THE NOT-WITCH is the first novel in its series
By E.A. Bundy
Chapter One: A Flea’s Curse, or The Not-Beginning
Sean’s mother said, “Don’t forget that your dog isn’t allowed in your bed. Lady even has her own cushion, and you are twelve, which is plenty old enough to sleep alone. You don’t even sleep with stuffed animals anymore, do you?”
Sean hated the reference to stuffed animals. He’d practically been a baby back then. The next thing he knew, she’d be talking about how he once played with a doll. The last time she’d mentioned that was right in front of his grandparents. Talk about embarrassing. Besides, it was totally different with Lady. She’d kept him warm on cold nights.
A shadow appeared in one corner of the room, and due to that subtle presence, his mom’s words concerning Lady would haunt Sean all too soon in ways he’d never imagined. Unfortunately, neither he nor his mother noticed the elusive dark figure.
“Alright,” he said,” heading upstairs to his bedroom. “Come on, Lady.” He wanted to get out of there before his mom came up with any additional embarrassing references to his early childhood. His orange and white Brittany spaniel bounded up the steps and quickly passed him.
The room was icy, especially for springtime. Sean felt chilled while changing into his pajamas. And sliding between cold sheets afterward really did not help matters. So this is energy conservation, he thought, feeling his feet begin to go numb, and knowing they would never warm up. Turning off the lamp, he said “Night, Lady.”
She leapt onto the foot of his bed, and Sean remembered what his mother had told him, even as his pet snuck toward the headboard. He actually wanted to obey his mom’s no dog in your bed rule because Lady sometimes had fleas. But he could not ignore one simple fact, and his chattering teeth soon convinced him it would be okay if his dog slept with him just once more. She is so warm, he thought, and she’ll just sneak in after I’m asleep.
Lady’s wet nose nuzzled his shoulder, seeking the opening in the blankets, and Sean felt guilty as her head slipped between the covers. He felt even guiltier as she burrowed downward, finally settling into a warm ball at his feet. But he could not ignore reality.
“Ah,” he sighed, as his toes felt better almost immediately—and sleep swiftly followed.
In Sean’s darkened room, a shadow moved out from the corner, and hovered over his bed, watching him intently. His dog continued snoring softly without sensing that someone sinister lurked so near her young master. The shadow-woman smiled to herself, thinking she would show Hazel what real magic was. After all, Hazel’s old, forgotten spell was no longer under her control, and would be used for other purposes.
The dark shape floated toward the door, but hesitated. During a lengthy pause, the female form looked again at Sean lying there asleep. She nodded her head, and flitted up through the ceiling to disappear from sight. Unfortunately for Sean, there was no one present capable of observing her. And if there had been a witness, they would have been at a loss to interpret or try and explain what they’d seen.
Sometime in the night, Sean awakened with an itchy leg. Probably a fleabite, he thought, scratching the area and guessing there must be more than one bothersome lump. He rubbed some more, and turned over in bed, deciding to ignore the irritation. After all, he’d suffered from fleabites before. Just don’t think about it, he decided. Sean finally managed to drift slowly into slumber-land once again.
Jolted awake later that night, he experienced his sheet slipping across his skin. Was his younger sister playing a trick? The pillow slid away next. She could not be in two places at once. Sean felt disoriented, as though his bed sheets were getting bigger.
Alternatively, and impossible as it seemed, perhaps he was getting smaller. Sean’s feet pulled away from his dog as though he was shrinking. If that were true, he must already have reduced down to her approximate size—and things were still changing. This is such a strange dream, he thought, and so real.
Becoming smaller yet, he worried that the bedding or his pajamas would trap him just like when he was a little kid at his grandmother’s, and he’d become tangled in the bed sheets. But that was long before his present age.
He felt changes continuing until it seemed he was reduced even more in size. He could no longer feel the pressure of covers or bedclothes on his body. How small could he be? When the shrinking sensations ceased entirely, great folds of fabric, like cloth hills, surrounded him in each direction as he felt his way forward.
