Cooking Up A Spell
Most people assume that spells and incantations are mysterious things. They are under the misconception that they just float about in the air. They think that with the utterance of a few choice words, everything will be launched into action. This is not so.
In order for a spell to work they need to be attached to something physical, preferably an inanimate object. If you were to speak a few magic words and release them into the world they would just dissipate into thin air, or float off on the wind. There is the slim chance that they would collide with their intended target but the probability of that happening is not high. If witches were to operate in such a fashion, the world would be in chaos. You can’t just throw around your power like that. It’s dangerous. It would be like a continuous sequence of hit and runs. Nobody would have any idea what the hell was going on. It could possibly bring about the end of life on earth as we know it.
When it comes to casting spells on humans, food has proved to be the best form of conveyance. Anais had her favourites. In most circumstances the following substances worked on her subjects: lollies for children, chocolate for women and beer for men. Once ingested with these products, she was pretty well guaranteed a successful result. They also contained natural byproducts which made it easier to get past the worlds most advanced security system – the human body.
The active participation of the receiver is required in order for an incantation to function properly. Spells only work if there is pinpoint accuracy. They need to fit their receivers. If they don’t they will be rejected. The human body is designed to protect itself. It will not allow a foreign body of any description to enter it uninvited. It does this on all kinds of levels. There is the molecular, the sub-atomic, the mental and the physical. There is also the paranormal. The human body is essentially a mass of sensors. It’s like one of those irritating car alarms which goes off the moment you breath in its immediate vicinity. Except that in the case of the human body its sensitivity is multiplied by a factor of millions. Literally nothing escapes its attention. This means if you wish to introduce a foreign object into a body, you have to be extremely devious. You need to perform more than one trick in order to perform the trick that you are trying to perform. If you don’t have your wits about you it can get quite confusing.
Essentially, casting a spell requires a great deal of preparation and an intimate knowledge of cooking. Not all witches are good cooks. That is why take-away spells were conceived. It’s also the natural order of things. The human race has become more efficient as time has progressed. This has not only had an effect on how food is produced but also the kinds of food there are. If you went back to America during the civil war you wouldn’t find people going out for pizza. Or if you were to offer dim sum to a Roman centurion, then they probably would think you were trying to poison them.
Anais could boil water and that was about it. This was not necessarily a major problem. You can achieve a lot just by boiling water. You can cook an egg, brew a cup of tea, or prepare a bowl of rice. Dehydrated food has come a long way and, if you so desire, you can prepare just about anything by adding water. So essentially all a witch has to do is cast a spell into water and add something flavoursome to it. Then they try and get their target to eat or drink whatever it is they have prepared. The more appetising the concoction the better. Nobody is willingly going to consume a bowl of cold rice. You need to be inventive. Therefore, cooking classes are central to all advanced witch training.
Due to the importance of food, the variety and types of cuisine, once limited to particular regions, has spread exponentially across the globe. Much of this is a result of the experimentation of witches. There are a disproportionate number of witches who are chefs. In fact, most of the female Michelin Star chefs on the planet are women. As most of the male Michelin Star chefs are tasting their food, they are invariably under the effect of spells. This in turn has lead to a proliferation of cooking programs on television.
At some stage The Organisation became aware that this was getting out of hand. The more exposure there was to proficient cooking where witches were involved, the more danger there was of revealing who was behind it all. Keeping a low profile remains the top-most priority for most of the community. Occasionally one or two witches would get carried away by the lure of cooking fame. Then a representative from The Organisation would step in and put an end to their career. It was never anything personal, merely a requirement that could not be avoided. Witches had to be reminded that the cooking itself was purely a means to an end.
For the most part witches were content just to use the dehydrated form of a spell. It was more practical and a good sight less time-consuming than making it yourself. Unless you were considering using something out of the ordinary. For instance, something along the lines of getting people to see the colour blue as purple. Then special skills were required. Anais was fortunate that her place of residence meant she was in contact with the best in the business.
An underground trade in spells had grown out of the need for these specific concoctions. For this reason the ancient art of apothecary still flourishes. Amsterdam has a long history of trade and at one time had been the centre of the world for exotic goods. This centralisation has persisted and means that Amsterdam is blessed with one of the most well stocked apothecaries in the world. For those in the know the Apotheek was the go to place for all their special requirements.
