There are many kinds of witches in the world. Elsie was a Country Witch.
She lived in a little cottage that sat in the middle of a small forest. Farms dotted the surrounding hills and nearby there was a village where Elsie sold her herbal wares. Occasionally neighbors or folks from the village would tread the shady path through the forest to her door for a particular item. For the most part, however, Elsie lived happily undisturbed.
Now, most witches have a special animal friend that is called their "familiar". Elsie’s familiar was a sleek, little black cat named Pooka.
tried his hardest to behave. He
really did! But
some days it seemed like everything he did landed him in trouble and today
was one of those days!
sat on the scrubbed wooden table in the kitchen and watched Elsie at the
stove cooking oatmeal for their breakfast.
“I hope she remembers not to put raisins in mine,” he thought. (In Pooka's opinion, raisin were only good for batting around the floor and chasing. Definitely not for eating!) Beneath his shiny fur his tummy rumbled. He was hungry!
On the table in front of him, empty bowls sat waiting along with the brown sugar and the pitcher of cream. Pooka glanced over at Elsie who had her back to him. He eyed the cream pitcher and a moment later a small black paw was dipping inside. His eyes squinted with pleasure and a purr rumbled deep in his throat as his tongue licked the buttery, sweet cream from his paw. He dipped again…
“Pooka!” Elsie had turned from the stove and caught him! Pooka, his paw deep in the pitcher, jumped at her voice. The pitcher crashed to the floor breaking into pieces, the cream flowing everywhere.
Elsie sighed and got the broom and dustpan. “That was my favorite pitcher! You know better!” she scolded.
Pooka peered over the edge of the table at the mess on the floor – and at all of that wasted cream! As the little witch began sweeping up the bits of broken crockery, he leaped down. “I’ll help,” he told her, and quickly began to lap up the spilt cream.
Elsie actually growled! Pooka slunk hastily out of the kitchen and Elsie dumped the cream coated pieces of broken pitcher into the trash. She then got a mop and began cleaning up the rest of the mess on the floor. Poking his head around the door, the little cat saw in dismay all that lovely cream getting rinsed into the mop bucket!
Elsie, turning back to the stove, cried out: “Now the oatmeal is burned!”
Burned oatmeal for breakfast! And no cream?
With one eye on Elsie, Pooka crept over to the wastebasket. Stretching on his hind legs, his little black face and shoulders disappeared inside and he began to lick the cream off the broken crockery.
Again he jumped. The wastebasket went over – its contents scattering across the flagstone floor. This time, Elsie went after him with the broom!
Ears flattened against his head, the cat bounded out of the open kitchen window (upsetting a pot of basil in his haste – he heard it crash to the ground behind him!) and fled through the garden.
He didn’t stop until he reached the edge of the garden. There he sat down and nervously began licking his fur back into place. Inside the cottage he could hear Elsie muttering to herself as she cleaned up this new mess he’d made.
Edgar, Elsie’s big black crow, swooped out of the trees and landed next to him. He cocked his head to one side and asked, “What did you do now?”
Pooka continued cleaning himself. “Nothing.”
“Cawh-cawh-cawh” came Edgar’s raspy laugh. “Right! I’ll bet you pooped in the carrot patch again!”
The cat stopped washing and raised a paw, poised to smack the annoying bird, but Edgar took to the air, still laughing.
Pooka decided to lay low for a while. He hated it when Elsie got mad at him! Luckily, she never stayed angry for long.
The day promised to be unusually warm and sunny for autumn, and the shady gold & red woods ahead looked inviting. Pooka cleaned the last remnants of cream from his whiskers, then rose, indulged in a long, luxurious stretch and trotted into the groves of trees.
He wandered around for a while, dashed up a few trees and sharpened his claws on their trunks. Finally, bored, he found a patch of sunlight and cuddled down in his yoga position, paws tucked to his chest, tail wrapped around his body, for a nice meditation.
It wasn’t long before Pooka was in deep concentration (to someone passing by it might have appeared he was sleeping) when suddenly Something fluttered past him almost grazing his nose. His eyes popped open in surprise! It looked like a butterfly. Cat instincts took over and Pooka gave chase.
