The snow is gradually melting away, and the warm spring air and the return of the bugs and rich spring grass are getting the hens busy laying eggs. It’s the warmest spring since the Great War, and Granny is up early looking for fresh eggs. One of the hens is behaving in a really strange way. She is running to and fro on the upper section where the rooster used to spend most of his time before the hawk took him.
Granny reaches for her, wanting to put her back into the henhouse, but she flaps her wings, ducking away and clucking frantically. Surprised, the old lady reels away, feeling a little dizzy.
Finally the hen seems to have calmed down enough to be approached and Granny reaches for her again. Suddenly, she jumps forward, looking straight at her with piercing eyes. Granny gasps and startled she backs away. The eyes glow like lasers holding Granny’s gaze, drawing her in. Granny blinks.
‘What the heck? Is the dang chicken possessed? And if so, what on earth could be lurking inside that scrawny body?’ she mumbles to herself.
Regretting having left her wand inside, she scratches her head, readjusting her hat. ‘I wonder who’s inside that body?’ she mumbles, squinting at the maleficent looking poultry.
‘It’s me, Charles, the evil chicken,’ it squawks, making Granny almost fall backwards in surprise.
‘Ohmygod, it’s talking!’ Granny closes her eyes and puts her fingers in her ears to block out the frantic klucky talk. ‘Nononono… I won’t listen to no demon! And I won’t eat no eggs coming from a possessed chicken! BlahBlahBlah – I can’t hear you!’
When she opens her eyes again, Missy has silently appeared.
‘Funny isn’t it? I tried a new potion to make animals talk. In fact I created it for Minuit, but I didn’t want to try it on her so I picked one of the hens instead. I think I will have to tune it a bit though, the laser eye thing draws too much attention. And maybe I shouldn’t have added bull piss, poor hen takes herself for a rooster and tries to get it on with the whole coop. Exhausting…’
Granny’s jaw goes slack and she gapes at her sister.
‘Oh. And I wouldn’t eat any of her eggs if I were you.’
‘How do I know the difference? No, wait a minute. I don’t want to know.’
‘They glow, of course. Hmm… Makes me think – I’d better not add plutonium next time…’ Missy’s attention is drawn from the hen to the noise coming from inside the chicken coop. ‘I think we must have missed collecting some of the eggs… I do hope there’s enough today to have scrambled eggs for breakfast. Well, I have to get ready, I have an important meeting with Dr. Franke this morning.’
Granny looks after her departing sister. She’ll better look up the egg spell and try to plant some eggplants right away…
‘A potion to make animals talk?’ She tut-tut’s. ‘But still, it’s better than the dark magic she usually tampers with.’
She might even try to sell the eggplant eggs on the Sunday market. Vulturu is bursting with artists. Vegan artists… She feels inside the coop with her hand and touches something tiny and soft.
‘A chicken! How cute… Are there more of you inside? TAÏGA! Come and watch this!’
Taïga comes running, but she skids to a halt when she sees the tiny yellow feather balls.
‘One, two, three… there are seven of them!’ She stoops to pick one up.
Carefully she holds the little chicken in her hands. ‘It’s so tiny… I can hear – or rather feel- its heart beating so fast, Granny.’
She blows on the little chicken, listening to it peep. ‘It’s so cute.’ Impulsively she brushes her lips against the downy feathers. ‘So soft…’
‘Can I keep it?’
‘We’ll keep all of them, but go and tell Missy before she leaves that she won’t have scrambled eggs for breakfast today! And don’t miss the school bus!’
‘I won’t. Watch out, Tramp. You mustn’t hurt them.’
The dog sniffs the feathery squeaking balls, lying down with his head on his paws so he can see well.
Taïga picks up all the chicken, one after the other, kissing them and letting Tramp sniff a little.
‘I heard you, sister. And I don’t have the time to eat anyway. I just have to endure my gurgling stomach throughout the whole meeting…’
‘Wait, Missy! They are so cute, don’t you want to cuddle one? Oh, and look at the flowers! The spring’s finally here!’ Taïga falls on her knees, liberating a really beautiful marigold from the dead leaves and mulch hindering its growth.
‘So go ahead and pick them! All of them!’ Missy says, walking away grumbling to herself.
There is only one but Taïga picks it, smells it and then starts to count ‘Love me, love me not…’ shredding petals all the way to the school bus.
Once inside, Missy goes into the study to look for her favorite book – “Wuthering Heights” – to read on the bus. ‘I know I left it here somewhere…’ Her gaze rests on the crystal ball. She bites her lip.