The Apotheek was well hidden. There was no such thing as an official entrance to it. In fact, there were several entrances but Nan and Anais only knew of one. It was situated behind a concealed door in a changing room at the rear of a dress shop. She was one of the few people who regularly visited the shop in person. The word shop didn’t really describe the Apotheek properly. It was more of a storehouse.
In modern times, and since the explosion of online shopping–also something which had been subtly influenced by witches–it had become no longer necessary to visit an apothecary in person. Amsterdam is centrally placed in Europe and had thus become one of the major sources of witch paraphernalia. The Apotheek was well known and shipped its wares to all corners of the globe.
Throughout history apothecaries have not catered exclusively to witches, but in recent times certain members of this special guild had turned to specialising in providing various under-the-counter concoctions. As the trade of mind-enhancing drugs had become illegal it had driven the members of the guild underground. Many of them had previously worked for the military and had gleaned most of their knowledge from their time in the service.
Anais had been given special access to the Apotheek by the Organisation. The code to open the entrance had been loaded into her promptuary. They stood inside the changing room and Anais waved her book in front of a seemingly innocent wall. It slid to one side and they both stepped into a small square alcove. The wall to the changing room slid shut. A single bare light bulb hung on exposed wires above their heads. It barely illuminated what was now a dark box. There was a clunk and the floor beneath their feet shook and began to descend. After a few moments the movement stopped and another wall slid aside. They both squinted as stark bright light flooded in. They stepped out into it.
Anais loved the shop. Everything gleamed. The store looked as if high gloss white plastic had been sprayed on everything. The covering was so complete that the walls could barely be seen to meet the floor. The walls themselves were covered in a uniform grid of thin black horizontal and vertical lines. Hundreds of little drawers. Each drawer had a small pinpoint of light in the centre. Most of them had a dull glow but others winked on and off.
Where Anais and Nan stood the room was open and quite spacious. There was very little on display except for a solitary glass case in the middle of the it. The case was filled with a collection of ancient implements and tools. Several narrow corridors branched off the room. They seemed to stretch on forever. From the end of one of these corridors they heard approaching footsteps. With them came the increasing sound of white noise.
The apothecary rarely had visitors. He was in his late twenties and, apart from a white smock, didn’t look at all like a pharmacologist. Under the smock he wore a pair of baggy sports pants. On his feet were boat-sized basketball sneakers with loose laces which tapped the floor as he walked. He sported a baseball cap pulled down low over his face so that his eyes could barely be seen. An oversized set of headphones bridged his skull. They were the source of the white noise.
The apothecary swaggered out of the corridor. He nearly tripped over his laces and stopped to untangle them before crossing the room. ‘Hey Anais, how’s it hanging?’ He said cheerfully.
He held out his fist. She made a fist herself and tapped his knuckles with her own.
She smiled up at him. ‘Excellent!’
‘Listen to this.’ He pulled off his headphones. The shrill sound of distorted guitar filled the room. He yelled above the din, ’Just rediscovered this little gem, it’s an oldie but it it rocks.’
He bent down and wrapped the headphones around her head. Anais cupped her hands around the earpieces and nodded her head to the music.
The apothecary looked at Nan. ‘How are things, sister?’
Nan shrugged and stared at the ceiling. She didn’t like the place and just wanted to get out. She nudged Anais who pulled the headphones off her head. The music filled the room again. The apothecary searched his pockets, found what he was looking for and pulled out a mobile phone. He squinted at it and tapped its screen. The music died. The sound lingered for a moment and reverberated down the corridors.
‘C’mon, let’s just get what you want and go,’ said Nan.
Anais raised her eyebrows at the apothecary. ’Ok, ok.’
He took the headphones from Anais and sneered at Nan.
‘Did you get my mail?’ Anais inquired.
‘Yep, sure, just give me a minute.’ He walked over to the nearest wall and held his phone against one of the drawers. It slid open with a swishing sound. He reached in and pulled out a small silver box. He gave to Anais. ‘Remember, no more than one every six hours. It’s pretty powerful stuff.’
‘Thanks, I’ll remember that.’
‘Good,’ he winked at her. ‘Otherwise they might not snap out of it.’
‘What is it?’ Asked Nan.
‘Just one of our little experiments,’ said Anais and threw a private smile at the apothecary.
