It was almost time. In the center of the dim cave, illuminated only by the fire beneath it and the faintest glimmer of moonlight wafting from the nearby craggy entrance, the ancient cauldron had just begun to steam.
Glender peered through the shadows, searching out her sisters. About ten feet to her right Isobel leaned on her broom. Glender always admired the curve of her older sister’s hunched shoulders and the way her chin jutted forward to a point. Isobel was the oldest sister and would be the last one to add ingredients to the frothing decoction they had gathered to create. She looked tired. Indeed they all were. The ingredients for this spell were the rarest any of them had ever had to procure.
10 feet beyond Isobel, young Anne was leaning on a boulder behind her. She was holding her phone up, trying to get reception. Even through the darkness Glender could make out the green ringlets of her hair and her baleful eyes. Her phone battery would die before she got a signal in here, but it wouldn’t stop her from trying. Anne was the youngest of them by several hundred years, pretty in a mortal sort of way, but also sharp as a badger tooth.
Speaking of badger teeth, Glender had the hardest time getting the three necessary for her contribution to this particular spell. It was barely Spring and all the badgers were still hibernating deep in their holes. Badgers could be uncooperative in the summer months, but grab a grumpy groggy badger by the tail? And then try to pull out a couple of its razor sharp fangs? Glender had scratches all over her thighs! She would need a healing salve when she got back to her condo in the morning.
To Glender’s left, also the requisite ten feet or so, Aradia was doing a little shimmy. She probably had to pee. She always had several flasks of herbal tea with her. She felt drinking the various distillations helped maintain her internal balance. Of course, it also led to an extremely full bladder.
“Hafta pee then, Rad?” Glender quipped.
“Shut it!” Aradia snapped back, shimmy undeterred.
“Quiet now, Ladies.” Isobel crooned. “Tis almost time to commence the ritual.”
Isobel sang the last word. She loved cauldron nights. They seldom performed these sort of rites anymore. There wasn’t much need in the modern world. They had their medicine cabinets stocked in their respective houses and could maintain themselves with small spells well enough on their own. Pretty much all of them except Isobel were quite content to go about their lives as independent agents. The type of threats that required covens simply didn’t exist anymore.
Oh, back in the dark ages, the sisters would gather weekly to conjure together. They would cast spells to ensure bountiful harvests. They would conjure fog to confuse wandering bandits and send them on their way. And, when occasion demanded, they would transmogrify into a ferret whichever petulant oligarch was threatening the progress and liberty of civilized society.
But not so much these days. Anne almost didn’t even come to this one, despite the global emergency. If her bestie’s roommate hadn’t contracted the novel coronavirus from a park bench while walking his schnauzer, she might have stayed home and binged Love is Blind. But she made it. And her phone must have finally died because she had turned her attention to dislodging cave grime from under her perfectly manicured nails.
Isobel smiled in the dimness, apparently satisfied with the current position of the full moon now hovering just outside the cave mouth.
“Okay, then ladies. Shall we begin?”
“Finally!” came her fourth sister Morgen’s voice. It sounded boxy and muffled from beyond the cauldron. She still had her N95 mask on.
“Would you please take that off?” Isobel nipped.
“I will not! We don’t know that we’re immune. I don’t know your habits. I don’t think Anne ever washes her hands for fear of ruining her nails,” came her boxy reply.
“I wash my hands!” Anne took a step in Morgen’s direction.
“What are you doing?! What are you doing?!” Morgen shrieked. Everyone was indeed a bit on edge. There had been reports via crystal ball and Tarot Express that some witches had been unable to stave off the sickness with ordinary magick.
“ENOUGH!” Isobal commanded.
When the eldest witch sister raises her voice, even the spiders stop and listen. Isobel’s broom quivered in her shaking grip and Glender and her sisters righted themselves.
“There isn’t time for this nonsense. You think my feet don’t hurt? You think I don’t have to pee too?” Isobel shot her eyes around the room. They landed on Morgen. “Morgen, you know the words?”
“Go ahead, then. You can leave your mask on.” Isabel let her eyes unfocus as her vision tuned in to another time and dimension.
Morgen stepped to the cauldron. In the orange glow of the fire, her mask was bright white under her raven-black pixie cut. She began the incantation, “Slithering slander Swiggin Pond Swagga. Me Maga pum basta cheeky cheeky wag shasta.”
“Ridiculous,” Anne said softly.
Morgen extended her arm into the steam. In her hand were the bark shavings from a yew tree, the shed skin of an Egyptian asp, two toes of newt, and a chicken nugget. She shook her fist three times and released the ingredients into the bubbling base. She had it easy. No badger scratches for her.
Isobel, the whites of her eyes peaking from under her wrinkled eyelids, nodded and Morgen retreated to her place in the shadows.
The ten-feet distance was a hindrance. They usually joined hands for the rituals, but social distancing made it untenable. Isobel assured them that they would still be able to summon the necessary spirits, that their energy was enough, in so far that they put their hearts into it and mixed the proper elements into the grand old cauldron.
Next was Aradia’s turn. Thighs pinched together, she shimmied toward the cauldron with her handful of ingredients. Her face became illuminated and Glender marveled at the beautiful spray of warts adorning her cheeks, nose, and chin. So much beauty and power; she could have any man or woman she wanted. Glender, herself, only had one wart on her whole body and it was on her thumb. It only helped with hitchhiking.
