Anais stared down at her hands.
Those damned baby hands.
She twiddled her thumbs. She dropped her shoulders and sulked. It was the fourth time in a week that Nan had sent her to her room. She was getting too old for this kind of thing. She wasn’t a baby anymore. Couldn’t Nan see that? Anais looked down at her body and regrettably answered her own question. No, Nan couldn’t see that. Nan only saw a small child, a five-year-old.
She looked around her room. It was filled with everything a little girl could want; dolls and stuffed toys, make-up and plastic jewellery, lego. She even had a four-posted bed with canopy. Everything had gaudy colours, everything sparkled. Where was she living? Was she a princess in a castle? No, she was definitely not that. She had to admit that once it had been all she thought about. She had been obsessed by little plastic things with bright colours. She would spend hours studying their tiny details. Everything had to have livid colours. Everything had to twinkle or flash bright lights. She had been like a crow. It wasn’t her anymore. It hadn’t been her for a long time. She wasn’t a little girl, she was practically an adult. She was going to be eighteen in a few days. Why was it that Nan didn’t remember this?
She was sick of carrying on the charade of being a helpless toddler. It wasn’t really her. Sure, she was limited physically and she understood that it was necessary for them to do that performance in public. But in private it should be different. They weren’t that far apart in age. By her calculations, Nan could only be about ten or fifteen years older.
Why was Nan in charge anyway? She could take care of herself. She didn’t need any help.
She flipped through the pages of her Promptuary. Maybe there was a spell she could cast. Maybe there was a concoction she could drop in Nan’s drink so that she could give her the slip. She wanted out. She wanted to be alone. She didn’t want this overbearing adult dictating her life anymore. She had enough of being ordered around. She would tell Nan what she thought of her. She began to get herself worked up. She grabbed a Barbie doll and tried unsuccessfully to twist off its leg. She didn’t have the strength. It frustrated her even more. She threw the doll into the far corner of her bedroom. It bounced off the pink blow-up teddy bear and came flying back towards her. She ducked to avoid it.
She looked down at the Promptuary. The open page lit up. It showed her Nan sitting alone in the kitchen. She looked very unhappy. She was staring vacantly into the empty coffee cup in her hands. Anais watched as Nan squeezed the cup tightly. The whites of her knuckles showed and the cup handle snapped off under the pressure. She watched as Nan sighed, her shoulders lifting and dropping. Nan released her grip on the cup. She picked up the broken handle and threw it towards the bin in the corner. It shattered against the wall.
Anais looked up from the book when she heard the sound through her bedroom door. She realised it was pointless getting angry with Nan. She also realised it was unfair. Nan was in the same position, she was also unhappy. Nan was trapped, just like her.
For the first time, she thought for a moment what it must be like for Nan. She hadn’t considered Nan’s predicament before. It was a new way of thinking for her.
Where had this thought come from? Was this what growing up was all about?
She was confused. Maybe they just needed to talk about it. Usually Nan settled the arguments. She was the one who would bring about the calm. Anais thought about it for a minute and realised that she also had control over the situation. They didn’t need to fight like they were doing. She could go make the peace. If she did then maybe Nan would look at her differently. Maybe Nan would see the adult in her and treat her more as an equal.
It was worth a try. She dropped the idea of working with spells. She didn’t need one to manipulate the situation. She could do it like a human. They did it all the time so why couldn’t she? It would certainly have a longer lasting effect. Spells wore off. They had a use-by-date. Real emotions were more effective. Anais decided she would broach the subject. She decided she would make the first move. They were sort-of family, but not really. It was healthier if she treated Nan as an equal. It was better if her and Nan became friends. Besides, all the anger cost her an enormous amount of energy, which eventually lead to nought. She would be better putting her energy into something more useful.
She put the Promptuary down, picked up the doll and placed on her bedside table. Its leg was contorted at a rank angle. She twisted the limb back into a more normal position.
If only relationships could be repaired as easily as plastic toys.
