Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2018 Results




Sweet Revenge

Copyright © Charlotte Stannard 2018


The growing rumble sent shivers down to my toes. I ground my teeth in an effort to keep from running outside and screaming; the final straw had long since dropped. I threw the last of my ingredients into the bowl. My life had been peaceful until my new neighbour had moved into the duplex next door. His chopper roared up and down our street morning, noon or in the dead of night when I was deep asleep. I slammed the lid of my multicooker down. With 12 unique functions I could stew, steam, fry, grill or roast my way to revenge. As a bonus extra, its non-stick coating really helped with cleaning. Revenge could be a sticky affair after all.

I set the cooker and wiped my hands down my apron. A quick look through the blinds, confirmed my neighbour was still outside. Hardly surprising. He spent an hour after every ride, wiping every speck of dirt from that infernal machine. Plenty of time for my cooker to finish. I turned back to the kitchen; it was a mess, strewn with herbs and leftover ingredients. I whipped out my hand vac and sucked up all the little pieces. The bowls went into the dishwasher, then a quick wipe down with a cloth and it was back to pristine. I can’t describe how wonderful technology was. No words could communicate just how uncomfortable brooms were. And don’t get me started on cauldrons; nightmares to clean. On the whole, the 21st century was a witch’s best friend. Except for neighbours with motorbikes and no consideration. I mean, I drove a Corolla hatchback; that thing practically purred.

“I wish I could just straight up hex the damn bike!”

The thick, enchanted leather-bound tome sitting on the coffee table unfurled, pages rifling backwards and forwards until it settled to an open double spread. I walked over and glanced at the page. It was a copy of the statutes and regulations of the Coven. Glowing bold at number 13 was:

-> Retribution must be approved by the council before any action may be undertaken.

I scoffed.

“The council takes forever!”

The pages ruffled again and landed on 45a:

-> All complaints must be filed and submitted in triplicate, to the requisite authorities.

I huffed.

“You’d think witches would act less like bureaucrats and more like witches.”

The tome snapped shut; it had never been much for conversation.

“Phooey to you to.”

Spend enough time talking to inanimate objects and you eventually expect them to talk back.

I drifted over to my fish tank. A disconcertingly large goldfish swam out, its large bug eyes, blinking unevenly.

“What do you think Fishstick?”

It stared at me blankly, blowing a stream of bubbles.

“You glutton. I fed you an hour ago. Beside it has nothing to do with the topic in question. As my familiar you should be more helpful. I’m going through a personal crisis and you have the gall to talk about how I’m not feeding you enough."

Fishstick bobbed in place slowly spinning upside-down.

“Don’t give me that rubbish. I feed you plenty. High quality stuff, too. Or would you prefer mealworms and fish flakes.”

Fishstick blinked, first his left then his right.

“That’s better. Now, you think I should’ve hexed it too, right?”

Fishstick spun 180 degrees.

“What? You agree with that hardback!”

I shook my head and crossed my arms.

“Geez. What happened to loyalty.”

I paced back to the window and peeked out the blinds. He was slowing polishing his rims.

“You can’t comprehend how much I’d relish taking a bucket of acid and dumping it onto that infernal machine.”

Fishstick circled around his tank.

“Of course, I understand I would be punished by the coven. Why do you think it’s still in one piece?”

Silence stretched through the room. I glanced back at my familiar. He was currently gulping sand from the bottom of his tank.

“You’re not even listening to me, are you? You agonising aquatic anchovy.”

I sighed dramatically. With the company I had to put up with, was it any surprise this was what I had been driven too.

I slapped the blinds and marched away. It was nearly half past, perfect time to get the cookie dough from the fridge. Made yesterday and settled overnight, my banana-chocolate-choc-chip-nutter-butters were better than cocaine and twice as addictive. Not to brag, but these cookies were renowned; Four-time winner of the blue ribbon at neighbourhood fete.