He followed it around tree trunks and zigzagged through bushes until finally, leaping high over a clump of fern, he batted it in mid-air with his paw. Knocked off balance, the wings somersaulted through the air and landed in a pile of dead leaves. Pooka pounced on it. From beneath his front paws, a tiny voice demanded, “Let me go!”
Very slowly and carefully, Pooka lifted his paw. There, half buried in the leaves was a tiny female creature that looked almost human but with large, delicate wings. She rose to her feet and shook a dainty fist at his nose. “You clumsy brute!” she scolded, then turned to flutter off. But instead of flying, she gave a feeble little sidewise hop and tumbled to the ground in a heap. She stood up again and twisted around to look behind her. One of her beautiful wings dangled limp and useless.
The tiny creature stomped her foot and cried angrily, “Now look what you’ve done!” She collapsed to her knees and began to sob.
Pooka was astonished! He sat back on his haunches and blinked.
“CAWH!” As if from nowhere, Edgar landed next to him. The crows eyes glittered as studied Pooka’s find. “Can I eat it?” he trilled.
The butterfly-girl shrieked and began burrowing under the pile of leaves in a frantic effort to hide.
Pooka’s tail twitched thoughtfully. “I don’t think so.”
“Why not?” the bird asked, cocking his head to one side. “Are you going to eat it?”
“No,” Pooka replied. He considered the situation for a moment, and then said, “I’m going to take it to Elsie.”
He pawed carefully at the leaves until he unburied the creature, then quickly picked it up in his mouth and began trotting toward the cottage.
Edgar skip-hopped alongside. “Is Elsie going to eat it?”
“No!” Pooka answered out the side of his mouth, almost dropping the squirming butterfly-girl. “It’s broken. Maybe Elsie can fix it.”
At that, Edgar lost interest. He fluffed up his shiny back feathers and flew off.
The little winged creature wiggled around, half out of his mouth, her movements tickling his tongue and whiskers. “Put me down!” she demanded and then exclaimed, “Ooooh! You’re drooling on me!!! Oh, yuck!!! Cat spit! This is disgusting!”
As he neared the cottage, Pooka could hear Elsie inside. With a graceful bound he landed on a window ledge. Elsie turned from the table where she’d been bundling stalks of lavender gathered from the garden.
“What have you got there?” Elsie came closer and peered at the creature dangling from his lips. “Pooka, naughty cat! It’s a fairy! Let it go!” Pooka dropped the fairy on the ledge. She lay quite still. “Oh, Pooks, is she dead?” Elsie cried in dismay.
She picked the fairy up carefully by one of its feet. The little creature dangled limply in the air.
“It’s faking,” Pooka solemnly informed his mistress.
Suddenly the fairy came to life, flailing her tiny arms and one free leg in an effort to get away, and glaring fiercely at the cat. “You snitch! You tattletale! You squealer!”
“Careful there!” Elsie warned her. “You’ll hurt yourself further.”
The fairy quieted down but now, blowing a teensy strand of hair out of her face, she twisted around to turn her glare on Elsie.
"What happened?," the witch asked the cat, but before Pooka could answer, the fairy broke into a tirade at the top of her tiny voice.
"What happened? That nasty beastie has broken my wing - as any idiot can see! Oooh! If I only had my wand, I'd...."
"Would you like me to try and fix it?" interrupted Elsie.
The upside-down fairy folded her arms and stuck her nose out in the air. "If you think a big, clumsy people-person like you can fix something as delicate as my lovely wing, then you're not only clumsy - you are also stupid!"
Pooka narrowed his eyes at his mistress. “She’s not very polite, is she?”
Elsie smiled agreement as she set the tiny creature carefully on the wooden table.
The fairy leaped to her feet, ran to the edge and peered over at the ground below. “How am I going to get down?” she wailed. “I can’t fly!”
“I could set you on the floor,” Elsie told her. “But if you go outside, Edgar will probably want to eat you. He’s always hungry and not very fussy about what he eats,” the little witch couldn’t resist adding. The pixie's pointed little face turned slightly pale at the thought.
Speaking of food....Pooka padded across the kitchen to his bowl sitting next to the hearth. Ahhh! Elsie had put a bit of oatmeal in his bowl!
