What would Professor Armstrong do?” asked Gwennie.
“He’d have some clever spell to put things right, I can’t think of any anything!” replied Derek.
Gwennie turned to the other person in the cell. “Miss?”
The Master of Egyptology and former Pharaoh shrugged. “I am not magic user just magic person.”
“Why did I have to turn that wheel?” bemoaned Derek Scuttle.
“Don’t want to say told you so but I did!” asserted Hattie Shepsut.
The three of them had been clearing out Professor Penda’s old study. After the incident with the wicker-man he had decided to give up lecturing and retire somewhere cold and very wet (Cleethorpes). Tibbles, Gwennie’s cat had followed her in and jumping onto a shelf knocked a shining golden object to the floor, she grabbed the feline before he could do any more damage while Derek picked up the strange device to examine it gingerly. It looked rather like a spinning top set in an ornate stand which it was obviously meant to rotate, it would not turn clockwise but moved widdershins quite easily, and being an inquisitive sort of chap, Derek gave it a quick spin.
“No, leave it alone!” shouted the Egyptology mistress in horror, reaching for the device. “It is time-wheel!”
The trio braced themselves for the worst as the campus buildings vanished around them to be replaced by more bucolic surroundings. “What’s happened?’ asked Gwendolen, still holding her cat.
“Bloody idiot has taken us back in time to when Mackintosh University not here!” announced the lecturer angrily.
“Where are we then?” continued Derek’s girlfriend.
“I would say your seventeenth-century judging by people over there,” observed Hattie.
Derek looked to where she was pointing to spy a group of people dressed in sombre clothes watching suspiciously from a distance. “They didn’t like magic users back then, how do we get back?”
“Turn wheel back foolish boy,” said Hattie.
“I can’t Miss Shepsut, it got jammed somehow!” he wailed, the crowd was growing as more people came down the road to stare and now one of them was approaching.
“Who art thou, stranger?” demanded a man in a tall brimmed hat.
“Er, Derek Scuttle, sir,” he replied shakily.
“Verily, thou art an odd fish as are thy companions and why dost this young girl be half naked?” he pointed at Gwennie whose tight pink T-shirt and white shorts were very inappropriate for the time.
“Ask him about the painted woman in the long shift, she is surely from foreign climes?” ventured a sour-faced woman pointing at the Lecturer in Egyptology, the crowd, emboldened by the man’s presence had followed him.
“I saw them appear by magic I did!” ventured a farming type.
“Be this the truth, Derek Scuttle?” asked the man in the hat, who seemed a figure of importance.
“I… err…” Derek began.
Someone spotted Tibbles in Gwennie’s arms. “The unclothed girl dost hath a black cat, Satan’s chosen beast!”
“Don’t be so bloody stupid!” snapped Gwennie.
“Profanity is an insult to the Lord!” said a wizened man in a black robe.
“Witch!” shouted someone.
“I was turned into a newt,” claimed another, who was a little less clever than his companions.
“What would thou have me do, Reverend Mathers?” asked the authoritative man.
“Seize them, Constable Peel, and kill the witches familiar!” screamed the man in the robe.
Hattie neatly floored a man trying to grab her, but it was too no avail and they were quickly overpowered. During the affray Gwennie dropped Tibbles who attempted to scuttle away as a yokel attempted to spear him with a pitchfork.
The cat dodged it easily, grabbed the tool’s shaft and bit it in clean in half before hissing evilly and disappearing into a hedge.
“Proof, were it needed, that they are sent by Lucifer himself!” spat the wild-eyed clergyman. “They must be hung for consorting with the Devil!”
“That I cannot allow, Reverend,” stated the Constable firmly. “They must be tried and found guilty first. I shall take these miscreants to the gaol.”
“Very well, Constable Peel, and I will summon the Witchfinder” said Mathers.
They marched the trio to a sturdy stone building in the centre of the nearby town and after forcing Gwennie to put a rough dress over her skimpy clothes, locked them in.