A quick spritz of cooking spray and tray was ready. I spooned out the dough into exact portions. Lined up in neat rows, I couldn’t help but cackle at the vision of sweet revenge before me. Into the preheated oven they went. All that was left was to set up for the icing. The maple-caramel drizzle just balanced the whole thing perfectly, plus I needed it to offset bitter tang of my potion. The first part was easy enough, pre-packaged syrup came in bottles of golden goodness. The caramel had to be handmade; I was a perfectionist. Fifteen minutes later I had a decadent caramel ready to go. I spooned it into a mixing bowl before adding a generous helping of maple syrup.

A quick check on my multicooker showed the potion was turning the appropriate colour. Just in time for the last ingredient. The convenient hatch in the top allowed for a last-minute addition. In this case, Sneezewort. Witches had discarded the use of eye of newt or toe of frog in their potions halfway through the 20th century. As sensibilities had changed, it had become unfashionable to use animal pieces. Possibly something to do with the rise of the hippie in the 60’s. Animal cruelty and all that. But really what profession didn’t evolve over time. No need to live in a cabin in the woods. Foraging was a thing of the past, thanks to the rise of the health conscience consumer. Just head to the nearest health food store. Get locally grown, organic, preservative-free, made to order, potion ingredients all in one place. I rubbed my hands together gleefully, it was all coming together nicely. The multicooker dial read five minutes and the wonderous smell filling the kitchen said the cookies were on the way. It was not long now.

The ding of a message interrupted my daydreaming. I swept over to my coffee table and grabbed my smartphone. There on my lock screen was a worrying message. I swiped into my phone and read in growing horror.

'To whom it may concern,

You have been randomly selected by the United Covens Association to receive this quarters inspection. An associate will arrive at your residence on the hour. Any unsanctioned pursuits found at the premises will be subject to respective penalties. Failure to comply to any and all instructions will result in repercussions bestowed at the next Coven gathering.

With Regards, Matilda Deerbrook Head of Inter-Coven Relations and Internal Affairs'

“Nooo! No. No, no, no. No!” I shrieked. “Not now! I’m so close!”

My eyes darted to the nearest clock. Sixteen to. Did I throw all my work down the drain, could I survive another night of that monstrosity roaring around? Did I dare risk the consequences?

“What do I do? Tome! What do I do?”

The riffling of pages centred my focus. I waited in breathless anticipation. The pages settled and I leapt at the book. The title at the top of the page caught my attention first.

-> Penalties and Sentences.

“That isn’t helping!” I yelled grabbing the tome, hauling it over my head.

“Give me something useful or I swear I’ll throw you into the fish tank!”

Fishstick circled and quickly swam to edge of the glass. The tome snapped shut.

“Yeeeouch!”

I dropped it, frantically shaking my fingers. The tome crashed to the floor.

“Stupid book!”

Tears pricking my eyes, I glared and kicked the tome. My unshod toes hit the heavy book and immediately regretted it. Hopping around swearing, I stumbled onto my couch. Calming down some, I wiped the tears away. The sharp ding of my multicooker sounded out. With a glance I saw the clock was at fourteen to. Faster than lightning I was up and hobbling. I grabbed my crocodile oven mitt and slide the multicooker bowl onto the bench. Then, before my resolve could waver, I grabbed the mixing bowl and scraped the caramel and syrup mixture in. One deep breath later, I started folded the icing and potion together with near frantic speed.

The door chime nearly caused me to drop the icing bowl. The time was 12 to. The UCA was never early and never late. They were bureaucrats after all.

“Hello. Is everything all right in there?”

The steady male voice nearly did me in. It was my inconsiderate motorbike riding neighbour. I ran to the door flustered beyond belief. Yanking it open, the safety chain cracked taunt and the door leapt out of my hand and slammed shut, tossing me onto my behind.

“Are you okay?” a concerned voice called through the door.

A deep blush crawled up my cheeks.

“Fine,” I twittered.

I got back to my feet and undid the safety lock. Almost too embarrassed to open the door, I hesitated.

“Are you sure?”

Gathering my courage, I guided the door open.