Aradia spoke her portion quickly, “Scabble drabble nift and nimble, pouncey chowders flounder kibble, coffee moffat chocolate riddle, shifty paddle faddle fiddle.”
She waved her handful of ingredients in the steam and Glender watched as she dropped them in one-by-one: a waxy ball of bat droppings, three whiskers from a one-eyed cat, leather from a little league mitt, and a strip of red silk peeled from the tie of an aristocrat.
Glender had some extra cat whiskers at home and hoped that Aradia hadn’t gone to too much trouble to find the one-eyed cat. Of course, in a pinch a two-eyed cat could be made into a one-eyed cat. But that was also messy and usually met with an upset neighbor.
Aradia waddled back to her spot and it was now Glender’s turn.
Glender had gone over her portion of the spell so many times her eyes had temporarily uncrossed. It was a new spell for them all except to Isobel and the words had to be not only perfect but deeply felt.
As Glender approached the cauldron, she felt the heat warm her face and hands. From the lip of the rim, ancient etchings of the large pot’s provenance swirled downward. The oldest and most revered names were at the top. The first were unreadable, in languages long forgotten, letters like pictographs, swirls and eddies. Her and her sisters’ names were there too closer to the bottom, and as they passed on they would induct new witches into the winding swirl of mystical names. There was a question of what would happen when the magic cauldron ran out of space for names, but that was a conundrum for a much later generation of witches.
Glender began her part, “Ramp Raucous Caucous, Piggy Wiggy Wampus, Lockness jaundice chalk dust, puss and beetle bondage.”
And she gave a silent thank you to the toothless badger hopefully sleeping in its burrow as she dropped her ingredients into the bubbling brew: tarantula tongue, goose pimple, clam feather, san pedro cactus flower, three badger teeth, and a tablespoon of spray tan in sheepskin condom.
As her last ingredient hit the surface, a puff of orange smoke took shape before her. It resembled a howling face of troll before it evaporated into the dusk.
The spell was working.
Next would be Anne, Youngest before oldest. Glender could tell from the way Anne tip-toed to the cauldron that she was nervous. Who knows how long it had been since they had last conjured together. Glender couldn’t be sure that Anne even practiced Magick anymore. How could one find time in a modern landscape of social media apps, reality TV, and online shopping?
Anne got to the pot and lifted her handful of ingredients. Glender could see she was breathing heavily, mascara-rimmed eyes wide and plangent. She was shifting from one Converse to the other. She also wasn’t saying her part.
Isobel’s eyes unreeled from their celestial view and became daggers aimed at Anne. She hissed at her like an angry lizard and Anne jumped a little.
“Piston pants an… antlers dance…” Her hands here shaking.
“Go on!” hissed Isobel.
Morgen was probably grinning beneath her mask. She loved to see Anne reprimanded by Isobel.
Anne sucked in a breath and spat, “camphor langour bandersnatch… ummm…”
Even Glender became worried. The scratches on her legs ached and she dreaded the notion of reawakening the badger again tonight for fear it had learned new tricks. This spell was too important.
Isobel mouthed tumba and Anne’s eyes grew even wider as her short term memory apparently kicked back into gear.
“Tumba roomba brogue consuma, cassandra mantis atlantis bonanza! Yay!”
Isobel exhaled a deep sigh as Anne dropped her contribution to the simmering stew: lace from the bodice of a Danish sex worker, an olive pit spat by Vladimir Putin, the eyes of an African killer bee, a serial killer’s lip gloss, and a lock of hair from a goat’s genitals.
With the addition of these ingredients, the pot seemed to leap into a ferocious boil. It shook slightly on the iron cradle which held it over the coals generating a thrumming clanging like a phone ringing somewhere in a dungeon deep below..
Anne, immensely pleased with herself tittered back to her boulder. The smile she cast around the room, however, was not met with equanimity, especially from Aradia who may have begun to piss herself.
Regardless, the cave became immensely still as Isobel approached the clattering vat and began her portion of the spell:
“Shivering livers, bitter beginnings, bastards wither with sheepish snickers,
switches swatches pox and postures, pustules pop as puppets ponder,
the pressure, the nectar, the never, the somber sucker whose song is fettered,
fetid, festering flesh of devils indebted, disgraced and doffed, the scrapes of a scepter,”
As she spoke, she raised both her broomstick and her fist which tightly enclosed the final secret ingredient.
“A specter, specious in speech, precious enough to impeach the endless reach of greed.
The feed we’re fed, noxious trends, distraction dissembles the process to mend.”
And Isobel’s scratchy voice rose in pitch and fervor as she entered the final stanza of the mega spell which would bring an end to the current age of plague and violence.
“To meld!” she screeched, “to tighten the belt, to lighten the load for the vulgar aggrieved and bereft, we gather to clear the air, the breath, we breathe, we scream to blow off the stench!”
And on her last word she opened her fist revealing the final ingredient, the most mystic artifact of modern times, capable of such good and such evil: a Tide Pod.
The five sisters screamed as the pod fell to the boil and froth. As their voices rose and harmonized in a D minor 7 chord, the fire suddenly and completely extinguished leaving the five sisters illuminated only by the faint blue light of the coming dawn and Anne’s cell phone as she marched toward the cave’s exit.
“Finally!, God!” she said as she disappeared out into the cool morning.
The remaining four sisters chuckled and embraced.
Their work was done.
The cauldron was empty.
And it smelled like Spring Fresh Laundry.