This is one my partner, a Swiss author, wrote. She's a French speaker so I helped her with editing. It's aimed at children aged 6-10. Part of a series based in Cutopia.
It's a full length story, so is a little long. 6000 words or so.
The Punctual Witch And Her Ten Minutes
© Geraldine Aegerter & Pete Malicki 2008
Have you ever met a witch with manners?
Until six months ago, I hadn’t. Every witch I had ever met was horribly rude. But this all changed when I met the Ten Minute witch.
You might not know it, but witches do not usually say ‘hello’ before they stuff your ears with parsley and roast you in the oven. They do not know what ‘good morning,’ ‘thank you’ or even ‘goodbye’ mean. Witches will not waste their breath with such pleasantries.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, and the Ten Minute witch is one of them.
Allow me to tell you the story of when I met this particular old lady. It all happened one day while I was out wandering the streets of Cutopia.
Late one afternoon, while I was waiting in line at a fast food restaurant, an old woman as skinny as a potato chip came up behind me in the queue. She bent down and whispered into my left ear. ‘Good afternoon, darling. I am pleased to announce that you are to be one of the ingredients in my dinner tonight. I am making an omelette with zucchinis, tomatoes, mushrooms and a fresh young lady. To be fair and polite, I will give you ten minutes to escape from me and save your life. I would suggest that you find a good hiding place, because if I find you, I will take you home and chop you up into little pieces. Good luck, young lady!’
Astonished, I stood perfectly still and stared at the woman. Was this old lady in smart black clothes a cannibal? I did not believe it. She was far too elegant to be a common witch. Her long grey hair was gathered together in a neat bun and her wrinkled face still showed the beauty from her youth. She had a necklace with a golden bat hanging from her veiny neck, stockings made from spider webs and polished black shoes with worms as shoelaces.
I thought that she might have been telling a joke. The kind of joke your grandpa might tell.
So I started laughing in front of the old lady and told her she was an excellent comedian, while looking around for the hidden camera.
However, when she started counting out loud, my laughter stopped. She spoke to me in a very serious voice. ‘One minute is spent, miss. You have just nine minutes left!’
The witch then told me she would have some French fries as an entrée. She had nine
minutes to wait before hunting down her main meal, which was me!
When she said this, I realised that she wasn’t joking. There was nothing funny about this at all! If I did not move from here immediately, I would end my life as an omelette.
Imagining my arms and legs diced up into little cubes and mixed with eggs and vegetables terrified me. If I wanted to stay alive, I had to have to find the best hiding place in the world.
Since I was in a fast-food restaurant, I thought about squeezing between two slices of bread and pretending to be a burger. But no, I was far too big for a meat pattie. I looked at the soft drink cups and wondered if I could hide in one of those, but even the five litre super-size wasn’t big enough to fit me.
I needed a better idea if I was going to escape from the witch. Running outside in a panic, I looked at all the shops on the street. Where was the best place to hide?
There was a pet shop on my left. ‘That will do!’ I thought. I can dive into an aquarium filled with exotic fish, or climb into a cage and cover myself with straw.
I entered the pet shop, hoping I would be able to avoid the tragic fate that awaited me.
The shop assistant was giving some advice to a customer who was having trouble choosing between the white bunny and the off-white bunny. I sneaked past the counter and went towards the back of the shop, where I hurried past the snakes and the spiders. They were too scary for me and I couldn’t imagine sharing a house with them.
When I reached the rabbits and guinea pigs, I stopped to look for a good place to hide. The first cage was so crowded with long-eared bunnies that there was no room for me and my little human ears. But I saw something to the left. I saw the perfect hiding place!
The guinea pigs were inside a large, rectangular cage with a little wooden house in the middle. This house would be mine, I declared.
Before climbing into the cage, I took the Contortionists Handbook from my pocket and looked through the pages. Maybe I forgot to mention it earlier, but I always carry this little book with me. It is a very useful book, you know. It shows you how to get your body into unusual positions. For instance, when I want to surprise my mum at Christmas, I just hide inside a wrapped-up shoebox. It is also good for holidays.
Instead of paying for an expensive plane ticket, I always try to squeeze inside my friends’ luggage.
Moving my body upside-down, with my nose between my buttocks and my big toe in one of my ears, I got into the cubic shape I needed to fit inside the little guinea-pigs’ house. I lifted the roof with the only body part I could still move in this position, which was my pinky finger. But much to my surprise, I discovered that the hiding place was already taken by someone else.