“Time-wheel is only hope, we must get it back,” said Hattie.
“Derek, I’m frightened, that old vicar type kept leering at me.”
Scuttle put his arms around her. “I’m scared too Gwennie. Miss, this Witchfinder will torture us won’t he?”
“More likely than not.” replied the Egyptian, she had already searched the interior of the tiny prison for loose bricks or something useful as a weapon but there was nothing to be had. “The men went into building across the street. I think they take our things there”
A meowling came from outside. “It’s Tibbles, he’s found us!” cried Gwennie.
“It’s a shame he can’t open the door,” said Derek. “Miss Shepsut, you once tore a door off its hinges, can’t you do it again?”
“I have changed much since then,” Hattie remembered the reanimated cat’s prodigious ability and an idea came to her. “Gwennie, call him, see if he will come to you.”
“Tibbles, here kitty-kitty!” the girl called.
“Meow?” the reply came.
Gwennie got down on her hands and knees to peer under the ill-fitting door and spot his pink nose. “Tibbles, puss-puss?” there was a splintering noise as the cat chewed at the bottom of the door, making just enough space to squeeze through.
“I did hope for bigger hole in door!” Hattie sighed in her heavy accent. Tibbles, meanwhile, rubbed himself affectionately against his mistress’ legs. “No matter, now we have cat we have other option.”
Before Derek could ask what it was, people could be heard approaching.
“Don’t let them see Tibbles!” cried Gwennie in panic.
The former mummy picked up the cat to stare into its eyes. “Go and hide!” Tibbles crawled under the straw pallet that served as a bed just as the door opened. The constable regarded the wood splinters in the doorway curiously as the unpleasant clergyman barged past with a thickset man in tow.
“Foul miscreants! Know that, Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder hath journeyed here to prove the truth of thy evildoings!” he leered at Gwennie. “Seth, we will take the maiden first.”
Derek attempted to stand in the way but the heavy pushed him to one side, only to then double up from a well-aimed kick in his nether regions from the former Pharaoh, it helped them little as the constable swiftly overpowered her while another dragged Gwennie away.
“Put the painted creature in chains!” screamed the Reverend Mathers.
As their captors left, the constable seeing Derek’s horror-struck face, said kindly. “I have summoned Judge Mackintosh to officiate, he is a worthy man and if thou and thy companions be innocent, this fool Hopkirk will not be allowed punish thee unnecessarily.”
Peel, was a pragmatic village constable (he’d even been to school!) and found the current obsession for finding imps under every bed and devils in the pantry somewhat excessive. In his humble opinion the Lord would never allow such things to be, and he believed that most people accused of witchery were usually unpopular or odd, or both, and were usually accused by those who bore a grudge.
A terrified Gwennie stood before three men seated at a table, one was the creepy vicar, another with a neat dark beard seemed just as unpleasant but sitting between them was a well-dressed man with a kindly face. The simple dress had been taken from her and now wearing only her modern clothing she realised that in this unenlightened age she appeared quite indecent.
The kindly man spoke first. “Young lady, I promise upon my honour that thy case will be fairly heard, what is thy name?”
“Gwendoline Poole, sir.” she squeaked by way of reply.
“And from where dost thou come, Mistress Poole?” he asked.
“Exford, sir,” answered Gwennie.
“Exford, from this very town, I am from Exford but I do not recognise thee, are you perchance related to Old Mother Poole?”
“Is she a witch?” asked Reverend Mathers eagerly. “Surely that must be a witch name?”
“No.” replied the man in the middle. “She is an ale-wife who runs the Three Bells tavern, her brew is most fine.”
“Drink is the Devils contrivance!” the bearded man spoke for the first time. “A true believer of the Lord should reject such temptation,” his manner reminded Gwennie of a reptile.