I’m sure the palantír could tell me where it is, it would spare me some time and effort of searching… I just can’t see why I’m not supposed to touch it… I’m an adult now, after all. And a witch. Not exactly a full-blown witch, but I guess half is enough to make that thing talk.
‘I’m sure I can handle it!’ Furtively she looks over her shoulder. Granny’s not around? No, she’s probably still outside preparing to plant eggplants…
She has seen her sister go through the procedure enough times to know the gestures. She sits down and dries her moist hands on her knees.
‘Now let’s see…’ She puts her hands on each side of the ball, just like Granny does. ‘Here we go!’
The crystal ball becomes transparent and floats in the air between Missy’s hands.
‘This is easy! Ahem…’ She shuts her eyes and concentrates, forgetting all about her mislaid book.
‘Now tell me, is there a man for me?’ Maybe she should be more specific. ‘Ahem… A rich, handsome man – with dark hair and nice eyes who likes cats and playing poker? And who’s fluent in French, and who is a good – No! An excellent kisser? Right. Just like Magnus Darkling! Forget about the dark hair. Just tell me: Where is Magnus Darkling!?!’
The palantír has started to shiver…
… and suddenly it’s spinning out of control – smoke is twirling around inside and seeping out like fog. Missy yelps and tries to stop it, but instead it spins faster and faster, making her arms and upper body shake.
‘Oh-My-My-y-My-God! Wh-wh-wh-wha-at ha-ha-a-ve I do-o-o-ne!?!’ She lets go of the spinning sphere, clasping her hands in front of her mouth.
‘DARO! STOP IT!’ Granny’s voice echoes through the room like thunder. ‘Now. Rest.’
The ball stops spinning and sinks slowly down until it rests on the golden tripod.
Granny is furious. ‘Are you out of your mind? What the hell did you think you were doing!?! I’ve told you NOT TO TOUCH IT!’
‘You’re not outside planting eggplants?’ Missy asks.
‘Obviously I’m not! I was just coming in to have a shower, when the floor started trembling!’
‘What did you do to it?’
‘Err… Nothing.’ Granny doesn’t say anything and Missy fidgets. ‘Well. I just wanted to find my book. And maybe I asked one or two questions about my… ahem… future.’
‘I’ve never seen it react like this before – it was just like it overheated or something. Hmm… Let me see what you demanded of it.’
With a grim expression Granny steps up close to her sister. Posing her index and middle finger on her own temple she reaches out her left hand and firmly touches Missy’s face with her fingertips. Missy tries to shy away but too late. The connection is immediate.
‘No, please… groumphhhh.’
Granny concentrates hard on getting an accurate reading of her sister’s mind. ‘Nothing? Oh… Too many questions at once…’
Granny lets go of Missy who stumbles backwards, heavily slumping onto a chair. ‘I just wanted to find my book.’
‘Your book? Well, let’s ask the palantìr – just to see if it’s still functioning!’
Granny sits opposite her sister, making a show of preparing herself. She takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly with her eyes closed, letting her mind clear and focusing on Missy’s book. The palantìr levitates graciously but Missy just glares at it.
‘It says something… “Sometimes a person’s worst enemy is family”.’ Granny’s lips twitch, thinking that’s no news.
‘Wait a minute… I can see your book. It’s in a dark place… Under something heavy…’
Missy lights up. ‘Where? Can you see it?’
Suddenly Granny bursts out laughing and the palantìr settles on the tripod with a loud clinking. ‘Missy, you’re sitting on it!’
Without a word, Missy pushes back her chair, picks up her cherished book and leaves her merry sister. She stops on the threshold and without turning around, lances over her shoulder, ‘You should stop the carrot juice, you know.’
Granny stops grinning. ‘Why should I. It’s filled with A vitamin, which is good for the eyes, and it gives a healthy glow to the skin, too.’
‘That’s exactly what I mean.’ Missy doesn’t explain further. She throws the door shut, just to make her point. Under something heavy indeed. She’s sure she weighs less than her sister. Maybe not in the flesh, but Granny’s ego certainly weighs a ton!
Granny’s hands fly to her face. A mirror. She needs a mirror. Fumbling in her pocket she scrutinizes her face…
There’s no way Missy can keep out of the way of her pompous sister the whole day, the house isn’t exactly a forty room palace, so she stays with Dr. Franke longer than necessary. She finally heads home in the afternoon, walking, which is exasperating. She should never have offered her pretentious sister and her annoying grandchild to come and live with her. Wait a minute. She never asked them. Well. It’s too late now…
The sunny weather changes in an instant, and Missy finishes her walk home under a steady drizzle. She is definitely not in a good mood when soaked she bumps into Taïga on her way in after school.
