There’s a certain simmering belligerence about minimum wage slaves that refuses to recognise jocularity. The man in the brown nylon uniform favoured me with one of his best withering looks and offered me the clipboard.
I surrendered to the inevitable and did the sensible thing. In exchange for his returned clipboard, scrupulously checked to see that I had indeed written the correct name, he passed me a small package. I didn’t bother querying the obvious flaw in his method; I doubt he would have understood.
Back behind closed doors, I examined the package. Yes it was addressed to me, but who were Wicker and Black? I tore open the parcel to reveal a letter, an envelope and a small leather-bound book. The letter was printed on headed notepaper and short to the point of terseness.
Dear Mr O’Reilly,
As executors of the last will and testament of the late Ms Hortense Willikins, I hereby discharge my obligations regarding her instructions by sending you the enclosed.
It was signed M Q C H Wicker, Attorney at Law
Well I suppose with that many initials I might have turned out a pompous ass too, especially if one of them was a Q. So the old woman was dead. Sad but inevitable, she must have been chasing her century if not already past it.
The envelope was yellowed with age and sealed with a smudge of red wax. No seal, but then again those were reserved for people of ‘respectable heritage’. I rather suspected the old girl and I shared the same opinion of such people.
I broke the seal and withdrew a single sheet of yellowed parchment. It unfolded to reveal several lines of writing, meticulously neat to the limitation of the pen, which might well have been a goose quill. It was dated from some years previous. I sat down to read.
A witch rarely leaves anything of value once she has departed this world, but a kindness must be repaid. I am writing this letter in the hours following a certain occurrence you and I shared, though I suspect it will be some years before you read these words. You may not even remember the incident in question.
It was on the afternoon of the above date, and some young boys had decided that pelting an old woman’s house with rotten eggs might provide some lively sport. There was little enough I could do without becoming a target myself, and I had resolved to wait it out. I’ve never been one to use my gifts to harm others, but I was sorely tempted that afternoon.
That was until I heard your young voice raised above the fracas. “Hey, leave her alone,” you said. “She may look like she used to be a man, but that’s no reason to be mean to her.” I don’t know if you realised that I could hear, or how unkind those words seemed to me then.
I went to the window and saw the gang of hooligans throwing the last of their missiles in your direction. Fortunately for you, their aim was only sufficient to hit something the size of a house with any degree of consistency. You escaped unscathed, but then had to endure their jeering until they sought amusement elsewhere.
At first I thought that would be the end of it, that you would walk on, but once they had gone, you came and knocked on my door, apologising for their behaviour and offering to clean up the mess. I’m afraid I was still rather too upset by your words, so I gave you a bucket and rag and left you to it. When you were done, you knocked on my door again, but I wanted nothing to do with you and waited until you left the bucket beside the door and walked off before stepping outside.
You did a good job of the cleaning, and it can’t have been a pleasant experience. That was when I recognised the kindness of your intent, even if your tender years did cause you to choose your words somewhat unwisely. I felt I owed you, and it is wrong for a witch to be in debt.
It took me some time to decide upon a suitable reward, but in a way your words decided that too. It was a most unusual choice of words and, whilst I have very little time for Freud’s ideas, in this particular instance it does seem that you let slip something of your underlying desires.
By the time you receive this, I will be dead and all my worldly possessions returned to the Earth. All but this which is a belated but heartfelt gift of appreciation for the kindness you showed an old woman one afternoon. I hope it brings you more happiness than you allow yourself.
With all sincerity.
I remembered that afternoon clearly; it had all seemed so unfair. Cleaning all that egg off the walls and windows had taken over an hour, all the while reeking so vile I can smell it still. After she hadn’t even had the good grace to answer the door and say thank-you, I’d run home howling and complained to anyone who’d listen. That is until I spoke to my dad and he laughed and told me how no good deed goes unpunished. It was oddly gratifying, after all this time, to realise that she had appreciated my efforts after all.
The book was an anachronism. Soft leather, hand stitched. Not ancient, but at the very least made using an ancient bookbinder’s art. It opened onto a blank page. Quality paper, and completely unmarked. I flipped through the pages, all blank, and found myself wondering at the purpose of the gift. I lifted it up and examined the spine, looking to see if anything was hidden in it, and felt a sharp sting.
I dropped the book, which landed open to the first page, and looked to see what injury was there. A small bead of blood formed at the tip of my thumb. Had she lost a needle in the binding process somewhere? I looked closer at the cover. There was something sharp sticking out, but too well embedded for me to pull it free.
