A brand new Friend for Willow the Vampire?

If Willow’s blog has been a little quiet of late it’s

a) thanks to the latest wave of my flatmates leaving and new ones being recruited, which takes up a huge amount of my time;

b) thanks to such a wealth of nocturnal animals! I simply couldn’t decide which one should follow the wild boar, such an impressive contender for the nocturnal star of the month.


By complete chance I came across the wonderful caracal, the fastest of all small cats. It can leap 3 metres (10 feet) to snatch birds in mid-flight or sail through the air to pounce on small antelopes or large rodents.

Lurking behind bushes, rocks or in tall grass, the caracal sometimes even tackles larger animals like goats, making it rather unpopular with African farmers.

With long black tufts of hair on slender, elongated ears, the caracal looks at first glance very much like a lynx but is in fact far more closely related to the African Golden Cat. I think it looks more like a mini-puma than a lynx (except for its tufty ears).

It has a tail nearly a third of its body length; it can grow up to 92 cm (36 inches) in length and weigh up to 19 kg or 42 lbs., so as “small” cats go, it’s actually quite a whopper. The caracal’s geographical spread covers the Middle East and Africa, India and North West Pakistan.


The caracal loves steppes and semi deserts but can also be found in scrub- and woodland. As long as there’s cover like rocks and bushes for it to hide, it can stay in most terrains – although probably not here in Wales, where it’s continuously raining!

Apparently, the caracal can easily be tamed and was therefore used as a hunting cat in India and Iran. With is golden to russet fur and pale rings under its eyes it is very beautiful to look at. I could imagine Willow the Vampire making friends with a child from India, whose parents have smuggled a caracal into rural Stinkforthshire. Surely some fun could be had with that…the Beast of Stinkforth Moor, the Kitty of the Cattervilles, the Cat from the Black Saloon?

I feel a new playmate for Bartholomeaow coming on…but then again, probably not…caracals are loners and rarely play with others once they’ve reached adulthood. This could be an opening for a love-hate relationship between Kitty Caracal and Bartholomeaow Band. Two cats hunt as one?

Caracal or desert lynx (Caracal caracal).

Unlike other small cats, the caracal’s pupils contract to form circles rather than slits, making it probably look friendlier than it actually is! Beware Willow, this little kitty packs quite a punch and goes straight for the throat…erm…sorry, I forgot…so do you, my bloodsucking little friend.

Its name comes from the Turkish for “black ear”, namely karakulak. A young caracal has black on the outside of its ears, but these markings vanish when the animal reaches adulthood. Its ears are incredibly agile and versatile, because it uses them to locate prey. Fancy having ears that are controlled by nearly 30 different muscles! You’d never know what your ears might be up to whilst you’re talking to a friend.

In the wild a litter of caracal kittens rarely exceeds three individuals. Caracal kittens are weaned at approximately ten weeks, but may stay with their mum for up to one year to learn how to hunt and find water. They are fiercely territorial and very good at hiding, which is why they are very rarely seen in the wild.

Strangely, their qualities mark them out as an ideal friend for vampires, somebody who’d truly understand the vampire nature.

English: Caracal kitten Français : Jeune Carac...

Yes, I think I shall add the caracal to Willow’s list of new friends!

To Hell with Blood Suckers!

I’ve finally managed to translate my one and only German language Willow the Vampire story, which is slightly more grown up than the usual Willow adventures. The German language version appears on my-shortstory.de and was really an experiment to see if I might like to translate my Willow books in the future …erm, no is the honest answer. It’s too much hard work and I actually prefer writing in English!

The story is dedicated to everyone who suffered as a consequence of mis-sold mortgages and lost their home thanks to evil bankers. Hand the mean-spirited, rotten finance toads to Willow and her mum, they’ll teach them a thing or two about true customer service!

Since there’s apparently no chance of my wild boar research turning up any time soon, here’s my favourite creature of the night, namely Willow the Vampire herself, in action:


To Hell with Blood Suckers!

“He’s locked himself into the back room and refuses to come out.” Ebenezer Hardcastle banged his fists against the front door of the rundown manor house.

“Leave it! We’ll get him another way. Look, what I’ve just found!” George Greedy held up an orange and white striped cat and grinned from ear to ear.

Both representatives of Avarice & Slimeball, a local branch of a Stinkforthshire-based private bank, tiptoed around the house until they reached the rear garden and spotted the homeowner peering out of a window. Mr Greedy jumped right in front of the window and lifted up the loudly protesting cat by its neck.

