Once there was a witch. A very small witch. A very small witch with a very big nose. The witch was very embarrassed about her nose, and if anyone said, “oh, what a big nose you have!” she would turn them into a frog or worse.
The witch’s name was Buttercup, and she was embarrassed about that too. I mean, other witches had names like Drusilla the Bad, or The Dark Witch of the North, or Bechamel the Custard Witch Who Lives in the Next Village Under a Cow. No, really, that was her real name: Bechamel the Custard Witch Who Lives in the Next Village Under a Cow. Someone once called her Cow for short, but they too were soon sitting on a lily pad in a pond going croak.
But Buttercup was just Buttercup, though her dad, the wizard called Windy-Poop, called her Buttercup the Small. At least he didn’t mention her nose. His nose was even bigger!
Buttercup the Small had been a witch for as long as she could remember, and maybe even longer. When she was tiny, she didn’t want to be a witch. Her mother, Willow the Twig, was a dryad, a kind of imp, and was the most wonderful baker. She cooked buns with fairy dust that sparkled and tickled when you ate them. She made knotted bread that would magically re-knot itself if you tried to untangle it. She made onion bread that would burst into tears when you sliced it up. And she made pink and purple unicorn bread that had a big horn sticking out of the top and would gallop up and down the dining table.
Yes, Buttercup had wanted to be a baker. But when she was very ever-so-small, so small she could hardly remember being quite so weenie, each time she tried to bake something, it would either blow up in great clouds of red smoke or turn a sickly green and hop-hoppity-hop into the nearest pond, croaking like a frog and smelling disgusting! By the time she was a little bit older than very small, it was clear she would never be a baker. Her dad bought her a half-sized broomstick and a small, soft, pointy hat (bright pink with little stars all over it) and declared: “Our girl is going to be a witch.”
So, a witch she had become.
That was a long time ago. When she was old enough to live on her own, her parents gave her a thatched cottage in a wood near the village of Piggy-Wallow, and retired to New Zealand, which is just a bit right of Australia.
Like most witches, Buttercup wasn’t a bad person. Most of her magic was used to help people who had the sneezes or couldn’t stop farting! She made a lot of potions for granddads, who could smell a bit sometimes. She made the odd love-potion for girls and boys who wanted other boys or girls to fall in love with them, but she made them very weak, so they didn’t work very well. Putting something in someone’s fizzy-pop so they fall in love with you really isn’t very nice, and Buttercup thought love was too special to use magic on. She was also very good at bandaging up cuts and bruises, and she magicked up the most amazing lemonade that would change colour when you drank it. Sometimes it would turn bright pink (Buttercup was fond of pink) or sometimes it would turn the colour of snot!
She was most famous for her fireworks. On All Hallows Eve, which we call Halloween, she made wonderful fireworks that danced across the village, driving away the evil dark spirits who lived in the caves and under the bridges.
But Buttercup was a witch, and they are not always nice. All witches can do horrible spells, in exactly the same way as they can do really lovely spells. But though she had threatened to turn people into frogs when they got all snarky about her nose, she had never actually done it. She once made a little girl burp like an elephant for a whole week when the girl had been mean to her Gran, but she had felt guilty about it for months.
Buttercup had a good heart, and though she wore black like other witches, it often had bits of pink in it too.
But this is meant to be a story about a bear. So, on with the tale.
All Hallows Eve was the most important night of the year after the harvest feast. It was when all the fields had been ploughed ready for the winter, and the people of Piggy-Wallow had stored all the wonderful food they had grown over the summer, so they could eat well all through the cold and the snow.
But it was also a time of spirits; good spirits and bad spirits. The grand feast the villagers held as the sun sank slowly over the hills, invited the good spirits into the village. The light-blue, glowing-green, and golden ghosts would fly through the barns and the houses, and they would spin and dance with the people as they frolicked around the huge fire in the village square. The people of the village, the women and the men, the girls and the boys, would make decorations from knots of wheat, from torn paper, and from hard, salted biscuits. And these were hung from the trees and from willow posts on top of which burnt bright flaming torches.
But as the darkness fell, the bad spirits would try to invade the feast. They wanted to turn the cider into vinegar, make the cakes go mouldy, make all the babies cry, and the old men hic-cough. They were the dark shadows, the grey, sticky mists, the cackling laughter that echoes through the trees during storms. They only lived to spoil the fun of the people of the land, and this was their night! But if the villagers could keep them away until midnight when the village bell struck, they would be safe.