“Are you sure you don’t want me to see what I can do about that wing? I’m really quite good at that sort of thing," the witch said.
The fairy looked at Elsie dubiously, reluctant to believe her. But she did sit down again. “What did you have in mind?” she sighed.
“Well, the wing is broken. We need something we can use as a splint".
“What have you got?” asked the fairy.
“Hmmm.” Elsie looked around the kitchen. What would do? What was thin, light -weight, and yet strong enough to be a splint for a fairy’s wing? Her eyes stopped on Pooka slurping up the last of his breakfast. “What about one of Pooka's whiskers?”
“That might work,” the fairy nodded.
Pooka's head immediately popped up out of the bowl. A deep, low growl rumbled in his throat.
Elsie’s hands settled on her hips. “It's your fault, sir, that her wing is broken. Are you trying to tell me you'd begrudge this poor little fairy one of your whiskers to help fix it?"
Pooka stopped growling and thought about it. He'd never had one of his whiskers pulled out before.
“Will it hurt?” he asked plaintively.
Elsie laughed. “No, I have some that have fallen out naturally.” She went to a little jar high on a cupboard shelf and pulled it down to show him. “See? I save all your whiskers in here. We’ll use one of them!”
Pooka sighed in relief! Not that he wouldn’t have relinquished one if Elsie had insisted - but it would have helped if he actually liked the nasty little sprite.
Elsie took a long whisker out of the jar. From another jar she took a bit of white clay in her palm and spit in it to make a paste. Then, from her own head, she pulled a strand of hair.
“Will this hurt?” The fairy anxiously repeated Pooka’s earlier sentiment.
“Maybe a little. But, when we’re finished, it should feel better,” Elsie assured her.
In a few minutes the beautiful wing was supported by the whisker that was tied with the hair all held in place with the paste.
The tiny fairy looked back at it and clapped her hands in delight. “That IS better! Okay, now I’ll be off!”
Elsie hastily cupped her hand over the creature. “Wait!” she cried. “If you try to fly now, you will break the splint! You have to wait until it heals.”
The fairy peeked up from between Elsie’s fingers. “How long will that take?” she demanded. Elsie removed her hand and shrugged. “I’m not sure. I never healed a fairy before…”
The fairy plopped down on the table and gave a hefty sigh. “I suppose I’m stuck here then!”
Pooka kept an eye on the fairy as Elsie cooked supper. Before long the little kitchen was filled with the savory smell of stew. Herbed butter was set out on the table to spread over thick, warm slices of bread. But fairies are used to a very different sort of food and all this one did was complain (although she certainly ate enough!). Finally, to distract her, Elsie asked: “What's your name?”
The pixie tossed her head and replied: “Thistle.”
“Hi Thistle,” Elsie answered. “Over there is Pooka.” From his bowl by the stove, the cat narrowed his eyes at the fairy.
“And this is Edgar.” Edgar the Crow, gulping down his dinner and hiding the extra tidbits in the cushions of the chairs took no notice. “And I am Elsie."
"Elsie's a witch," Pooka added.
“A witch?” squeaked the fairy. Elsie nodded.
The little fairy was amazed - a witch living in her very woods and she never even knew it! Imagine!
night, Elsie made a bed for Thistle in a little carved wooden box lined
with soft flannel and downy feathers.
Thistle hopped in and tried to get comfortable. But no matter which
way she turned it seemed her injured wing was bumping on the edges of the
box. She peeked over the edge
and saw Elsie in her chair next to the fire reading a book.
Then she spotted Pooka stretched out on a large pillow by the warm
hearth. His eyes were shut and he was purring softly. A few moments later, Pooka was surprised to find the tiny
fairy cuddling up against his soft black tummy fur.
The cat sighed and curled himself around to keep her warm as the
fire died down.
But in the morning, Thistle was back to her rude and cranky self!
“My wing’s not better yet,” she complained.
“I told you I didn’t know how long fairies take to heal,” Elsie reminded her.
Thistle hated her oatmeal breakfast. She ate only the raisins and sipped a bit of the brown sugar-sweetened cream.
When Elsie washed the dishes, Thistle perched on her shoulder and scolded her that they weren’t rinsed enough, and as the witch swept her floors Thistle rode on the base of the broom and pointed to corners she’d missed.
