The grey early-morning sky is hazy and tinged faintly with blue. There is still snow in the air – just a few flakes. Mizzy is still in bed, puzzling over the drawing in the book about smuggling.
Her mother calls, ‘Are you up? Come and have your breakfast. Then we can decorate the tree together.’
Mizzy’s mum loves Christmas, all of it, Christmas Carols, Christmas dinner, Christmas Stockings, and, most of all, Christmas presents. Wrapping them up, putting them under the tree. The decoration of the tree had been a bone of contention when her parents had lived together. Cordelia likes to festoon it with tinsel, baubles and lights. Overloaded and draped in a haphazard manner. Frank likes the decorations to be ordered and simple. A minimalist design, is much more classy, he always argued.
It also infuriated him that Cordelia insisted on putting an ornament depicting a smiling sun on the top of the tree, rather than the traditional angel. ‘You are just doing it to be perverse!’ he would moan, and Cordelia would counter ‘Nonsense, we are celebrating Yule, the sun is the pagan symbol of hope for the coming of spring.’
Mizzy’s parents insist on maintaining the tradition of having Christmas dinner together, even though they now live apart. They probably feel that they are doing it for her benefit, but it usually just results in the dinner table turning into a battleground. They inevitably start sniping, over the turkey and sprouts, about the true origins of Christmas. Cordelia claims that it is all rooted in paganism, and Frank retorts with his belief, historically speaking, that the Victorians had more to do with the traditions that we follow. Mizzy sighs at the thought of it all.
‘Is it him?’ says Cordelia standing by the door.
‘Your father, has he done something to upset you?’
‘I heard you sigh.’
Mizzy thinks quickly, to avoid further interrogation.
‘Oh, no, I was thinking about the bag lady’
‘Who spoilt our ceremony?”
Mizzy looks at her mum, with her red curls bunched untidily up in a clip, and dark green eyes. Just like me, she pondered, and just like Hep.
‘Yes, she says her name is Hepzibah. You know, like our one, the one drowned as a witch. Are those stories true?’
‘Hepzibah Kemp. Your great-great-great-great grandmother – so, you are interested in your heritage? Of course they are true. I have just the book for you!’ Cordelia replies with excitement She rushes off and returns shortly with a heavy book, sitting down on the bed next Mizzy as she leafs through its pages.
She finds the page she is searching for, ‘Here we are,’ she says, and starts reading aloud, ‘Hepzibah Kemp died, aged about 36, in 1665 from drowning. This followed a trial for witchcraft at which she was found guilty. The Squire of Port Gwyneth, who claimed that she was in league with the devil and practiced the dark arts. The villagers, perhaps out of a sense of duty to their master, also claimed that she had poisoned them, caused their cattle to sicken and die and their crops to fail. They were also critical of her character saying that she did not behave as a fair female should.’
‘Sounds like she was trouble.’ comments Mizzy.
‘No, it was all nonsense, of course,’ replies Cordelia ‘She helped the villagers. There is more to these accusations than meets the eye. I wish we could hear Hepzibah’s own version of the story.’
After helping her mother decorate the Christmas tree, Mizzy takes the cliff path up to the bunker. The old woman is intriguing; she wants to find out why she stole her mum’s old bone. Looking out over the snowy rooftops of the village, she pushes her way through the gorse and down the steps to Hep’s bunker.
A transformation has taken place, overnight. The whole place has been cleaned and bunches of herbs hang from the ceiling giving off a sweet, fresh, aroma. An old comfy sofa now stands by the iron stove, an old Grandfather Clock in one corner and a day bed in another. The ramshackle table and chairs have been replaced by slightly more modern variations. Hep is fiddling with an old television set, and looks up with startled eyes to see who has intruded into her hideaway.
‘Oi, I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Literally.’ demands Mizzy ‘What was that all about last night? Why did you steal my mum’s ceremonial bone thing?’
Hep just glares at her ‘I didn’t steal the bone, it is mine.’
‘What do you mean it’s your bone? It’s just an animal bone.’
‘No, it is a human bone, my bone.’
Realising that she is unlikely to get any more sense out of Hep, Mizzy decides to change the subject. She looks around the bunker, nodding her head in appreciation, ‘You’ve actually made it quite nice. Where did you get all the furniture from?’
Sensing an accusation, Hep snaps back, ‘I did not steal this, either.’
‘I never said you did,’ shrugs Mizzy.
‘Twas all left, like the food. You ‘ave an abundance in your time and you throw it away.’
‘You dragged all this up from the council tip? – Didn’t anyone try and stop you?’