“Yes, Hopkirk thou would say that but these are troubled times and folk need what little pleasure be available,” said the man again. “Or are allowed” he muttered under his breath.
“Judge, thou are too lenient. Abstinence must be a necessity, for is not drinking a sinful waste of the time given to us by the Lord?” said the clergyman.
“Didn’t hurt anyone as far as I know?” chipped in the constable, the one called Hopkirk scowled at this interjection.
“Let us get to the matter in hand,” the Judge looked Gwennie straight in the eye. “Mistress Poole, art thou a witch?”
“No sir, of course not!” she answered truthfully. Witches danced in the moonlight and dabbled in potions, she was studying to be a mage. Mages did classical Magick learned from books!
“Hast thou ever consorted with incubi or other divers’ devils and imps?” he asked.
“No, what sort of girl do you think I am?” though I might have helped Derek conjure up a few.
“Explain why thou hast a familiar?” asked Hopkins.
“Huh?” replied Gwennie.
“Thy black imp that takes the shape of a cat?” he explained.
“Tibbles, but he’s my pet?”
“A pet that I am told, bit through the shaft of a goodly farmer’s pitchfork?” queried the Witchfinder.
“A devil, she’s a witch I tell thee!” yelled Mathers frantically. “Ask the Constable, he witnessed it too.”
“Is this true?” asked the Judge.
“It was Walt Gilman’s fork sir, and he is not a diligent husbandman. It may well be that the shaft was old and simply broke on the ground.”
“Pah, I know what I saw, Constable Peel!” snapped the clergyman.
Hopkirk, placed a bundled cloth on the table and unrolled it to display a collection of spiked and hooked implements, Gwennie blenched at the site of them. “Gentlemen, we waste our time, I will soon discover if the young woman is indeed a witch.”
“By using that fearsome assortment, no doubt?” asked the Judge, a stern look upon his face.
“With God’s guidance the devil’s mark will be found upon her body and that shall suffice as proof of guilt in the eyes of both church and law,” replied Hopkirk.
“Yes, yes find a mark!” Mathers was almost gleeful.
“Why Cotton Mathers, thou dost seem eager to see the accused examined, it hath no bearing that she is a comely young wench, perchance?” suggested Constable Peel.
“Do not dare to speak to God’s minister in such a way!” snapped Hopkins.
“A hag can take on divers’ forms and this may not be its true appearance,” sneered the clergyman.
“I am sorry but I will not permit such a thing unless there be no alternative,” interjected Judge Mackintosh.
“Permit me to say sir, but thou sound much like a supporter of the old king!” Hopkirk was vexed. “Thou would do well to remember how he found his bloody end on the scaffold.”
“I am the representative of the law such that it be, and thee sir, are nothing but a popinjay who revels in a vainglorious reputation for harm to supposed witches!” retorted the judge.
“See how the Devil sets us upon one another, witchery I say!” shouted Mathers over them.
“Be silent you lecherous old cretin.” All were surprised that this came from Hopkirk, who now stood pistol in hand. “God’s work needs to be done, do not stand in his or my way. Mathers, thou art keen to do this, bring my tools.”
As the clergyman eagerly reached for the implements a muffled scream came from somewhere outside then the door flew off its hinges, knocking the constable to the floor.
Something stood there, it wore a plain white dress and had long straggly hair but the grey leathery skin stretched over the skull-like face did not belong to any living woman. Mackintosh laughed and moved to the back of the room while a panicky Hopkirk discharged the pistol to no effect, the apparition narrowed its yellowed eyes and advanced menacingly…
Derek sat with his back against the cold stone wall, he was disconsolate. “They’ll torture Gwennie won’t they?”
Hattie Shepsut was slowly coming round, she had struggled when the blacksmith fitted the manacles and been had knocked her out for her troubles. “Derek shut up, I have headache.”
“But Gwennie?” he wailed.
“Cat, come here!” she ordered. Tibbles emerged obediently and picking him up the Egyptian stared into the green eyes once again. “You know what you have to do!”
