The seven witches
The weather was terrible. It hadn't stopped raining since yesterday. Beatrice was at her grandmother's house. Thank goodness she had been allowed to invite François. They were both seven years old. Both in Year Three. It was the summer holidays.
In this bad weather, Beatrice had asked her grandmother if she and François could go up into the attic. The kind old lady hesitated, but finally agreed as long as the two children promised not to make a mess up there.
The two children played amongst the old cupboards, suitcases, chests and outdated clothes. They found a big table covered with dusty old books and covered with cobwebs. They had not been read for many years.
François found one he liked. In a cloud of dust, he picked it up and took it over to an old arm chair of mouse's back grey.
"Come and look Beatrice: Six Magic Spells for Witches!"
"That looks interesting," replied the little girl.
They opened the book. The title was repeated on the inside cover: Six Magic Spells for Witches. In smaller letters it said: Magic Wand Included.
"What a shame," noticed François. "The magic wand is missing."
There was a fold in the book cover where the magic wand could have been held, but it wasn't there.
"Oh well, let's have a look anyway."
The velvet arm chair was big enough for the two small children to both sit together and read the pages of the dusty old book.
Here is what was written:
«I was lost in the woods and wondering how I would ever find my way out. There was lots of wind. It was not raining but the wind was cold. It rustled the dead leaves and made the tree trunks creak. It was dark.
Suddenly, I noticed a faint light at the far end of the woods. I went towards it, hoping I might find help. The light came from a little log cabin but before knocking on the door or going inside, I wanted to see who I would be dealing with. In the woods at night, people who live in isolated houses are not always highly recommended. I wiped away the dust and cobwebs from a small square pane of glass from the window. Inside, I saw a dark room with a big fire blazing in a fireplace of blackened stone. Sitting in a semi-circle around the hearth, were seven women. There was no doubt from their appearance that it was a meeting of seven witches. I would certainly not knock on their door to ask for help!
I discovered a cubbyhole between the wall of the house and the woods. It was covered by a canopy. It was for stocking wood. I managed to squeeze between the logs and the wall. Even though I was still cold, at least there I was protected from the rain, which had started to fall.
A log from the cabin was split and I could see inside and through a little crack; I could hear the conversation going on in the room within. What I saw and what I heard horrified me.
One of the witches, who seemed to be the Queen, spoke first.
"Ladies, first each of you will take turns to present a new magic spell, then we will vote to elect our new Queen."
A witch stood up. She was ugly. Her face was covered with spots, oozing black puss.
"I can make myself invisible."
"Hooray, hooray," cheered all the others.
This was going to be interesting. I listened carefully because I had always dreamed of being able to make myself invisible. Although I was terrified and exhausted, I managed to take out my notebook and pencil from my pocket and note down what was said.
For a moment, the witch who had just spoken disappeared right before the eyes of the six other witches. Everyone clapped when she reappeared, ending her demonstration.
Another witch stood up. She too was terribly ugly with skin like a crocodile. "I have invented a magic spell that prevents dogs from smelling our scent."
"What good is that?" asked the queen.
"It's a very precious spell," replied the would-be queen. "When we walk past farms or houses to scare the children inside, there is often a dog that barks or chases us away. We are lucky if we escape without being bitten. Thanks to this magic spell, I have been able to get inside children's bedrooms without the family dog even noticing I was there."
"Not bad," smiled the queen witch.
I crouched there, listening, petrified that I would be discovered, but fascinated by what I heard and amazed at my good fortune to find myself there at just the right moment.
"I can do even better," said a third witch, as thin as a skeleton. "I can turn snow into flour and flour into snow."
"Very good," said one or other of the witches, "but what use is it?"
"Think about it! In winter, there's nothing to eat in the forest, nor a grain of wheat to be found in the fields. It's handy to be able to turn snow to flour in winter: it can be used to bake bread, cakes, tarts... In the summer, when it's so hot you can barely walk-let alone work under the blazing sun-a spell that can turn flour into snow is a very refreshing way to cool down under the sweltering heat."
"Interesting, interesting," agreed the queen. "And you dear," she said, turning to the fattest of the witches, "what is your spell?" This witch was enormous, her tummy was monumental.
"I can make myself as light as a feather."