She stood and smoothed down the front of her dress. She made a similar mental adjustment, cracked open her bedroom door and walked down the corridor with the air of someone much older than she looked.
The Witches Handbook
The witches handbook, or promptuary as it is officially known, is one of the most important objects in a witches arsenal. They are indispensable and all witches have their own personal copy.
Handbooks vary in size but most of them resemble a pocket dictionary. In ancient times, before the advent of paper, witches were forced to carry more cumbersome versions of the handbook around, usually in the form of bamboo scrolls.
Herein lies a major fallacy concerning witches. There is a misconception that witches have magic wands. Mortal perceptions of witches are rarely correct. Over the centuries the depiction of a witch and her scroll adapted. Eventually, it was misinterpreted altogether. At some point the image of a scroll was whittled down to a stick. A stick has no power. A witches handbook does. It holds immense knowledge and knowledge itself is power. As a witch grows and develops she discovers more about her special traits. All this knowledge is recorded in the handbook.
Incidentally, if it hadn’t been for witches, paper would never been have invented as early as it was. In particular the use of paper to write things down on. If it hadn’t been for witches we would still be using it to wipe our posteriors, wrapping up our groceries and for packing valuable objects.
The Chinese were the first to be blessed with the recipe for paper. One particularly inventive witch in the Gansu Province had been experimenting with making something to wrap her potions in. She hit upon the idea for paper one day whilst trying to pound a rag wafer-thin. In no time, the discovery spread swiftly through the witch community. Eventually, the Chinese arm of the Organisation decided to reveal the knowledge to mortals, in order to precipitate development of the material. The rest is history.
It was one of the rare occasions when a decision was made to assist mortals in their advancement. Under usual circumstances this would never happen. Witches are not permitted to do anything that permanently influences the human race. It was more a question of practicality. They just got sick of carrying around bamboo scrolls all the time.
Due to the fact that witches cannot congregate, the promptuary provides one of the few possibilities of communication between them. Aside from functioning as a messaging service, promptuaries also do more mundane things such as being a news provider and a map. They are capable of more things than can conceivably be imagined. No witch has fully utilised all of its potential. A promptuary should therefore be considered as the ultimate book.
Fundamentally, the main differences between a handbook and a modern mobile device is the power supply and the material it is constructed from. Electronics are not infallible and witches would never rely on something so sensitive or prone to breaking down. Over time witches have developed paper and imbued it with extraordinary properties. Although a promptuary outwardly suffer from heavy usage, they are virtually indestructible and have become an entity unto themselves. A promptuary has to last a lifetime and for a witch that is exceedingly long.
Just like names, promptuaries are specific to individuals. In general it will react upon the core desires of its owner. They can also be commanded to do specific things but this requires extensive experience. They are not of any use to someone who has not made the same journey through life. There are no advantages to possessing someone else’s promptuary. You need to gain the knowledge before it goes in the book. Quite often you cannot properly understand something without having experienced it first hand. It is counterproductive. As in all realms of the universe, only true or honestly acquired knowledge is useful.
Spurious knowledge is worthless.
A New Name
As she walked down the corridor Anais stuck her hands in her pockets. It was there. Anais sighed.
She couldn’t recall where or when she had first received her promptuary. It was something which had always been there. Just like air. Not only that, it never left her side. She had experimented with hiding it in obscure places. She had piled heavy objects on it and left the house. She had even purposely left it behind in restaurants and museums. She had done everything in her power to lose it. It made no difference what she did, it always found its way back to her. As it had just done, it would deposit itself in her pocket, or she would move something on a table and it would suddenly appear. She never felt it. It weighted nothing. It was lighter than dust. It was only when she held it in her hand that she sensed the weight of its knowledge. As its contents grew, so did its mass.
Sometimes Anais hated her promptuary. She knew how important it was but she rarely used it. It was an irritation and she often treated it with contempt. The promptuary was suffering from lack of attention. It was dog-eared like an old school book. There was the distinct possibility that if she continued to treat it the way she had, within a century or two it would probably be reduced to a tattered mess.