So, Buttercup would light her fireworks. They would whoosh into the air, and burst open like beautiful flowers, crackling and popping like a warm spring breeze blowing through dry grass. The dancers would carry sparklers to drive back the shadows from every corner of the village as they danced in lines, twisting and turning along the lanes and through the cottages. In through the front, out through the back into the gardens they would dance, then in through the back and out through the front into the lane. And as the girls danced and wheeled, their dresses flying high and their pigtails spinning around their heads, so the boys threw crackers into the drains and the potholes and the hollows, bringing light and laughter to the darkest holes.
All through the evening they danced and sang, the beautiful ghosts of the good spirits twirling through the lines. And they drove back the bad spirits, the mean and greedy ghosts until the clock struck twelve!
At the first strike the dark ghosts shuddered.
At the second strike of the hour, they cried and wailed.
Bong! Bong! Bong! Each strike of the bell in the village tower rang out through the darkness, bringing the night of the dark shadows to an end, and driving them back to the forests and mountains.
Buttercup yawned as she pulled her little cart along the dark lanes. It had been a long day, and a long week. The village had grown over the year and she had never made so many fireworks before. No one ever helped her. It was the curse of being a witch. When people needed her, she never turned them away, but once she had helped them, they would pay her a few coins or give her food, and trot back to their homes as quickly as possible. People feared witches, even good ones.
The witch scratched her big nose and sniffed. It had to be two o’clock in the morning! It smelt like two o’clock. It was certainly dark, and the moon had gone to bed early.
“Oh, drat it!” exclaimed Buttercup. “Trust that pesky moon to go hiding itself just when I could do with the extra light!” She tut-tutted, put down the shafts of her little cart, and waved her hands in front of her.
Spirits of the water bright,
Give me now a guiding light,
That I may follow as I roam,
My weary way to my little home.
As she spoke the words, a pale blue mist rose up from the ditch by the lane. It curled and twisted like a young ballerina. Then settled in front of her and from it’s middle, around where it’s tummy might have been, grew a sparkling blue light. It raised up till it was floating in front of Buttercup, lighting the lane all around.
Buttercup bowed to the water spirit, who bowed back.
“Thank you, my friend, for lighting my way,” said the witch. “I will send your child home once I reach mine!” For indeed, the cute little light was the spirit’s youngest child. The spirit bowed once again and disappeared in a puff of … well, Buttercup wasn’t quite sure what it was a puff of, but it did smell a little like the ditch.
“Come on then, young one!” said Buttercup, and the bright light danced and jigged in the air, just like a happy child, and lit the path all the way back to the woods and the cottage. And then, with a final pirouette, the spirit child shot into the sky and flew back to its mother.
Buttercup closed the door firmly behind her, and with a tap of her hazel wand, sent a little flame dancing around the room. First, it lit a lamp, then it lit three little candles, zip-zip-zip, and then, flicking its naughty, fiery tail, it dived into the fireplace, and the logs roared into life.
“Ah, good,” said Buttercup to a stuffed owl that sat silent on a wooden beam. “Time for my tea. Then, I can rest my bones in my comfy-chair till I fall asleep. What say you, Mr Owl?”
The stuffed owl, who hadn’t been a living owl for several generations of Buttercup’s family, winked, and went back to sleep. Buttercup boiled up her metal pot, put in three big spoons of her favourite raspberry tea, and ten spoons of sugar! Then, she sat on her comfy-chair and put her feet up on a wooden carving of a cat.
“Grrr!” growled the wooden cat and gave her the evil eye. It was the downside of being a witch; you had to put up with all kinds of things that shouldn’t breathe, speak, or dance around, doing exactly that. It had taken her months to teach her comfy-chair to sit still. The comfy-chair wriggled gently beneath her.
“Oh, hush now, chair-thing,” she said, giggling. “Just going to close my eyes for a few winks.”
The chair reached up, took the teacup from the little witch, and put it on the table as she fell asleep and began to snore sweetly.
“What?” Buttercup blinked, trying to wake up.
The cottage shuddered, and the door rattled.
“Who is banging on my door at this silly time!” said the witch, leaping out of the chair.
“Alright, alright! You will knock it off it’s hinges!” she shouted. “Now, who is knocking?”
She put her ear to the door waiting for the answer, but all she heard was a soft, deep breath!
“I said, who are you?” she demanded again.
A quiet scratching sound came from the other side of the door, the sound of a huge claw dragging across the wood.
“Let me in!” came a deep, growly voice.
“I don’t let no one in who don’t give me their name,” answered Buttercup, feeling rather worried.
The scratch came again. “Let me in!” insisted the voice. “It is cold, and I would sit by your fire.”
“It ain’t that cold!” said Buttercup. “Now, who are you?”
“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know!”
The door shook and knocked the small witch across the room and onto her bum!