‘No, I made sure no one could see me first. A simple enchantment.’
‘Enchantment? You mean no one wanted to get into an argument with a mad old woman.’
Scattered around Hep’s home are odd bits of redundant technology, from across the ages. Old radios and television sets, computer keyboards, cogs and gears.
‘What about all this junk? What do you want all these old gadgets for?’
Hep ponders her reply, ‘Tis the ‘New Magic’, not like my own – but I will bend it to my will.’
Mizzy is surprised to find she is sweating in the heat from the stove. Hep has made a chimney for it that goes out through one of the old gun slits, and has boarded up the rest to keep out draughts. ‘Phew, it’s like a sauna in here!’ she exclaims, taking off her thick winter coat.
‘Aye, ‘tis to ward off the bone ache.’ replied Hep, puffing on a long white clay pipe.
‘You shouldn’t smoke, it’s bad for you.’
‘Ha!’ laughed Hep, ‘Bit late for that, seeing as’m already dead!’
‘That’s just silly, you’ve got plenty of life left in you.”
‘Aye, but only because of ‘ee.’
‘Well, you look like you can look after yourself, I’m sure you don’t need me.’
‘There is power in the ties that bind.’
Mizzy frowns, ‘Are you saying we are related in some way?’ she says staring at the amber glints, just like her own, in Hep’s dark green eyes. ‘You do look like me and mum. Distant relatives, I suppose? Have you lived away from the village?’
‘You could say that, in a way. In another way I never left.’
‘Now you are just talking in riddles.’ Mizzy responds in exasperation.
‘I just meant I ‘ave come back many times afore.’
‘Well, I’ve never seen you around.’
‘The last time were before you was born.’
‘Oh, you must have been quite a bit younger then.’
‘No,’ says Hep shaking her head ‘tis no time, to me.’
‘You’re not making any sense, Hep. Have you got a social worker or somebody looking after you? Care in the Community and all that? Please don’t tell me you escaped from somewhere? Because, honestly, they’ll be worried about you, you know?’
‘Escaped, aye, I have escaped many times,’ admits Hep, ‘many times I have been held against my will. They keep calling me mad, but I am not.’
‘Did you escape from somewhere, yesterday?’ asks Mizzy, with concern, ‘you do realise they will be out searching for you?’
‘No, twas a few years ago, the last time I escaped from the asylum.’
‘Well, when exactly?’
‘1957, I think it was.’ says Hep, innocently.
Mizzy eyes blaze, ‘1957 is not a few years ago! Are you winding me up? O.K. You need some medical help, if you are a bit unwell in the head. Don’t you?’ says Mizzy, getting more and more annoyed.
‘My head is not addled.’
‘Well, you might think not, but last night you had no idea what a mobile phone was did you? You had forgotten. You might be getting confused or losing your memory.’
‘There is nothing wrong with my memory and I have no head malady, but if you saw people walkin’ around talkin’ to themselves would you not think them to be insane, if you had never seen one of these phones?’
‘How can you have never seen a mobile phone before?’ asks Mizzy, incredulously, getting hers out of her pocket.
‘You will teach me the new magic?’ Hep eagerly pleads, staring at it in fascination.
‘I told you last night; it is not magic, its science. Look, you know what a telephone is, don’t you?’
‘Of course, I am not stupid,’ snorts Hep, ‘I have seen them before, in my past visits. You can speak to people who are not really here. The voices go down the wire. It can bring good news and bad news. Sometimes people are scared when it rings, other times they are happy. This phone,’ says Hep, pointing to Mizzy’s phone ‘has no wires, it is a like a radio. Radio waves I know, they are powerful new magic. Big Boxes with valves in, small boxes with transistors, lots of voices and music.’ Hep then launches into an imitation of sounds, from her memory, ‘This is the BBC Home Service, and, Daily on two, breakfast special, brightens the news for you! and, It’s the Happy, Happy Sound of Radio One! and…’
‘O.K. stop now, that was a long time ago, when you were a kid, I suppose,’ says Mizzy, thinking Hep, like many old people, is getting confused about the past and present, ‘It’s like a radio, yes, but in a sort of network, look it’s a bit complicated, just take my word for it, as long as there is a signal you can call anyone.’’
Hep becomes wide-eyed, ‘You canst talk to anyone?’
‘Yes, to anyone in the world who has a mobile, but you can do lots of other things besides talking. It’s a smart phone.’
‘Tis quick witted, you say?’