Sitting up, he desperately hoped he was in a dream, but the immediate area was cooling off rapidly. Did people feel the cold in their dreams? He didn’t think so. In a few minutes he would be a tiny naked kid in a gigantic icy bed. He could not remember feeling chilly in a dream before, and certainly not this cold.
If he could get to Lady, she would keep him warm, but where was she? It was too dark to see, so he felt for the coarse fabric threads of his pajamas. They likely ran side to side, plus up and down, which should indicate the direction to the far end of his mattress. Taking his best guess after feeling the rope-sized strands, he moved toward his dog’s probable location. He knew he’d chosen correctly when he heard her snoring up ahead.
If this was a dream, he worried he would never awaken, but if it was real, that could be even worse. He might die in the maze of cloth, and never see his family again.
Climbing ever-taller textile ridges, he eventually slid down a hill that was actually the edge of his pajama leg opening. Coasting along the incline of cloth, his momentum carried him partway up the next knoll formed by the sheet material. Clambering over that summit, he slid into an odd, springy forest, which he finally realized must be Lady’s hair.
Sean moved forward past the outer tips of her coat, and found the hair barbs were very much like branches. Continuing deeper inside the furry woods, he eventually became so tired from walking and climbing that he curled up against Lady’s warm skin and went to sleep—or continued to dream.
In the morning, his pet stirred. When she did not find her young master, she left his bed, and her movements tossed him about in the deep forest of her hairs. Daylight filtered down to Sean through her coat as she descended the stairway toward the kitchen. Holding onto a “tree” for dear life, Sean looked up and saw that the seeming forest of barbed hairs above him swayed with his dog’s movements. He was thoroughly shaken by the time she trotted down the last step.
Finding food in her dish, Lady began to eat her breakfast. Sean knew she always seemed to eat fast, but this was like a vacuum cleaner sucking up the kibbles. He heard her long tongue licking the already empty bowl. Breakfast completed, Lady parked herself by the heater and prepared for a nap. Lots of licking and biting accompanied that preparation, and although she did not chew exactly where Sean was, her activity bumped him around amongst her hairs.
After her frenzied biting ceased, the rippling of her muscles settled down. When she curled up with her nose near her tail, Sean sighed and began to relax, thinking that he had never realized how much loafing she did.
Heat from the forced air vent soon penetrated lady’s fur, becoming unbearable to Sean. How did she stand it? He was roasting, and moved from the oppressive warmth of her back, toward the comfort of her tummy. She soon began to snore.
Sean heard a commotion through the prickly forest that surrounded him, and climbed a hair shaft, trying to get a better look. Flashing into view down below, he saw what resembled a disc turned on edge almost like a coin rolling through the forest of hairs. He soon realized it was a creature’s thin body and several legs, plus a head with an anteater-like snout that was flecked with droplets of yellow liquid. Others of its kind followed, until they were near where Sean perched, and the pursuers surrounded their quarry.
Seated intently, Sean screamed when the branchlike barb he sat on broke, and he crashed onto the “ground.” The strange creatures turned, but heir initial surprise rapidly faded, and they moved ominously forward, nearing the tiny, naked boy. His only defense seemed the barb at his feet, which he quickly grabbed and brandished at them.
The creature that had been pursued retreated a short distance, still frothing yellow fluid, while its trackers circled Sean, and started closing in. Sweat trickled down his forehead as they backed him against a hair trunk. Sean could not fight them all, and swallowed back his fear with difficulty. One of the beasts neared, its gross mouthparts dripping repulsive slobber.
For no apparent reason, the attacker halted, and then fled with most of its kind into the forest of hairs. Even as Sean sighed with relief, massive white points, like rows of elephant’s tusks, crashed through Lady’s hairs.
Sean and the yellow-stained, hideous monster still remained there after the attack from the white sabers subsided. He sat on the warm skin surface, clutched to a hair trunk, and realized the monster before him was a flea, and the white row that had intruded must have been Lady’s teeth, chewing an itchy spot.
The flea remained slumped at a distance from Sean, who held his barb for protection as he moved nearer to the grotesque creature. It appeared badly hurt, and was frightened of the miniature boy. Coming still closer, it was clear that the flea could not fully stand up, and Sean was shocked to hear it speak to him in a squeaky voice. “Don’t hurt me.”
