Emily & the Busterplunks
The Busterplunk clan were not the sort of people you would want as neighbours. They lived a somewhat noisy and chaotic existence: Their rubbish lay strewn around outside their homes, foul-smelling and slowly rotting for weeks at a time. Their parties would frequently stretch late into the night, with cackling and howls echoing into the air as far as a mile away. Their clothes were often dirty and creased, and they took little care over personal hygiene. More than all this: They were rude and mean, and would never leave a waitress with a smile - let alone a tip.
Also, they were witches (Did I mention that part?) They lived up on the moors among the purple heather, under a powerful charm to keep their existence secret. Several generations had discovered that – on their seventh birthday – the children of the Busterplunk clan would develop magical powers overnight. From then on, they would practise the art of curses. Nothing too serious, mind you, but nothing too pleasant either: infecting someone with a bout of warts, or making them trip over, or burp uncontrollably loud in the middle of an important lunch meeting. As well as unsuspecting mortals, the Busterplunk witches would often unleash their wickedness upon each other (hence the noisy and chaotic existence), with family feuds and revenge pranks sometimes lasting for years and years at a time.
Each witch would develop their own particular talent for chaos and wickedness. For Harry, it was grotesque smells that would suddenly hit without warning and linger for days. For Shelia, it was hair – creating uncontrollable flyaways or frizz, planting nits, or even making it fall out in random clumps. And Genevieve? Lets just say you should never accept any food or edible things when she’s nearby.
Every member of the Busterplunk clan had their own unique magical skill, except for Emily. She was ten years old, and since her powers had spluttered into action three years ago, she hadn’t managed so much as a successful fart.
“Go on!” Her relatives would cry, “Bring all those horrible cranes flies together, and make them land on sleeping Tom!” Emily wrinkled her nose and focused on the crane fly, but it just fluttered angrily past.
“Quick, quick! Sam’s at the bar – why not turn his ale into something nasty? Congealed blood! …. Pond water! … A kale smoothie!” But all Emily could manage was a few ripples and bubbles on the surface of the pint.
“That sewer pipe, there!” They pointed, “Burst it open! Then there’ll be mess all over Mrs Heaney’s lawn!” They cackled, and Emily squinted at the pipe with all her might, but only managed a rumble and a wobble of the metal. The others sighed, muttered and wandered off.
And so it had continued for years, until most of the clan had grown bored with her lack of ability, and stopped inviting her to join in with their pranks. Disheartened, Emily spent most of her time wandering in the local woods alone, wishing she had never been born a witch at all. After all, what was the point of having magical powers if you couldn’t do anything with them?
While walking through the woods one day, she heard a strange sort of yelping sound from beyond the thicket, a little way off the path. Clambering through the undergrowth, she heard a loud rustling sound from right in front of her. Her heart thumped hard against the inside of her chest. What if it was a monster? She took a deep breath, focused her courage, and pulled back the branches of the bush in front of her.
There, she locked eyes with a terrified fawn. Its back leg was caught in a loop of wire fencing and it was in a stricken state trying to free itself. Emily felt her heart wince. She leaned forward to untangle it, but the poor creature was so scared, it simply struggled and yelped even more whenever she tried to get close.
What could she do? ‘Think!’ she told herself. She stared at the wire wrapped around the fawn’s leg, her forehead wrinkled in concentration. If only the fawn would hold still for a moment… If only the wire would gradually loosen… Gently untangling… The knots and loops growing wider and wider, and then shrinking down into the ground…
Emily blinked. In a jiffy, the fawn was free. It limped a couple of tentative steps, licked its leg, and then scarpered with a jolt into the woods. She couldn’t believe it. She had done magic! And it had worked!
Excitedly, she raced back to the clan. “It’s happened! It’s happened!” she cried. “I can do it!” She gathered a handful of the clan together to show them. “Alright then, Emily”, old Tom said, “Give us a whirl. How about that washing line there? See if you can make those clothes fall into the muddy puddles below. Should be easy!”
Emily cleared her mind and focused on the clothes, willing them to fall off the line. Nothing happened. A few painful seconds went by in silence, all eyes on her. She focused in on a frilly pair of knickers, and blinked hard to keep the tears from her eyes. Why wouldn’t it work?
“I… I managed it in the woods!” She cried. Sighing and tutting and shaking their heads in disbelief, the crowd slowly dispersed. Emily hung her head. She didn’t need to hear the comments of the rest of the clan; She already knew what they’d all be saying about her. Fraud. Failure. Useless.
That night as she lay in bed, she wondered if she’d even managed to help the fawn at all, or whether she’d simply imagined it. Was it possible she’d tricked herself into believing she’d helped, when really she’d done nothing at all? What was the point of being a witch if she couldn’t use her own powers properly? Maybe she wasn’t even magic at all…
Her misery was interrupted by a strange smell. Not a horrid one, like one of Harry’s tricks, but stronger and sharper and thicker. Smokey. Acrid. Burning. She sat bolt upright. Suddenly, there was shouting outside. Danger. She hurried out into the cold night, where smoke was filling the air and a strange orange glow was flickering out of the corner of her eye. Their homes were on fire.