Mizzy shakes her head, in bafflement, ‘Look, I’ll show you,’ and speaks into the phone ‘Where am I?’ A soothing, pretty female voice, replies ‘You are on Spriggan Point, Port Gwyneth, Cornwall, England.’
Hep stunned, stares at the phone, ‘It answers your commands?’
‘Well sort of, it’s just a an app, it just gives you information.’
‘App? ‘tis a spell of some kind? ’
Mizzy tries to explain, holding up the screen display and pointing to the map on it, ‘A smartphone always knows where you are, and how to find places. It has maps, see, and that is where we are. It uses GPS.’
‘GPS? – tis’ a finding spell?’
‘No, I told you it’s science. It’s satellites – in the sky.’
Hep snatchs the phone from Mizzy who lets out an angry cry, ‘Hey, stop it.’
A distant look comes into Hep’s eyes as if she is communing with the phone.
‘What are you doing?’ asks Mizzy.
‘Trying to understand thy new magic.’
‘Its nothing to do with magic – its software, an app is a computer program…’
‘Aye, I know,’ interrupts Hep, ‘’Application Software – a sequence of instructions, written to perform a specified task. As I said, just like a spell.’
‘Not magic, again!’
‘Global Positioning System,’ Hep intones, ‘Knowledge Navigator, Natural Language User Interface.’ she intones.
‘Mizzy, frowns, ‘How can you not know what a mobile phone is and suddenly spout all that? I don’t understand half the stuff you just said!’
Hep does not answer but gives the phone back to Mizzy, demanding, ‘Show me more.’
‘A ‘please’ would be nice,’ replies Mizzy ‘and you oldies have a cheek complaining about how teenagers have got no manners.’
‘Purleeeze’ whines Hep
‘O.K. no need to take the mickey,’ Mizzy swipes her hand over the display on the phone and it starts to play a song about being happy, ‘right, so you can play music on it, too.’ At first, Hep seems deafened by the noise and puts her hands to her ears, but is soon bobbing her head along to the tune. She slowly smiles ‘Tis good, this new magic.’
Mizzy chooses to ignore this, ‘Then of course, you have your social media. You can text, post, and tweet.’
Hep takes this as an instruction, ‘TWEET– TWEET– TWEET– TWEET– TWEET–TWEET’
‘What are you doing now?
‘Tis a Meadow Pipit. You told me to tweet. Like a bird.’
‘No, you write things,’ explains Mizzy, showing Hep the screen on the phone, ‘and you can post pictures and videos about what you are doing.’
‘I do not want people to know what I am doing. My mission is a secret. My whereabouts must not be known.’
‘Fine. But you won’t get any friends or followers that way.’
‘I do not want people following me. Do you take me for some kind of Pied Piper?’
‘No, they don’t literally follow you, stupid. Look, I’ll show you. See this is my username, @Mizbiz’
‘Your ‘username’, tis the mystical name you go by when you are casting the tweet spells?’
‘Well, yes, sort of, anyway, you have to keep it short because you can’t use many words.’
‘Ah, only short spells will work. I understand, tell me more of thy magical words.’
‘They are not spells. You just say interesting things and you get friends and followers.’
‘So these followers are your coven?’
‘No, well some of them are right catty witches, actually. Then you get the trolls.’
Hep is surprised, ‘Surely trolls are mere legend? Do fearsome creatures, as tall as a house, really exist? What spells do you use against them?’
‘Well, I think it best just to ignore them.’
‘Yes, an invisibility spell, tis a good defence, tell me more.’
‘Well, there’s not much more to say really. You can do searches, of course, for people.’
‘You can divine the whereabouts of souls?’
‘Well, sort of, you can find out about people and places. It’s all on the Internet.’
‘You capture all this in a net, conjured by the new magic?’
‘No, it’s not a real net, its, its, oh, I don’t know how to explain it. Look, it’s just all in here, O.K?’ says Mizzy shaking her phone at Hep, ‘I’m fed up with trying to explain this to you. It is not magic, it’s science and I don’t have any special powers.’
‘You do not believe in the mystical arts?’
‘No, of course not, it’s just a lot of superstitious rubbish! I only believe in things that can proved are real, that are logical.’
‘Logic is not enough – you need imagination, too. Einstein would never have formulated his General Theory of Relativity without imagination. It was just a thought experiment, until proved.’
‘Yes, but it was proved, so I believe in it.’
‘Einstein left many questions unanswered. There are as many beliefs on what those answers might be, as there are stars in the sky. More than can be counted.’
‘Hang on a minute, what’s happened to your accent?’ says a puzzled Mizzy.
