after all these bits and bobs here so well but I just want to say, I’m really glad somebody is looking after the Old Ways. There are so many people out there who need a bit of help and a bit of magic in their lives. You can save all the things in the world but it’s the caring and the blessings that count at the end of the day. And I just want to say, well, thank you for what you did for me. I like it up there in the woods; it’s so peaceful under the trees. I didn’t feel quite like a person when I was on show in my coffin here but I do now, I am Joan Wytte again. Bless you for your kind burial and for setting me free. I feel I’m where I belong, with my pebbles and all the whispered secrets of the past.
Highly Commended Donna Hircock The Mermaid Of St Meachard
“Mother told me not to come” said Jan with a nervous twitch, in between supping his pint.
“Get on, boi. Yer mother talks nonsense” replied Saff taking a big bite from his steak pasty. “Tis all silly talk….”
“Ahh, but Mother said, ‘tis all magic dust and buxom wanton women with D cups down at that there Museum….’”
“Yeah well, might be, but that there Graham King said, if we could catch that there damn Mermaid out at Meachard’s Rock for his new display case, we’d have that pot of gold that’s always at the end of that God damn rainbow we always seez. Think how many pasties and pints we cud buy with that JAN!” he exclaimed, getting rather excited by the thought of it all.
“Ere, you got pasty crumbs all in yer pint Saff,” said Jan while turning to stare out at Meachard’s Rock…..”Anyhow, how we gonna entice that god damn Mermaid? Sheem’s always wailing and ollerin’, enticing us at night with her golden locks all luscious and shimmerin….Tis gonna be one hell of job…Saff"
“Well see here. We gonna get ourselves a kayak” said Saff, “A bledy gert yella one! I tell ‘e boi, that bledy Mermaid, her’s bound to be impressed with tha’….Tis all what those peskie emmets love…We’ll go and catch ourselves a few pollocks and we’ll pack that fancy drink called gin….WE SHALL WINE AND DINE HER! She’ll be mazed! That’s what we’ll do!......Boodee!”
“Hey Saff, where did ‘e get that gert big yellow plastic banana from that’s sittin on top of yer van?”
“Ssshhh…tis called borrowing Jan. Tis one of those fancy emmet’s toys.Them’s stayin long Paradise! Anyways, I told ‘e, tis called a kayak. Tonight’s the night boi, tonight’s the bledy night we ‘come rich as kings!”……
Saff peered into the inky blackness.
“Cor tis bledy dark. It’s as dark as a darkie on Darkie Days down Padstow out yere. Where’s tha’ Trago torch? Bugger! Bledy battieres flat! Bledy cheap rubbish! Tis typical of that Trago crowd. Should hav’ gone to The Range down Truro!” cursed Saff.
“Eeer Saff, I’m’s feelin a bit queezzy yere, should never have had tha’ third pasty! Cor, tis hellish out ere. Never thought it would be so lumpy this time year.” Jan said going the colour of a Mermaid.
“Can ‘e hear the maid? She be callin’ me Jan, her’s callin’ me alright….” Saff’s voice started to quiver!
“I can’t hear a bledy thing boi, ‘cept slap slap slap of that bledy water. Tis making me need a slash sumin hellish!...I tell ‘e tis nothing, tis all in yers ‘magination, boi!”
“No, no I can hear ‘er, ‘er’s be saying, ‘come here me hansom, come here me lover’, she be ‘toxicating me with her secret Lovett charms and ‘er D cups! That’s what ‘er’s doing Jan.”
“Wha’ you witterin’ on ‘bout boi? T’be honest with ‘e Saff, I think we need a bit of dutch courage. Have a drop of this here fancy gin……”
It has been reported tonight on the local news that 2 inebriated men from Boscastle were found drifting 1 mile off St Meachard Rock on a big yellow banana sorry Kayak, with1 empty bottle of gin while wearing seaweed on their heads.
It had been a Mr Graham King from the coast guard unit who had rescued these young rascals and said it had all been a load of pollocks…
Highly Commended Fiona MacDonald Mother Told Me Not To Come ...
Mother told me not to come to the Witchcraft Museum. Of course I took no notice, being long past the age where parental instructions have any validity whatsoever.
I found it a most attractive and informative museum, but it was when I went upstairs that it got really interesting. Coming across an impressive model of Baphomet, I courteously inclined my head. And was stopped dead in my tracks when he winked and said, “How’s your mother?”
“I beg your pardon?” seemed inadequate, but it was all I could come up with at the time. “Your mother, Polly, how is she? It’s a long time since our paths crossed but I remember our dalliance together very fondly.” A singularly obscene laugh followed.
“Erm, well, yes thank you, she’s well” I stuttered, still somewhat taken aback. “Getting old now of course” I added, “and a bit arthritic.”
“Well, she certainly wasn’t arthritic then” he went on, smirking in a peculiarly suggestive way. “We danced all night and made love all day to my recollection – or it might have been the other way round. But she was certainly a goer, was Polly. Didn’t even need any stimulants - a cheap date really. And very inventive in bed, taught me a thing or two.”
By this time I was rendered virtually speechless, but rallied somewhat. “Are you sure this is my mother you’re talking about? And when was this anyway? And where, for heaven’s sake?”
“I don’t think heaven had much to do with it! But it was a magic 48 hours - out of this world, you might say.”
“You disgusting old goat” I spluttered, finally taking in what he was saying. He cackled horribly and waved away my feeble protestations. Some more visitors arrived upstairs and I thought I could make a decent exit at this point. But curiosity kept me there, looking at other images of this unholy being and trying to collect my amazed thoughts.
“Well, it was obviously some time ago, by your human reckoning. Because she didn’t have a husband or children then. And you’re no spring chicken yourself, obviously. She was only a girl really, just like a young goddess - and believe me, I’ve known a few! I was incarnated on Tyneside for some reason - causing trouble somewhere, probably the shipbuilding industry. Or fishing maybe, I don’t remember now. But Polly I do remember - with her slim figure and a naughty twinkle in her eye. Not to mention that lovely skin, those pert breasts, those delicious thighs ...”
“Stop, stop, I can’t cope with this” I yelled, blocking my ears, but nonetheless wanting to hear the rest of the story. It just didn’t tally with the mother I had known for some 60 odd years. On the whole she gave every impression of not knowing sex existed - and it certainly wasn’t to be encouraged.
“Maybe I was a hard act to follow” said Baphomet, clearly reading my mind. “I was at the Palais, looking for a pick up” he continued. “Seemed like her crowd went there all the time - too young for pubs, only one film a week at the Roxy, and the beach isn’t much fun in the rain. And how anyone can swim in the North Sea was always beyond me.” Surprisingly, he looked a little wistful as he recalled the innocent pleasures he had broken into.
“I took her out of time and I don’t think she regretted it. In fact she gave every impression of leading me by the nose, as it were. Couldn’t wait for me to have my wicked way with her - and vice versa of course. No reluctant virgin that one. Oh, it takes me back seeing you here. Thank you for coming.”
And curiously with that I was dismissed. He clearly wanted to stay in his reminiscing without further interruption, as his eyes returned to what was obviously their customary glassy state.
So I continued my tour of the Museum, though somewhat shattered. Of course I told my mother I had been to the Museum and had encountered Baphomet. She batted not an eyelid and simply said “Well, I told you not to.”