“Well, that wasn’t very nice!” she muttered. “Bang all you want, stranger, but my father built that door, and it can suffer a bit of bashing!”
This was beginning to get scary. A witch is a witch, but whoever this was, really didn’t care. Buttercup waved her hands in front of her.
Spirits of wood and stone
Who guard my merry home,
Teach me your secret law,
So I may see through my door.
A dark mist formed around her hands then wafted across the room and spread over the thick cottage door. Slowly, by magic, the wood became thinner and thinner, turning into glass, and revealed the visitor. A bear!
“A talking bear,” said Buttercup, raising a bushy eyebrow. “That is not normal.”
Of course, although the witch could see the bear, the bear could not see the witch. He saw only the wooden door. The spell vanished, and the witch took a breath.
“Stranger,” she shouted. “Why are you here?”
“I saw your light,” he growled. “And the smoke from your fire. I would share it with you.”
“And why should I let you in?” asked Buttercup. “I don’t know you. You might want to hurt me!”
Buttercup jumped. That was the shuttered window. The bear had moved.
“I will not let you in,” she said, her voice quavering!
“Let me in, witch!”
“I will not let you in, Mr Bear,” said Buttercup.
THUMP… THUMP… THUMP!
The small witch looked up. The beast was on the roof!
CREAK! THUMP… THUMP… THUMP! CREAK! GROAN!
She could see the roof beams bending as the huge monster of a bear crawled over the wooden tiles.
“Let me in, witch. I will not harm thee!”
“I don’t believe you!” snapped Buttercup. “You ain’t no ordinary bear. They don’t talk and will do anything for a fish. You haven’t even asked for one.”
“Let … me … in!” growled the bear, scraping his huge claws over the moss of the roof. The wooden slats rattled, and the dust floated down, covering the stuffed owl. It blinked its eyes open and shook its wings.
“Let … me … in!” growled the bear again, leaping from the roof and banging on the shutters!
“Let … me … in!” And once again, the bear thumped on the door.
“Oh, dark spirit,” said Buttercup. “For a dark spirit you must be. Not a bear, but a shadow, and a shadow I am fearful of!”
“Let … me … in!” The bear was getting repetitive.
“It will do you no good, spirit bear! This cottage was built by my father, the Wizard Windy-Poop. And he put spells on the doors and windows. No one can come in who I don’t wants to come in!”
“Your spells are nothing to me, witch!” snapped the bear. And he heaved himself against the thick oak door, bending it inwards.
“Well, spirit you definitely are then, and a strong one at that.” Buttercup realised that the door and the spells might not stop this powerful, evil, beast.
“Let … me … in!”
CRASH! THUMP! CRACK!
The witch leapt back as the door began to split! And through the crack, the bear pushed a claw, running it down from top to bottom as the door creaked and squeaked and squealed and screeched and opened!
Fathers of my family,
Hear my call,
As a dreaded spirit
Breaks my walls!
Buttercup pulled on her pointed hat, grabbed her broomstick, and pointed it at the door.
Give me fire
In my hands,
To drive this spirit
From these lands.
And when he enters
Through my door,
Let him then live
Upon my floor!
The great oak door split clean in two, and, with a roar, the bear leapt into the room. He lifted himself to his full height. Ten feet tall he stood, and his head and shoulders were between the beams and into the roof! He looked down at the small witch and licked his lips.
“And now, little witch, I will feast upon your bones!”
But just as he reached down with his huge paws, a mighty explosion erupted from the broomstick, and a beautiful light flooded out through every window, every crack, every mousehole, lighting the whole wood!
Just after dawn, as the sun rose above the autumnal wood, two young girls knocked at the cottage door, shaking a little.
“Come on in, girls,” called Buttercup. “I am just sweeping up.”
The little blond girls timidly pushed the door open a crack and popped their noses around.
“Excuse me,” said the bigger girl, whose name was Poppy. “Our mummy sent us to give you a pie.”
“A pie?” asked Buttercup, grinning broadly, and wiping her dusty hands clean on her apron.
“A piggy-pie,” said the younger girl sweetly, whose name was Honey. “We made it special,” said the girl.
“Well, come on in,” said Buttercup. “Would you like some lemonade?”
Poppy looked a little suspicious. “Is it the snot-coloured one?” she asked.
“No! It is the nice pink and blue one.”
“Yes please then,” said the two girls together.
“Well, sit yourselves down, girls, in front of the fire, on my lovely new furry rug!”
“It’s a very big rug,” said Honey, sitting on the thick black fur, stroking it with her hand, and giggling as it tickled her fingers.
“It is, isn’t it!” exclaimed Buttercup the Small. “But it came from a very big bear!”