After the housework was finished, there was the gardening to be done. But even there, Thistle was critical. “Why don’t you just let things GROW?” she wailed, as Elsie pulled weeds from between the vegetables. The little fairy hopped about the garden, frantically trying to re-plant the weeds. Pooka followed after, quietly digging them up again.
When Elsie began to clip and gather rose hips, the tiny creature cried from her perch on Elsie’s hat, “What are you doing? Those are next year’s seeds!”
Elsie replied patiently, “I’m gathering the hips to make into jam. Wait till you taste some. You might even like it!”
And when Elsie started pulling up last summer’s tomato plants, Thistle almost became hysterical. “Those aren’t dead! They will still grow in spring!”
Elsie explained that she’d already saved some seeds to plant next Spring and that tomato plants left in the ground don’t produce good fruit the second year, but Thistle refused to listen.
Finally Pooka clamped a paw on he fairy and growled, “If you don’t be quiet, I’ll break the other wing!”
Thistle plopped down under a pepper plant and sulked. But, for the next few hours, she had remarkably less to say!
Edgar hopped around the garden, checking for bugs. He understood that Elsie would be upset if he made a snack out of the fairy and so he ignored her. Never the less, Thistle kept out of his way!
The days turned to weeks, as they waited for the fragile wing to heal. Eventually Thistle stopped complaining about the food Elsie served. She ate the stew and biscuit crumbs without comment. Each night, Elsie tucked Thistle into her wooden box with a fairy tale, after which, she'd softly chant a peculiar rhyme made up of words the little creature had never heard before. Pooka sat in Elsie’s lap and purred through the stories. But, when Elsie climbed the wooden stairs to her bed, the cat remained behind. The fairy would climb out of her box and snuggle next him.
“Pooka, what do those words mean that Elsie says every night?” Thistle asked.
Pooka told her that Elsie was reciting an ancient healing spell to help the wing mend.
“Oh.” Thistle said in a small voice. She was beginning to think that witches must be pretty nice!
It was a few days after this that Elsie received her first visitor since the coming of Thistle.
The little fairy was perched on the back of one of the kitchen chairs, swinging her legs and watching Elsie make a fresh batch of potpourri to sell in the village. From her vantage point, she had a clear view through the window of the path leading to the witch’s front door. Suddenly she jumped up, teetering excitedly on the top of the chair: “Elsie, a human people-person is coming!”
Elsie moved to look out the window and saw a plump cheeked, elderly woman in long skirts waddling toward the cottage. “That’s Mrs. Frazier. She’ll be coming to get ointment for her husband’s hands. Thistle, I think you’d better hide.”
“Why?” Thistle asked. Since meeting Elsie, she had developed an intense curiosity about humans. “Who’s Mrs. Frazier? Doesn’t she like fairies?”
“It’s not that,” Elsie said. “She probably doesn’t even believe in them.”
Thistle was outraged! “What?” she exclaimed, her one good wing fluttering in agitation. “I'm right here. How can she not believe in fairies?”
Elsie tried to soothe her, “Thistle, grownups can be pretty strange about things like fairies. If she saw you, she'd probably faint dead away. Now, hide!”
“But I never saw a people-person faint before!” Thistle protested.
Mrs. Frazier was by now knocking firmly on the cottage door. “Thistle, HIDE!”
“But where?” Thistle’s tiny hands fluttered in the air. Elsie snatched the fairy up (being careful of her wing) and lifting the lid of the sugar bowl sitting on the table, stuffed her inside. “Don’t make a sound!” she admonished. She popped the lid back on. Then, after smoothing her apron and adjusting her hat, she opened the door and pasted a smile on her face.
“Hello, Mrs. Frazier.”
"Hello, dear." The elderly woman swept into the kitchen and seated herself at the table.
“Would you like some tea?” Elsie offered automatically, then caught her breath in dismay! Mrs. Frazier, she recalled, took cream and sugar!
“No time today, Elsie,” the old woman answered and the little witch exhaled in relief!
“I’ll be needing some ointment for my poor man’s hands,” Mrs. Frazier told her. “He’s been out fixing fences again and they’re cracked and dry as can be! Must be the weather.” And she shook her gray head.