Lowering his hair barb, Sean replied that he would not harm it, and wondered what was going on. Fleas couldn’t talk, and people shouldn’t be able to shrink and then converse with such tiny creatures. Curiosity finally overcame fear, and Sean asked, “Why were they chasing you?”
“When our dog gets too crowded with us, someone has to leave. This time, I’m the chosen one. They were going to force me off his tail.” The wounded flea struggled to rise, and squealed, “Watch out.”
Sean saw that a couple of the other fleas had returned. They were two-thirds his height, and although they looked substantial from the side view, they were amazingly thin when seen from the front. He could barely make out their flat, oval eyes, though their proboscis-like mouthparts were prominent, and truly repulsive. Sean’s inspection of its mouth projections reminded him of a boar’s tusks. The extra-long, hind legs were powerful.
Round, flat, and ugly about summed it up for the disc-shaped fleas. Sean wondered if perhaps the skinny brutes swelled with blood as they fed, bulging like a bloated tick or a mosquito stuffed from a generous meal. Their mouth appendages bristled as they advanced upon him with front-most legs gyrating.
Imminent danger heightened Sean’s awareness, and with all his senses alerted, his nostrils absorbed the surrounding scents, which came mostly from his dog’s skin, and her thick, furry coat. Then he focused on the peculiar aroma of the closest flea. It reeked of singed hair odor, along with the stench he recalled from the cooking of blood pudding—a delicacy he had refused to taste.
Sean’s grip tightened around the barbed club as his eyes focused on the nearest flea’s compound mandibles. The flea’s mouth was composed of sucking tubes and various protuberances, and also fringed above with an upper row of spikes. Yellow blood that was obviously not its own dripped from the forelegs as the creature advanced. Long hairs draped from the body and bristled about the head as its hooked front legs advanced like those of a praying mantis.
The flea came ominously closer, but Sean stabbed it with his sword-like barb, causing it to retreat, screeching and gurgling yellow blood. The other aggressor fleas also disappeared.
Sean loudly gasped air out of fear, and his entire body shook from a surge of adrenaline. He must figure out what to do before they returned. Approaching the injured flea, he lowered his weapon when he saw it attempt to shuffle away. Sean said, “If you don’t try to bite me, I won’t hurt you.”
The other stopped retreating.
“Why are they after you?” Sean asked. He noticed that yellow streaks oozed down the flea’s sides.
“They always go for the weakest one,” it said. “But I already told you why.”
One of the flea’s long, hind legs was seriously injured, and Sean asked, “Will you be able to get away?” He also wondered why he was talking to such a repulsive little insect.
“Maybe I can hide,” it responded. “They might decide to go after you now.”
That was an unhappy thought. Sean said, “I used to be bigger than this dog, and I don’t know what happened to me.”
The flea gagged on its own blood, but when its mouth cleared of yellow fluid, it said, “I’m dying. Leave me and find the wise old one who lives on top of the dog’s head. He’s our king. He can probably help you.”
“How do I get there…and which way is it? How will I know when I find him?”
The flea pointed with a short front leg, and said, “Rub some of my blood on you. It may confuse the others. Hurry…I must die alone. I think our wise king will talk to you. Go now.”
Sean left immediately without smearing yellow blood over his body, not wanting to gross himself out by touching the amber fluid. Besides, it might attract other fleas to him. He also left because he had no desire to watch even an ugly flea die.
The trail, if it could be termed that, was faint. After many minutes of walking, the path remained the same, still surrounded by the forest of prickly hairs, but the track eventually slanted steeply upward, becoming a major climb.
Occasionally, Sean glanced around due to a creepy feeling, as if someone was watching him from concealment. Perhaps the fleas were spying on him through the thicket of hairs. A strange shadow fell over the woods composed of Lady’s hair, and Sean thought he heard a cackling sound that arose not far from his dog. Eventually, his unsettling fears dissolved, as though the fleas had raced ahead, leaving Sean behind, but he wondered if they might have lookouts, and also what had caused the deep dark shadow, and why had it disappeared?
