Like many small nearby villages, this one had no school, temple or a post office. Unlike the other villages, however, it did have a cosy hill underneath which it brooded. And on the top of the hill there stood a witch’s cottage mouldy with age. The cottage housed the most respected witch in the country, who was regularly sought by the troubled peasants.
Her name was Mrs Bridge, though she was no wife to anyone, for she inherited the name from a long line of witches. This is where her fame mostly came from since she was too young to have made that sort of a reputation for herself. Yet when she came into the village to buy her groceries, the sight of her chilled the blood even of the stoutest farmer. The reason was chiefly to be found in the tattered black robes which she got from her mother, the ghastly make up which she learned from her aunt, and the uncanny black cat which was left to her by an old cousin who had recently died. There were a couple of titbits of her own making – Mrs Bridge did not believe in brushing hair or teeth – but the main portion of her frightfulness was based on these heirlooms.
For a while it was all as fine as any witch could expect. People were afraid of her, but remained in awe, and they needed her, and paid well for the services she provided. It is usually the case, though, that on smooth roads the devil is most easily found and, naturally, this holds even truer of the witches. So it was that, as Mrs Bridge was along to fetch some water one day, a devil sat on the rock and laughed in her face. “What wants you?” she gruffed. “Oh, nothing; nothing in particular, that is,” it replied. “Then be off with you”, she said. “You scare me none,” it said. “What is there to you but old rags, old khol, and an old familiar?” The witch swayed her bucket then, and the devil scurried away, but it was snickering all the while. It had done its work.
The seed of doubt was planted in Mrs Bridge. She went home without her water, and stared at the reflection of herself in the dirty window. “The devil it is,” she said, “but right.” And she thought of all the dreadful creatures there are in the world, which are infamous because of themselves. She thought of the vampire’s razor teeth, and the dragon’s foul breath, and the ghost’s chilly presence. But all her terror seemed to have come from hand-me-downs, including the name. In her fury at having been ridiculed by the nether-sprite, she resolved to be rid of all those things which had previously belonged to someone else. She took off the robes, wiped the mascara, and shoved the cat out of her house. She even tried grooming, but relinquished it, for it was her self that was dishevelled.
But when she went to village next, wearing only her shift and a plain dress, and covering her head modestly with a scarf, nobody found her frightful any more. What was worse, she was laughed at by both the young and old, but by none worse than that very same devil who had first taunted her. It sat on a chimney and pointed his finger at her, blowing puffs of smoke from his ears and sulphur from his behind. Now this got Mrs Bridge so angry that she shook with frustration, tore every piece of clothing she had on and stomped back to her cottage at the top of the hill, followed by jeering and sneering.
Up in the cottage, however, she took the old robe from the floor and a needle and thread from the tin, and she wove into the fabric runes of destruction. She opened the box of black and painted with it her mouth and nails. She fed the cat strange creatures along with the mushrooms on which they thrived, and returned to the village. With a sway of the hand and a word from her mouth she banished the devil back to where it came from, and set the cat upon the children of the village. The people screamed and fled, some even to the next village. They used the opportunity to tell everyone of the horrid witch from up their hill, and the way she could banish devils and make the living creatures as crazy as the moon.
This was how Mrs Bridge became even more respected, and the scariest known witch in her line, which was very good for the business. She lived to a ripe age, being highly thought of and well-paid for any services she would render or, sometimes, simply for leaving the people alone.