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Writing inspired by a SWC creative writing prompt

A Neighbourly Favour

by Patrizia Stiegler. Story and interview.

A Neighbourly Favour

By Patrizia Stiegler

As a witch, Lucile had long ago decided that the only way to avoid certain unpleasant situations in the first place was to not let tourists anywhere near her village. The village was hidden between two large patches of forest and a winding uneven road was the only way in.  It successfully kept the rest of civilisation out and all its slightly odd and magical inhabitants in. The only welcome exception was the internet man from the phone company and, on a daily basis, the post man. On the days the world remembered they existed, it was typically due to a batch of missing tourists, which unavoidably led to the police arriving on a foggy morning. Such a day, was today. 

Sitting on a bench in the village square, Lucile observed the cluster of police constables scattered around it with growing amusement. They always appeared in a swarm of freshly shaved, primed young things, following their grumpy Detective Inspector, like lost  ducklings would their mother. Flashing fancy little notebooks and polished shoes, they desperately tried to make themselves look important.

 However, none of this could distract from their, collectively, rather horrible hair situation. All of them sported the same unsuitable haircut, creating the impression a mop  had vomited on every single one of them. Lucile’s professional pride as a hairdresser made her fingers itch for the scissors in her handbag. At least after she had wrangled their hair into some kind of form, the view had the potential.

 “Miss Lucile, would you mind if I sat and asked you a few questions?”

 She blinked up the tall beanstalk in a uniform, through her red rimmed glasses, and into the face of Georgie, or rather Constable Georgie. She remembered giving him his first haircut at the age of two; the floor had been covered in fine ringlets. A smile stretched over her red lips, as she petted the bench next to her

“Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it? How is my favourite little demon doing? Police treating you well?”

 Georgie sat down with the motion of of particular long insect folding itself into a far too small space. Lucile’s smile widened. 

“Thank you, Miss Lucile I am fine. We are currently investigating four woman and two men who are missing. We know they all had hair appointments at your salon before they disappeared. So I wanted to ask…” the young man’s voice trailed off. His lips twitched, mirroring her own smile for a moment. 

Lucile pulled out a cigarette holder, attached her favourite black cigarettes and lit it. The smoke burned at the back of her throat, as she let the silence grow. Her red painted lips closed around the filter once more and she released a small cloud of smoke. Georgie’s lips kept twitching, the slowly moving up to his eyes. She with a sigh Lucile, broke the silence between them. 

“So, the DI has sent you over to ask your old hairdresser where she has put the bodies? Georgie, dear, we both know that they are probably with Archibald, and you could just get them yourself.”, she encouragingly patted his knee and her smile widened even more,”So why are here, bothering me in on my day off? Why have you not yet asked the Head Druid for help? Or if your DI is too sensible for that ask the catholic priest? Or your father, who you really should look in on while you are here. I mean there are options in the village you know- oh stop making those puppy eyes Georgie!”

Georgie’s eyes remained focused on her, big and brown. His lips twitched even more, as if he wanted laugh, but had to abort the movement every time. Lucile puffed her cigarette, trying to ignore him. It was impossible, and the boy knew it. Although it made sense that he avoided Archibald, after their last disastrous date. With a sigh she pulled out a  portable ashtray. With a soft clicking noise it opened, its silver clasp glittering in the sun. 

“Please Miss Lucile, I think it would be better, if I don’t- well, we haven’t talked yet.” He stammered. 

She took another pull from her cigarette, her mind whirling around the possibilities. Narrowing her eyes she tapped her dark red fingernail against her cigarette holder. Then she sighed. 

 “You should have thought that before you started trying to have a relationship with a spring god. I thought we were past this drama with you two after the last incident at the station. ”

Georgie grimaced at her words, his lips trying to keep up a polite smile but failing at it. Levelling her glare over her glasses at the young man, she could see the redness blooming on his cheeks, joining the twitch.

“Please Miss Lucile, if they are back by dinner, we can just wrap this all up. You know how the neighbours here react to the police! Or Archibald to me turning up at his home. No one needs that.“

Lucile reproachfully sucked on her cigarette. She knew what a guilty conscience looked like the same way when someone was hiding his hair due to desperation.

“Fine, fine, I will deal with Archibald, but you have to call the man. Also, take that hat off. I want to know what horrible thing they have inflicted – good god, young man! You are coming by tonight. I refuse to have one of our own run around with that!”, 

“I know, I know, but it is regulation.”

“You are coming this evening. That is payment for dealing with Archibald.  No – don’t you roll your eyes at me. This needs to be fixed! I don’t care how many people go missing, this is no reason to not look your best!”

The Constable’s former curls looked like someone had taken a lawnmower to them. Her ashtray snapped shut with a decided click, and disappeared back into her handbag. Picking up her walking stick, she fixed Georgie once more with a stare.

