Three weeks after she moved into The Witches’ Retirement Home, Zeldi began her campaign against the lamp. It was an unpopular decoration, too homey for the witches’ tastes and too deceptively welcoming, in the town’s opinion, for the structure that it marked. But it was screwed into the bricks, and no one could remove it.
It didn’t help that Zeldi was bored, and the window bars annoyed her. “Think we’d fly off, do they? Arthritic, half-blind, and all our spells gone wonky?”
(Like everyone else in the Home, Zeldi found her magic had gone sour. The last straw fell on Tuesday, when she changed her cat into an ironing board. “I was aiming to create the first operatic feline,” she explained, but nobody was listening.)
Aside from the window bars, Zeldi disliked the mangy courtyard gryphon, the rec room ghost, the Matron’s bat collection, Wednesday spaghetti supers, and most of the other residents. “They’re all daft,” she complained to no one. “Hildegard set fire to the game room curtains with a Plant-Water spell. Mazy turned Cook into an alligator when she meant to cure his bunions.”
But Zeldi was most aggravated by the lamp. It hummed lullabies in the evenings, tunes that traveled through the thickness of the bricks. In the kitchen, she complained to the alligator-who-was-Cook. “Blasted lamp. It’ll lull us all complacent, and there’ll be nobody to barricade the doors against the zombies.” Zeldi had an irrational fear of zombies, the result of late night television. The lullabies worsened her insomnia.
By the next morning, she was ready. Outside, she whistled Otis Redding, hands nonchalant behind her back. In the glass bricks of the neighboring coffee shop, she caught her own wavering reflection, the shimmer of orange spandex and patent leather pumps.
She turned to face the lamp. “So blasted cheery, are ya?” Zeldi twitched her nose. The lamp flickered. Someone yelped inside the coffee house. Zeldi snapped her fingers. The lamp flared. She heard a crash, a howl. Zeldi wiggled all ten fingers with a backwards incantation. The lamp curled one iron finial into the approximation of a wagging tongue. Zeldi caught a sniff of lampy laughter as smoke began to billow from the coffee house.
Patrons stumbled out, sooty and blinded, hair on end, arms stretched forward, groping.They looked exactly like the zombies on tv. Zeldi screamed and bolted, sending one last flying curse behind her. Back inside the Home, she slumped against the wall while the Rat Guard clicked their tongues. “Zombies,” Zeldi panted. “Not likely,” said the rats. “We disposed of them in ’52.”
Zeldi took refuge in her room. Later, she heard the other witches talking. “A plague of cappuccino frogs,” they said. “Serpents in the sugar bowls.” They snickered when Zeldi passed, but by then she didn’t care. The lamp had started up its lullabies — but it was horribly off-tune and out of tempo, as if its tongue had gotten burned. That night, Zeldi slept like aces.
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