Wallace was a very fat squirrel. He didn’t like dogs, because they made him run. Today he was in a terrible mood, as he had already had to run from a dog three times. It didn’t help matters that it had been the same dog on every occasion. But Wallace had really wanted those dropped chips by the park bench. He just wasn’t quite able to beat the dog to them, no matter how many times he made a loud noise near his little sister Milly and sent her running out as a decoy. Milly had now retreated to a different tree and gone inside a hollow branch where she had collected some acorns. Wallace thought chips were worth twenty acorns. Unfortunately, he had taken the serious measure of attempting to hide himself under a log nearer to the bench. On the way in, the gap had seemed larger. Now he was in a fairly large space underneath the log where he had caused a terrible fright to two mice, but was thoroughly confounded as to how he was going to get outside again. There was quite a severe drop from the gap he had squeezed through to the floor of the hollow space he was now within. Wallace looked about. There was nothing down here he could stack up to climb upon; the mice wouldn’t be any help; they were cowering in the corner debating whether he was a cat or not. It looked like the only way out was by doing one of the things he did best; chewing. But first he would have to reach an area of the log that touched the ground, and wood wasn’t very tasty, so he would have to be tough. Wallace headed for the other side of the log, where there was less of an incline to where the wood met the soil. He dug with his paws and chewed at the log, making an awful mess, and presumably, a racket, because soon after he began this endeavour he heard the sound of sniffing and barking outside. Wallace scrambled back down into the base of the hollow. The dog was back, right outside! There was a creaking and cracking, and a wet, snuffling nose appeared as the point where Wallace had been chewing was pushed upwards by a dirt-covered dog face. Wallace wasted no time, barrelling right past the nose and into the daylight. He streaked across the grass to the sound of excited barking for the fourth time that day and landed with a thud next to Milly, covered in dirt and bits of chewed wood. Today, he would have to settle for acorns. When you were narrowly saved by the same dog you were running from, it was not a day to tempt fate.
Rodger Makes Tea 25/04/16
Kaeli held the cow under its large, heavy chin and used her free hand to gently pull back an eyelid, looking into the beast’s eye which was cloudy with infection. She frowned.
‘You should have asked me to come earlier for this.’ She stroked the big animal’s head, but it pulled away from her, agitated. Kaeli knelt down and opened the satchel she carried slung across her body, sorting through the herbs and powders inside. Greg, the farmer, loomed over her as she did so, moving his heavy booted feet about irritably.
‘Well we can’t. You’re always somewhere. Getting hold of you is like throwing a homing pigeon out in a storm and crossing our fingers.’ He said in a low, grumbling tone. Len, the stable boy, leaned out from the rafters where he was stacking some hay to nod at Greg.
‘Aye, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was causing half the ailments round here herself just so as she can come and save the day, sneaky witch.’ He slung himself down and slouched over to stand looking down at Kaeli with Greg. Kaeli continued to go about her business, pulling out some ginger and turmeric powder and dried rosemary to mix her preferred calming infusion. It was no good trying to disinfect or use magic while the cow was so agitated. She began to feel a sense of being trapped, kneeling there with the irritable beast on one side and the two less than friendly men on the other, but she hid it well. Plying the trade of general supplier of healing to animals and people alike in these small towns often led to these accusatory moments. She had learnt that it was best to ignore their complaining and solve the problem fast; that way folks had to calm down and be grateful to at least some extent. Len, however, poked at her mixing dish with his boot and said
‘I wouldn’t trust her and her potions. How do you know she isn’t poisoning Maisy? Wouldn’t want that now, would we, girl?’ He reached out and patted the cow on its rear and Maisy took a step in Kaeli’s direction, nearly stepping on her fingers. Kaeli removed her hand from the cow’s proximity and calmly continued to mix her ingredients.
‘Everything in here is stuff you’d eat yourself, from the spice market.’ She told them. ‘It’s just to calm her down and reduce the inflammation she has everywhere so I can handle her better to treat the infection.’ She regretted the explanation even as she said it, as Greg’s face quickly went blank and Len was looking sceptical, and now the cook, Mag, and Greg’s son Nate were coming toward the barn from the farm house. Lots of people was bad. Maisy would get jumpy and the slightest reaction from her to anything Kaeli did that didn’t look entirely positive could fuel a fire. Kaeli looked about surreptitiously for a good way to get out of sight where she could turn into something that could move fast, but the barn was suddenly full of unfriendly people, and Kaeli felt very small.
Then, through the barn window from the direction of the farm house came a ball of feathered fury like an angry, feathery stick with a pointy end, and there were shouts and shrieks as the crowd around Kaeli ducked and covered their heads. Kaeli stood quickly to gently stoke Maisy, whispering calm through her fingers. Rodger appeared leaning up against the barn wall as though he’d been there all along. The crowd sufficiently silenced, Hooter returned to sit on Rodger’s head. As the farm folk straightened up and uncovered their faces, Rodger looked at them, arms folded.
