Witch Tentia propped her broomstick beside the cottage and rapped knobby knuckles against the door. A week had passed since Hag Heddy attended a magic meeting, a sure sign something was wrong.
Swallowed Glue Brew, Tentia guessed when Heddy didn’t answer the door. Hag Heddy was fond of potion experimentation, but she was less of a master draughter and more of an amateur mixer. Many of her tonics ended up on the verge of demonic.
Whatever the cause of the hag’s disappearance, Tentia needed to get inside the cottage and unmuddle the mess. Heddy’s magic might be less hocus and more bogus pocus, but her vote at the meetings was as powerful as anyone’s. If Tentia wanted approval to open a new magic shop, she needed Heddy’s balance-tipping ballot. Tentia waved her wand, easily releasing Heddy’s badly constructed latch spell.
Inside, the cottage stank.
Smells like Wicked Liquid. That concoction reeked when poorly brewed, as Heddy’s surely would be. Or… Tentia shuddered … It could be a dead cat. It was a scent Tentia knew well, as her Familiar was a zombie feline.
But Heddy’s Familiar was a kitten, all nine of his lives still ahead of him. He couldn’t be the cause of the smell, could he?
Tentia followed her nose to the kitchen where she found Heddy seated with her Familiar, Delicat, perched beside her on the tabletop.
“Hello, Heddy,” Tentia greeted from the doorway. “You were missed at the last magic meeting.”
Heddy didn’t answer, continuing to sit stiffly with her back to Tentia. Could she not hear? Had she botched the recipe for Big-Ear Beer? The cat offered a fleeting glance before returning to purring and licking Heddy’s fingertips.
“What are you cooking?” Tentia asked, using a hand to protect her nose from the room’s acrid aroma. But glancing at the woodstove, Tentia found it black, not flaming orange, and no bubbles gurgled in the cauldron resting atop it.
“Heddy, what’s that pong?”
Once more, Heddy failed to answer or even look around. She remained motionless, except for her hand which shifted a little from the cat’s licks.
No. Not licks. Nibbles. Little nips at Heddy’s fingertips.
Stepping closer, Tentia glimpsed scarlet at the end of Heddy’s digits. It definitely wasn’t nail polish. And that stench…
“Oh, poor Heddy,” Tentia sighed. “Who’d have thought dead, you’d reek worse than your stinky potions?” A deeper horror struck her. “Dead, you can’t vote at magic meetings. I’ll never get my magic shop now.”
She groaned, which drew the attention of Delicat. He ceased his finger-snacking and pushed his head against her hand. It was a comfort—momentarily. Then he wrapped his jaws around her thumb.
“Uh uh, I’m not your dessert, you rat of a cat. Shoo!”
She brushed the cat away. He gracefully landed on the floor, settled by his empty food bowl and hit her with an unbreakable stare.
Tentia slouched. “You expect me to feed you?” Of course, he did. With Heddy dead, there wasn’t anyone else.
But Tentia didn’t want the bother of feeding Familiars. That was why she kept a zombie cat. Undead felines didn’t eat. Not brains. Not blood. Not even the fleas exploring their matted fur. Heddy’s kitten was alive and needy. Not at all her cup of tea.
Speaking of tea… a well brewed broth might fix everything.
Tentia waved her wand at the stove. It whooshed, igniting. She filled the cauldron with water, herbs, and a little secret something ‘borrowed’ from the crypt of a god. Steam rose. The lid danced. Soon the air sweated with a scent strong enough to blot out Heddy’s odour.
When it was ready, Tentia filled a teacup and raised it to the hag’s blue lips.
The change started immediately.
One sip: Heddy blinked.
A second sip: her bloodied pinkie finger twitched.
When Tentia raised the broth a third time, Heddy pushed the cup away.
“Ack, what’s that shlosh?” Heddy’s words came out slurred and sludgy, a common side effect of zombification. Tentia’s own zombie cat shmeowed rather than meowed. It was annoying, but less so than filling food bowls and emptying litterboxes.
“This slosh you speak of,” Tentia said, “is the last tea you’ll ever imbibe. Alas poor Heddy, you’re now a zombie.”
“A shombie?” Heddy’s pallid face stretched with shock. “I’m dead?”
“No, not dead. Alive. At least alive enough to blink, bend and breathe.” Alive enough to cast votes. “You’re undead, Heddy dear. Speaking of death, how did you die? One of your cocktails, I presume?”
Heddy shook her head, which in her new state was a slow, sloth-like action. She coughed, hiccupped, and pushed her fingers into her mouth, then further down into her throat. When she drew them back out, she had something small pinched between her fingers.
Tentia shifted closer to see. “Oh my. Killed, not by a crude brew but by an insignificant cashew.” She shook her head at the undigested nut. “Food and drink related activities were never your strong point.” She studied the kitten, still waiting by his food bowl. “I hope you’re better at feeding Delicat. A cat can’t live on fingerprints alone.”
“Can I shtill do magic?” Heddy eyed her cauldron with more eagerness than Tentia had ever seen from a zombie.
Eyes widening, Tentia hurried to the stove and raised the cauldron. “I’m confiscating this.”
“Why? Are shombies banned from brewing?”
“Not at all. You can make all the Tonic Narcotic and Confusion Infusion that your non-beating heart desires.” Heddy’s hopeless potions barely classified as food.
“So why are you taking my cauldron?”
“I’ll give it back.” Tentia released a cackle that would be the envy of even the wickedest of witches. “After you vote at the next magic meeting.”
With the cauldron hugged to her chest, Tentia headed out, leaving Heddy gawping dully at Delicat, who stared hungrily at Heddy’s meaty red fingertips.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
GB Burgess is a writer from Tasmania, Australia. Her work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, The Overcast and Daily Science Fiction. When not writing, she spoils her multiplying rescue kitties, and extreme doodles (that’s drawing without talent). Find more at: gbburgesswrites.wordpress.com