Which Witch Wood





It was deep and dark in the Witch Wood and Maryam and Innis had been told by everyone that they should never go there but, as usual, they didn’t listen.

‘Where are we?’ asked Maryam, looking around her and seeing only gnarled, old and blackened trees. The trees curled the air with their branches above them, almost blotting out the sky, like giant overshadowing hands that were about to reach down to the ground and pluck them from the earth.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Innis, ‘I tied the end of this reel of cotton around the first tree. All we have to do is follow it back.’

They set off following the length of cotton as it wound around tree after tree and was caught on snaggly, prickly bush after snaggly, prickly bush.

‘I don’t remember coming this far,’ said Maryam, after an hour had passed.

‘Neither do I,’ said Innis, ‘I’ve already wrapped more cotton around my reel than I started with!’

‘It must be Magic!’ said Maryam, ‘I’m frightened and I want to go home.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Innis, ‘Look!’ and he pointed through the closely-pressing trees to a small clearing, ‘There’s a light. We can ask the way home if there’s someone there.’

‘What if it is the Witch?’ asked Maryam.

‘Don’t be silly,’ said Innis, ‘There are no such things as witches.’

They wove their way amongst the gnarled old trees, and the snaggly, prickly bushes until they came to a small clearing.

To one side of the clearing was a large, dark hole formed between two enormous rocks. The light they had seen came from a fire that was burning cheerily in the mouth of that cave. On a log beside the fire sat an old, but kindly-looking, woman, stroking a large black cat. The children were very glad to see her. She smiled at them as they walked across the clearing,

‘Welcome, My Dearies,’ she said. She waved at them to sit on the log beside her, ‘And what are you doing out in the Wild Witch Wood today?’

‘We’re lost,’ said Maryam, ‘and we hoped you could tell us the way home.’

‘Which way would you like to go?’ asked the old lady, throwing a bat’s eye and a toad’s ear into the stew in a pan on the fire.

‘Which way is it?’ asked Innis.

‘Whichever way you’d like, My Dearies,’ said the old lady.

‘Yes,’ said Maryam, ‘but which way?’

‘Ah!,’ said the old woman, ‘You want the Witch Way!’ and she leapt up from the log and turned so swiftly in the air that a small whirlwind started around her, sending all the dust in the clearing into the fire and from there up into the air in a spinning spiral tower that descended to earth in a sparkling shower around them until… there before them… stood a Witch, the like of which, they had only ever heard.

Her hair was long and matted and hung from underneath her Witches hat as snaggly and prickly as the bushes around the clearing. Her face, once kindly and old, was now a snarling mask of uneven teeth and large red blotchy spots that oozed yellow stuff all down her chin. Her nose was long and hooked and covered with clumps of dark, bristly hairs. Her back was bent and twisted and gnarled as the trees in which Innis and Maryam had become lost and her cloak was as black as the night that was fast approaching.
With a loud ‘Yoowwwl,’ the cat jumped up and sat on her shoulder, glowering at the children.

‘I want to go!’ shouted Maryam.

‘And so you shall, My Dear,’ said the Witch, ‘But not home. Into my cave you shall go until I find a use for you!’

With a wave of her hand the children found themselves lifted from their feet and dropped carelessly into the mouth of the cave. Innis got to his feet and tried to run but there was an invisible wall across the cave mouth that he could not break through, try as he might. The cat stalked backwards and forwards across the clearing, as if guarding them from escape. The Witch turned around once, anticlockwise, and slowly turned back into the kindly old lady. She sat down on the log again and continued to place things into the stew.

‘Come on,’ said Maryam to Innis, ‘Let us look in the back of the cave to see if there is anything that will help us escape.’ They walked on into the cave, barely able to see by the faint light cast from the fire outside until..

‘Look!’ said Innis, ‘A book.’

On a shelf carved into the rock many, many years ago, there was a large leather-bound book. Innis stretched up and reached it down. It was so heavy that they placed it on the floor to read. The pages had no numbers but in the top corner of each page there was a diagram of a pattern of stars, and each one was different. The words were plain to read but they were jumbled up in a way that made no sense at all to the children.

‘This is no help,’ said Innis, ‘It’s not thick enough to stand on to get over the invisible wall and it’s too heavy to throw.’ He closed the book with a sudden snap.

‘Let me see that,’ said Maryam. She turned the book around to read what it said on the cover,

‘Look here!’ she pointed at the front cover, ‘It says “Grimoire”. That means it’s a Book of Spells! I wonder if there’s one that will get us out of here?’....


...To read this story in full, contact me at childrens@billallerton.co.uk