“Open up at once or I’ll wring the moggie’s neck, do you hear, Bakewell? You haven’t paid your mortgage for months now – get your sorry backside out of this house at once! Our business terms and conditions state clearly when to pay your instalments and what happens, when you default on payments.” Greedy shook the cat violently and raised the protesting animal high above his head, where the hapless creature dangled from his arm in dangerous proximity to his trilby hat. The cat mewed and stretched out her paws into the cold winter air as if to ask for clemency and the return to her patch by the fire.

Through the window pane appeared the pale faces of a man and a small boy. When Greedy took another step towards the house, both inmates were so horrified they jumped back several paces. Shortly afterwards the creak of the front door announced the house was now open for an assault. Greedy and Hardcastle ran around the house once more and came breathlessly to a halt in front of Mr Bakewell.

Former headmaster Bakewell stood with his chin up and head held high in the door frame and reached for his pet. “Give me back my cat, you wretched blood sucker!”

Instead of following this polite invitation, Greedy turned to his colleague Hardcastle and handed him the cat. Hardcastle took the cat and stuffed it under his coat to prevent it from scratching him as an act of vengence. Delighted about the outcome, George Greedy bobbed up and down on the tip of his toes, swaying back and forth, until he nearly collided with Mr Bakewell’s nose.

“Bakewell, we’ll give you five minutes to get your measly belongings together. This is no longer your house, do you understand? You’ve lost your job at the school and you owe us a lot of money. The estate belongs to us now…erm…I mean it belongs to the Bank. Tomorrow morning the bulldozers will arrive and tear this ruin down, do you hear? Right, get on with it. My time costs money…money you haven’t got, Bakewell!”

Bakewell made a fist and prepared to hit Greedy, but seven-year-old Kevin forced his way past his father and ran out of the house. Kevin pushed the astonished Greedy out of this path and jumped Hardcastle, who at that very moment was trying to control the furious cat under his coat. Kevin raised his foot, aimed and kicked Ebenezer Hardcastle’s shin so hard the shock caused the banker to let go off the cat. The animal fled into the arms of his seven-year-old master and Kevin hugged his beloved pet reassuringly.

Greedy’s mouth stood open and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “I don’t believe it! How dare you set that blasted brat on my colleague?”

Bakewell was a man of few words; he picked up his suitcase, pulled the door behind him shut and put his arm around his son’s shoulders. Father, child and cat walked down the garden path without wasting another thought on the two bankers. When the Bakewell family had reached the garden gate, Mr Bakewell turned around, glanced long and hard at his former home and then raised his fist in response to Greedy and Hardcastle.

“You’ll pay for this! I only owe you one instalment, not three, as you mangy dogs stated in your letter. Just one more week and I’d have had enough money to pay my debt! To hell with you damn blood-suckers!”

Greedy pulled a face clearly showing he didn’t believe Bakewell’s assertions. It had begun to snow again and for a brief moment everyone stood still and watched white clouds coming from mouths and noses. Ebenezer cleared his throat to end the silence, but Greedy stirred and headed towards the front door. Bakewell spat across the garden fence towards the two bankers and walked stiffly off with Kevin at his side. Father, son and cat vanished into the trees and squelched down the snowy path into the forest, until Ebenezer, who was still rubbing his shin, could neither see nor hear them anymore.

He turned towards his business partner. “That went much better than expected; although I still think we should have brought some muscle along.”

“Nonsense, we don’t need witnesses, who need silencing later, do we?” Greedy rattled the door handle. “Damn, the key won’t turn! You said the duplicate would fit.”

While Greedy busied himself with the door, Ebenezer walked around the house and tried the back door. He was in luck, it wasn’t locked. Ebenezer called his colleague over. Both men loosened the snow from their shoes and entered the manor house, which sat dark and snoozing in the cold winter afternoon.

“It’s got to be here somewhere. Here…here, I found the door to the basement. Damn, aren’t there any lights?” George Greedy flicked the light switch in the hallway up and down, but nothing happened. “I bet he didn’t pay the electricity bill either!” Greedy grumbled and made his way cautiously down the staircase into the basement.

It reeked of moth balls, old apples and mouse droppings, but as far as Ebenezer and Greedy were concerned, it was not nearly as bad as the other, rather peculiar smell that assaulted their nostrils with every step they took further down into the darkness.

“Eurgh, what’s that stink? “ Ebenezer started sneezing incessantly, so much so he nearly tumbled down the stairs.

“Mind your step, Ebenezer!” Greedy pushed him out of the way and Ebenezer plunged into a pile of wooden boxes full of rotting pears. “It must be here somewhere. Wait, I think I’ve found a lantern.”