There was a man in the house with his body in the same square shape as mine, except that his right knee was in his ear instead of his big toe.
Upset, I asked him what he was doing in this secret place that could have saved my life. The young man answered that he had to hide too. The Twenty Minute witch, who was the cousin of the Ten Minute witch, was looking for him.
When I heard this, I was immediately jealous. ‘Lucky him,’ I thought, ‘he got a better witch than mine. Ten more minutes makes a big difference in a fatal game of hide and seek!’
Disappointed, I left the hiding place that this poor guy had crammed himself into behind.
Exiting the pet shop, I looked at my watch to check how many minutes had passed since I started looking for somewhere to hide. It had been five! If I counted the minute in the fastfood restaurant where I had stood there doing nothing, I only had four minutes to go.
I started to sprint. I needed another hiding place and I needed it quickly!
Running like a headless chook, I left the pet shop and entered the nearest building. It was a laundry.
My friend Suzy was working there. She was standing at the desk folding a large number of shirts. Suzy, always dressed in floral clothes and always friendly, gave me a warm welcome.
She tugged on her long, brown braids and asked me if I had brought some dirty clothes with me. I shook my head and quickly described my meeting with the witch, then I begged her for a good hiding place.
Suzy stared at me with her mouth open. When she realised I was telling the truth, she
frowned apologetically and said, ‘We only have coat hangers and washing machines in this shop.’
‘Why don’t I try a washing-machine?’ I suggested.
‘I think that they are far too small for you!’ Suzy replied, unconvinced.
‘No worries!’ I told her, ‘I am very flexible’.
Suzy wasn’t sure it would work, but she agreed to try. We went to the back of the shop together to have a look at the three washing machines.
Two of the machines were full of clothes and still spinning but the last one seemed to have finished its program.
Suzy lifted the lid of the washing machine and discovered that, much to our surprise,
someone was hidden there.
A tiny Asian boy was curled up in a ball. With curiosity, I asked him if he was also being stalked by a witch. He nodded and told me that the Seven Minute witch was trying to find him. ‘Lucky me,’ I thought, ‘my witch is better than his. I had three minutes more than the poor guy.’
It seemed that my little town had been invaded by a bizarre group of witches who were obsessed with giving out time limits. I vowed to have a word with Inspector Basil if I came out of this creepy adventure alive!
Suzy was a little upset that her machine was filled with human instead of towels. But as she knew it was a question of life and death, she promised the little boy that she would keep her mouth closed if the Seven Minute witch came looking inside her shop.
As much as I was worried about the poor boy, I was still in trouble myself. I was once again without a hiding place and I was running out of time. I had just three minutes left to find a way to avoid becoming the Ten Minute witch’s omelette.
Returning to the front counter with Suzy, I noticed some ironing boards leaning against a wall on the far side of the laundry.
An idea popped into my head as I watched steam coming off a hot iron. This idea might even save my life!
Without telling Suzy what I was planning, I took off my jacket and climbed onto the ironing board. Astonished, my friend looked at me as if I’d just escaped from a nuthouse.
‘What are you doing on my ironing board?’ she asked.
‘Iron me!’ I begged.
‘You must be crazy! I have never ironed a person before!’
‘Please, please, please,’ I said with tears in my eyes. ‘This is my last chance to escape from the horrible witch. If we don’t try this, she will eat me!’
Suzy hesitated, but, touched by my fate, she agreed to help me.
‘Cotton or silk? What kind of temperature should I use for your type of skin?’ she asked professionally.
‘Err, whatever,’ I answered. ‘Whatever flattens me best!’
Suzy knew her job well. ‘Okay. Let’s go for he hottest temperature with maximum steam. I don’t want to crease you!’
My friend came over to the ironing board I was lying on. I closed my eyes tight and took a deep breath as the iron came down towards me.
SHH, SHH, SHHHHHHHHH!
All I could hear was the sound of steam coming off my body. I felt a hot sensation on my skin as the iron passed over my clothes. Suzy, who was concentrating hard on what she was doing, said a few comforting words. She told me that she hadn’t burnt my hair and that I was a very easy material to iron.
When I opened my eyes a minute later, I discovered that I had shrunk so much I had almost disappeared. I was flat, completely flat. As flat as a pancake in fact!
I must warn you though, do not try this at home! It only worked for me because the irons in Cutopia have magical powers. If you did this at home you would probably catch fire and spend the rest of your life looking like an ugly ghoul.