Unnoticed, the drop of blood grew until it was large enough to fall free. It landed on the page causing me to share a few choice vulgarities with no-one in particular and stuck my thumb in my mouth. Here I was with a beautifully crafted, if somewhat odd, gift from the past and I’d managed to tarnish it within minutes of receiving it. I examined the blood spot, wondering if I could clean it off before any permanent damage was done, but it was already soaking into the paper, changing, spreading, forming… No that was impossible.
Words started to appear on the page, blood red words, but too many to have come from that single, small drop. I sucked harder on my thumb, tasting the metallic tang as it continued to haemorrhage, and the words spread down the page. Caught up in my own curiosity I began to read.
It all started with a rude and cheerless delivery man, and an unexpected package. The man had no sense of humour, in fact quite possibly no sense at all, but I digress. The important thing was the package. A letter from a solicitor telling me I had inherited something from the old lady who used to live up the road from where I lived years ago. She wrote me a letter about a time when I had stopped some boys from throwing eggs at her house and had offered to clean up the mess, how she hadn’t thanked me at the time, and how she was giving me this bequest on her death as a way of making up for it.
The package contained an odd looking, leather bound book with blank pages in it. Weird or what? I mean who gives an empty book as a thank-you present? Anyway, it seemed whoever made the thing left a needle in the binding and I pricked my thumb on it. Clumsy tit that I am, I let a drop of blood fall on one of the pages. That’s when things got really weird.
I pulled my thumb out of my mouth to check on it, but blood was still coming out of the tiny hole in the tip. I put it back and continued to suck. The first page was filled with writing so I turned over to see if it would continue. It did.
The blood soaked into the page and words began to appear. A short account of everything that had happened from the time I opened the door on the delivery man right up to the present moment.
You’d have thought things would stop there, but somehow they kept going, writing ahead of the now, writing changes, impossible changes, into my life.
I felt an odd itching on my chest, uncomfortable but not painful, and rubbed my nipples with my free hand. There was something odd there, a swelling, suddenly huge, straining against my shirt, pulling the buttons apart until they burst across the room leaving me staring down at…
My chest was itching and started rubbing at it. It felt odd, my nipples larger than usual and my pectorals bulging more than they should. Suddenly there was a kind of squirming movement underneath my hands and two large mounds on my chest were straining against my shirt. The buttons flew off and a found myself looking down at a pair of perfectly formed, if slightly on the large side, breasts.
I cupped them in my hands, feeling their softness, their weight. What the hell? How was I going to explain these?
My thumb had stopped bleeding and I looked down at the book. The last word was faded, as though the pen writing it had run out of ink.
I wandered off to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. Ok, I’ll admit I did play with them a little, but I mean who wouldn’t? They were sensitive and sent shivering shock-waves of pleasure through me bringing my little guy rigidly to attention.
I ran the cold tap and splashed water in my face, trying to regain some control. It seemed to work because the part of my anatomy that was hogging all the blood settled back down, and I could think again. It came to me that if anyone would know about what was happening to me, it was Messrs Pompous and Pompouser who’d sent me the damned package in the first place.
First things first though, I had to get my new additions under some sort of control. I tried tee-shirts first, but even my largest one was too tight, chafing my newly sensitive nipples and looking frankly slutty. Eventually I settled on baggy sweatshirt, and even that felt tender.
I made my way back to the front room, the phone and the letter. A few seconds of busy fingers later I was listening to a ring tone, then a cheerful female voice.
“Wicker and Black, how may I direct your call?”
“I’d like to speak to Mr Wicker please.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Wicker is out of the office at the moment.” Chipper was beginning to get on my nerves and I didn’t know why. “Would Mr Black be able to help you?”
Any port in a storm. “I hope so, yes, please put me through.”
There followed twenty seconds of the Stylophone* version of Green Sleeves,** then a man’s voice answered.
“Hi, er my name’s Diarmuid O’Reilly…”
“Ah yes, Mistress Willikins will. I take it you received it safely?”
“Yes I got it, but I have a few questions. Mainly, do you know anything about the weird things that have been happening to me since I received your package, and how I can reverse them?”
The silence was ominous, the drawn out “Oh dear” that followed, even more so.
“What do you mean, ‘Oh dear’?”