Ebenezer heard a match being struck and instantly a tiny flame lit up his colleague’s face. By the red light of the lantern George looked rather comical, like a scarecrow, which had sprung to life reluctantly. He squeezed his meagre arm behind a shelf and fingered the wall behind it gingerly. George grunted with the effort. Someone had fixed the heavy shelf to the wall with metal bolts, making it impossible to shift it aside.

“It’s hard to imagine, but this treasure’s been sitting here for generations and not a living soul knew about it!” Ebenezer drew a huge silk handkerchief from his trouser pocket and blew his nose. A clucking escaped his throat, then another and finally he began to giggle like a schoolboy, who‘d put an exploding rocket under his least favourite teacher’s chair.

George cast a grim glance at Ebenezer. “What’s so funny? For generations your idiotic ancestors had the documents relating to this treasure in their safe and none of them ever bothered looking at them. Until I came along!” George stretched his arm so far it nearly jumped out of its socket. His long, always slightly damp fingers tested the outline of a loose panel. They heard a faint clicking sound and the panel jumped out of the wall.

„Here, help me empty this shelf! “ George brushed the cardboard boxes, bottles and rolled up netting off the shelves and stuck his head between the uppermost shelf and the one below. Ebenezer could hear him grunt with the sheer effort of removing the panel.

Finally the shelves were empty and now Ebenezer could see the hollow in the wall, which the panel had turned into a small safe. By the light of the lantern the two men discovered a curled up mummified cat had found a miserable end in the man-made cave. Ebenezer fell silent at the sight. Underneath the cadaver they found a wooden chest, decorated with exquisite carvings.

„R-r-r-rumour h-h-has it, the accused gave their belongings to the B-b-bakewell’s to look after…just b-b-before the w-w-witch trials started…and after the t-t-trials there wasn’t anyone alive to reclaim their p-p-property,” Ebenezer stuttered, staring at the mummified black cat as if he’d been hypnotized. “Do you think they burned r-r-real w-w-witches at the stake?”

George carefully pushed the cat aside and pulled the wooden box out of the hollow onto the lower shelf. “Don’t be ridiculous! Most of them were miserable old women nobody wanted anymore and the rest were citizens the fine Church fathers wanted dead in order to confiscate their property. Here, hold the lantern steady, I can’t see a thing!”

Both men held their breath, when George drew a knife from his pocket to break the lock of the wooden box. Ebenezer watched George’s efforts with the rusty lock, a play performed by shadows on the opposite wall. A loud crack caused George to swear and turn around abruptly.

He held up his broken pocket knife. “So much for Swiss quality and precision engineering!” George hurled the remainder of the blade into a corner of the basement, where the blade hit a bottle; it exploded with an enormous BANG.

George dragged the heavy box off the shelf and only just managed to save his toes, when the chest hit the ground. By the flickering light of the lantern Ebenezer discovered the carvings on the lid were actually symbols, perhaps even words. He trembled with cold and anxiety.

„H-h-hadn’t we b-b-better…I mean…there’d be far more light in our office…and by now our employees will have g-g-gone home. It must be d-d-dark by now. D-d-did you know, according to the old documents the Bakewell family had always been the legal representatives of w-w-witches. Local gossip says the Bakewells were r-r-richly rewarded for their help…and the Bishop of Stinkforthshire had allegedly ordered the Bakewells to be next in line at the stake…but before they could light the fires, the bishop was discovered dead as a rat in his chambers! L-l-let’s go George.”

George stretched his tired limbs and brushed the dust off his coat. His thinning hair was glued together by a cobweb and a bug ran down his collar. “Oh very well, let’s go. Surely the caretaker’s toolbox will have a screwdriver that’ll open this infernal box.”

He didn’t wait for an answer, but hastened up the stairs. Ebenezer hurriedly followed his business partner, but before climbing the steps, Ebenezer risked a glance at the mummified cat in the wall opening and shuddered. Had the animal just moved?

When they reached the outside, the two bankers were forced to tramp through the deep snow covering the forest path. Ebenezer was freezing; his coat was really more suited for autumn. The banking business had not gone smoothly of late and when George told him, he had emptied client accounts for some time hence Ebenezer had been so shocked he’d forgotten about the weather, his ingrowing toe nails and even his housekeeper’s chamomile tea. What could they possibly do to save their bank?

It had been George’s idea to open their clients‘ safety deposit boxes. You never knew what interesting things might be stored there, George had said. Perhaps they’d find something suitable for a little blackmail or a thing of value they could borrow without their clients’ consent. That’s when he’d found it – in Bakewell’s box of all people!