The hill leveled out, and Sean paused. He could hear a high-pitched voice somewhere ahead. It definitely was coming from someone very tiny. An entity that was avery close by.
“He’s coming…let’s kill him. Quick, set an ambush.”
“No, I will speak with the intruder.” The second voice spoke with authority, and though it was shrill, it was not as high-pitched and grating to Sean’s ears as the others.
“But he might kill you. Look what he did to Pith.”
“That young fool was attacking him, what else could he do?”
Nearing the voices, Sean saw an area of thinned-out hairs, almost a clearing, and he observed reddish scratch marks on Lady’s skin. In the midst of the trail sat a flea larger than the rest. Could it be the wise king mentioned by that poor dying one?
Beady little eyes glimmered from heads now turning toward Sean from the safety of the hairy forest. The fleas had no necks, so their entire upper bodies shifted with their heads. They made threatening noises until the larger one in the trail called out, “Silence.”
Unable to think of what else to say, Sean blurted, “I don’t know what happened to me.” He recounted his story of shrinking to their size.
“You are a human,” said the old flea, “and you want me to explain why you became small, and how you can get to be large again, correct?”
“Yes, sir…if you will, please.”
“Oh, I’ll tell you,” said the old one, “but only if you promise something first.”
“You must never place poison substances on your dog to kill us.”
There seemed to be light reflecting from the pale blue eye discs of the old one as the sound of squeaky cheering came from the “woods.”
When quiet had been restored, the old flea spoke again, “A long time ago…” he paused as if trying to remember exactly when, “our ancestors did a great favor for a witch. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, there are both cat and dog fleas, and any number of other types. Each is a little different. And as long as dogs have fought with cats, dog fleas have also battled cat fleas. That is how our ancestors…” He paused. “Did I tell you her name?”
Sean replied, “No. Who?”
“I am still getting ahead of myself,” the old flea said. “We need to go back to the time when witches first made personal territories.”
Sean asked, “Witches are real, and they have territories?”
“Absolutely,” replied the royal elder. “It turned out that witches were more powerful in certain regions than in any others. As youngsters, they began to search out their special place, and to make it their home. They became mightier by doing that than they had ever been before, which is the reason they are strongest at home. A witch would never go into the territory of an unfriendly adversary, because her enemy would be more powerful there.”
Sean nodded as if this all made perfect sense, witches and their domains.
“One day, when the witch I was telling you about…. I wish I could think of her name. Oh, never mind. When she went to visit her friend to the north, her witch friend, you understand….”
Sean said, “Yes.”
“Another very powerful witch to the south, a hated enemy feared by all, put a spell on a pack of hunting dogs, causing them to pursue the nice witch’s familiar. As cats go, that familiar was lovely, large and white. Or so I’ve been told, and very tasty, although I’m getting sidetracked once more.
“What was I saying? Oh yes, those dogs chased the cat far away to the south, out of the good witch’s home district, and deep into her dreaded enemy’s jurisdiction. That rival witch…. Have I told you her name?”
“It doesn’t really matter. Now, where was I? Oh yes, her name was Dornelia. Yes, that’s right, the mean witch’s name was Dornelia. Why can’t I think of the other witch’s name? It was more common than Dornelia. Oh, just never you mind, and please don’t interrupt me; it’s too hard to concentrate.
“Anyway, a witch’s familiar—in this case, her cat—picks up many powers over the years. But certainly not all of the witch’s powers, and a cat, even one like what’s-her-name’s, never has complete dominion over dogs. Especially a pack of hunting hounds. And in this case, they were bear-hunting dogs.
“That particular cat was not a youngster, and therefore had many powers of her own, so Dornelia had to get the feline into her domain where it was weakest, and she was strongest, in order to do the wickedness she had in mind.”
“What wickedness?” Sean asked.
“I’m coming to that part,” said the old flea.
Sean couldn’t help but shudder and look away from the ugly countenance as the strange creature continued to speak.
“Dornelia cast a powerful spell over a bunch of cat fleas. She did it in the part of her territory where she was the strongest, making it a hex no other witch could ever remove. Those fleas caused the poor cat….” The old flea seemed to laugh in spite of himself, “Caused her much…discomfort, if you know what I mean.”
