Aldyth Fitzsimmons spat onto Yakut, her familiar. He squealed back and it was that ingredient Aldyth required for her warts cure. Capturing the exact sound was an art, and she the artist. The villagers paid her in bread and organ donation, but not for her warts remedy – she needed that. As the only health service for miles around, Aldyth dispensed odorous prophylactics and sore cures for the post-apocalyptic survivors of Upper Crowberry.
“You there, Witch?” called the rasping voice of Baron Eggl, his bulk blocking any chance of the weak sunlight sneaking in through the open doorway.
She pulled back her black veil, enough to let him have the benefit of her luminous evil eye, but not to reveal her worst nose wart against which her latest nostrum had been ineffective.
“What brings you here, Baron, have ye crushed another maiden and need more of my slimming elixir?” Aldyth stifled a snort as the man angled his body to gain entry. She’d learnt not to laugh at this local ruler. For a reminder she turned her mutant eye to her right hand and its missing little finger. She snarled at the series of failed incantations to evoke revenge. What did he want? Her weekly tribute was already in his coffers.
He wheezed further into her shambolic home; the barely habitable ground floor of a crumbled apartment block. He ducked as rumbling disturbed the buckled ceiling. The floors above had rubbled in the mysterious Great Whiteout years ago – not that it was such a mystery to Aldyth since Yakut found her. Strange creatures scurried around up there. Aldyth had become inured to the sounds but her eyes raised up parallel to the Baron’s. She shrugged as a line of dust fell from a crack into the ingredients bowl she held.
“Witch,” he said, looking around, apparently for an unencumbered seat. “I need one of those pheromone love potions. I’ve been told they’re one of your rare successes.”
“Indeed they are, but why dursn’t thou get your henchmen to hold her down, like ye do with your other women?”
His incipient rage enlarged his body. “I need more than carnal gratification, you hag. I want… I want…”
“Her love? Ah, all thou hast to do is cancel a week’s tribute. We’d all love ye then.”
“Be careful, Witch. Can you do it or is it rumour?”
Like the rest of her potions? She read his open mind.
Aldyth had discovered a laboratory containing a comprehensive range of twenty-first century chemical reagents and a librarian’s archive of apothecary tomes. More importantly, what the locals assumed to be magick came in useful. Let them think it was pheromones.
“How about letting me off a month’s payments in exchange?” she said, picking up and stroking Yakut, a cross between a cat and… something else.
The Baron stared at the creature, his bearded face contorting in disgust. “How about me arranging for you to lose another digit if you don’t?”
Yakut released an unearthly deep growl. Aldyth increased stroke frequency and said, “I need to know who she be: for sample purposes.”
“No. I’ll send round hair and skin samples. Anything else? Urine, faeces, skin?”
“She’s got under your skin, hasn’t she?” Mistake. She mollified by rushing on. “Anything with DNA. A nail clipping, nose hair – oh, she wouldn’t have any of that would she?”
His steel grey eyes moistened. “No. She’s perfect. I’ll send a sample round and I’ll come for the potion tomorrow.”
“It would be a pleasure to see ye, but it wouldn’t be ready for three days.”
He snarled, but stopped when Yakut echoed and spiked its fur.
“I need some hair of yorn too,” she said, making a grab at his arm. He flinched as her practised pinch extracted follicles along with black hairs.
“Quite mad,” he muttered, as he slammed the door on his exit and brought down more ceiling fragments. Aldyth brushed plaster off Yakut’s back. She’d found him, or he her, a month after the Great Whiteout. Her assumption he was a mutant cat had to be revised after a meeting of minds. His disastrous landing forced a modification of his system’s invasion methodology.
The day came. Aldyth smirked, followed by another gob onto Yakut. It purred contentedly and wept as it followed her through a steel door into the laboratory. It’d been ten minutes since the Baron’s delivery man handed over the lock of shiny auburn hair. Aldyth sniffed it and smiled at the lingering fragrance of orange and cinnamon.
