The boom and thwack of the front door she knew was bolted, the scuffling of shoes that weren’t hers, the crash of the frame that so carefully housed her dead husband’s first love letter did not scare willful witch, Deirdre, now in her second century. “How dare you, whoever you are! Out!” she yelled, her voice rising to squeeze curdled words through a burlap throat. “Go away, I tell you. Leave me be!”
The intruder laughed. “And what will you do if I don’t? You can’t even see me, you old hag.” Feeling invisible, the thief helped herself to Deirdre’s drawer full of crystals, her pouch of coins, and her potion shelf all the while warbling a song the locals sang at solstice celebrations, full moons, and weddings. The tone suggested this housebreaker was no crone. Scabrous, shrill, and shallow this voice likely had pierced the air of no more than ninety harvest seasons.
The singing, the banging, clinking, thuds, and scrapes cued Deirdre to exactly where in the room the burglar was rifling. Without her glasses, Deirdre was feeling a bit like a corpse in a fog and reached for her wand instead of her walking stick, but as fate and force would have it, that was the right move. If she could have seen the rude fiend perfectly, she could not have made better work of it. Facing the thief’s direction, she whispered, “A curse on thee to leave me be. May your spiteful gall wane weak and small.”
She released a puff of magic, and a bolt rendered the invader a three-legged field mouse. If she squinted, Deirdre could just about make out the slight, shadow-colored form scurrying in circles, squeaking in panic. She patted a nearby tabletop for her glasses and put them on. “See there. You got what’s coming to you.” Then, her loyal cat, Jamais Vu, took over. Deirdre could tell by the smacking, scratching, chewing, and snapping that Jamais Vu was now enjoying a rich dinner.
Outside Deirdre’s window, Arlynn stood in the after-dusk and mumbled, “Needles and pins! A curse on her and still I cannot get the better of this woman.” After a covey of dawns and so many midnights, Arlynn remained a bitter and jealous sorceress, and damage done was not enough. As suns set and moons rose, she cast spells and inflictions on Deirdre, and this night’s intruder was just one of many. With patient evil, still Arlynn worked to manifest her desire: that she would win the one thing Deirdre owned and magic could not tempt. Yet none of her ill intentions had come to fruition. Since using magic to murder would abolish her powers of enchantment, Arlynn decided long ago not to kill her outright and played other means to rid her. Should Deirdre succumb to illness or even death as a result, so mote it be. And when the moon appeared on the eve Deirdre was present no more, Arlynn would have her way. Again, Arlynn slipped into the night cloaked in defeat. While fading into the dark, already she tumbled plans and conjured ideas for the next curse to cast upon Dierdre—to wrong, weaken, or worse. Arlynn looked back one last time before disappearing and saw the cat watching her through the windowpane, his back in a hump, his teeth bared.
Inside the cottage, quite returned. Deirdre winked at her cat. “We can take care of ourselves, you and me.” She nodded. “What would I have done, Jamais, if you hadn’t come to me after I lost my husband?” Jamais Vu made a sorrowful sound.
With a broken heart, Deirdre maintained the day-to-day she was accustomed to while her husband was alive. She cared for their cottage. She gathered herbs. She helped heal a neighbor, set a young one on the right path, open blind eyes to true love. But the day-to-day was only that now. Without her true love, her husband, joy was scarce. He was a far descendant of the Crown of Gwynedd and known as a Count, not that his status meant a hill of hyssop to her. She had fallen under the spell of his dark hair, gentle demeanor, and romantic nature. That he treated her like the most beautiful witch in this world or the next was the bubble in the brew. They were madly in love for all of the one-hundred-plus years they were together.