"Bravo, Bravo," complemented the queen. "Now that's a very useful spell-especially for you."
"Don't mock; don't mock," said the obese witch. "Being as light as a feather means you can fly, you can float out of a window and enjoy the breeze, the wind or the storm."
The old woman drifted up to the ceiling, stayed there floating for a moment like a soap bubble, and then dropped heavily to the floor.
"My turn," said the fifth, with red eyes. "Let's play WHAT WHAT."
At that moment, I was surprised by some crackling noises close by. I was scared someone was coming, but it was just the wind, beating against the trunks of the pine trees that surrounded me. I noticed a stag and two does running.
In my fright, I lost the thread of the conversation so I didn't hear about the game WHAT WHAT.
The last witch stood up.
"What shall we do now?"
"We are here to elect the new queen."
"Oh yes, I forgot. I am always distracted. I'm always losing my magic wand. So I invented a spell that could help me find it. When I say this little word, my magic wand immediately appears in my hand."
"Hooray for Scatterbrain, hooray for Scatterbrain!" cheered the other witches in unison.
I had heard enough. I crept out of my hiding place and ran away as fast as I could. At dawn, I saw a village in the distance and two hours later I had made my way home. I wrote this book. I hope you will find it interesting. Be very careful if you are tempted to use the magic spells...»
Beatrice looked at François. François looked back at Beatrice.
"What an incredible book!" exclaimed the boy.
"Fabulous," agreed Beatrice. "I really want to try it."
"Me too," added François. "It would be amazing, but we can't-the magic wand is missing..."
"We could use the last spell, the one the sixth witch used to make her wand reappear in her hand when she lost it. You know-the scatterbrain witch."
"Oh yes!" said François with glee. "Quick, let's find it!" he said, flicking through the pages.
The two friends found the page about the sixth magic spell. It explained that the magic words would only work if they were said whilst sitting in an attic before a burning candle, at precisely midnight.
Our friends put the book away and went downstairs to play in the living room.
That evening, after their supper and shower, they sat in their beds, waiting impatiently for Beatrice's grandmother to finally decide to go to bed.
At eleven o'clock at night, she finally did. The two friends, dressed in pyjamas and slippers, got themselves ready. They carried a big candle and some matches, which they had borrowed from Beatrice's grandmother.
They slowly climbed the stairs leading to the attic. They kept very close to the banister because the old wooden stairs creaked terribly and they didn't want Beatrice's grandmother to hear. They crept quietly into the attic and closed the door behind them.
Beatrice placed the big candle on a chest. François struck the match. The flame lit up the dusty old attic in a ghostly light. It was spooky and scary at this hour of night, especially since the shadows from the furniture danced on the walls in the flickering light. Beatrice picked up the book and, holding her
friend's hand, pronounced the magic spell.
They heard a noise. A loud noise. A pane of glass from one of the attic windows shattered. A magic wand appeared, floated in the air for a moment, crossed the attic and came to rest in the little girl's hand.
"Wow!" smiled Beatrice, in amazement. "I'm holding a magic wand."
"Wait. Be quiet!" whispered François. "Listen."
A creaking noise came from the attic stairs, followed by a second.
"Your grandmother must have heard us. It's because of the magic wand. We should have opened a window so it didn't have to break the glass to get in."
"Too late," said Beatrice. "Come on!"
The two children hurried over to the door and opened it a crack. But looking down into the stairwell they were horrified to see-not Beatrice's grandmother-but seven witches, dressed in black, slowly climbing up the stairs to the attic.
"Oh no, they followed the magic wand. What shall we do?" cried Beatrice.
"Blow out the candle and hide," said François. "It's too late to go downstairs."
The two children hurried behind the chest, blowing out the candle as they passed, and hid on all fours behind the chest. One by one, the witches entered the attic. Beatrice and François could hear them whispering.
"I'm sure they're in here!"
"It smells of candle," noticed the other. "They've just blown it out."
"Yes, look. You can see a bit of smoke by the light of the moon. They must have heard us and ran to hide. Let's find them."
"They're going to find us," François whispered to Beatrice.
"Yes," replied Beatrice. "But we can make ourselves invisible. We've got the spell in the book. The one from the witch covered with spots."
"You're right. Quick!"