Anais took a purple beret off her head and dropped the silver box into it. The hat swallowed it up. She reached in and dug around inside it. Her arm went in up to her elbow but the beret maintained it’s shape. It looked as if her arm had been cut off at the elbow and she was holding the stump in the palm of her hand with the hat.
‘I’ve really got to get myself one of those,’ said the apothecary.
’Sorry,’ said Anais. ‘I can’t help you there, one of the perks of the job.’ She winked at him and there was genuine disappointment on his face. She withdrew her arm and handed him a crisp hundred Euro note.
‘Thanks’, he said. ‘Pleasure doing business with you. I would prefer the beret, though.’
Anais smiled at him and turned to Nan. ‘It’s ok, we can go now.’
‘Don’t be a stranger,’ said the apothecary, ‘Maybe next time we can have a listen to some more of that old stuff. I’ve got a cool sound system set up out back.’ He waved his arm down one of the corridors.
‘Yeah, that’d be great.’ Anais shot a questioning look at Nan.
Nan was noncommittal and murmured through her teeth. ‘Maybe.’
Anais pursed her lips, ‘I guess that’s better than a straight-out no.’
‘No worries, it’s cool, I’ll mail you something to wrap your ears around,’ said the apothecary.
‘Nice,’ said Anais.
‘See you next time,’ he said to Nan.
She ignored him and lead the way back to the alcove, ‘Right, let’s go do some real shopping.’
Anais followed reluctantly. ‘Ciao,’ she said over shoulder to the apothecary.
‘Ciao,’ he said and tapped his phone. The room filled with noise and then dulled dramatically when he clamped the headphones back over his ears.
Hats and Berets
Fashion dictates what is in, and what is out. The wearing of hats is no exception. It was once common for people to wear hats. A man wouldn’t be seen dead without his hat. There was a whole wash-list of etiquette attached to them. You weren’t permitted to wear them inside was one such protocol, as was tipping them as a sign of courtesy.
A witch doesn’t necessarily need a hat. Some prefer to travel light as there are negative sides to having a hat. Keeping up with fashion is just one of them. They are not limited to a particular style either. The pointy hat is great for keeping the rain off your head but not much more. Although it is incredibly spacious, which can be advantageous, it’s just plain cumbersome. There are of course those who swear by them. The physicality of the headgear itself is a question of personal preference. What they can perform is far more important.
A witches hat can provide all kinds of protection if need be, and not just against precipitation. It can prevent others from reading your thoughts. It can offer protection, even deflect lightning and that sort of stuff. If used properly it can quickly convert into a full length disguise.
Anais swore by her hat. She never went anywhere without it. It took the form of a beret and was naturally in her favourite colour, purple. She used it predominantly as a storage system. Every now and then it got so full she had to clean it out. It was quite symbolic that it sat on her head. It was her portable attic, and like most attics, it was full of junk.
Living in a big city has its advantages. As a witch you need to keep your identity a secret. The most obvious reason being the fact that you age incredibly slowly. In a country town everybody knows everybody and, unfortunately, gingerbread houses attract lots of attention. Cities are good places to keep a low profile. They also allow freedom of movement. If you are exposed you don’t have to move to an entirely different place, you can just move to the next suburb.
People are always moving around in cities. If your neighbour moves, you can quite easily lose contact with them, even though they may only move a few streets away. It’s even possible to remain incognito with people in your own apartment block. As long as you keep your head down nobody will notice you, you will blend in. The best place to hide is within a crowd.
There were plenty of places to hide in Amsterdam. No matter how long you lived there you would never exhaust all of its nooks and crannies. Anais and Nan had moved several times. In the past they had both played a hand in being forced to move house. Not only the occasional magical slip-up on the part of Anais, but Nan’s rough character tended to upset neighbours.
The beret had become her mobile wardrobe. It was handy. If they had to move in a hurry, they could. Everything of any importance was in her beret. She dreaded the day when it would go out of fashion and she would be forced to find another form of headgear. Then she would have to do a major spring clean. As it was, she was having difficulty finding things. Coupled with her promptuary, she felt like she was a walking removals van at times. Almost like a turtle lugging her shell around. It was one part of her life as a witch she wished could be different. The seemingly constant threat of being discovered for what she really was, and then having to find a new dwelling, gave her the feeling of homelessness.
