Lamiarum Unguenta (Witches Unguent):
“By boiling (a certain fat) in a copper vessel, they get rid of its water, thickening what is left after boiling and remains last. Then they store it, and afterwards boil it again before use: with this, they mix celery, aconite, poplar leaves and soot. Then they smear all the parts of the body, first rubbing them to make them ruddy and warm and to rarify whatever had been condensed because of cold. When the flesh is relaxed and the pores opened up, they add the fat (or the oil that is substituted for it) – so that the power of the juices can penetrate further and become stronger and more active, no doubt. And so they think that they are borne through the air on a moonlit night to banquets, music, dances and the embrace of handsome young men of their choice.”
Giovan Battista Della Porta. From De Miraculis Rerum Naturalium, Book II, Chapter XXVI (1558 AD)
“Hurry up, girls. The bobbies are on their way.” Margaret’s glamour had worn off as she walked into the door, slamming it behind her. Her hideous hook of a nose arched out over her wide mouth, distorted by her decades of constant magic use.
She was beautiful once, with wide blue eyes and rosy cheeks, those days long behind her, her flaxen hair now knotty wisps covering her now sunken eyes and hollowed cheekbones. Her dress, ragged, something taken from the body of an unfortunate who made a fine tincture last year.
“You know better than to rush me, Maggie. Flying potion isn’t something you rush to get done. The fat has to be rendered just right.” Elswidth was standing over a caldron in the middle of the common area, with a strange arrangement of bottles, beakers and piping winding around the room. She turned a tiny spigot as droplets of rendered fat fell into the dark fluid in the ceramic bowl he held in her other hand. “Ah, such a sweet scent.” The room was in complete disarray, tables and chairs lie broken. Scraps of clothing and dark spots fleck the dimly lit walls. Elswidth’s eyes reflected the poor candlelight like a cat’s.
“Was that Malcolm?” Margaret asked? She sniffed conspicuously, eyes narrowing in recognition.
Elswidth looked over her shoulder, “why yes it is, how did you know?” Her cats eyes open wide, drinking in every scrap of light. Margaret’s dirty shift and shuffling gait stirred up dust in the hall, each speck twinkling in the light of the full moon from the common room’s skylight. Margaret’s squat and wide form filled the narrow corridor leading into the common room.
“I’d know that sweet, buttery scent anywhere. Did you save any for me?”
“Why would I do that? How else did you expect to make it to Prague unless I used all of him. Look at you, fat as a cow. You would be lucky to make it halfway there.” Elswidth spit on the floor and kicked a dirty shoe into the fire under the caldron.
“Now, sisters, there’s no reason to fight. We have had a good time in London. It has been very, very good to us, hasn’t it?” Selene came down the stairs, staff in hand, followed by three brooms and a couple of old bags festooned with strange locks that resembled demonic mouths. They opened and closed at random, snapping at each other.
Selene was young as witches go, barely a century and looked it. Still lithe, full and sensuous, she filled her sisters with both a hunger and an envy that was easy to see. Her dress, slick, diaphanous, showed her ample bosom and wide hips and it clung possessively to her, looking almost alive. A closer look, might notice its fleshy tone, it silky texture like the skin of a small child or perhaps several small children. Then you might look away.
Her eyes, dark, unpleasant, and cold, had the look of a reptile, replete with slitted eyes and flickering lids. Even with this disturbing feature, her face was like cream, smooth, flawless, the result of bathing in the blood of innocents.
“Yes, Selene, it has been good to us. We must thank Jack for inviting us. Orphanages aplenty, homeless vagrants, the sick and dying who work in the black smoke filled streets of Whitechapel have made our work all too easy.” Elswidth smiled as she thought of how many young ones this orphanage had when they came to work in it nearly a year ago. There were nearly fifty children whose parents died from consumption. Vowing to find them homes, the three women, with impeccable references, set out to reduce the population of the orphanage through what they claimed was a process of finding the children homes in neighboring countries. A third of the children were actually shipped out of the country and were never seen again. The remainder, too weak and sickly to be of any true value laboring anywhere else were rendered for their essential elements.
Margaret called her bag and broom from Selene’s magical wake. As her bag approached, she noticed one of the clasps was unmoving. Grabbing her broom, she hit the bag repeatedly and each blow opened one of the mouths until they were all howling. Once they were all open the bag also opened and she counted the tiny flasks inside. One was missing. Gripping her broom tightly she turned to Selene and lightning leapt from her eyes.
Selene turned at the last second and interposed her staff between the lightning and herself, deflecting it into the room. “Sister, you seem upset?” Her smile belied her pretense of innocence.
“You stole it, didn’t you. The only thing I wanted from this entire trip.”
“It isn’t fair you would keep such a thing to yourself.”
“You could have made your own. You are always going on about how superior your magic is.”
“But it’s so much easier to let you do the heavy lifting, for me.”