Concerned features greeted me, seemingly out of sorts with the rest of him. Truly, the definition of tall, dark and handsome. Artistic stubble and James Dean style, the leather pants really did wonders for his contours.

“Hi,” I managed.

I hadn’t been this close to him before. Never spoken to him before this moment. His mouth crinkled endearingly.

“Hello.” He replied in good humour. “Is everything ok? I heard some shouting.”

Jumping, I babbled my response.

“Fine. Just fine. Well, not fine. I dropped a book on my toes. Nothing to worry about. We haven’t met before. I’m Amanda. Manny. No one calls me that. Really. Ah. I’m not usually like this. A bit flustered really. Normally, much more normal…”

I stopped there, realising I was sounding crazy. He just chuckled and held out a hand.

“Matt.”

I was engulfed by his large hand. The rough callouses surprised me a moment. He noticed.

“Mechanic’s hands.” He withdrew his hand. “Sorry, I might’ve gotten some grease on you.”

“That’s fine. Just fine,” I babbled.

He chuckled, then seemed to remember something.

“That’s right. I wanted to say thank you.”

“Thank you?... To me? Why?”

“For being so understanding. I’ve had double shifts at work, so I’ve been coming home quite late and leaving early. I know my bike makes a lot of noise. My new muffler just arrived, so I can fit it this afternoon. No more double shifts after today either. So no more late nights.”

My mouth popped open.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, not many neighbours would have dealt with it as well as you. To properly say thanks, maybe I can take you out for dinner one night.”

My mouth moved wordlessly like Fishstick.

“Oh… Yes… Please.”

He flashed a hundred carat smile.

“Ok, then how about Saturday?”

“Saturday is great,” I squeaked.

My oven beeped. He glanced at the noise.

“Seems like your cooking is ready. Smells good.”

I blinked like a sleeper waking up.

“What? Oh, yes. Excuse me. Got to get that.”

A small corolla turned into the duplex’s driveway and I nearly had a second heart attack. I spun to see the clock. Two to.

“Saturday. Bye!”

I practically slammed the door shut in his face as I raced to the kitchen. There was no time to dispose of it properly now. A shaft of crazy inspiration hit me. Nearly knocking myself out I grabbed the icing bowl and leapt my sofa. On all fours I grabbed Tome, ripped open to a random page and scooped the icing onto it. The door chime rang. I slammed Tome shut and threw the bowl. It soared in a great arc and splashed into Fishstick’s tank. I smacked Tome down on the coffee table before sprinting to the door.

A woman stood monitoring her wrist watch.

“You’re 10 seconds late,” she snapped.

Breathlessly I nodded. One manicured eyebrow arched sceptically over her horn-rimmed glasses.

“Oh yes! Please come in.”

Stepping aside, she clicked inside. Pumps snapping against my wooden floor. With her immaculate power suit, perfectly quaffed beehive and clipboard it would have been easy to mistake her for a real estate agent. She looked around my recently disordered home, furiously scribbling notes on her clipboard. She remained silent. Red lips puckered together. She gave Fishstick’s tank, complete with mixing bowl one of her sceptical eyebrows. Poked Tome with one long red nail and gave the kitchen a thorough glare. Finally, with a flourish and mark, the pen fell silent. I waited anxious.

“Well?”

The woman inspected me. One red claw tapping against the clip board.

“Personally, I would penalise such a mess, however, it does not break any UCA regulations. I am giving you a pass.”

My breath whooshed out leaving me feeling somewhat dizzy. I lead her to the doorway. She stepped outside as I propped myself against the doorframe. She turned as she left.

“One more thing.”

Every muscle in my body clenched.

“Your cookies are burning.”

I didn’t see the inspector leave, or the door swing shut. By the time I had throw the oven door open and ripped the cookie tray onto the bench all I could smell was burnt dough. Oven off, I staggered to the sofa and collapsed in a heap. The smack of leather made me sit up. On the table, rather clunkily, Tome was opening its pages. It settled on one slowly. The title read:

-> Cleaning Spells for Idiots.