“I’ll get it for you directly,” Elsie promised and then her eyes widened as she saw the lid on the sugar bowl rise about an inch. She slapped her hand on the top, clamping the lid down firmly. “Will there be anything else?” she smiled.
Mrs. Frazier eyed Elsie’s fingers gripped around the sugar bowl. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Fit as a fiddle!” Elsie informed her brightly, keeping her hand on the bowl.
“Well, as long as I’m here, how about some of that elder flower and rose petal lotion? I tell you, child, that stuff works wonders on the complexion!” and Mrs. Frazier patted her soft, plump, wrinkled cheeks happily.
“I’ll get it for you!” Elsie replied nervously. The lid to the sugar bowl was pressing up against her palm. She pushed down harder. “Anything else?”
“No, that will be all.” Mrs. Frazier settled herself more comfortably in the chair. “I’ll wait for you here.”
“Poopy Pentagrams!” Elsie swore under her breath. Aloud, she said, “I won’t be but a moment, Mrs. Frazier!” She gave the sugar bowl lid a twist under her hand to emphasize to Thistle that it must stay in place and raced off to fill her customer’s order.
Inside the bowl, Thistle fumed. One tiny peek! Was that asking too much? Slowly, ever so slowly… she raised the lid on the sugar bowl – and found herself nose to nose with Mrs. Frazier who was also lifting the lid and peering in at her!
Moments later, Elsie rushed back into the kitchen carrying the ointment and lotion.
“Thank you, dear," said Mrs. Frazier. "Did you know there's a fairy in your sugar bowl?”
The first snow fell and Edgar was moved inside. “Ach!” Thistle cried. “The bird shall eat me!”
Edgar gave her a look that said, “Toots, you wouldn’t even taste good with ketchup!” After eating the dinner Elsie made for him (some of which he hid around the kitchen), the crow settled his feathers to sleep on the perch that the witch had assembled and brought inside every winter for just that purpose. After that, Thistle grew slightly less fearful of the big black bird.
She grew accustomed to Elsie’s less-than-spotless housekeeping and even began to help by dusting the tiny crevices that the witch couldn't reach.
Pooka, digging in the leaves where he’d found Thistle, had unearthed her wand and returned it to her. Using the wand, she would sprinkle her “pixie dust” on the biscuits and dumplings to make them extra light and fluffy – much more to a fairy’s liking!
Yule season came and Elsie baked for days; gingerbread men, molasses cookies and mince pies. A little potted evergreen tree lit with candles and decorated with gilded pinecones, stars, and ornaments sparkled in one corner of the cottage. “What’s this for?” asked Thistle on the night they had put it there. She was sipping thimble full of warm spiced cider.
Elsie said, ”It’s for the Winter Solstice. The Sun is born and we celebrate the Presence of Life even in the middle of winter.”
“Oh yes!” exclaimed the tiny fairy. “There’s always Life everywhere!” Then, to everyone’s surprise, and with a great deal of uncertain wobbling that made Elsie want to cover her eyes, Thistle managed to fly up and add a glittering star to the very top of the tree. Elsie applauded and Pooka leaped into the air. Even Edgar cawed his approval at this sign that Thistle's wing was actually healing!
The following morning everyone rushed into the parlor to receive their presents. For Pooka, there was a catnip mouse. Edgar quickly found his bright shining bauble. For Thistle, there was a twig bed complete with a canopy of delicate, lacy skeleton leaves and dried flowers. On it rested a mattress of downy feathers, a warm flannel blanket and a tiny pillow stuffed with soft dried moss. The little fairy was delighted!
Finally the day
came when the clay patch fell off of Thistle’s wing. Elsie decided the splint was no longer needed.
The fairy remained careful for a few weeks - experimenting with
short flights across the kitchen and building the strength back in her
One morning when Pooka and Elsie were away shopping in the village, she discovered she could fly all the way up the stairs! And there she discovered Elsie’s bedroom!
On the bed lay a colorful patchwork quilt embroidered with runes, spirals, moons and pentagrams. Beside the bed was a tall stack of books. Thistle flitted over and read the titles: “Spells for Healing”, “The History of Broom", “Planting by the Moon”…all boring stuff! Not a single Fairy Tale!