‘I’m so skinny I could eat a thousand cheeseburgers and still look great!’ I declared.
As I was now as thin as all the other shirts in the shop, Suzy was able to hang me from a coathanger. She chose the biggest and fullest wardrobe to hide me in. Placing me upsidedown on a wooden coathanger, she wedged me in between two wedding dresses. I was convinced that the witch would never find me among all of this white cloth.
Suzy closed the wardrobe and returned to the front desk, where she continued with her work so that everything would look normal if any witches came inside her shop.
After just two minutes, from the darkness of the wardrobe, I heard the shop’s bell chiming. Was it my witch, the Ten Minute witch?
It was a woman, but I didn’t recognise her voice. Listening closely to the conversation Suzy was having with her new customer, I heard that it was the Seven Minute Witch looking for the little boy who was hiding in the third washing machine.
Suzy spoke in a very calm voice even though she was talking to a witch who might be
interested in barbecuing her. I heard her telling her hungry customer that she was alone in the shop and hadn’t seen any small Asian boys.
The Seven Minute witch didn’t seem to believe Suzy because she asked to have a look
around the shop. Suzy hesitantly agreed to show her around and I heard them walking towards the back.
She opened the wardrobe next to mine to prove that she was telling the truth. My heart was thumping as she quickly opened my wardrobe and showed the Seven Minute witch the wedding dresses. The witch didn’t dare touch these beautiful dresses, which was fortunate, because they were hiding me. She even told Suzy that she would love to get married in something that looked like this. Suzy, who was the perfect shop assistant, lied to the ugly witch and said that she would look absolutely stunning in one of the wedding dresses.
After having showed the witch the inside of the wardrobes, Suzy went over to the washing machines where the poor boy was hiding. I could only imagine how scared he was!
Since the first two machines were still spinning, the witch decided that her prey couldn’t possibly be hidden there. She was much more interested in the third machine, the one that wasn’t running.
From my wardrobe, I heard Suzy say in a convincing voice, ‘Oh gosh, I forgot to turn this machine on! My customer will be very upset if I haven’t finished washing his hand puppet before the shop closes!’
After this exclamation, I heard Suzy pour some washing powder into the drawer and switch the machine on. Like the expert that she was, she then explained to the witch that hand puppets are very delicate and should only be cleaned with a gentle, soft-silk program.
When the Seven Minute witch had finished poking around the shop, she finally believed that the friendly girl was alone and decided to leave. But just before she walked out the door, she asked Suzy if she knew which shop the wedding dresses had come from. Suzy wrote the shop’s address on a piece of paper and wished her good luck in finding a husband.
When the Seven Minute witch finally left the laundry, Suzy quickly ran back towards the washing machines.
The third machine was spinning very slowly. She opened the door to have a look at the tiny boy. He was foamy and wet but seemed to be okay. Suzy had saved his life!
With a huge sigh of relief, she pulled the little boy from the washing machine and put him on the floor, then helped him to untangle his curled-up body. The boy had cramps in his legs and arms but was happy to have escaped from the Seven Minute witch, who had told him that she was going to slice him into little pieces and sprinkle him on top of her pizza.
Suzy suggested that the young guy leave the laundry via the back door. She also told him to avoid the Witches’ Boulevard on his way home.
After the adventure with the Seven Minute witch, Suzy returned to the front counter. She was falling behind in her work with all these witchy distractions.
But she only had one minute to fold a couple of shirts before the Ten Minute witch opened the door.
From my coat hanger, I knew that it was my witch this time. Without a fair amount of good luck, I would end my life in a frying pan in this old woman’s kitchen.
Even though the Ten Minute witch was 101 years old, she was still a fit, athletic lady. She was always proud to tell her friends that she had won several medals at the Witchcraft Olympic Games over the years.
While she had been in the fast food restaurant eating her French fries and counting down the ten minutes, she had swapped her high-heeled shoes for some comfortable sneakers. When it was time to start hunting me, it had only taken her a few seconds to inspect the street and choose a building to search.
At the pet shop, she found the boy who was inside the guinea pigs’ wooden shed without any difficulty. But he was the prey of her cousin, the Twenty Minute witch, so she left him squashed up in his hiding place. She was interested in a different prey, and that meant ME!
After leaving the pet shop, the witch entered the shop next door, which was the laundry.
I began to shake when I recognised the high-pitched voice of the woman who wanted to murder me.