Deirdre reached for her cane. Her fingertips found its gnarled surface, and she commanded it, “Come now.” It rose and snuggled into her palm. She steadied herself then tapped the cane in front of her, its form awry, bent, contorted, not unlike her hands. With small steps, she doddered catawampus across the knotted wood floor until the tip of her stick tapped the broken frame that had held her husband’s letter. “There you are, my love.” She pushed her glasses higher on her nose. Relying more on magic than manual effort these days, Deirdre, her wand still in her free hand, chanted the frame into repair and back to its place on the wall. She couldn’t resist reading her husband’s words in that cherished love letter again, but Deirdre was distracted by her own reflection in the frame’s glass. “Older, I am. And lost without my glasses these days.” With her hand, she combed the cascade of chestnut waves now twined with grey. “A little baggy under the eyes.” She lifted Jamais Vu and cuddled him. “He loved my eyes, he did. Said they were warm, like cognac.” With her cheek pressed against the cat’s, she moved her hand across the glass and traced her still firm jaw and perfectly straight nose in the reflection. “But all in all, fewer wrinkles than most my age.” She placed the cat on the floor. “Don’t you think, Jamais?”
Jamais Vu circled her feet. He rubbed his head up and down her leg.
“At least I still have my figure…almost.” She patted the folds of her frock, which did hang more loosely these days. “If the next world brings us together again, I’ll be ready.” Deirdre placed her hand on the framed letter and closed her eyes. “All I have left of you, my love.” For good measure, she cast a protection spell. “Sky and sea, keep harm from thee. Earth and fire, bring my desire." She turned and waved her wand around the room. “By stars and moon and mist and moor, treasures strewn about the floor return to where I keep you stored.” She heard the scraping and clanking and tinkling and listened as the wardrobe doors squeaked open and each drawer made a thud. “As it should be.” Pointing to her entryway, she whispered, “Power of wind and flight of wren, doorway close secure again. Bolts and locks repair and mend.” Metal clinked. Wood thumped. She reached for her cat and lifted him to her chest. “We’ll be fine, me and you, Jamais Vu.” The cat rubbed his ears against her lips. “We have each other.”
Deirdre placed Jamais Vu on the floor and touched the framed letter again. “If only I had gone to that new moon feast with you. I should have been there, my love. I should have. But the universe set me to task with curing our cherished friend on the very same night. I remember how you so dearly wanted me to help him. Put others above yourself, you did.”
She shook her head. “Magic failed me that night, or something worse was at work.” She looked at Jamais Vu. “Do you know the story, dear? I don’t believe I ever told you about that night.”
Jamais Vu stood against her skirts rubbing his head up and down. He stretched his paw across her hem.
“I left with my potions and herbs to help our ill friend that evening, and when I returned, I never saw my husband again, Jamais. Townsfolk searched, they did. Not a trace. At the next new moon, the Council concluded he had perished.”
Rubbing against her leg, Jamais Vu rolled his head and mewed more loudly than he had ever mewed before.
Her husband’s demise scarred her heart, but the law of magic that prevented her from bringing him back from the dead infuriated her. There was, by order of the Universal Constitution of Wizardry and the Dyfarniad Articles of Magic, no spell to bring back the dead. And all were forbidden to bring one to being. She turned to Jamais Vu. “Thank the stars and orbits you came to me.”
Deirdre walked back to her favorite chair, her worn shoes scratching the dry floor planks with each step. She plopped onto its velvet, peacock-colored cushions, leaned into its circled back, and rested her can against its curved arm. After pawing the mouse bones into the hearth, Jamais Vu leaped onto her lap. She smoothed his fur from ears to tail. “Yes, we can take care of ourselves, you and me.”
Jamais Vu wound around her arm.
“We are quite a pair.”
Jamais Vu answered with purrs and mewing. He nuzzled his nose into the crook of her elbow and spewed a loud meow and a growl. “What is it that has you in a bother?” Deirdre asked. The cat stood and put his front paws on her shoulder and nudged her glasses with his nose. Looking her right in the eyes, he repeated the meow and growl. “No more fuss, now.” She stroked his head and snuggled him close. She closed her eyes. “I wish you could have met him. I wish I could bring him back to us.” Deirdre kissed the top of Jamais’ head. He mewed twice. She slept, and Jamais Vu settled into the folds of her frock, nestled beneath the fringe of her shawl — awake, watchful, protective.