“Seven pm, sharp! Am I clear Georgie?”

The young man nodded so fast, for a moment she feared his whole body and the bench would nod with him. Cigarette clamped between her lips, she nodded at the DI on the way out of the town square. The man’s face was a mountain of wrinkles, in desperate need of moisturiser and his hair was – she squinted. Despite the odds, the man had a decent haircut. She gave him a wicked smile around her cigarette and blew smoke in his direction. At least the hair situation would get better with a higher rank.

She felt the DI’s piercing gaze as she strolled down the pathway towards Archibald. It was a good ten minutes walk between flower beds, trees and the occasional field creeping in. If she was pressed about it she would say, it was actually quite lovely. The left side was covered in dark blooming flowers arranged in exquisitely cared for little pentagrams. On the right stones formed nordic runes. Looking left and right, Lucile mentally went over the schedule of the next two weeks. The religious calendar got crowded over the year, making it even more important to always keep an eye on things. 

Replacing her finished cigarette butt with a new one, she stepped between the flowers towards an old tree in the middle of them. The roots were surrounded by stones, circling the trunk with the consistency of concentric circles in water. Stepping carefully between the stones, she lifted her walking stick and knocked hard on the tree trunk. She hated having those “neighbourly chats”, they left the taste of old oak her mouth, the one she had to eat because mother said so. Especially when it came to Archibald, a spring god, whose only fears were having to deal with technology and, apparently now, Georgie. 

It took a few minutes, but slowly a gap appeared in the bark, revealing the slim face of the Spring God, his eyes glittering like fresh fallen snow and flowing hair decorated with gems. She always wondered how he managed to keep his hair so perfect but Lucile put it down to being a supernatural creature and regular Druid worship.  

“Miss Lucile -“

“Hand them back over Archibald. We had that talk, you can’t just go and keep anyone down there for days on end. It draws too much attention. Bring them back up, all of them.”

She blew the smoke to the ground, watching,  as it curled around the stones at her feet. Archibald’s smile disappeared behind an embarrassed cough. Lucile drew another breath from her cigarette, the smoke curling up between her and trunk of the Spring God’s tree. Archibald lent forward, his broad shoulder barely fitting, as he folded his arms in the gap in the bark. Yet, his smile was razor sharp and could cut you to the bone, while at the same time be as tempting as freshly made bread on a fasting day.

“Ahh someone is angry with me? But they came willingly and we are having so much -“

The smoke shot up from the flower, wrapping itself around Archibald’s wrists, demanding his attention. 

“Archibald, do we need to have another talk about what consent means in the mortal world? And why being high on magic doesn’t count, because they cannot comprehend what the consequences are?”

An uncomfortable silence settled between them. Archibald’s eyes flittered from her to the smoke wrapped around his wrists. Lucile just waited, unwilling to show leniency. Lucile knew very well what spring magic could do and how unpleasant the consequences were. The amazing sex did not make up for it. 

The Spring God bit his plump lip and then finally muttered: ”I did ask for their consent. They said yes. I followed the list you gave me, even ticked off the one about birth control and when they want to be returned to the mortal world.“

Lucile felt the smoke, slowly disappearing, as she looked at the uncertain god. Several thousand years old, and yet – she had turned to flip charts, hand-outs and checklists in the end to get her point across. At least he avoided the town square when the police were in town. Otherwise there would be an orgy of epic proportions within minutes.

“That was days ago Archibald. You need to let them back up. Now. Even Georgie is in town because of this. Also you two really need sort out your relationship.”

At her words Archibald blanched, then nodded rapidly, his hair flying back and forth. 

“Of course, I will, instantly Lucile, Give me – I will need twenty “mortal” minutes. I can’t let them come up here without a bath. And – where do humans stand on gold these days? Or should I just put some gems in the pockets?”

Lucile counted to ten inside her head, but couldn’t repress another sigh. 

”No gold, they are not prostitutes. Now hop along!” something mischievous flared up in her, and she said with a smile:” I will call Georgie and he will pick them up at the end of the road in thirty.”

A slightly panicked look settled over Archibald’s features and with a distinct creek the tree closed again, leaving Lucile by herself in a circle of stone. The smoke from her cigarette curled upwards around the tree’s branches stroking it gently. She nodded to herself, and pulled out her phone. Her finger hovered over Georgie’s name as she looked towards the other side of the road, where dark blue flowers slowly waved at her in the wind. The Satanists were due next week. Maybe she should talk to the innkeeper about taking a spontaneous holiday to keep the tourists out of that one at least. 

Patrizia Stiegler

Patrizia Stiegler

Sunday Writers' Club member

Patrizia is writer during the day and a stage manager by night. She has a weakness for small cozy cafes and is addicted to tea. So far she has  lived in four cities in Europe. Even though English is not her first language, it has always been her preferred language for storytelling.
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