“I’m sorry Mr O’Reilly, there seems to have been a mistake here. You see it’s very rare for a witch to leave a final will, and all but unheard of for the beneficiary be unaware of what it means. We just assumed that you knew what this was about.”
“Would you mind assuming otherwise for the remainder of this phone call?” I was looking for a balance between ‘pretty please’ and ‘don’t mess with me’. I’m not sure if I quite managed it, but Mr Black was solicitous. Goes with the job title I suppose.
“Yes of course. Er, the book isn’t so much the bequest as the actual last will of Mistress Willikins. You see witches don’t actually own anything as such. What they have in life, clothes, food, home, etcetera, is all returned to the Earth when they die. On the rare occasion that a witch does leave a last will, it is more of a final wish extended to the recipient than anything physical.
“The book is just the means of getting the will into your hands, nothing more.”
“And just how is this will delivered?”
“By the blood and desire. The desire of the giver manifested in the blood of the receiver. Tell me, have you by any chance cut or pricked yourself since receiving the book?”
“Yes, there was a pin hidden in the binding.”
“And what exactly happened when you encountered the pin?”
“I pricked my thumb and a drop of my blood fell on the first page of the book by accident. That’s when writing started to appear. It gave a short description of how the book came into my possession, then the narrative overtook the present and it started writing about things that hadn’t happened yet, just before they did.”
“Hortense’s will manifesting itself, exerting itself on reality to bring about changes. Er, may I ask what changes so far?”
“Well two that stand out. Both of them about a C cup unless I miss my guess.”
“Ah. I was afraid of something like this.”
“So how do I reverse these changes?”
“I’m sorry sir, you don’t. No-one alive has the strength to stand against a witch’s last will. I’m actually surprised things stopped there.”
“What do you mean I don’t? I can’t go out looking like this!” Hysteria is a wonderful weapon to use over the phone, probably the only one that is truly effective, which is why I used it.
“Mr O’Reilly, please calm down. Mistress Willikins would not have put this on you against your wishes, she wasn’t that kind of witch.”
“How then do you explain the, admittedly lovely, pair of hooters I have bouncing about on my chest. I know I didn’t ask for them, and I know I’m going to have a very hard time explaining them the next time I step out of the flat.”
“Well that’s the thing, you see I’m sure she didn’t intend for things to stop here. I don’t really understand it, but it seems to me that you are stuck somewhere in the middle.”
“You mean there’s more to this?” It wasn’t quite a scream, I mean there was no volume to it, but I was definitely upsetting the neighbourhood bats.
“Of course there is. Mistress Willikins intended this as a gift, a reward. There’s evidently no kindness in growing a pair of largish mammary glands on an otherwise healthy man.”
“But you think there would be a kindness in whatever else she had in mind?”
My mind was racing ahead. I looked down at the faded last word in the book, then at my no longer bleeding thumb. Two and two seemed to make four.
“Sir I urge you, once we have figured out why the process stopped, and how to start it again, I do urge you to put your faith in Hortense Willikins. I never knew her to use her art to harm another and, in a witch as powerful as she was, the temptation is very strong. She was a good person to the end, and I know she wouldn’t expend this kind of power for so petty a thing as revenge, even over a far greater slight than you would have given her.”
“How do you know what I did to her?”
“I don’t, but I recall the day she left the will with us and, unless I have miscalculated, you would have been a child. She was wise enough to forgive children their excesses, otherwise don’t you think there would have been a few more slugs and snails in the neighbourhood, and a few less boys?”
I hate it when other people are right and I wasn’t about to give this guy the satisfaction of knowing that he was. Besides I was contemplating the possible full nature of the gift, and the prospects were terrifying.
“Mr O’Reilly. Mistress Willikins requested I say something to you should you show some reticence in accepting her gift.”
“Oh? What was that?”
“She said, ‘Men fight each other for their place in the world, and often hide parts of themselves that they’re afraid show weakness. Wouldn’t you rather live in this world unashamed and unafraid, accepted in all ways for who and what you are?’
“Dos that make any sense?”
It did, but I wasn’t ready to admit that yet. “So you mean accepted like she was? Accepted in a way that caused kids to throw rotten food at her?”
“I mean standing proud as who and what you are, and being surrounded by people who love and respect you.
“Most people react to what’s different with a mixture of fear and disdain, especially men who use such differences as a weapon in their pissing contests. If you think about it, gay bashing, racial prejudice, male chauvinism, they’re all uniquely male in origin and all about declaring yourself or your group to be better than the rest. Anyone who’s a little different runs the risk of being hated for not conforming to the norm.