Moonlight gave way to dawn and dew. Jamais Vu climbed up to rub Deirdre’s cheek with his whiskers. He nudged her chin with his nose. When Deirdre awoke, he jumped away and trotted to his food bowl. “I’ll fix your breakfast,” she said. Deirdre lifted herself from the pillowed chair. She reached for her cane. “Coming, my dear. Coming.” After serving her cat, she warmed one brown egg for herself, nibbled dry bread with raspberry jam, and sipped hot dandelion tea. Then she brewed her daily morning potion: turmeric, ginger, and a touch of thunder god vine to relieve the ache in her aging knees and gnarled fingers; some St. John’s wort, saffron, and chamomile to ease her grief. A dose a day, yet her grief remained.
Deirdre tied her deep-pocket apron on and slipped her heavier shawl around her shoulders. She removed her glasses and wiped them clean with the corner of her shawl before replacing them. “Be back soon, Jamais. Time to collect herbs to replenish my jars.” Before leaving, she filled a new pouch with lavender and rosemary and placed it on the table closest to her husband’s framed letter. “Every day, my love. I remember you every day. Still, I am yours.”
Jamais Vu meowed three times and scratched at the floor.
“I’ll be careful. I’ll mind the oleander. No need for worry.”
Circling her ankles and climbing over her shoes, Jamais Vu pawed at the hem of her skirt.
“I’ll miss you, too. Go on, now. Rest easy, love. Get yourself cozy.” Deirdre fastened the door’s bolt behind her and toddled off to the woods.
Neither easy nor cozy, Jamais Vu growled and prowled and padded and paced from corner to corner. While he could do nothing about his situation, he knew the contents in the veined, amber glass bottle with the lapis stopper could. He had watched over the years as Deirdre cast her spells. He had listened. He remembered the power of each potion. That this bottle sat behind a closed cabinet door he couldn’t open with his swift but clumsy paws caused him frustration he was not able to express, except for a hiss. Even if he could open the door, the amber bottle had a special place, far back in the cupboard, behind other potions. If only its contents could fall into his food, if only a few drops would spill within his reach, all would be reversed. He would be Deirdre’s husband once more. Jamais Vu despised the jealous wench who had cast a spell on him that night.
The night of the new moon feast had passed, and a grey day yawned. Deirdre was still away tending to their friend’s health. While he slept in the vulnerability of the pre-dawn — when the mischief of the night and the promise of the day are vying to find their place — the Count fell victim to an ex-lover, Arlynn. She had never forgiven Deirdre for winning his affection. Over time, magic proved no match for love. So, since her spells could not sway the Count’s heart, Arlynn weighed the most vengeful options. Still in love with him, she dismissed killing him. She dismissed killing Deirdre, too, knowing if she did, no matter the method, surely the Count would know the truth, and that would do her no good. She would never win his love. And, of course, there were the repercussions of murder, losing her powers of enchantment completely as ruled by the Dyfarniad Articles and Constitution of Wizardry. Arlynn decided on a long-term punishment for them both. As the night of the new moon feast crawled toward dawn, she stood among the tree shadows outside their cottage window and cast her spell. If he and Deirdre wanted so badly to be together, she’d let them; however, not as man and wife. If Arlynn could not have this man, she decided he would no longer be a man, and with a wish and witchery, the Count became a cat.
When Deirdre returned after healing their friend, she was surprised to find their home empty and no note, no inkling of where her love could be. Likely out for a morning walk, she thought. Deirdre heard a sound and turned. A mist-grey cat sat atop her favorite chair, mewing, stretching his jaw, baring his teeth. His tail straight in agitation. “And where did you come from?” He calmed as she approached. She cradled him. “There, now.” She looked into the cat’s eyes. “Hungry?” Deirdre poured some milk for the cat and set a few berries on the floor. “I’ve never seen you around here before. I’ve never seen a cat like you in our part of the woods.” She stroked his back as he ate. “I’ve never seen a cat quite as handsome as you.” She stood. “I think I have just the name for you. Jamais Vu. Yes, that’s who you are. Never seen.”