On the opposite side of the room stood a little mirrored dressing table. The lace doily on its surface was covered with intriguing jars and bottles. She flew over to investigate and there discovered wonderful things to thrill a little fairy’s heart!
“Rose Petal Lotion”. “Violet Cologne”. “Chamomile Face Cream”. "Lavender Powder". There were so many! She dipped into each one, sampling, experimenting -- and spilling quite a few!
She just was just dabbing some “ Elderflower Deodorant” under her tiny armpits when she heard the front door to the cottage slam shut. At that moment, the thought occurred in her feckless fairy head that maybe, just maybe she shouldn’t be helping herself to Elsie’s toiletries! Thistle quickly flew out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the parlor.
She darted hurriedly around before finally settling on a bookshelf just seconds before Elsie came in, followed by Pooka. In the witch’s hand was a bucket of bees wax and she was saying; “Now we can get started on the candles for Imbolc...” Pooka purred and rubbed around Elsie’s ankles. Thistle yawned nonchalantly and leaned back against a book.
But that night when Elsie headed up the stairs to bed, Thistle remembered the telltale mess she'd left in the witch's room. She flew to the stairs and hovered, trying to block Elsie’s ascent. ”Oh, Elsie!” she cried, “It's early! You don't need to go to bed yet!"
”This is the time I usually go to bed,” Elsie said, her brows rising in question.
“Read me another story first” pleaded Thistle as she fluttered in front of Elsie’s face.
Pooka, following up the steps behind Elsie, slid past them growling with suspicion.
“Thistle?” he asked. “What are you up to? Why don’t you want Elsie to go upstairs?”
Thistle really felt worried now! Elsie had been so good to her! To go pawing through her personal things was unforgivable!
By now, Pooka had reached the bedroom. He took one look and glanced back at Elsie. "I didn't do it," he said, secretly glad that, for once, he wasn't the one in trouble.
The witch rushed to his side and peeked in the room. She saw the perfume bottles spilled, jars tipped on their sides and little globs of lotion here and there. The entire dresser was coated with powder. Elsie exploded with laughter!
Thistle flew backwards in surprise. "You aren’t mad?”
“Oh My Stars!” chuckled Elsie. “I thought from the way you acted that it was something horrible…much worse than a little spilled perfume or powder! This is normal Fairy stuff! But Thistle,” Elsie grew serious, cupping the little fairy in her hands, ”now that you are strong enough to fly up the stairs …well… Her voice trailed off before she added, “Do you know what it means?”
At first Thistle was bewildered, and then it dawned on her. She danced in Elsie’s palm, clapping her hands.
“Yes! Yes! My wing is well!” It had happened so gradually, that she hadn't even realized it.
Elsie nodded, adding, "And that means you're ready to go back to your own home in the forest."
The next morning after breakfast they all gathered in the garden. Thistle was unusually quiet.
will miss you, Elsie,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around one of
Elsie’s fingers and hugging it tightly.
“I’ll miss you too, little sprite!”
Suddenly Thistle broke into a radiant smile. “I know!” she cried. “I will come back to visit you – and I will bring all of my friends!”
Elsie chuckled at the thought of dozens of little Thistles visiting her at once!
“Goodbye, Elsie!” sighed the fairy, patting the witch's cheek. She flew over to Pooka and snuggled his neck. “Goodbye Pooka!” The cat mrrrowed softly. He was surprised to realize he was going to miss the bossy little pixie!
She kept her distance from the crow and gave him a little wave. "Goodbye, Edgar - and remember! No eating fairies!" Edgar cawed and she hoped that meant he wouldn't forget.
Then Thistle launched herself into the air and fluttered off over the trees. “Goodbye!” her tiny voice floated back to them.
Pooka sat down and began to furiously wash his tail in an effort to hide his sadness. “She sure was in a rush to leave,” he grumbled.
Elsie scooped the little cat into her arms, stroking his head until she felt him relax. “Pooka, the forest is where she belongs." Pooka butted his head under her chin and purred. He knew Elsie was right, but he couldn’t help wondering… Would Thistle forget all about them or would she really be back?
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