Sean found himself scratching his own fleabites. “Yes I do.”
“No matter what that nice witch did, she could not take away the torment her cat was going through. She consulted dozens of witches, sorcerers, and warlocks, all to no avail. She could do nothing to break the powerful spell until one day she remembered an obscure fact. Cat fleas and dog fleas hate each other. They are mortal enemies.”
Sean wondered to himself, cat fleas and dog fleas hate each other?
“Making herself the size of a flea, the witch visited many dogs throughout her territory, searching for the biggest, toughest dog fleas she could find. She assembled them before her, and bestowed on each one the power of speech.”
Sean said, “So that’s how…?”
“Yes,” the old flea continued, “that is why we are able to talk, because it has been a power granted and passed down for generations, but I digress. The cat’s owner, the witch whose name I can’t seem to recall, told our progenitors she wished they would kill a bunch of cat fleas for her, and in return she would grant them another power of their very own, to be handed down to all their descendants.”
Sean had trouble understanding a few of the old flea’s words, and wondered how something so small could have such a big vocabulary.
The old flea king said, “They were delighted with their task and would likely have done it for free. She fed them especially well.” The oldster could not help but snort a laugh before he added, “On the very pack of dogs that had pursued her cat in the first place.
“After gathering dog fleas from different parts of her domain, she trained and exercised her force of fleas until they were ready. Then she returned with them to her house, and the royal battle began when they were placed on her cat.
“The flea war lasted several hours. It may be there was even more to Dornelia’s spell than what’s-her-name had first imagined, but in the end, our ancestors prevailed. All the cat fleas died. Many dog fleas had been killed as well, and the rest had received wounds of one sort or another.
“The nice witch kept her word and asked what power our forebearers wanted to have. They told her they wished to get even with humans for the way people kill fleas. Her response was to give them the power to shrink people to the size of fleas. They could do it, she said, whenever three of their special kind bit someone simultaneously.
“Our enchanted progenitors went on their merry way thinking it was a great power, until they tried it out. They found to their shock that when a dog owner is the size of a tiny insect, they no longer feed their pets. Therefore, the dog and the fleas all suffer, and we fleas must eventually seek a new home. Our forefathers determined never to use that power again, and the tale recounting our inherited power was passed down to each new generation, but with a caution not to use it.
“We did not summon this curse again until today, and over time it was thought of only as a make-believe story. When I recently told it to the youngest generation of our noble kind….” The wise one looked around, but small eyes disappeared behind the densest tree-hairs. He continued, “I guess they decided to put it to the test.”
The old flea yelled in his squeaky voice, “Is that right? Is that what you did?”
No flea dared to reply.
The ancient king addressed Sean. “I’ve answered your first question, and I must tell you one more thing before I answer the second. That nice witch told our ancestors that if the power given us went unused for a long time, it would diminish, although it would never completely disappear. By today, any human will initially become the size of a flea, but then gradually grow bigger. Probably no more than one-third of his original size, however. For you to gain your former height, you’ll have to find that witch—the one whose name I can’t think of—and get her to help.”
“Where does she live?”
“According to our tale, she lives in a big old house toward the top of Omar Valley.”
“I’ve heard of that area, but I don’t believe there are any roads up there.”
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
“How will I get to Omar Valley?”
“By trying very hard, I suppose. We can only help you to get down off of our dog. After that, you will be on your own. You must leave here before your pet awakens and starts moving around. Once she’s standing up, you can’t jump off like we do. Moreover, she’ll notice you getting bigger. You’re already larger than before. She might chew you up, not knowing who you are.”
Sean looked down, and realized he was now significantly taller than the flea, who was bigger than any of the other fleas.
“I will have one of our young worthies escort you down to the floor,” said the old one. “You need to find a weapon, otherwise, pretty much anything bigger than you may gobble you up. Be very careful, and good luck!”
Website copyright © 2011-2014 by EA Bundy. All rights reserved. None of the text, photographs or illustrations may be used without the author or publisher’s—Singing Winds Press—written permission. (Please note, Singing Winds Press is closed to submissions.)