“Hortense Willikins was not afraid to be different. Yes it meant that small minded bigots brought some misery to her door, but where it counted, she was recognised, loved and respected for the good she did, the good only she could do by being who and what she was. The only way to acceptance is through recognition, and by standing proud and being awesome she taught a lot of people to be thankful there were people like her in the world.”
“You are talking about witches aren’t you?”
“I’m talking about any form of difference. Hiding what you are inside is slow suicide. Worse than that it’s a denial of self which means you can’t reach your full potential. Hortense chose to play by her rules and carved out a place in the world where she could live.”
“And now you think she’s trying to do the same for me? By giving me a pair of love muffins?”
“I think she wanted to give you more, if only we can find out how to complete the change.”
“Yeah, about that.”
“Do you think it might have something to do with me stopping bleeding? I mean the sentence peters out halfway through, and the last word is faded like the ink was running out. If I were to bleed all over the page again, do you think it would restart?”
“Blood and desire, it’s worth a try.”
“And you’re sure there’s no way back from this? No way to reverse the changes?”
“A witch’s dying wish is the strongest magic there is, I doubt all the wyrd that remains in the world could stand against it.”
The strange thing was I found I didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t admit it out loud just yet, some vestige of maleness holding onto old habits of hiding my shame, but deep inside I wanted this change, was excited by the prospect of being free to be me.
He was right. I’d hidden a part of me away that made me feel different from the other guys. I had always felt like I didn’t belong, lived on the edge of acceptance, and only then because I forced myself to be something I wasn’t, something I didn’t want to be. If there was a chance to change that…
“I’ll call you back.”
I hung up the phone and walked over to the table and the open book; sat and stared. Was this really something I wanted? I thought so. Would I regret giving up what I had? I didn’t know.
Nature chose that moment to seek my attention and I headed off to the bathroom to do my business. I usually preferred sitting to go, but this time, possibly because it might be my last, I stood to point Percy at the porcelain. It felt odd, all the more so because I couldn’t see past the twins at what I was holding. I headed for my bedroom and stripped off my clothes to examine the odd mixture of things I had become in the mirror. If I could choose, what would I rather lose?
I walked back into the into the living room wearing nothing but my skin. I had been naked at my birth, and it seemed appropriate somehow that I should be naked at my rebirth. I found the pin and pricked my thumb once more, squeezing the blood out and letting it fall onto the page. The blood swam, the words continued.
…what I can only describe as a generous pair of breasts.
I held them in my hands, marvelling at their weight, their softness, their sensitivity. At first I was filled with fear; what would people think? It was hard enough being accepted as it was, how would people react to me now? Then new feelings took over and I was filled with a sensual arousal that all but blotted out my ability to think.
A little cold water in the right place and I managed to regain some control, some semblance of rational thought. If anyone would know anything about this it would be those lawyer dudes. I covered my modesty with an oversized sweatshirt – It wasn’t that comfortable, but it was better than nothing – and picked up the phone.
Mr Wicker wasn’t in, but Mr Black talked to me at some length, convincing me that the best way was forward.
Convincing me. Yeah right, like I needed convincing.
I found the needle in the binding and pricked my thumb again, deliberately this time. The drop of blood fell on the page, formed words and before long I was up to date with events.
What happened next was beyond anything I’d experienced before. My body felt like it was filled with serpents, all sliding over and around each other in a tangled dance. It wasn’t painful or even uncomfortable, just profoundly odd. I was aware of the moment my manhood sucked up into my body, like that last piece of spaghetti. I dropped my hands between my legs to discover changes I’d only ever seen in biology texts books. I never imagined they could be so delicate, so sensitive. Hair cascaded down my back and shoulders, long waves of raven black hair, reaching down to tickle my breasts. My waist narrowed, my hips broadened, my skin became smooth and hairless. Everything in the room seemed to grow a little and, in a distracted moment, I found myself hoping I would be beautiful.
I don’t know how I managed to read that far as the changes took over. They were erotic and overwhelming, sending shuddering paroxysms of delight through my metamorphosing self. I hoped I would be beautiful. Eventually I succumbed to a body full of new sensation and slid onto the floor, writhing in ecstasy until I all but lost consciousness.
