'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Three Witches

I took my grandfather's bike out of the shed yesterday and I cycled it around the garden. He used to cycle it down the garden paths on summer evenings. After cycling for an hour he'd start to get the feeling that he was being watched by Vikings. This led him to believe that he was travelling back in time. He started cycling in the opposite direction to travel forward in time. When he saw the first moon landing on TV he had a feeling he'd seen it before.

My cousin Bertie saw a cat in his garden one morning. He was never very fond of cats, and this one was particularly unappealing. He said to it, "You'd be a more bearable sight if you sat on your face and displayed the other end to the world around you."

The cat paid no heed to Bertie's advice.

When Bertie was walking home from the pub late that night he saw the cat again. It was sitting on top of a stone wall next to the road, along with two other cats. He watched them as he walked past and they stared back at him. When he returned his gaze to the road ahead he stopped suddenly. Three witches were blocking his path. These witches were well known in the area. One of them said, "My cat told me what you said."

"I've regretted that ever since I said it," Bertie said. "It was undoubtedly an error of judgement. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to the cat for any offence caused."

The witch pointed at him and she said something he didn't understand. All the buttons on his clothes fell off, and his trousers fell down. The witches laughed, and the cats started laughing as well. He hated having to entertain cats.

One of the witches went to the wall and picked up a cat. She squeezed the cat and it sounded like the bagpipes. She played a tune that only the cat enjoyed.

Bertie pulled up his trousers and hurried on, but the cat followed him. When he got to his house he went inside and locked the door. He went to bed, but he couldn't sleep because the cat was outside and he could hear it meowing all night. Each meow sounded like the bagpipes.

This was one of many tricks they played on him. When he got up in the morning he went to the kitchen to make some tea, but his teapot was full of toothpaste.

The witches could make hens lay exploding eggs. The hens would lay the eggs and then run for cover. It was very difficult to wash off the yellow goo. When Bertie went outside, a hen emerged from a hedge and laid an egg at his feet. She returned to the safety of the hedge as quickly as she could. Bertie was just about to pick up the egg when it exploded. He had to go back inside to have a bath.

A man called Justin used to compose slanderous songs about people and he'd sing them in public while playing his guitar. The witches got him to write a song about Bertie. The lyrics suggested that he stole and ate pet rabbits.

The song wasn't as annoying as the cat who kept following Bertie around and making bagpipe sounds. He knew he needed to do something to get back in the witches' good books. His neighbour, Eileen, said she made them a cake once and they gave her some honey. Bertie thought he'd need something more than cake to appease the witches, so he decided to give them a bottle of champagne.

They used to meet amongst the boulders on a hilltop every evening. He went there with the champagne and he presented it to them. They said they were very appreciative of his generosity, and they had a gift for him as well. They gave him a new rock for his rockery. It was a gift he couldn't refuse because he didn't want to offend them. He tried lifting the rock, but he'd only walked five yards before he had to stop and take a break. His house was half a mile away. He didn't think he'd be able to carry the rock all the way, but he had to try.

It got dark very quickly, and then it started raining heavily. He could hear the witches laughing at him, and the cats were laughing as well. The ground turned to mud, but at least he was able to slide the rock over the ground, rather than carry it.

As it turned out, this wasn't such a good idea. The rock slid away down a hill. He could see that it was heading for his house, but there was nothing he could do about it. The rock crashed through his back door and it ended up in his fridge. The witches' laughter was so loud it drowned out the sound of the bagpipes.

On the following day, Bertie decided to seek the advice of a man called Fintan, who claimed to be descended from a High King of Ireland. Bertie told him about the trouble he was having with the witches. After considering it for a few minutes, Fintan said, "Make a film and get them to star in it. They love appearing in films."

"Where am I going to get the money and the time and the skills and the people and the equipment to make a film? I don't have any of these things."

"You just need a video camera to convince them that you're making a short experimental film that you hope to show at European film festivals."

"Now that I think about it, I'll have everything I need if my brother gives me a loan of his video camera."

Bertie went to see the witches on the hilltop later that evening. He said to them, "As ye're no doubt aware, I've been admiring ye from afar for some time now. The opportunity to observe ye at closer quarters has greatly enhanced my admiration. This is why I'd like all three of ye to appear in a short film I'm making."

The witches smiled simultaneously. One of them clicked her fingers and the cat stopped making bagpipe sounds. Instead, each meow sounded like waves on a beach. It was a relaxing sound.

"When do you want to shoot us?" one of the witches said.

Bertie was confused by this question. He wondered how long it would take to get a gun, but then he realised the true meaning of the question. "Tomorrow evening," he said. "I'd like to start 'shooting' right here on the hilltop, and then maybe as ye walk through the fields or along the banks of the river."

"We'll be here."

When he arrived on the following evening they were waiting for him. They were wearing make-up, which did nothing to enhance their features. Bertie guessed that they were trying to look their best, but the clothes they wore made them look as if they belonged to a circus.

He spent half an hour filming them walking through the fields and along river bank, and standing behind a ditch. When it started to get dark he said he had enough footage. One of them said, "When and where will the premiere take place?"

Bertie had never thought about that. He said, "I can't say exactly when because I don't know how long the editing process will take, but I hope to screen it in the village hall."

They seemed pleased with this. Bertie was far from pleased because there was something else he hadn't thought of: an editing process. But then he remembered that Gerry, one of his friends, had made some music videos for a local band. These videos weren't very sophisticated (they showed the band wearing helmets and hitting each other with sticks), but Gerry would know about the editing process.

Bertie showed the footage of the witches to Gerry, and he said it would be a simple task to edit this into a short film. The editing process began straightaway and it was completed in under an hour. Gerry said he'd add fake credits and a title sequence to make the film look real.

Bertie organised a screening in the village hall. When the witches arrived at the hall they were wearing their best clothes but it was difficult to tell how much make-up they'd used because they were wearing sunglasses with huge lenses. One of them had a dead fox over her shoulders.

Gerry arrived with a DVD of the film. He said, "I've been making a few slight changes. I thought the title sequence and the credits needed music. Some friends of mine provided that. In this version I've also added scenes of people hitting each other with sticks. I thought it would go well with the music, and it makes a good contrast with the scenes of the witches. I've made another version without the music or the people with sticks."

Bertie was able to breathe again when he heard about the other version. They screened the one without the music or the sticks. Bertie started to relax after the film began. Gerry had done a great job with the title sequence at the start. But when this was over, Bertie noticed something that Gerry hadn't mentioned. He had added a voice-over, and it sounded just like the voice-overs in nature documentaries. He described the witches' daily routines. When he mentioned their mating habits Bertie looked around to see if there was a clear path to the nearest exit. If Bertie had known about the voice-over he'd have chosen the version with the music and the sticks.

But the witches loved the film because they thought they looked great in it. And Gerry was right about their mating habits. He had some personal experience of this area.

The moose's head over the fireplace has remained completely still for the past few days. He's trying to hear the faint humming noise the wife's aunt hears every time she goes into the room. She thinks it has something to do with the elephant footprints she found in the garden. She found them on Saturday but she lost them again. When I was cycling down the garden paths I had a feeling I was being watched, but I would have noticed if an elephant was in the garden. The wife's aunt reminded me of the time I failed to notice the donkey who was behind me for three hours, but donkeys are nothing like elephants.