“Stop it! Both of you. Don’t you hear what’s going on outside?” Elswidth was stirring the last of the rendered fat into the blood-red elixir in the caldron. “Handle that. This will take at least another ten minutes to be ready.”
Selene and Margaret stand still for a moment, and a gentle mist slowly forms at their feet. A slow groaning and creaking begins and the house shudders imperceptibly. The crowd outside the house feels a sinister dread and becomes quiet without knowing why.
Margaret wipes her hand over her face and her glamour of beauty is restored. She looks prim and proper, a headmistress of an orphanage. Selene’s dress of awful flesh, appears instead as a proper frock of black and white satin and she looks like a young woman in the prime of her life.
Margaret opens the door as the nervous bobbie was about to knock. He was very young, a face barely used to shaving. He sported a stylish mustache in order to appear older. His uniform fit snugly; likely a hand-me-down from one of the older constables. His movements and mannerisms indicate he was still not quite used to be obeyed.
“Miss Margaret, I am relieved to find you here. I am empowered to arrest you and bring you in for questioning regarding the murder of Malcolm Little, one of the last of your children to be seen here. Your neighbors accuse you of murder most foul.” His head momentarily looked back at the crowd, as if taking strength from their presence. He could hear the sounds of whistles in the distance and seemed relieved that other police would be along momentarily.
Margaret’s smile was a well-practiced thing, designed to disarm and charm, a kind of smile you can only get with decades of experience evading those who might do you harm. “Constable, that is simply preposterous. Malcolm is here with us this very evening. He will be leaving tonight with us to go to Prague. We have done exactly as we promised to empty this particular orphanage of these wards of the state. We have removed the burden they placed on this community, finding homes for them all. Come inside and see for yourself.”
“No, we shouldn’t have anyone with suspicions to have any further doubts. You are all invited into our sanctuary to see what we have wrought for the children of this part of town.” Selene’s smile beamed over the crowd of ten or twelve onlookers and they slowly moved toward the house. The bobby came into the house past Margaret and saw a well kept, antechamber and hallway that emptied into a common room, with clean and serviceable if not well cared for tables and chairs. Elswidth stood there with a young lad of ten or eleven and the rest of their bags and cloaks.
“Satisfied, constable?” Margaret voice was less pleasant than before.
“I am sorry I doubted, but I had to be sure.” The constable brow was furrowed as if he were puzzled by something but wasn’t sure what it was. Then he realized what it was. Where was their carriage. Surely, if they were leaving tonight, they would require transport.
Before he could ask, he was interrupted by the honeyed sound of Selene’s voice. She had ushered them into the common room and was now standing behind the group. “Such a dutiful gentleman and conscientious citizenry should be rewarded, don’t you think, Sisters?” Elswidth eyes flickered with mischief. She held out her hand and her broom flew into her grip.
“Wha” was all the constable could mutter before the room was suddenly ablaze. Selene’s hands were contorted into the ritual signs of flames. Elswidth’s hand gestured with the primal sign of fear, overwhelming fear; coupled with the burgeoning realization of what they were seeing, the townsfolks were all but paralyzed, their vocal cords unable to even tremble, their bladders voided. Speechless, one made the sign of the cross.
Margaret reached under her dress and pulled forth a wicked dagger; before the constable could speak again, a crescent of silver flashed in the full moonlight and his blood filled the very air, splashing the frozen townsfolk in this crimson bounty. Her clawed hand formed a binding of hideous strength; without touching him, she held him up in the air as if he were light as a feather. Carving his beating heart from his chest, she dropped his body onto the floor as her demon bag ran over to her its mouths open and eagerly accepting the steaming heart.
“Am I forgiven, dear Margaret?” Selene walked past the now burning townspeople whose silent screams filled the house, joining in with those of the children who once lived there. The sounds seeping into the very walls.
“Of course, dearest Sister. The heart of Jack the Ripper was a one of a kind prize, but the heart of an honest man and a dozen fools is a close second.” Margaret was still angry but the heart of the constable would make a fine youth reagent, and the bound souls of the townspeople could be harvested and distilled for their next disguises they would need in Prague.
They were going to be disguised as artists and live among the art community. They would need young and beautiful bodies. There were several to chose from in the room. She would forgive Selene, for now. She was too powerful to confront today, but Margaret was a patient witch. It was how she caught Jack the Ripper. She would catch Selene off-guard, sooner or later. Elswidth pets her demon bag and packs it onto her broom. Her eyes reflecting the dying embers of the locals, she cackles to her sisters, “Prague awaits.”
As the roof collapses in the terrible fire, people outside the house trying to keep the conflagration from spreading, see three shadows flicker past the bilious moon, the flash of silver buckle mouths opening and closing in its pearlescence. Only once the three of them are gone, do the screams of the damned bleed from the burning ruin and resound for hours in the alleys of Whitechapel.
Flying Potion © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved