Author's Note: This is a silly little idea I got one day, so I decided to write it down. Also posted on FictionPress.
The forests, roads, rivers and bridges mentioned in this story are real. The towns of witches and wizards are decidedly less real. The characters in the story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real people is completely coincidental.
How Not to Mend a Broom
The trouble with Nancy's velvet glove is that it's usually got a knuckleduster inside it. And you never know who's going to get hit. – Arthur Ransome, The Picts and the Martyrs: or, Not Welcome at All
County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, 2016
"If you hadn't flown your broom into the river, you wouldn't be in this fix."
"I'm sorry, Witch Beederby."
"And now you think you can borrow mine? So you can fly into a tree and smash it to smithereens? I think not!"
"I'd be very careful, Witch Beederby-"
"You'd be careful. Hah! You're always careful, after you've been and caused a catastrophe! The trouble with you, Will Torchthwaite, is that you never look before you leap."
If you go far enough along a certain country road, you will come to a small stone bridge. Beneath the bridge is a babbling river, with two fields on either side. If you stop on the right side of the bridge and look straight ahead, you will see a forest on the banks of the river, with tall, moss-covered trees and brightly-coloured birds flitting in and out of view among the branches. It's a quiet, peaceful place, except when a car comes roaring along the road, but if you don't know what to look for, you would think it was just like any number of other forests.
If you know to look for it, however, you will see a small, twisted tree with gaunt, bare branches, and if you know to give one of its branches a sharp tug, the forest is transformed into a busy town of oddly-dressed men and women scurrying to and from odd, crooked little buildings built against the trees.
One of these buildings had the word "SHOP" floating above the doorway in sparkling white letters. In this building, a small girl with a long name was being lectured by a stout elderly woman with a mass of steel-grey hair.
Constantia Beederby stared at her young employee with mingled worry and exasperation. The annual Broom Race was next week, and every young witch and wizard was determined to enter it. Will was no exception. It was just a pity the silly girl attracted trouble like cheese attracted mice.
"You can't borrow my broom," she said finally. "If you want to enter the race, you'll have to take your broom to Wizard Knavingford."
Wizard Knavingford was the town's carpenter, blacksmith and general handyman. He could fix anything broken or damaged, from brooms to cauldrons to spells gone wrong.
"Yes, Witch Beederby," Will said in the same monotonous tone she'd used throughout the conversation. "May I be excused?"
Constance sighed and waved her away. "Go on, and try not to get in any more trouble."
Will ran out of the shop as if the Fae were after her.
Isangild Whiltierna Torchthwaite's parents had attempted to make up for her depressingly average appearance by giving her a ridiculously elaborate name. This worked as well as such attempts usually do, and Isangild now refused to answer to anything other than "Will". She was of average height, but so lightly built she seemed much shorter, with light brown hair, blue eyes, an abundance of freckles, and arms and legs so long that it was a wonder she didn't trip or knock something over every time she moved. At the moment she was also dripping wet, her hair plastered against her face.
Will weaved her way through the busy streets until she reached her house. She opened the door with some difficulty. A black-and-white blur promptly barrelled out and wound around her legs, meowing plaintively.
Will's home was the most crooked, lopsided, tumbledown house in the forest, built against the smallest, most twisted oak tree in the forest. The neighbours spent their days speculating on whose house it would crush when it inevitably fell down. They needn't have worried; the moment Will inherited it she got the best witches in the town to cast Stay-In-Place spells on it.
The house's interior was as unusual as its exterior. Everything that stayed still long enough was covered with dust and draped with spiders' webs, the furniture was rickety and looked like it might collapse if you bumped into it, and the floor was covered with books, papers, clothes, and all the clutter, common in every house, which you mean to throw out but never get around to.
Not even Will's friends made a habit of visiting her house.
She set Bastet down and closed the door. It was only then she noticed that she was still wet from her unexpected bath. She took her wand out of her pocket and waved it twice. Her clothes and hair instantly became bone dry.
Will picked up her cat and wandered over to an armchair that looked like it was made of twigs sellotaped together, dodging piles of books that reached almost to her waist. She dusted off the chair and sank into it, taking off her hat and setting it on the chair's back. Bastet curled up into a ball on her lap.
"I did it again," she told the purring cat. "I was flying, and I forgot to watch where I was going. I nearly hit a tree, swerved, and landed in the river. How can I enter the race now? It'll take two weeks for Wizard Knavingford to fix it. Maybe longer."
The black-and-white cat continued to purr, indifferent to her owner's worries. What did she care about someone else's troubles? She was happy and couldn't care less about anyone who wasn't. In this respect the cat was very like many humans, who ignore other people's misery but demand sympathy when they are miserable.
Will drummed her fingers on the chair's narrow arm. "I suppose I could-"
"Will? Are you there?"
Peregrine Larkimer pushed the front door open (no easy feat, since it sagged on its hinges as if it was sick of standing up and intended to collapse at any minute) and stayed at the threshold. He didn't dare venture in for fear of tripping over something and bringing the house down – which was a distinct possibility.
Peregrine was Will's next-door neighbour and childhood friend. He was blond, tanned, at least a head taller than her, and might be called "chubby" if the person describing him was in a charitable mood and "fat" if they weren't. His trousers, shirt, waistcoat and robe were freshly pressed and his hat was firmly planted on top of his head, not falling to one side or the other. Outwardly at least, it would be hard to find someone less like Will.
"Wizard Flanborough stopped by and told me about your broom," he said. "How on Earth did you manage to crash it into the river?
"Hello, Perry. I forgot to have the flight spells renewed and they wore out in mid-air. I don't suppose you'd let me borrow your broom?" she asked without much hope.
He shook his head. "Sorry, but it's at Wizard Knavingford's, getting its Flight Spells checked." He gave her a meaningful look that said plainly, 'If only you'd done the same.' "I want to enter the race too. You could go to the Necarne town and see if they have any brooms for sale."
"But I'd need a broom to get there."
The town in Necarne forest was a good seven miles away. Not much to the average human, who could leap into a car and get there in half an hour at the most, but to someone with no means of transportation at all, it might as well be seven hundred miles away.
Will set her elbows on her knees and buried her face in her hands. A casual observer might have thought she was in the depths of despair, but Perry knew her better. She was thinking hard, and when Will thought hard it usually ended badly for someone – usually, it must be said, for Will herself. It was hard to explain, but no matter how good Will's plans were in theory, something always went spectacularly wrong when she tried to put them into practice.
"I could go to the Magicless town and borrow one of their Metal-brooms," she said. "If the Magicless can control them, I could."
Witches and wizards had lived apart from humans – or, as they called them, Magicless – for centuries, and so what little they knew about them was wildly inaccurate. Will had no more hope of driving a car than a lamprey had of climbing Mount Everest. But of course, she didn't know that.
Perry started to look extremely worried. "Now look here, Will, you don't know anything about the Metal-brooms. They aren't like our brooms; I heard they attract each other like magnets and explode when they collide with anything. You could be killed!"
She was so busy thinking it over that it's debatable if she heard him. Perry waited anxiously to hear if she'd give the idea up or if he'd have to go to the mayor. At last she dismissed it reluctantly.
"It would be too complicated. I'd have to ask a Magicless to control it, and then we'd risk the exposure of our world."
Perry breathed a sigh of relief.
"Good," he said. "You'll just have to pay someone who isn't entering the race to loan you their broom."
As he spoke, Will continued, "I'll mend it myself!"
Perry made a noise somewhere between a gasp and a cough. "You can't mend it yourself! You don't know how! You'll just make things worse!"
He was wasting his time. Reasoning with Will when she had a bright idea was a study in futility. You might as well ask a river to change direction for your convenience. You had to wait for her to give it up herself or carried it out and found herself in a sticky situation.
The first thing Will did was pay a visit to the library. The library was underground, beneath a large oak tree in the centre of the forest. To get into it, you had to find a certain groove in the tree trunk and press it. Then part of the trunk slid to the side and revealed a flight of spiral wooden steps in the middle of the tree. When you went down those, you found yourself in the middle of an enormous library filled with lines of books floating in mid-air.
As soon as she was in the library, Will went in search of Witch Lackfield, the librarian.
"Have you any books on how to renew Flight Spells?" she asked.
Ermina Lackfield, a tall, severe-looking brunette in her early forties, surveyed the girl with a jaundiced eye. "Would I be right in thinking you intend to attempt repairing your broom yourself, Witch Torchthwaite?"
"And I suppose it's not the slightest bit of use trying to dissuade you?"
Will shook her head.
Ermina sighed. "I suppose there's nothing else for it than to wait and let you come to your senses after your folly gets you in trouble yet again."
She waved her wand, and a large selection of books floated out of their places and formed a neat pile in front of Will.
"Thank you!" Will said, taking out her wand and waving it in a circle, sending the books to her house.
"Try not to repay my kindness by destroying the town," Ermina replied testily.
In the days before the race, Will ventured out of her house only to go to work at Witch Beederby's or to buy food. Soon the rumour went around the neighbourhood that "that young fool Torchthwaite's up to something again". Her neighbours spent the entire time on tenterhooks. If someone threw a dangerous spell into a large crowd only one person was likely to be hit, but everyone else in the crowd would panic until they knew who it was. The same principle applied to Will's bright ideas. Someone would find themselves in a sticky situation, but until it happened no one could rest easy. They were all wondering, "Who will it be this time? Will it be me?"
The days crawled by. Strange noises proceeded from Will's house – the sound of a saw, a nosie that suggested someone was sweeping the entire house, and occasionally a shriek of pain and a few angry swear-words. What on Earth could she be doing in there? Both the neighbourhood children and the neighbourhood gossips crept up to the dusty windows and peeped in. They went away none the wiser, for there was nothing to be seen through any of the windows but a great deal of clutter.