Ebenezer trailed grumpily at George’s side, the treasure chest like a wall between them, forcing both men to silence. The snow fell in large flakes now and settled on pine branches, which ever so often discharged their burden, more than once flattening the two men hurrying along the path. Ebenezer squinted through the flakes and coughed rather affectedly, but George didn’t reply and so he concentrated instead on the sparkling path ahead illuminated by nothing more than the yellow light of their lantern.

In order to calm himself, Ebenezer began counting every squelching step he took through the snow. After some five minutes, he felt much better; counting things had always produced a hypnotic effect on him and he started to recount the facts of their predicament.

The amount George had stolen and lost in speculations at the stock exchange wasn’t really that large…with the money they’d get from the land sale, once the Bakewell house had been demolished…Bakewell…the family had been in possession of the estate since 1560. The old ruin had seen quite some turbulent times through the centuries…Ebenezer froze. Hadn’t he read somewhere witches protected their treasures with powerful curses? He eyed the wooden box suspiciously, as it swung back and forth between the two men, its colour sinister against the glittering snow.

Ebenezer hurried to keep up with his colleague, since George had already gained on him by a couple of steps. The sleeping forest returned every sound with double intensity and Ebenezer believed he could hear the beating of his own heart thanks to the silence all around them. Hadn’t he just heard a twig break?

“Shush…we’re being followed.” Ebenezer stopped abruptly in the middle of the path.

“Don’t be silly! Who’d be running through the woods in the middle of a blizzard? Joggers? Hurry up; my feet are turning to lumps of ice!”

George dragged his handle of the box over to his side and this forced Ebenezer to follow George more quickly. From time to time he turned around, but was unable to see anything over his shoulder, because it was dark and the snow swallowed everything around them, covering their surroundings in limitless white, making man, animal and tree invisible.

The wind began to freshen and it became more and more difficult to find the path in the heavy snow without running the risk of falling into a ditch. Meanwhile they had reached the edge of the forest and were finally able to see the outline of a barn. Ebenezer’s hand gesticulated wildly, pointing towards the outbuilding, but George kept dragging him along the path, until Ebenezer’s patience was at an end and he let the handle slide from his frozen fingers. George hadn’t expected this and the heavy box crashed to the ground. George swore and aimed a kick Ebenezer, but his colleague managed, despite his aged appearance, to jump out of the way swiftly.

“I’m not taking another step! We must seek shelter in that barn, until the snow storm’s over. Be sensible, George!”

“Nothing but bleating and bellyaching from you! You’re just as much in debt as I am, my dear friend! Losing the bank our forefathers founded doesn’t concern you in the slightest, it seems.”

Despite his harsh words George followed his business partner, who’d slung his scarf through the handle of the box and could therefore hurry along the path with far greater speed than before, dragging the treasure chest behind him, its bottom sliding across the trodden path with a hoarse squelching sound as Ebenezer slid and stumbled through the snow drifts ahead.

They pushed open the barn door with their last effort and practically fell into the shelter. Ebenezer abandoned the treasure chest by the entrance and sank exhausted onto a bale of straw, which lay in the middle of the barn.

“Are we in Farmer Edward’s barn? I can’t walk another yard,” Ebenezer groaned, when his body made contact with the straw. George placed the lantern carefully next to a sack full of animal fodder and wiped the snow from his face and neck. Finally, he also sank onto a bale of straw and stretched out his long legs. His shoes were completely soaked. He pulled them off, hurling them across the barn with what seemed to Ebenezer an almost super-human effort.

Both men sat in silence for several minutes, simply staring at the treasure chest. Finally Ebenezer pulled himself together and slid to the ground, crawling on all fours through the straw and dirt, until he’d reached the box. His hands gingerly touched every carved symbol on the lid.

“Do you think it’s true, George…that all witches curse those who steal their treasure?”

“Nonsense! The preacher men robbed thousands of people they’d condemned for bogus crimes – what about Rome, where do you think the Church got her wealth? Witches’ curse my foot! Nothing but bed time stories to frighten kids, Ebenezer!”

Behind them something rustled. Scared, both men turned around, but couldn’t see any intruder in the darkness of the barn. Shadows hurried across the uneven walls; the wind howled and cajoled around the old wooden structure, as if a whole pack of wolves were outside just waiting to rush through the door. George straightened his back and stared with a bloodthirsty expression into the direction where the rustling had now ceased. A tiny nose trembled underneath a dried up leaf of clover. Two black button eyes watched the men.

“A silly rat, that’s all! Have a look, if Farmer Edwards keeps any useful tools on that table over there. I’d give anything to see what’s inside the box!”

