Winning Stories - Henrietta Branford Writing Competition 2019


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The Branford Boase Award for


A Bad Spell

by Alice Rose Jennings, aged 16 years, Malton, North Yorkshire


The map had led us to an old wall dressed in ivy. I reached through the leaves till I was touching the bricks and felt my way sideways. The wall continued three paces then changed from the rough touch of fired sand to the smooth damp texture of rotting wood. We pulled the evergreen curtain aside. Beneath it was a hidden door. I grabbed the heavy iron ring handle that was riveted to the ancient wood and twisted it with both hands, hoping the door would open.

It wouldn’t budge.

“Leave off, I’ll do it,” Mia said. She spat on both hands.

I winced. “Do you always have to do that?”

“Yes,” she answered simply, then took a few steps back in preparation for a run up. With a charge accompanied by a fierce war cry, she made straight for the door, which happened to be opened from the inside at the same moment, meaning that Mia kept going until she crashed into something.

“Ouch,” Mia’s voice muttered from the room’s shadowy depths.

“Can I help you?” A woman’s voiced asked me, completely ignoring the chaos behind her.

I looked up into a pale, chubby face; bordered with yellowy gold hair that seemed to spew out in all directions on her head. A wide smile pinched a dimple on either cheek, and her eyes twinkled with an amazing amber colour – as if someone had poured golden syrup around her pupils.

“You’ve got amazing eyes,” I said.

A blush seeped into the woman’s cheeks. “Oh, I’m glad you like them! I put these in fresh this morning. Do come in!”

She opened the door wider for me.

I shared a worried look with Mia, who was rubbing her shoulder and struggling to her feet. Bits of glass and strange blue liquid covered the floor beneath her. As I watched, the liquid started to bubble and froth.

“Erm…” I wrenched my gaze from the floor and dragged it back to the chubby, kind face. “We – my sister and I – were hoping for a private conference with The Witch?”

“Oh?” The woman’s amber eyes suddenly looked concerned. “You’re awfully young to start buying ‘spells’, aren’t you?”

I swallowed. “Nevertheless, we must see her. Is she in?”

The woman tut-tutted. “Well, I’ll have to check. She normally only takes pre-booked appointments, you see.”

“Please - it’s important,” I said, deliberately making my eyes go wide and misty in the way that normally gets grown-ups of cooing and chuckling.

She cooed and chuckled.

“You wait here… I’ll see what I can do.”

She waddled off through a small doorway to my right, and left Mia and I to our own devices. Which was a big mistake…

“Quick! Grab the potions!” Mia whispered, making for a stack of shelves by a large, open fireplace. On them were rows and rows of bottles, each a uniquely vibrant colour and labelled with disturbing names… like ‘Toenail Extension Liquid’ and ‘Constipation Relief’.

The whole atmosphere was disturbingly shadowy, with a big bubbling cauldron over the fire and a sleepy-looking black cat sitting in front of it. Copious amounts of brooms hung from the walls, as if they were stag-heads and antlers in a hunter’s lodge.

The cat swished its tail at me.

“Hurry up! We haven’t got all day. Which do you think will sell for more – ‘Beauty Divine’ or ‘Clever-clogs’?” Mia turned to me, her arms full of bottles that chinked and rang like bells.

“Definitely ‘Beauty Divine’. Nobody cares about being smart these days,” I said.

Mia nodded, and returned to work.

I sighed and started to mull over which broom to take. There was a particularly old-looking one over the fire - at least sixteenth century at my guess. Question was: how to get it down? I looked around for ideas, and for some reason my gaze fell upon the black cat. I looked long and hard into its large, green eyes, and had the strangest sensation of sinking into them. They were like pools, inviting you in for a swim. The bewitching power of them must have been what did it… for I found myself asking it a favour.

“Cat, will you fetch the broom for me?”

To my shock, it reluctantly got to its feet; flexed its large, claw-tipped toes and hopped gracefully on to the mantle-piece above the fire.

“Are you mad?” Mia demanded, holding back snorty laughter.

I ignored her. The cat purred so loudly that I could feel the vibration in the floorboards beneath me. With a swish of its tail, it rubbed up against the bottom of the broom, arching its back as it did so to push it upwards. The broom toppled and fell off the mantelpiece – straight into my outstretched arms.

The cat winked at me lazily.

“I’m sorry children…” we all jumped at the sound of the woman returning. “I can’t find her anywhere…”

She looked at the scene around her. Mia had stripped whole shelves bare, and had a suspiciously fat sack swung over one shoulder. I was guiltily holding the broom in my hands… then her gaze fell on the cat that was still sitting on the mantelpiece.

“Oh! There you are, madam! I’ve been looking for you,” she said with a curtsy. “These two have come for a spell. I know you like people to pre-book appointments normally, but they looked so desperate - I just had to let them in.”

The sack fell from Mia’s grasp with an almighty crash.

We both looked up at the cat over our heads. Its little black face suddenly broke out into a wide, toothy grin and it winked at me again.

“Don’t worry, Felicia,” it purred. The cat’s voice was dark and velvety smooth. “They were just leaving...”

“Oh?” Felicia asked disappointedly.

Mia nodded so quickly that her face blurred.

“Yes, Madam. We’ll be on our way…” I dropped the broom and started to back towards the door. Mia followed close behind. “We’re dreadfully sorry, Witch – no harm meant…”

“Stop squeaking!” The cat snapped. “You remind me of mice.”


The cat smiled even wider.

Its insinuation slowly sunk in… “Mia – RUN!!”

It was too late. Our bodies seemed to collapse inwards as our size shrunk down, and I felt a tail sprout from my bottom. Apparently a mouse’s heartbeat can thump up to 840 times a minute - I think mine was over 1000 as the witch took chase…

Yosuf Ali  |  Amelia Barwick  |  Elisabeth Goldsmith  |  Alice Rose Jennings  |  
Sara Mazilu and Salam Rajab |  Wilf Squibb

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