‘What are good folks like yourselves doin’ picking on this young lady then? You want your cow to get better or not?’ He gestured to where he presumed Hooter was. ‘This ‘ere is ‘ooter. Like cows, he doesn’t like noisy crowds, and he especially doesn’t like bullies. Now ‘ow about you all get back to your very important jobs what you’re currently neglecting, and let Kaeli here help Maisy out like she came to do.’ There was some shuffling and murmuring about where this man had appeared from and why he would want to stand up for the witch, but slowly all the people wandered away, glancing over their shoulders, even Len.
When the barn finally contained only Kaeli, Rodger, Maisy and Hooter, Rodger came over to Kaeli, who had knelt back down, ostensibly to get her things organised, but more likely he thought to do some deep breathing.
‘Perhaps I can ‘elp?’ He put Hooter on Maisy’s head. It was a strange sight, but Maisy seemed to calm down significantly. Kaeli snorted with laughter, in the abrupt way that people do who have been somewhat shaken up and subsequently struggle to contain their reactions. She stood up and got a closer look at Maisy’s eyes. In the peace and quiet without farm people everywhere, she could use magic all she liked. Her hot tea billy’s steam turned a vibrant shade of glowing green as the beast took deep gentle breaths that drew it in. Rodger appeared to be once again leaning on the wall, but Hooter patrolled up and down Maisy’s back, and Kaeli could sense that the cow was making a faster recovery than she could work alone.
When Maisy was happily grazing on some hay, her eyes returned to their normal deep brown pool-like state, Kaeli walked straight out the back door of the barn and out onto the moors, and Rodger followed. He found her sitting looking out across the valley, satchel still on, arms folded. He plonked himself down beside her unceremoniously, and Hooter flew up momentarily before settling back on Rodger’s head. Rodger poked at the satchel slung across Kaeli’s shoulder.
‘I gather that tea billy of yours works without a fire then.’ Kaeli gave a bit of a start, and then said
‘Oh! Yes! That was really very rude of me, striding off out here without saying thank you.’ She untied the satchel and pulled the billy out.
‘Well,’ said Rodger, ‘Those people weren’t very nice, were they. I can understand you being out of sorts. But my ol’ mum always says, there’s nothing so bad it can’t be fixed by a good cup of tea.’ He took the billy out of her hands and held it between his own, and perfectly brewed boiling tea appeared inside, the steam spiralling skyward in the cold morning air. They both produced tin cups, and sat as the sun rose high enough to finally shed some warmth, mugs in hands, warming their fingers in a companionable silence.
Mrs Knott sat at her small kitchen table, giving alternate impatient glances to the oven, where her batch of scones was still looking pale and unrisen, and the view out of the window, where there was a drizzle of rain just enough to make a walk unpleasant. The discouraging effect of the weather on going outdoors obviously applied to the grey tabby cat that lived next door as well, as she had not spotted it all day. She had some half-finished, half-hearted knitting in front of her, to which she added the occasional stitch between craning her neck to the window and sideways around her table to see the oven door. Her favourite, dainty but chipped teacup sat beside her, some of the tea spilled out into the saucer from her hasty getting up and down to check the scones and frequent knocks from her knitting needles. It was mostly cold, though she was sure she’d only made it a few minutes ago. She added a few purl stitches to the knitting, her rather fluffy white eyebrows drawing together in concentration and annoyance, uncertain whether this row was indeed supposed to be knit or purl. Then she put the knitting down again and looked out of the window. And saw the cat.
Immediately she was up out of her chair and putting on her gumboots under her floral skirt, hitching up her skin-coloured stockings. Without a further thought to anything going on in the house, she went out the front door and leaned over the front wall. The cat was on the footpath, sunning itself and washing its face with one white-tipped paw that currently had a few bits of dry leaf attached.
‘Hello puss-puss!’ Mrs Knott called, leaning over her wall, arm extended. ‘Want to come and get some cream?’ She made the ‘ch, ch’ sound that was meant to attract cats though no one seemed to know why. The cat wandered closer, plonked itself on the pavement and rolled over on its back, tail twitching. Mrs Knott knew that cats in this mood were not to be trifled with, but the cat had a very fluffy white belly and chest that it was waving at her. She went out of her gate and leaned over to rub the cat’s chest. It purred for a while.
‘Good puss.’ Said Mrs Knott. Then the cat latched onto her arm with all four feet and its teeth and began furiously kicking with its back feet as though her hand was prey to be knocked unconscious.
‘Yow!’ She yelped, trying to pull her hand away, but the cat let go in its own good time and wandered a little way off to sit, looking cute and pat-able again, enjoying the sun. Mrs Knott gave it a glare. ‘Bad puss.’ She went back in her gate and opened her front door. Loud expletives were then heard flying out the window, along with the blackened scones, and several pigeons arrived, unperturbed by the cat, to peck out the unburnt bits.