Things seemed to settle down. No more changes, and the electric hypersensitivity faded to little more than a memory. I picked myself off the carpet and headed straight for my bedroom and the wardrobe mirror.
I was shorter than I had been, perhaps by as much as six inches, and curvy rather than skinny. My face still had some of the old Diarmuid in it, but everything was more delicate, the eyes larger, the lips fuller, the cheekbones just a little higher.
I smiled and magic happened. Not the sort of snap your fingers, turn the prince into a handsome frog magic, but a more natural sort where sheer delight shines through a pretty face and brightens a room. A fading part of me all but fell in love with the image in the mirror and I realised I would have to be careful how I used that smile.
I picked out one of my button down, cotton shirts and slipped it on. It was still tight across the chest, but not obscenely so, and fell to mid-thigh. I tried on a pair of jeans, but they were too tight across the hips and wouldn’t do up. The legs stretched beyond my toes in any case so I discarded them as impractical. A little work with a pen-knife gave me a new hole in one of my oversized belts, meaning I could cinch in the waist of the shirt. It would have been nice to have underwear that worked, but for now I was at least moderately decent.
Back in the living room I cast an eye over the open page of the book. There was a gap beneath the last words I had read, then a few more short paragraphs. No new text was forming and there was no fading in the last word, so I assumed the will was complete. All that was needed was for me to finish reading.
My dear sweet Eimear, if it please you to permit me to name a new daughter. She was said to have possessed the ‘Six Gifts of Womanhood’ – beauty, a gentle voice, sweet words, wisdom, needlework (which tickles my sense of irony) and chastity. You have all of these and I trust you will use them well and find great joy in them.
The remaining pages are yours. Your blood and your desire to effect change. I’m afraid the will in life isn’t as strong as in death – the reason I had to wait until my own passing to give you this gift – but, used wisely and kindly, you will be able to bring a little happiness, alleviate a little misery, in the lives you touch.
This is a gift for your kindness, and long overdue, but it is also a charge that I would not pass to you if I didn’t think you willing and suited to it. Enjoy your new life daughter, and use it to lighten the burdens others carry. There is great joy to be found in helping those in need.
The will had filled only three pages in the book. There were dozens of blank sheets waiting, and all it would take to fill them and change the world was a drop of my blood and my desire. For the briefest moment I was tempted to see if I could use the magic to fill my wardrobe with more suitable clothes, but even if it would work, it wasn’t an appropriate use of the power. I put the book away until I found a reason to use it.
I picked up the phone and pressed last number redial, appraised Mr Black of what had happened and thanked him for his help.
There was a girl who lived opposite; pretty enough that as Diarmuid I’d never dared speak to her, and perhaps not too far off my current size. I knocked on her door. A timid face appeared above the door chain.
“Hi,” I gave her the magic smile. I didn’t expect her to fall in love with me, but friendship would be a good start. “I live opposite. I’m sorry to be so cheeky, but I have a sort of wardrobe emergency; I don’t have a thing to wear. Any chance you could help out?”
“I thought there was a guy lived opposite.”
“Diarmuid? No he’s gone. It’s just me now. Look, I know this is a bit weird, but I could really use a friend right now.”
She closed the door and slid off the chain, then opened it and waved me in. She held out her hand.
“Eimear, Eimear O’Reilly.”
I took the offered hand and shook it gently, then followed her into her bedroom.
“So what happened to your clothes?”
“Oh, you know how it is. I opened the wardrobe and nothing seemed to fit.”
“Oh I know that feeling,” she laughed. “If you need any help shopping, I’m not doing anything this afternoon.”
I had some money in the bank I’d been saving towards a new car, but clothes seemed more of a priority now. She took a navy blue dress from a hanger and held it up against me, nodding in approval, handing it to me with a pair of matching shoes and a new packet of tights. I felt a little uncomfortable going commando in borrowed clothes, but less so than asking her to lend me some of her unmentionables. It wouldn’t be for long though.
The dress was a good fit and matched my complexion well. I couldn’t suppress my radiant smile; I was going to enjoy being a girl.
*If there is a hell for musicians, this demonic device will feature heavily. Apparently you can still buy them, with mp3 input no less!
**Or Green Fleeves as it was written back in the days when S’s looked like F’s.***.
***All the more power to the elbow**** to the bloke who dared write ‘Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I’.
**** All the better for maintaining alcohol induced inspiration.
***** How many stars is too many in a footnote?*****