31 October 2015

Short Seasonal Story

A short Witchy story, inspired by recent trips to Manchester Museum. I'm afraid it doesn't have any useful nature tips in it, it's just a bit of seasonal fluff.

"Witchy stepped away from the screaming children and their cheese sandwiches and went to sit out under the wide blue sky. In a rare instance of misjudgement she had decided to visit the museum at half-term.

The entrance hall, normally cathedrally quiet, swarmed with families. Their main activity appeared to be eating. Witchy momentarily faltered in her resolution but then sailed through the mob in the conviction mothers would not want to steer their children to the particular display she was heading for.

The case she had in mind was at the end of a side gallery. It was reached by following a labyrinthine trail up marble stairs, then under a whale skeleton, past taxidermied monkeys, then along a corridor lined with pinned butterflies.

Her gallery was narrow. Blinds shaded the windows. The light that did manage to squeeze through illumined dancing dust motes. She breasted through the sunbeams and reverentially moved down the corridor, her skirts sweeping up the dust as it fell on creaking floorboards. In the gloom she stood before her cabinet. It was old, a fitting of the original Victorian museum. Its wooden frame was darkened by years of polish. The glass itself was finer than that used in modern cabinets. Ripples and minute bubbles were trapped in its fabric, slightly distorting the object it protected.

Screams echoed from the Egyptian galleries. It was not a week to pay quiet homage to Sekmet. Children have a natural affinity with mummies and crocodile gods, so during school holidays their care-givers bring them to the museum to let them press sticky fingers to cases of dead people and sacrificed cats. It is fun and educational. Anthropology lite.


In her overlooked gallery Witchy tried to block out the hubbub. Before her was what at first looked like an overcoat a homeless person might wear. It was a large shapeless garment draped over a legless mannequin. Why would she want to see this, and not the turquoise bling of the Egyptians? Because in its tatty folds lies a greater magic. This was last worn by a shaman dancing down the corridors of consciousness in a time when the spirit world was nearer than it is now.

The tunic is made from fine deer skin. Some areas shine dark from wear and sweat, others are cracked dry. Strips of leather and woven ribbons hang from its shoulders and down its arms. When she danced these would lift and move like feathers. If you lean in close to the glass (Witchy had to put her reading glasses on) you can see hundreds of beads and small metal shapes sewn to the body. Today they are dull, hanging limply, but when people knew their symbolic power they shone in firelight, dazzling, mesmerising. Dozens of silver bells strung from the ribbons would fly out as the dance grew wilder calling to the spirits to come closer.

Witchy remembered.

Suddenly a young girl crashed into the gallery. Witchy swung round and glared at her like an angry cat. The girl stopped short and dashed back out, but she’ll never forget that look.

Perhaps it is time to leave. It is difficult to contemplate the ineffable when you can hear a cash machine tinkling in the shop below.

Witchy retraced her pilgrimage and stepped out under the wide blue sky. It was a sharp October day, sunny and cold. Before flying off she took a moment to sit in the neighbouring university gardens. It was very pleasant. There were many young students passing through, but the atmosphere was quiet. Voices were indistinct. It sounded as though she was sitting beside a burbling brook, gloop gloop along.

Tomorrow would be Halloween. A time when even the numbest person risked a peek behind the veil of the material world.

Witchy mused on the discomfort we feel with the possibility of other worlds, natural or transcendent, and how we try to disarm them by putting them in display cases and labelling them ‘Other’.

She looked over the young people, saw the children tumbling out of the museum, and wondered who of them would unlock the glass cabinet."