Shaking, the two children opened the book at the page with the spell for turning invisible. They said the words, but nothing happened.
They read the spell again and realized they could only wear one piece of clothing, because only one piece of clothing could be turned invisible at the same time as the person wearing it. They both took off their pyjama tops and their slippers.
They uttered the magic words again and disappeared. Several witches passed by the chest but our friends had become totally invisible.
"Look what I've found!" cried one of the witches. "It's two pyjama tops and two pairs of slippers. I bet they've made themselves invisible with our magic spells. They think they can escape, but I know how to find them."
"How will you find them?" asked another witch.
"I'll use my wand and make my dog appear. He will stiff them out."
"Quick!" whispered Beatrice to François. "We have to say the spell to stop the dog from picking up our scent. It's the spell from the witch with crocodile skin. Look-here it is!"
A huge dog had just appeared. Beatrice and François whispered the magic spell, holding hands and grasping the magic wand tightly:
"Flue, flue, flue."
Just in time! The dog sniffed around in circles, but didn't manage to pick up the scent of the two children, still crouched down behind the chest.
"They're cleaver," murmured one of the witches, "but I am cleverer. I'll make a big jug of flour appear and blow it into the air to float throughout the room. The flour will come to rest on the children and we'll be able to make out their shape and see where they are."
Soon, the room was smoky with flour. But Beatrice and François had turned a page of the book and found the magic spell of the witch as thin as a skeleton. The one which changed flour to snow. They whispered the words "SNOW. SNOW. SNOW." and the flour transformed into snowflakes that fell to the floor.
Unfortunately, now it was freezing cold in the attic and François and Beatrice began to shiver.
"They won't be able to survive this cold for long," cackled a witch. "They don't have their pyjama tops or slippers, they must be nearly naked. They'll freeze if they don't leave the attic. They will try to escape but we'll see their footprints in the snow. Then all we have to do is follow their footprints and catch them."
Beatrice and François were worried. This time, they didn't know how they would find a solution to escape. They were shivering and half frozen.
Suddenly, François pointed to the page with the magic spell that could make you as light as a feather. The one from the fat witch.
"If we do this one," whispered the boy, "we could float on the draft from the broken pane of glass and fly out of the window. They won't be able to catch us and we won't leave any trail for them to follow."
Unfortunately, for this spell to work, you had to hold a feather in your hand. Our friends didn't have a feather.
"I know where to find one," whispered Beatrice into her friend's ear. "My Indian costume on the other side of the big cupboard."
"How will you get there without them noticing?"
"I can do it. François, help me climb up onto the cupboard. I'll be able to reach my Indian costume from up there and pull out two feathers, one for you and one for me. I'll come back the same way. We'll say the magic spell and fly out of the window."
With the help of her friend, Beatrice managed to climb on top of the cupboard. The planks of wood creaked a bit but the little girl was light and supple. She managed to get hold of the feathers from her Indian costume. She pulled out two and came back to her friend a few seconds later.
When they were side by side, shaking and trembling with cold, they murmured:
"FEATHER. FEATHER. FEATHER."
No sooner had they said the words, than they could feel themselves float. They had become so light that they were floating like a cloud. Carrying the magic wand with them, they floated slowly up to the attic ceiling. They smiled down at the seven witches, fumbling about looking for them. It took a long time for them to reach the broken window, but as soon as they did, they were quickly whisked out of the window by a strong wind.
The situation was dangerous. The children were blown towards the trees at the end of the garden. They were thrown onto a canopy of leaves on the tree tops.
Holding on to each other with one hand, and the branches of the tree with the other, they managed to slowly climb down to the ground. It was impossible to walk, they were much too light. They could be knocked over by every gust of wind. Something had to be done.
"How can we stop floating?" asked François.
"And be visible again," added Beatrice.
"Perhaps we should try the WHAT WHAT game? The one from the witch with red eyes. We'll have to hold the magic wand tight, but not too tight. I remember reading that if we hold it too loosely, he will be too small. But if we hold it too tightly he will be too big. But who or what is 'he'?"
Our friends held onto the magic wand quite tightly and pronounced the words WHAT WHAT.
A green and blue dragon, nine feet high, suddenly appeared. He said in a low voice:
"I see you would like to play the WHAT WHAT game. The game of the dragons. Excellent idea."