‘Just look at the hall! Dog hair everywhere, and dirty paws all over the floor! Would it be too much to ask you to clean up after your dog?’ she complains, gesticulating around her.
‘I’m sorry, Missy. It won’t happen again…’ Taïga hangs her head, drying her wet face on her sleeve. She scrutinizes the dark floor boards. She can see some dog hair, but also mud, and not from Tramp. She looks accusingly at Missy’s dirty shoes.
Missy follows her gaze. She turns on her heels, heading for the stairs, muttering to herself. ‘As if having my sister here weren’t bad enough… This child is so annoying, and then there’s the dog! It runs after the cat and barks and sheds and… Gaah, I have to do something!’
‘Err… I can vacuum after I’ve done my homework,’ Taïga calls after Missy’s departing figure.
After a night of tossing and turning, Missy has finally found the answer to all her problems.
She jumps out of bed and hurries down to the kitchen, where she prepares breakfast for Taïga – a very special porridge.
But the chef d’oeuvre is a beautiful, but evil looking, apple. She unties her apron, starting out of the dining room when Taïga arrives Still in pj’s and with her wild hair loose, she waves at Missy, ‘Goodmorning, Missy,’ and stops in her tracks, looking for the usual pack of Kellogg’s cereals.
‘I know. Aren’t they beautiful?’ Missy gushes.
Taïga looks at the center piece of the table – a blue and a golden egg in some kind of weird imitation of a bird’s nest. ‘Is it real gold?’
‘No. Your grandmother brought them in from the coop yesterday and I thought we could use them for Easter decorations! I bet it’s Charles who laid them…’
Missy struggles out of the apron, trying not to touch her elaborate hairdo. Folding the apron, she watches Taïga inspect the steaming plate.
‘What is this?’
Fumbling with the apron, Missy takes place next to Taïga. ‘Your breakfast, dear. You need to eat something more filling than cereals in the morning.’
‘But I like cereals!’
‘This is just the same, a kind of steamed cereals. Or boiled. Whatever.’
‘But… There’s no way I can eat all this.’
Missy stares at her for a half second, then she hides her face in her hands melodramatically and whines.
‘Look. I never get up before nine in the morning, but today I set the alarm at five a.m. I have spent two hours in the kitchen to make you a delicious porridge, and this is what I get? “I can’t eat all this”,’ she mimics. ‘You’re the most selfish and ungrateful child I know!’ She looks sternly at the young girl. ‘You’re actually the only child I know, but that’s not the question.’
‘OKOK. I get it…’ Taïga starts to spoon porridge into her mouth, gobbing it.
Missy smiles to herself and stands up. ‘That’s a good girl. I’ll be right back, I’ll just put away my apron and get the pot on the stove… And when I get back I want you to have finished it all!’
As soon as Missy leaves the table, Taïga gags and spits out the mouthful.
‘This must definitely not become a habit… Here, Tramp.’ She holds out the plate, but the dog just sniffs it and whimpers, backing away. ‘See? I bet your food is better than this. I’d rather have yours. Or not. I won’t eat this, anyway.’ But what will Missy say when she gets back if she hasn’t finished her porridge? She quickly opens the window and empties the plate in the rose bushes outside. The birds will certainly eat it, or the foxes. Or the raccoons, but she’s not sure there are any in Transylvania…
She pushes the now empty plate far from her. ‘I’ll just drink the milk and I can eat the apple instead… Oh, no forget it! I’ll just bring it along to school.’ She takes a few gulps, drying her mouth with her sleeve. She looks guiltily around, waiting for Granny to admonish her. ‘Let’s go, Tramp.’
Tramp barks happily at the prospect of their morning walk.
She can hear Missy’s brisk footsteps approaching. Dang! She’s back!
‘And where are you going?’
‘Taking Tramp for a walk. And then school, of course.’
‘Don’t be snotty with me, young lady. And you haven’t finished the delicious porridge.’
Taïga glances guiltily at the plate. There’s some of the gruesome mixture stuck at the bottom… ‘Err… I couldn’t finish it all. It was too… filling.’
‘And the apple?’
‘Delicious… I have to get ready or I’ll be late for school.’
Missy screws up her eyes and looks shrewdly at Taïga. ‘You’re a little liar! I can see you’re hiding the apple behind your back. EAT IT!’
She continues staring sternly at Taïga and is about to say something more, when her cat is mewing out on the porch. Oh, my. What if Granny is coming?