Hep looks startled, as if she has been caught out, ‘It comes and go’s. As needs be.’ she says sheepishly.
An idea suddenly dawns on Mizzy, ‘Oh my god, you fake it don’t you? It’s to fool people isn’t it? You use that accent to make people think that you are just some silly old bat who wouldn’t even know what year it was!’
‘Aye, well people’s prejudices can be useful, if you want to avoid difficult questions.’
‘Fine, be like that then,’ replies Mizzy angrily, ‘if you want to be all mysterious you can do it on your own. I still have loads of Christmas presents to buy.’
She gets up to leave, but Hep grabs her arm, ‘Let me borrow your ‘smartphone’, so I can learn its secrets too.’
Mizzy glares at Hep, ‘you must be nuts if you think I am going to let you have my phone, it is not a toy.’
‘I will trade with you,’ says Hep slyly, ‘I will teach you a spell. A spell that means people can only tell the truth.’
‘You are just wacky, you know? You are not messing around with my phone and I’m not arguing with you. I need it anyway, I might need to call my mum, or…or… well, friends.’ fumes Mizzy
‘You have friends?’ says Hep, doubtfully, ‘Difficult for a witch to have friends.’
This comment makes Mizzy even crosser, ‘Of course, I have friends, lots, well, not friends exactly, but, look, l know lots of people, alright, I’m not some saddo like you!’
Hep’s eyes narrow, ‘You are a daughter of mine, you must give me the secrets of the phone. Give it to me.’
Hep grabs eagerly at the hand that Mizzy is holding her phone in, but Mizzy pulls away from her clutches and puts the phone in her pocket.
‘Get off! You are just like the Hepzibah Kemp in that book my mum showed me. No wonder you’ve got no friends!’ says Mizzy, her voice trembling with anger.
Spitting and cursing, Hep shouts back ‘You just want to keep the powers for yourself!’ and suddenly bursts into tears, and uncontrollable sobbing.
Mizzy relents; perhaps she has been a bit harsh on the old lady. She puts her arms around Hep, ‘Look, I’m sorry Hep, but its not a toy. Now, stop crying and I promise I’ll pop back to see you later, and you can have another look at it then.’
She does not notice, as Hep adroitly switches the phone in her pocket for a similar shaped pebble.
As soon as Mizzy leaves, Hep stops sobbing as quickly as she had started. Her face twists into a wicked grin, as she caresses the stolen phone.
A short while later, Mizzy makes her way down Fore Street, past the bakery, its bow windows filled with rows of pasties, towards Squeeze Gut Alley. This narrow lane leads to Tinners Way, where most of Port Gwyneth’s art and craft galleries are concentrated.
She is feeling pleased with herself. This attempt at Christmas shopping is going much better than yesterdays. The streets have been cleared of snow and a mixture of village folk and holiday homeowners, down for the festive season, are bustling around finding last minute gifts, just like her. There are even a few day-trippers, who have come to see the picturesque village, so heavily featured in the news.
She looks at all of the people talking on their mobile phones, or staring at their screens. It occurs to her that they would seem mad to someone from the past, and clearly Hep has regressed in some way to her childhood. Suddenly, the air is filled with numerous bleeping noises. Some near, some far, as the sound carries on the wind. The shoppers all stop, and start rummaging around in their handbags and pockets, recognising the different bleeps as a text alert from their mobile phone. Staring at the screens, their eyes become vacant, and their faces blank. As suddenly as the noises started, they finish. The people become animated again, looking at their phones for a moment as if the can’t quite remember why they are holding them. They shrug, or laugh to themselves, and put their phones away again.
Mizzy decides to take a look in the window of the posh confectionary shop. It is filled with old-fashioned glass jars containing many kinds of different sweets, and an elaborate display of handcrafted chocolates. There are a lot of shops like that in Fore Street, designed to appeal to nostalgia for bygone days. They cater to the wealthy tourists. The confectionary had been ironmongery in the old days, her dad had told her. Somebody else is also looking in the window; a middle-aged woman with an awful fake tan.
‘You look like a carrot.’ says Bobby, the local postman, bluntly to the woman as he passes.
‘What did you say?’ replies the woman angrily.
Mizzy ducks into the confectionary shop, to avoid this embarrassing scene. ‘What’s got into Bobby?’ she ponders ‘that was a really rude thing to say to someone even if that was what we were all thinking.’ As soon as Mizzy enters the shop she is hit by the overpowering smell of chocolate. At the counter, the shopkeeper is serving a very well dressed lady who fusses over which handmade luxury chocolates she wants to buy.