"What is the WHAT WHAT game?" asked Beatrice.
"You don't know the WHAT WHAT game?" countered the dragon in surprise.
"No," said the little girl, rather scared.
"Each person takes a turn to ask a question. What do I have to do in order to...? What am I...? The first person who doesn't know the answer to the question looses.
"And what happens to the looser?" asked François.
"The winner takes the magic wand and turns the looser into whatever he wants," replied the dragon. "If I win, I will turn you into a frog or a toad. I start," declared the dragon.
He asked them a first question:
"Each night, I change places to sleep. However, I always sleep in the same house. What am I?"
Beatrice and François looked at each other. Suddenly Beatrice replied:
"A snail!" she said, "because a snail carries his house on his back wherever he goes."
"Well done," said the dragon. "Right answer. You could also have said tortoise, which would have been right as well."
François turned towards the huge animal:
"What do we have to do to be like we were before, visible with a normal weight, so that we don't float and keep having to hold on to branches?"
"Easy," replied the dragon, "I know the answer. All you have to do is say Tika whilst holding he magic wand."
The two children pronounced the word Tika. They became visible again and their weight returned to normal. They didn't have to worry about being blown about in the wind like fallen leaves.
"My turn," declared the dragon. "In a race-a bicycle race or a running race for example-when you overtake the second, you become the...."
You, reading this-do you know the answer?
Beatrice shouted out:
"No!" cried François, who was really good at maths. "When you overtake the second, you become the second. You have to overtake the first to become the first."
"Well done," agreed the dragon. "Right answer. Your turn."
"What do we have to do in order to make the witches in the attic go away and never come back?" asked Beatrice.
"I know the answer," said the dragon with delight. "You have to dip your magic wand in rain water and flick the drops over them, shouting go away. Each witch will leave when a drop of rain lands on her."
"My turn," declared the dragon. "Listen carefully."
"We don't want to play anymore," said François.
"Impossible," said the dragon. "Once you start a game of WHAT WHAT, you have to carry on playing until someone loses. It's my turn. I am a mammal and I lay eggs. What am I?"
"A platypus," replied Beatrice.
"Well done, children," congratulated the dragon, "you really are very good."
"Our turn," declared François.
The dragon waited quietly. The boy turned towards his friend.
"We have to find a question that he can't answer, otherwise we will end up losing this game eventually."
"I know," said Beatrice. "What do we have to do to make you leave and never come back, dragon?"
"I cannot answer that question," admitted the dragon.
"You lose!" smiled the little girl.
The children pointed their magic wand at the dragon and turned him into a cuddly toy a foot high.
Then, still dressed only in their pyjama bottoms, they made their way through the wind and the rain towards the house, carrying their new cuddly toy.
Beatrice's grandmother, like many elderly ladies in the countryside, collected rain water in a big barrel. Our friends took a small bucket and filled it with rain water, and then, holding the magic wand, started towards the attic on their tip toes. They were ready to do battle.
Beatrice held the bucket of rainwater. François held the magic wand in his hand. They climbed up the stairs silently. When they reached the top, François simultaneously dipped the magic wand in the water and flung open the attic door, shouting Go Away, Go Away! as he tried to flick rain water onto each witch. They disappeared one after the other, except the queen, who had hidden behind a big piece of furniture.
François saw her and flicked the wand in her direction. But just before the raindrop reached her, the seventh witch counter-attacked by firing a streak of lightening towards the children from the outstretched tips of her index fingers. One streak of lightening hit the book of spells and it disappeared. The other hit the magic wand, which disappeared as well. Then, queen witch herself disappeared as the rain drop touched her.
Apart from the melting snow and the broken window, everything returned to normal.
"We won!" laughed Beatrice.
"We did," said François. "It's a shame we can't play magic spells anymore though. It was fun!"
"We can still play," said Beatrice.
"No we can't. We don't have the book of spells anymore. We don't even have the magic wand."
"But we can just say the magic formula to bring back the wand, and we can remember the spells!"
You, dear reader-can you remember the magic formula to bring back the wand?
Beatrice looked at François. François looked at Beatrice. Both friends, in the excitement of everything that had just happened to them, had forgotten the magic words to find the wand once it had been lost.
With no magic wand, there were no more spells. And so ends our story.