‘This is it,’ I thought. ‘This is my last chance to stay alive!’
The conversation between Suzy and the Ten Minute witch was loud and animated but I
couldn’t quite hear what they were talking about. I was hanging upside-down from a coat hanger and the blood was starting to pool in my brain.
Even though I felt dizzy, I tried really hard to look like a shirt and stay completely still.
When I heard the witch opening all the wardrobes I held my breath and closed my eyes.
Before I had time to think, the witch was standing in front of me throwing the hangers around to see if I was hidden in the back of the wardrobe. She pushed the wedding dresses aside with so much force that I lost my balance and fell onto her shoulders.
Quite surprised to see me in this skinny new shape, she picked me up and looked me up and down. She measured the thickness and springiness of my skin with her bony fingers.
After a thorough examination, she threw me on the floor with a grimace of disgust.
‘Inedible!’ she said. ‘Look at you. You are nothing more than flesh and bones. What can I cook out of you when you’re like this?’
The Ten Minute witch shook her head. ‘You are nothing better than cat food now!’ she declared grouchily.
She decided to find a more fleshy human to eat and left me on the floor of the laundry. With anger in her eyes, she ran right out of the shop and off to find another victim.
I was safe. My life was safe!
But I was a bit too skinny for my taste.
Suzy picked me up off the floor. I looked like a folded towel. My friend helped to my feet so that I could find my balance. This was more difficult than it sounds, because I kept rolling up like a spinach roll. When I was finally able to stand on my feet, I took a few wobbly steps forwards.
Suzy apologised and told me that she didn’t have time to help me learn to walk again. She had to continue working to make sure the clothes were ready when her customers came to collect them.
I sincerely thanked her for her fantastic help. She was really a heroine, as she had saved two lives in one day!
And so I stumbled out of the laundry, where Suzy was busy folding shirts and putting a load of washing on in her third machine.
I found my way back home, feeling greatly relieved. I hadn’t been eaten by a witch today!
Walking along Old Village Street, I couldn’t help but notice my reflection in a shop
window. I was so thin and narrow! An old couple passing nearby were so shocked by my appearance that they stopped to see if I was okay. They even offered to take me to the Spanish restaurant to gulp down some greasy food. I said yes, of course. Who could say no to a free meal?
I was given lots of special attention inside the restaurant. Indeed, everyone thought that I had come from a country at war, or from a horrible TV show that forces large people to lose weight.
The old couple let me pick whatever I wanted to eat from the menu. While I was waiting for my meal to arrive, people from the tables surrounding mine gave me their leftover tapas because they felt so sorry for me. Every single person in the restaurant was shocked by my skinniness! Then, at the end of the meal, the waiter brought me three big slices of chocolate cake and told me it was on the house.
After I finished my enormous meal, I thanked everyone in the restaurant for their kindness and told them I had to make my way home because it was already past my bedtime. As I left the building I bumped into Valentine, who was going for an evening run through the old village. She stopped when she saw me, her jaw dropping.
‘I don’t understand, I don’t understand!’ she shouted angrily. ‘I have been running every night for three weeks and haven’t lost a bit of weight, and look at you! In just one day you look like one of these supermodels who don’t eat enough. Tell me your secret!’
I told her about the Ten Minute witch and said that my pancake body was more of a curse than a blessing.
After hearing my story, Valentine was sorry for having yelled at me. She decided to offer me some help to get my shape back. She told me she would save leftover cheeses from the supermarket where she worked and that she would invite me over to her house at least three times a week to eat Swiss fondue.
I accepted her kind offer and left Valentine to continue her exercise.
When I reached the wooden front door of my house, I couldn’t find my keys. I realised that they were in my jacket, which I had left at the laundry. I would have gone back to get them but it was too late and Suzy had closed the shop for the night.
Upset with myself, I said a few naughty words before realising that I was slim enough to slide underneath the door without any difficulties.
Since this unexpected adventure, I have adjusted to my new body shape. I never go out on a windy day and I always avoid the drains in gutters. It is not easy to be skinny, but there are definitely advantages. I can go to museums and concerts for free, as I can fit between the holes in fences, and above all, I will never be caught by a witch again! Witches are far too fussy when it comes to what they eat!
But I know that these advantages won’t last forever. The fondue that Valentine is cooking me three days a week is starting to have an effect. In a few more months, I will regain the curves of a juicy camembert.
PS: If you are wondering what happened to the guy in the guinea pigs’ house, I have
absolutely no idea!