‘Just eat it now. I’ll be right back!’ She walks briskly outside to make sure her sister is busy. God forbid she should walk in on them now… Tramp rushes out from the dining room, almost turning her over, continuing barking in front of the door. Dang dog! Grumbling she opens the back door, scanning the surroundings for a sign of her sister’s whereabouts.
As usual, Granny is up since dawn. This morning she’s busy smoking the bees to check how many have survived the winter and also to get some honey for her potions.
Relieved to see her sister busy, Missy turns on her heels but is distracted by Miezul Nopţii, who is mewing and scratching herself.
‘Look at you, poor thing… Full of fleas. And where’s your flea collar? It must be the second you lose this season.’ She holds the cat at arm’s length. ‘Some powder and a bath should do the trick.’
Taïga looks at the apple.
Well, it’s too big to hide in the pocket… and it looks delicious. It will sure take away the vile taste of Missy’s porridge. She takes a big bite out of the juicy apple. Mmm… it is delicious!
She takes another bite and stops. The apple falls out of her hand and rolls away under the table.
I can’t feel my hands… Ouch, my neck hurts… What’s happening to me?
Missy can hear her great niece howling inside.
‘Aha. She’s eaten the apple.’
The porridge should have taken care of the fierce burning, so why is she screaming like that? Missy looks over her shoulder, but Granny seems busy, smoke billowing and shrouding her already grey figure.
In the kitchen, the frightened girl is struggling to gain control over her body, but in vain. Her limbs stretch like rubber, aching horribly…
‘It hurts! HELP ME! Please… GRANNY!’
Missy chuckles and picks Miezul Nopţii up again. ‘I’m sorry, but we have to get in and get you cleaned up. And I just might need to channel you to cast a spell to make the wretched girl stop screaming. Or filter the sound or whatever. You never know. We don’t want my nosy sister to interrupt the procedure, do we? … Sheesh. Here she comes… Followed by the disgusting dog, of course.’
It’s too late for magic, and Missy wasn’t really sure about the spell anyway. She simply turns the key and hastily hides it behind her back trying to look inconspicuous as Granny comes briskly walking from the far end of the garden. A locked door won’t keep her sister out forever, but any delay is welcome. If only the wretched girl could stop hollering.
Taïga doubles over and throws up, retching until there’s nothing left in her stomach.
‘You can’t get in. Err… I just mopped the floor, there’s water everywhere.’
‘Hmm… I thought I heard Taïga calling.’
Missy looks innocently at her big sister, ‘Noooo… I didn’t hear anything… Must have been the cat!’ She discreetly pinches Miezul Nopţii, making her meow and struggle to get down. ‘See?’
Granny starts down the stairs again. She stops, frowning. ‘But isn’t your cleaning lady due this morning?’
‘She called in sick.’ Missy grimaces.
Granny looks thoughtfully at her, wanting to add something, but changes her mind and continues down the last steps. Missy lets out her breath. That was a close call.
‘And make sure the darn dog hasn’t pooped in the garden,’ she calls boldly after her sister.
‘I’m sure he hasn’t,’ Granny answers drily, stopping and looking over her shoulder at Missy who nervously smiles back at her.
‘GRANNY! HELP! GRAaaannnyyyy….’
Taïga’s muted voice carries outside where Tramp sits whining and scratching at the door. Granny stops and takes the stairs back up onto the porch in two strides.
Shaking the door handle she screams at Missy, ‘OPEN THE BLOODY DOOR! It is Taïga, and she’s calling for help!’
‘Oh, you’re right. I can hear her now.’ Missy fumbles with the key, and it falls to the floor, bouncing around before finally resting between to planks.
A strange feeling of numbness overtakes the little girl’s whole body, and she staggers out into the hall, trying to reach the door.
Her cries are now just a raspy whisper, ‘Gra…a…nnyyy…’
Missy finally fishes up the key from between the planks, but it’s too late. Taïga’s legs buckle under her and she is falling… falling…
Granny dashes into the hall and with a high-pitched scream she falls onto her knees beside her granddaughter’s lifeless body, cradling her head on her knees. Missy stops and stares. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Some serious stomach ache, and too numerous follow ups by the not so competent village doctor would surely send them on their way back to America, but this?
The little girl’s heartbeat and breathing are shallow and irregular, but at least she’s alive. With utter precaution Granny picks up her granddaughter’s inert body from the floor. Tears streaming freely down her wrinkled cheeks, she shoos Tramp away.
‘Call for an ambulance, Missy. Hurry! Or the doctor!’
But Missy has caught sight of something on the floor in the dining room. With a non-committal mutter she hurries to get rid of the evidence of her crime.
Part I – End of Chapter 22