At long last the day of the race dawned. Will's neighbours consoled themselves with the fact that before the day was over they would know the worst.
Perry waited impatiently outside Will's door. He'd knocked, repeatedly, but received no answer. He was about to leave and come back later when the door flew open and Will charged out, broom in hand. She checked suddenly upon finding him at the door. Unfortunately, Bastet followed her owner out, got caught in her legs, and witch and cat went tumbling to the ground.
"Are you all right?" Perry asked, helping her up.
"Oh, I'm fine," said Will. "I'm terrific, as a matter of fact. You remember how the Flight Spells wore off my broom?"
"Yes, I do remember," Perry said.
"I reapplied them myself. By the way, what day is it? When's the race?"
He groaned. "It's Tuesday and the race is in less than an hour, but you can't have reapplied them yourself! Those are very specific spells and you need to be a carpenter's apprentice to learn how to do them properly. If they're done wrong all sorts of horrible things could happen. You could be thrown off, or your broom might only fly upside down or in certain directions, or-"
Will airily waved off his concerns. "Don't worry so much. Everything will be fine. I did exactly what the books said to. The race is in less than an hour, you say? I'd better get to the starting point."
Too late. She was gone.
It was with a heavy heart that Perry took his place at the starting line. He couldn't see Will anywhere, and hoped against hope that she'd come to her senses and abandoned the whole plan. No, there she was, further down the line. Perry sighed and prepared for a disaster of some kind.
The town mayor, Septimius Wreckwick, a short, extremely fat elderly man, staggered up the steps to the platform beside the starting line where the judges sat. He leaned against the podium, gasping for breath.
"Welcome to this year's Broom Race!" he wheezed. Despite the Volume-Increasing Spell he used, it was extremely difficult to hear him over the noise of the spectators. "All competitors must fly along the previously marked route three times. The first person to finish will be this year's Champion! Anyone attempting to cheat will be immediately disqualified. Now then, is everyone ready? Good. On your marks! Get set! Go!"
All the witches and wizards in the race shot forward at once. There was a confused moment when they all seemed to be flying alongside each other, with no one either in front or behind, but almost immediately some people fell back while others surged ahead. Perry thought he was in tenth place or thereabouts, and hurriedly sped up. He passed the people in ninth and eighth place and stayed neck-and-neck with the wizard in seventh place as they hurtled along the mid-air racetrack through the forest.
Where was Will? He hadn't seen her since the starting line. And then, just as he glanced around to look for her, she rocketed past him and was gone.
He blinked. There was a limit to how fast brooms could go. The faster a broom was, the more likely it was that the owner would have difficulty controlling it. Many nasty accidents had been caused by brooms that went too fast, which was why a limit had been made in the first place. And unless his eyes deceived him, Will had just broken that limit.
What has she done now? he wondered.
He hadn't finished his first lap when she shot past again. Then she passed him again, still going impossibly fast, when he had just started his second.
The whistle blew, alerting the racers to the fact that someone had just won the race. The racers near Perry groaned and grumbled over losing. And then Will flew past again. This time she looked terrified.
"Can't st-" she yelled at him as she passed, and was out of earshot before she finished.
His worst fears confirmed, Perry hastened to the finish line. He found a very confused crowd of spectators and judges.
"I can't understand it," Mayor Wreckwick was saying, scratching his head in puzzlement. "She won in record time, but she didn't stop. Now she's been past twice. Do you think she forgot how many laps the racers were to do?"
Witch Lackfield was one of the judges. She snorted emphatically. "Highly unlikely. If you ask me, the silly girl has done something to her broom and as a result she can't stop. Why, oh why did I let her have those books? Oh look, there she goes again!"
Sure enough, Will flew straight past the finish line and disappeared along the racetrack.
Mayor Wreckwick struggled to hide his dismay. "Well, er, she'll have to be disqualified. Meddling with brooms so they won't stop counts as a form of cheating, doesn't it?"
Wizard Spanelsby, another of the judges, snorted just as emphatically as Witch Lackfield had. "Yes, I dare say it is, but how on Earth are we to get her to stop long enough to disqualify her?"
It took a great deal of thought and the copious use of Fall-Slowing Spells to get Will off her out-of-control broom. A solution still hasn't been found for the broom. If you go along that country road, stop at that stone bridge, and look at that forest, you might see something zooming into view and vanishing as quickly as it appeared. Those who don't know better might assume it's a bird. But it isn't. It's Will's broom, still flying along that racetrack, and it will remain there until someone in the village finds a way to stop it.
I'm sorry to say that Will's ordeal hasn't in the least affected her penchant for getting in trouble, and she is determined to be the one who stops that broom. So if you think of a way to stop it, shush! You'll give her ideas…