‘Make your mind up, you stuck-up incomer.’ he blurts out.
‘You are very fat, and probably eat too much of your own stock.’ she replies flatly.
‘What’s a matter with people, today, have they all gone mad?’ mutters Mizzy and rushes back into the street. The mood of the shoppers seems to have changed, for the worse. Similar exchanges are going on all over the place.
‘I can’t stand you yummy mummies, with your screaming kids and Chelsea tractors.’ says the Vicar, to a woman struggling to get her kids into a large black 4×4.
‘My kids hate going to your church because they think you smell funny.’ she replies plainly.
‘I wish I could give you clip around the ears like in the good old days.’ PC Nance candidly remarks to a group of teenagers hanging around by the clock tower.
‘You don’t know that our mate Kev at the Offy lets us buy booze, even though we are underage.’ openly responds a Goth with a nose ring.
Mizzy cannot believe how rude people are being to each other. She sees Karen, from school, and runs up to her, ‘Wow, I must ring mum and tell her, this is hilarious, isn’t it’
‘I wish I could be like you because you are so interesting and I am so boring.’ Karen says blankly, walking away as if in a trance. Mizzy stares at the departing Karen quizzically, and then reaches into her pocket for her phone, only to find a smooth pebble in her hand. ‘What!’ she says aloud, ‘the old bat’s stolen my phone!’ Then, looking around her, at everyone’s strange behaviour, an idea dawns on her. ‘No,’ she says to herself, ‘that’s impossible, there is no way that Hep could have done this? Is there?’
Mizzy storms into the bunker and catches Hep fiddling with her mobile phone.
She looks up at Mizzy guiltily, and begs, ‘It wasn’t my fault, not really. Look, I was just using the phone to give you the truth magic, as I promised. As a swap for borrowing it.’ she holds up the screen to show Mizzy. It has a text message on it.
Set to the wind, let the truth be said, #necesse est omnia
‘I don’t know how, but it went into the ether, everywhere, ‘It was a mistake.’ pleads Hep. ‘How is that possible?’ begins Mizzy staring at the text ‘No, this is nonsense. Did you do some kind of mind trick on them? No, that’s impossible too. It must some kind of group hysteria…anyway, you had no right to take my phone!’ She snatches it back and storms off.
Back in the village the situation has escalated, people are pushing and shoving each other. But, as quickly as it had enchanted them, the spell wears off. Everyone looks around them dazedly, as if they can’t quite understand what has just happened. PC Nance takes off his helmet, scratches his head and speaks into the radio set at his shoulder ‘No idea what got into them, Sarge. Must be the stress of Christmas shopping, I suppose. I am going to have to write this up, but know one at HQ will believe it. They’ll think I’ve gone daft.’
Mizzy trudges along the icy cliff path, trying to walk off her anger with Hep. Everything seems quieter in the snow and, as the moon rose over the ancient Neolithic stones, the tranquillity of the place lightens her mood. ‘Daft old bat, I suppose she can’t help it,’ she thinks to herself, ‘She just seems like a fish out of water in the modern world.’
Far way, people scurry around, amidst the dark chasms of a city of modern monoliths. Unlike the old ones of Port Gwyneth, these pillars stand tall and straight. The people here have been raised to worship only one ancient god. Mammon.
Within one of the buildings is a large, dark and gloomy office. There are no windows, so the fading evening sun cannot penetrate it. The only light comes from an enormous fireplace by the far wall, which illuminates a heavy carved desk and two high-backed chairs. A shadowed figure lights a long taper at the fire, and begins putting it to a series of large candles. They are inset into the five points of a silver candelabrum, shaped as a star. The candlelight reveals two figures standing in front of the desk – one short and fat, the other tall and thin. Both smartly dressed, in dark suits, and each holding a bowler hat under their arm. Having lit the candles, the figure, remaining mainly in shadow, moves behind the desk and sits down. The flickering flames reveal the features of his face in quick succession; an arched nose, like the beak of a hawk, a thin mouth, and coal black eyes.
As he blows out the taper he stares at them and raises one eyebrow quizzically. His lips form a sneer, before he speaks, ‘Well, Wick? Poppet?’ he says, ‘I hope you have some good news?’
‘She is definitely back.’ says the pale, thin funereal figure.
‘We have just received a police report of a strange incident in the village. It must be her doing.’ adds the rotund one.
‘So, we have an opportunity, again’ replies the shadowy figure. ‘Go to the village. Find her.’