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. Granny is up early looking for fresh eggs, but one of the hens is behaving in a really strange way.
Granny reaches for it, wanting to put it back into the henhouse, but it flaps its 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 it again. Suddenly it jumps forward, looking straight at her with piercing eyes. Granny gasps and startled she backs away. Its eyes glow like lasers and like a chameleon the feathers change color, going from common speckled brown to a sickly pinkish beige! Granny blinks.
‘What the heck just happened? 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 tries to take a menacing stance, pointing her finger at the maleficent hen. ‘Who’s inside that body?’
‘It’s me, Charles, the evil chicken,’ it squawks.
‘Ohmygod, it’s talking! I KNEW IT!’ Granny closes her eyes and pinches her arm. ‘I won’t eat no eggs coming from those hens… I’d better try to plant some eggplants right away…’
When she opens her eyes again, the hen looks just like any other hen.
‘Strange. I must have dreamt the whole thing…’
‘Funny isn’t it?’ Missy has silently appeared, ‘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 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?’
‘They glow, of course. Hmm… Makes me think – I’d better not add plutonium next time…’ Her 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.
‘A potion to make animals talk?’ She tut-tut’s. ‘But still, it’s better than the dark magic she usually tampers with.’
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 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! There are chicken in the coop! Oh, and look at the flowers! The spring’s finally here!’ Taïga falls on her knees, liberating some really beautiful marigolds from the dead leaves and mulch hindering their growth.
‘So go ahead and pick them! All of them!’ Missy says, walking away grumbling to herself.
Taïga picks a flower, 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. Missy 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 with the chicken…
She has watched her sister enough 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 twirling around inside and seeping out! 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!?!’
‘DARO. STOP IT. NOW. REST.’ Granny’s voice echoes through the room like thunder.
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 feeding the chicken?’ Missy asks.
‘Obviously I’m not! I was trying 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…’
Suddenly Granny bursts out laughing and the palantìr settles on the tripod with a loud clinking. ‘Missy, you’re sitting on it!’
Old Missy grabs her beloved book and leaves her merry sister. 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!
There’s no way she 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, scrutinizing 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 and heads for the stairs, muttering to herself, ‘Just having my sister here is bad enough, but 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, she has finally got 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.
… and a beautiful, but evil looking, apple.
The plate is still steaming when Taïga enters the dining room a half-hour later. She inspects the plate set out at her usual place.
‘What is this?’
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 I can’t eat all this!’
‘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.
Old Missy smiles to herself and stands up. ‘That’s a good girl. I’ll be back in five minutes, and I want you to have finished it all!’
As soon as Old Missy leaves the table, Taïga gags…
… spitting out the last mouthful!
‘This must definitely not become a habit… Here, Tramp.’ She holds the plate, but the dog just sniffs at it and whimpers, backing away. ‘See? I bet your food is better than this.’ She pushes the plate far from her. ‘I can eat the apple instead… Oh, no forget it! I’ll just bring it along to school. Let’s go, Tramp.’
Tramp barks happily at the prospect of their morning walk and rushes out from the dining room, continuing barking in front of the door.
She can hear Missy grumbling open for him and then her brisk footsteps approaching. Dang! She’s back! ‘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 evilly at Taïga. ‘You’re a little liar! I can see you’re hiding the apple behind your back. EAT IT!’
She stares sternly at Taïga and is about to say something more, when her cat is mewing out on the porch.
‘Just eat it now. I’ll be right back!’
But once outside, Missy gets distracted by her cat which is mewing and scratching itself.
‘Look at you, poor thing… Full of fleas. Let me take care of it…’
Granny is already up and around. She’s busy smoking the bees to get some honey for her potions.
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.’ She chuckles and pats Minuit in her arms. ‘I’m sorry, but I have to channel you so I can seal the door. You never know. My nosy sister might interrupt the procedure…Ahh. Here she comes…’
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 running from the far end of the garden.
‘Was that Taïga calling?’
Missy looks innocently at her big sister, ‘Noooo… I didn’t hear anything… Must have been the cat!’ She discreetly pinches Minuit, making her meow. ‘See?’
Granny starts down the stairs, stopping and looking over her shoulder at Missy who smiles back at her.
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!’
She doubles over and throws up, retching until there’s nothing left in her stomach.
‘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…
Part I – End of Chapter 19