Once back on the floor, the cat disappeared under the door.
“What?” Derek was bemused.
“Cat has gone to find time-wheel,” she explained. “In my world cats very important in magic and is possible to use him to assist us.”
“Cats don’t help people they’re not dogs!” he remembered seeing mummified cats in the museum.
“You have not met the right cat, this one is very special.”
Can’t argue there thought Derek, Tibbles had been brought back from the dead after all.
After a while the feline reappeared dragging the time-wheel through the gap. “Derek, can you fix it?” asked Hattie.
He picked up the golden object which now had a red smear on it. “It’s blood!” he cried in alarm.
“Bad cat!” remarked Hattie with a grin. “Just bloody see why it stuck.”
“There’s a bit of grit in the mechanism, got it!” he could now spin it easily in both directions.
“Good, now unscrew and open little door on front.”
She rattled the manacles. “I can’t bloody do it can I?”
“How come you know so much about this thing?”
“Look on bottom!” she replied.
“Oh!” There were Hieroglyphics clearly visible on the base.
“Yes, my people invented them and as you have found out they are bloody dangerous. Now point open end at me and spin it widdershins, a lot!”
“Chronological thaumaturgy will come out of opening.”
“I need to turn back into mummy, I don’t want to but it’s only way I can think of to get us out of here.”
“But?” he started
“Just bloody do it and hope it can be reversed.”
Derek spun the time-wheel backwards, a slew of rainbow patterned “something” poured out to envelop the Egyptian and he watched open mouthed as her skin aged and cheeks of her face sank in. When it was done the living mummy of Queen Hatshepsut stood and snapped the chains as if made of paper then growling to Derek, pushed the door outwards breaking off both hinges and lock to stride out into the street.
Shortly after that, the screaming started…
Professor Armstrong sat back in his armchair to take a swig from his whisky glass. “That’s quite a story,” he looked at the three of them. “If you hadn’t been there, Hattie, I would say you students had either made it up or suffered a mass hallucination.”
“It wasn’t made up, Gwennie was in serious trouble,” said Derek.
“Yeah, they were going to stick pointy things in me and I dread to think what the hooks were for!” confirmed Gwennie.
“And Tibbles?” he asked.
“We made sure we brought him back, couldn’t leave him there, could we?” asserted Gwennie.
“And you, Hattie, are you completely recovered?”
“Yes, completely,” she answered.
“No overwhelming desire to suck out anyone’s life energy?”
“No, of course not!” she replied guiltily. How did he know about that?
“You realise Judge Mackintosh wouldn’t have let any of you come to harm, don’t you?”
“Just because he has same name as university doesn’t mean anything!” stated Hattie firmly.
“Oh but it does, who do you think founded it? He was a mage who was sick of seeing innocent people suffer at the hands of religious fanatics, he kept his talent secret and it’s something we don’t often speak of even today. The first college was a hermetic society but during the Age of Enlightenment the university was able to come out into the open, making true magic acceptable.”
“So he would have saved us?” asked Derek.
“Most definitely, now where is that time-wheel?”
“Oh, it’s here.” Derek passed the golden object to Professor Armstrong.
He examined it carefully then put it on his desk. “Thank you, Derek, Gwennie, you may both go.
When the two students had left, Armstrong turned to Miss Shepsut. “You could use this to return to ancient Egypt, find the priest who trapped you in the sarcophagus and reclaim your title.”
“No thank you, Winslow, I belong here now.”
“We could change history, undo so many wrongs?” mused Armstrong, looking at the top-like artefact.
“And in doing so, create many more,” replied the former Pharaoh.
“Then, Hattie, we are resolved that it must never be used again?”
“Yes!” she agreed.
Professor Armstrong reached into a drawer in his desk, produced an anti-magick hammer and smashed the wheel into pieces.
© Kyt Wright 2019