Recently, she had come to accept that it was a constant in her life, and probably always would be. She had given herself over to the fact that it would never leave her. There was something reassuring about accepting that fact. It meant that whatever happened, she could trust it to be by her side. It wasn’t exactly a friend but in some way it was a soul mate. Apart from Nan, the promptuary was the one constant in her life.
Anais pulled it out and turned it over in her hand. She ran her fingers over its contours and across the big smooth star on its cover. The star reacted to her touch and lit up. She opened the book. Printed in glowing block letters on the page was one word: shade.
Anais hadn’t thought about it before but a shade might be the solution. If she found a shade to hang out with, it would be a positive thing. It might solve her problem. It would mean that, at least on the face of it, Anais could walk the streets without being chaperoned by Nan. It was something that had taken a bit of time for Nan to come to terms with. Anais was aware that Nan knew she would be able to take care of herself. It was mainly a question of trust. She forgot that she wasn’t dealing with a toddler sometimes.
Anais shut the book and continued down the corridor and into the kitchen. Nan brightened when she saw her.
Nan rarely call Anais by her first name. It was too formal.
Anais screwed up her face. ’Don’t call me that.’
‘Blue,’ said Anais.
‘Oh? Really? What should I call you then?’
‘Mmm, I don’t know about that. I like Blue.’
Anais frowned at her. ‘No, it’s my name, my choice. I don’t like blue, blue sucks. I want to be called purple.’
‘Fine, but I don’t think the word purple is something I feel like calling out all the time. Maybe I could just use your first name instead?’
‘No, when you do that it feels like you’re telling me off. I prefer a colour.’
Nan sighed. She decided that there was no point in arguing. It was clear, at least for the moment, that Anais was fixed in her desire. Nan was used to her flightiness. One minute she would be obsessed with something and the next it would be completely forgotten. She decided it would be best just to humour her for the moment. There was every possibility that she would change her mind later.
‘Ok, then maybe we need to look for alternatives. Aren’t there are different shades of purple?’
Anais thought for moment and then opened her promptuary. She spoke into it.
‘What are the different shades of purple?’
The book glowed and began speaking.
‘Tyrian Purple, Han Purple, Royal Purple, Mauveine, Thistle, Orchid.’
Anais beamed. ‘Stop! That’s it.’
Nan looked first at her and then at the book. ‘Which one? Orchid?’
Anais shook her head. ‘No, not Orchid, Thistle. Thistle, that’s cool. Call me that. Call me Thistle.’
‘Mm, maybe. It is better than Purple.’
‘C’mon Nan, please.’
Nan looked at her pleading face. For a moment she forgot that the behind the earnest green eyes was a young woman and not a child. The eyes got her every time. She conceded. ‘Ok, but it’s going to take me a bit to get used to it.’
Anais did a jig on the spot. ’Fantastic, go on, try it.’
Nan rolled her eyes and stared at the ceiling. She cleared her throat. ‘How are you today, Thistle?’
‘No, you wouldn’t talk to me like that. Do it properly.’
Nan took a deep breath. She composed herself and looked Anais straight in the eye.
‘Hey Thistle, shall we go shopping?’
The lights in the house dipped and came back on. It was the middle of the day and they barely noticed it. Anais grinned.
‘Cool. Are you serious?’
‘About going shopping.’
Nan realised that she should still be punishing Anais but saw a way to reconnect. ‘Sure. Let’s go shopping.’
‘There’s just one thing.’
Nan indicated pieces of shattered crockery strewn across the floor.
‘Oh. Yeah, I’m sorry. I lost it.’
‘It’s fine, I’m lost it too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. Friends?’
Anais smiled at her. ‘Yeah, friends.’
Nan pushed her chair back and stood up. ‘Let’s go then.’
Anais did her little girl jig again. ’Yes, let’s go. We haven’t shopped for ages!’