“Get out! Run!” Someone shouted. “Down to the river!”
Emily raced down to the bank, where people were struggling up and down with buckets of water to put out the fire. But it was no use; it had started to spread at an alarming rate, creating thick billowing smoke clouds that blocked out the starry sky. The little line of people frantically carrying buckets of water would not be enough to quench the thirst of the fire, which had now consumed a quarter of the whole village.
‘We need more water’, she thought despairingly, ‘We need the whole river!’ Throwing her head back and closing her eyes, she pictured a huge swell of water rising up out of the river, over the banks and snaking its way towards the flames…
A cry. Not of panic, but surprise. She opened her eyes. Out of the river sprang a fountain, growing larger and larger, which flowed into a stream, rising up against gravity, past the banks, edging towards their homes. Startled, Emily dropped her concentration, and it started to recede back again.
‘No, it can’t be…’ She thought to herself. Was she making this happen? She focused once more. The river rose up again, the water flowing towards the burning houses, rushing past and dousing the flames…
Looking up to the heavens and opening her arms wide, she focused again – more confident this time – and held one clear thought in her mind: Rain.
And the rain came pouring down. In no time at all, the village was safe again. The Busterplunk clan were in awe, although they never suspected it was little Emily. “It’s a miracle!” “The gods have blessed us!” But she knew, for real this time and from the bottom of her soul: It had been her power.
Over the next week or so, Emily practised her gift, realising at last that the reason she had never been able to conjure it before was because of the malicious intentions of all the tricks she’d been asked to perform. But the Emily way of doing magic couldn’t be more different: She could only use her powers for good. And so, she set herself to work.
When the old rusty sign had fallen off the alehouse, she fixed it up to look good as new. When she saw Maud struggling with an enormous pile of laundry, she made it as light as a feather. When a bunch of toads were found in old Tom’s bed (no doubt the work of another witch), she made sure they all hopped safely back to the nearest pond.
And the best bit about her new magic? No one suspected a thing. She was free to go about her good deeds with little fuss or attention, and that suited her perfectly.
When it came to midsummer’s night – the biggest party of the year for magical folk – the tables were all laid outside, under the moon and stars, and a huge feast was prepared for the whole clan to enjoy. But as they were waiting for the midnight feast, Emily was sad to see the same old gripes and spitefulness appearing amongst the clan.
A fight had broken out between an old set of rivals; one had made the others’ nose swell up so big he was unable to drink from his tankard without pouring ale all over himself. In retaliation, he’d cursed the other with a thick cloud of greenish smoke that would not vanish. This act had prompted a hacking cough among all the neighbours sat to his left, who in turn had made all the buttons on his clothing spontaneously fall off at once, leaving him partially naked in front of the guests. This had upset some of the stricter grandmothers in the clan who had given a whole side of the table lockjaw. They had then retaliated by turning the food at the other side to maggots, and so on, and so on, until chaos reigned…
Emily sat quietly wondering what she could do to fix this. The biggest problem for the Busterplunk clan was that they could not see how their powers could be used in a way to help each other, rather than hinder. The drinking of so much ale on midsummer’s eve always exacerbated this naturally malicious streak. ‘Aha!’ she thought suddenly, ‘The ale!’ She tiptoed over to the barrels lined up round the back of the alehouse, looked both ways to check that no one was near, and laid a powerful charm over the ale: ‘Everyone who drinks the ale from these barrels shall find themselves fixed upon doing good for each other, and will get twice as much joy from this as they did from their malicious pranks!’
That night she fell asleep listening to the distant laughter from the tables as the Busterplunk clan drank and celebrated well into the night. The following morning, Emily awoke to the sound of shouting under her window, and her heart sank: Were members of her clan having a fight already?
“Higher! Bit higher! There you go!” She looked out for the window to see Old Tom hanging out of the alehouse window, taking down the decorations. She scanned the scene. There was Maud, collecting up the plates and tankards and… Was that Sam? Sweeping? Another witch was charming up grass and flowers from the ground that had been trampled by dancing the night before. Another was using her magic to keep up a steady supply of toast for the team of helpers in front of her. The whole lot of them were up, working together, and helping to clean up from the night before. It was a miracle.
And so that particular area of the moors inhabited by the clan grew a reputation for being one of the happiest and luckiest parts of the whole country. Mortals who wandered through found their ailments mysteriously improved, or the coins in their pocket doubled, or they were suddenly blessed with a handsome smile, a soaring spirit or a sweeter singing voice. The Busterplunk clan were careful to keep their goodly mischief a secret, but would always leave a spring of purple heather as a mark of wherever they had performed a little of their magic.