It had been quite a while since the two of them had been out of the house together. It was almost a new kind of adventure. Nan had to admit to herself that she hadn’t been giving Anais the attention she needed. It was just the natural order of things. As you get older you become less dependent on people to do things for you. You gain independence. Anais was going through this process on an emotional side. Her body remained a trap, though.
Nan could see that, small stature or not, Anais was in the process of breaking out. Nothing could prevent that happening. It was just how things went. It reminded her of her own teen years. She had rebelled, totally and unequivocally. But then her and her mother had a vast age difference. Her mother, was at least three hundred human years of age, if not more. Not that she wasn’t cool. Considering her age she was definitely hip. But she was career motivated and having daughter was more of an anchor than an asset. She had taken on a great deal of other responsibilities and being a mother had become a minor consideration. She had more important obligations, she was one of the longest standing members of the World Witch Organisation.
Anais walked out of the changing room.
‘What do you think?’
She wore a pair of black jeans and a pale purple t-shirt. There were no sparkles or imprints of hearts, the edges of the shirt weren’t even frilled. There was nothing that gave the indication that she was a toddler. She looked so much older.
‘Wow! What happened to my baby?’ Nan exclaimed and clapped her hands to her face in mock shock.
Anais giggled. ‘She’s in the dressing room.’
‘Oh.’ Nan’s face dropped, she was genuinely disappointed.
Anais saw her dismay. ‘Oh, come on Nan, don’t be like that. I’m still here, at least for the moment anyway.’
‘That’s what bothers me. How long is the moment going to last.’
Anais furrowed her brow and looked sternly up at Nan. ‘If it’s up to me, then it will be a very long time. I’m not like your mother.’
Nan’s mood lightened but there was an emotional edge to her voice. It broke as she spoke. ‘Good, glad to hear it.’ She cleared her throat. ‘And please don’t mention that woman. Now go and get changed.’
Anais looked down at her new clothes and folded her arms across her chest. ‘No, I don’t want to, can’t I keep these on?’
Nan looked her up and down and sighed. ‘I suppose so but you’ll need some new shoes.’
‘Cool! I’ll be right back.’
Anais turned and ran into the dressing room leaving Nan with lingering thoughts of her mother. Her mother’s neglect of her, out of duty to her position, meant they had fought like cats. The damage to their relationship had been so complete that they now refused to talk to one another. When they did communicate, it was always through an intermediary.
Nan didn’t want things to go the same way with her and Anais. She had tried to make up for her own feelings of abandonment. She had pampered Anais and gone out of her way to give her all the things she felt she’d missed. She had made Anais her number one priority. It now saddened her to see that some of her responsibilities were eroding. Anais’s powers had developed markedly and the time was approaching when she would be able to fend for herself. It dawned on Nan that very soon even the petite body would not provide an obstacle.
Anais came out of the dressing room. ‘I’m hungry, can we get the shoes a bit later?’
Nan considered her request for a moment. ‘Yeah, sure.’
‘Can I have some money then?’
Nan gave her a disapproving look. ’Why?’
Anais puffed her cheeks in frustration. ‘So I can go and get something to eat.’
She really was growing up. ‘And what about me?’
‘I want to do it alone. You don’t like chicken burgers, anyway.’
Nan was wary of putting too many restrictions on her. It was time to give her a bit more leash. Mentally she was fully prepared. There were still the physical limitations, but at some stage they would have to take the next step. She decided now was as good a moment as any.
‘Fair enough, go get yourself a burger.’ She handed Anais some money. ‘But don’t be too long. I’ll wait for you in the cafe next door.’
Anais was pleased. She hadn’t thought it would go so easy.
‘Ok,’ she said and eagerly took the money, ’See you soon.’
‘Wait a minute.’
‘What!’ said Anais. It was too good to be true, Nan wasn’t really going to let her go.
Nan pointed at the white cardboard square hanging from her sleeve. ‘I need the price tags.’
Anais coloured red with embarrassment. ‘Oh, yeah, your right.’
Together they removed the tags. Nan gave her a kiss and watched her skip her way to the shop’s entrance. She had the overwhelming urge to follow but forced herself to stay put. She had to trust Anais.
Once Anais had left the shop, Nan went to the cash register and paid for the clothes. However, as soon as she had completed the transaction, her plan had changed. She didn’t feel at all comfortable leaving Anais alone. Once outside, she went directly to the burger shop in search of her.