“She smells good enough to eat, Yakut, and we know this damsel; Celestina, the book restorer’s daughter. No wonder he wants her for keeps; her beauty goes deeper than her skin. Oh look we have the follicles too.”
Aldyth cleansed away remnants of shampoo in diluted ethanol then set about the serious business of extracting the unique essence of Celestina. She reached for a solid substrate in which to pack the now finely chopped hair. She’d discovered the local bakery made a soft-grained bread that could be squashed to form an ideal poultice. She added the mixed hair samples from the Baron and his intended victim, and massaged the mixture into a small ball. She placed it on a Petri-dish.
“Now let the magick begin, eh Yakut?” She reached for her incantation tubes, and chanted trancelike while her bony fingers played the tubes like panpipes. The sound shimmered the air though the frequencies sang outside the range Aldyth could hear. Yakut transposed the sounds into a warbling wail sending sunlit dust motes into oscillation.
“Let us be in awe of the power of infrasound. Now let’s move to the next stage.” She carefully lifted the nearly completed potion and threw it in the air. Yakult leapt and caught it in his needle-like teeth.
Aldyth smiled as the creature swallowed.
“I’ve not made it too big? Good, now go and fetch Celestina. She has to have the treatment before the Baron. No retching until you return.”
Yakut licked his lips, flicked one of its tails, and leapt onto the draining board. He scattered antique Disney crockery, the creatures on which were now mimicked by reality, before leaping out of the open window.
Forty-six minutes later Aldyth watched Celestina hesitantly approach the open doorway. Either she’d taken considerable persuading or Yakut had found amusing diversions en route. He’d better not have ingested any morsels. She’d hate to think of the DNA and other essences being conjoined by chewed mouse, or a lump of a sentinel’s ankle.
“Come in, dear, I’ve cleared this armchair especially for you.”
“I – I don’t know why I’ve been led here by your… thing.”
Bemused, Aldyth studied the young woman. Her waist-length amber hair could have been used as a scarf to hide her face, but unlike many locals, Celestina’s only imperfections were a few teenage spots. Pale blue eyes furtively nictated between Yakut, bottles, dark recesses; apparently hoping to spot an escape route even though the front door remained open. She didn’t look at Aldyth – anywhere but.
“Yakut brought you here because I told him to. You are at risk from an evil man. Look, he did this to me.” She held up the remaining stump of her missing little finger. The girl shrank back.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ve a bespoke medication here, a lovely little brew. It’s nearly perfected. Sit there… Here’s a hand mirror, see if you can find your real self.”
“Yakut, it’s time, into the kitchen.” Aldyth waved him through the doorway. Once out of sight of the girl, she whispered, “Your insides should’ve worked their magick by now. Cough it up.” The creature retched and regurgitated a blood-red lump into Aldyth’s hand. She sniffed it.
“It’s cooked,” she said, knowing that the trace odour of caramel, mixed with a whiff of copper and a hint of iced shout needed only the last step. “Another.” The second lump came up slimier than the first. She placed both in a white alabaster mortar. Aldyth glanced over her shoulder to ensure the girl remained in the chair before opening a small safe. She pulled out a steel flask.
“Nearly out of your blue stuff, Yakut.” She used a hypodermic needle to extract and then inject five millilitres into the lumps before mashing them and adding white vinegar. “When your friends arrive, we won’t need the lab.”
Filling two phials she held one up to the window. Yakut tilted its head to share the view. A grey cloudy liquid flecked with red and green brought a smile to both of them.
“Just like mashed brains, isn’t it, Yakut? Celestina will vomit when the Baron closes within a yard of her. Revenge for me, a saving grace for her – heh.” Yakut nodded in agreement.
“And when he drinks his potion, he’ll be the last conversion, not that he or the others will realise it for a generation. Our work here is done. It’s time to move on to the next group. You’ll keep to our pact, won’t you, Yakut?” She scratched her nose wart, as she savoured the thought that in a few years she’d be the only real woman men would desire.
Writer and editor, cyclist and opera-lover. More nonsense in my blog>> http://geoffnelder.wordpress.com website>> http://geoffnelder.com