When Jamais Vu licked the last of the milk from the bowl, he ran to Deirdre and pawed at her skirt. She lifted him. “My husband is going to love you, Jamais Vu. Just as I do. Yes, I love you already.” Deirdre looked Jamais Vu in the eyes. “You are a charmer, you are. There is something quite special about you.”
Jamais licked her cheek, nuzzled his noise beneath her chin, and seemed to cry.
Deirdre returned from the woods, her pockets filled with leaves, flowers, berries, and stems. Minding the cobbled stones and thick hazel roots leading to her door, she did not see the nearby figure lurking in the mist, melting into the trees. Deirdre chanted as she approached her gate. “Myself and spirit no longer roam. Door be open to welcome me home.”
She entered. “Here I am, Jamais.” Her cat ran to her. “Easy, dear, while I empty my harvest.” She limped to the cupboard and opened the doors.
Jamais Vu pushed his milk bowl closer to the cupboard then jumped up and stood atop a cupboard shelf. As Deirdre placed the lavender in its bottle, the thunder god vine in its bottle, and the St. John’s Wort in its bottle, a deafening rumble of thunder shook the cottage. In seconds, a powerful wind slapped the walls and tree branches scraped the windows.
Outside, Arlynn stepped from behind an elm. “Elements all, I call you now. Force this wench to tremors bow. I call the earth beneath today to quake and send her far away!”
The tremors caused Deirdre’s floors to shift and walls to quiver. “Oh my stars, Jamais! Blessed be, I returned home just in time.”
Vibrations rattled and toppled the bottles on each shelf. Jamais Vu looked up. With so many potion jars out of place waiting to be refilled, nothing stood in the way of the amber bottle.
Thanks to the storm’s agitation and earth’s wobbling, the bottle most important to him was teetering on the shelf’s edge. Thunder boomed. Deirdre startled. The amber glass bottle hit the floor, and its lapis top loosened. The liquid inside drained onto the wood. Jamais Vu leaped down and licked at the drops.
With the sky darkening and the wind battering and the lightening sparking, Deirdre scooped Jamais Vu from the floor and grabbed a blanket. “Let’s set ourselves safe, my love.” She locked the shutters and drew the curtains. She lifted Jamais Vu, reached for her wand, and climbed into bed, pulling the blanket about them both. “Chores can wait. The earth is telling us to huddle and rest.” She pet the cat’s head. “Nature is amiss, my love.” Deirdre waved her wand across their blanket. “Elements all, I bid you hush. Make serene all nature’s fuss.”
The rumbling weakened. Quiet crept over the cottage, except for the tapping of the rain. Beneath the arms of the trees, Arlynn fell to her knees, her fists buried in the draping sleeves of her robe. “Needles and pins! Not this day, but one day.” She rose and skulked away.
“There now,” Deirdre cuddled Jamais. “A good nap and things will be better in a little while, my love. Things will be so much better.”
Jamais Vu wriggled. He preened and purred and smiled a cat’s smile for the last time.
Maureen Mancini Amaturo, New York-based fashion/beauty writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, teaches writing, leads the Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007, and produces literary and gallery events. Her fiction, essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, and comedy, are widely published appearing in: Half Hour To Kill, Paper Dragon, The Dark Sire, Every Day Fiction, Coffin Bell Journal, Drunken Pen, Flash Non-Fiction Food Anthology (Woodhall Press,) Things That Go Bump (Sez Publishing,) Film Noir Before It Was Cool and Attack of the Killer (Weasel Press), The Year Anthology (Crack The Spine,) Little Old Lady Comedy, Points In Case, and others. Once named "America's next Flannery O' Connor," Maureen was nominated for The Bram Stoker Award and the TDS Creative Fiction Award in 2020 and 2021 and was awarded Honorable Mention and Certificate of Excellence in poetry from Havik Literary Journal in 2022. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.