Ebenezer rose with some effort and did as he’d been asked. He ransacked the long trestle table next to the barn door and raised one by one several items against the faint light of the lantern to determine, if they’d be suited to break the lock of their treasure chest. Finally, he selected a crowbar and a hammer. Ebenezer hobbled triumphantly back to the chest and dropped to the ground. Before he’d had time to use the crowbar though, George had pushed him aside and reached for the hammer. Ebenezer relinquished the crowbar without protest, fearing George might use force, if he didn’t.

George placed the business end of the crowbar against the lock and raised his arm to bring down the hammer forcefully.

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” a voice came out of nowhere.

Both men got such a fright that George dropped the crowbar and it landed on Ebenezer’s foot. The old man howled with pain and curled up into a ball on the floor. George recovered his wits quickly. He grabbed the hammer even more tightly and turned towards the voice. Slowly someone emerged from the shadows. Ebenezer squinted, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the intruder…a high-pitched voice…almost like a child’s…

“Who are you? What‘s your business here? “George replied to the darkness. So far they could see nothing, just an outline of a person. George let the hammer go and reached for the lantern. He raised it high above his head, hoping the stranger would finally show.

Ebenezer had been right! A little girl, about eleven-years-old, stood in front of them. She wore a long red coat, knee-length black boots and had two brown, braided pigtails. She seemed to regard the two men with a rather amused expression.

“What’s my business? Nothing…my business is almost concluded. “The little girl came slowly closer. Her eyes sparkled in the flickering light of the lantern. “It’s you I’ve come for, gentlemen. “

“What are you talking about? Go to hell, you snotty-nosed brat! We’re busy.” George turned abruptly and picked up his hammer and crowbar.

Ebenezer stopped his whining and disentangled his limbs like a hedgehog surprised to find spring has arrived. He squatted on his haunches and began staring at the treasure chest as if in a trance. George raised his arm, the hammer came down with a bang on the crowbar and a sound not unlike an old-fashioned gong filled the barn. Hard on its heels followed an ear-splitting screeching. George dropped the tools and both bankers clapped their hands over their ears in horror. The sound didn’t seem to bother the girl in the slightest.

“I told you to leave the chest alone. Witches have no sense of humour, where their treasures are concerned.” The child sat down on a bale of hay, which was some distance from them and grinned. “By the way, my name’s Willow. Just to be sure, you’re the men from Avarice & Slimeball, aren’t you?”

Ebenezer’s cautiously uncorked his ears. “What did you mean by that…you came for us? What business could a child like you possibly have with us? Are your parents customers of our bank?”

“Nah.” The child’s grin got even wider. “My parents aren’t that stupid! They’d never allow anyone to pinch their money. Let’s just say, your company features rather highly on our list.”

“How dare you, you miserable urchin! We don’t steal from our clients. For generations the people of Stinkforthshire have put their faith in us and our bank has always seen to it that people –“

“Lost an arm and a leg, yes George, you’re certainly right about that! “ Willow interrupted him. “Which one of you is first?” She got up and stretched luxuriously. “Hurry up, I’ve got homework to do; I haven’t got time to waste…and your time’s almost up.”

Surprised, the two men looked at each other, before turning back to Willow, who had picked up a pitchfork and was now coming towards them with alarming speed. George jumped up and met the challenge with his weapon drawn or rather he raised the hammer in his hand and blocked the way to the treasure chest. A terrified Ebenezer crawled back to the trestle table and picked the first thing that came to hand in the dark. He hastened back to George’s side.

“By Jove, you should be ashamed! What’s the world coming to when children are attacking decent folk trying to find shelter in a storm?” Ebenezer gesticulated wildly with the tool in his hand, nearly hitting George’s head in the process.

“You’d better put that razor down before you break it…Farmer Edward’s doesn’t like it at all, when his sheep appear in the field looking all stubbly and unkempt.” Willow giggled, when Ebenezer realised, the thing he’d grabbed in the dark was just sheep shearing equipment. He hurled the razor across the room and faced the child.

“I’m Ebenezer, a director at Avarice & Slimeball. What did you mean by that…we’re high up on your list?”

Willow came forward another step, her pitchfork aimed at the speaker. “Well, it’s really a sort of shopping list…or perhaps more of a menu…you see, my mother likes to know in advance, what’ll grace our dinner table.”

George edged closer to the chest, one eye on the pitchfork. “What are you raving about? Avarice & Slimeball is a respectable private bank. You’re mistaking us for the corner shop in the High Street, silly girl.”

„No mistake, gentlemen! Since you were so kind as to rob my former headmaster blind, forcing him and his son to camp out in our schoolyard on an icy night like today, I’d like to show my appreciation. Today you’re going to find out what real blood suckers do to their victims…don’t worry, there’s no charge for the tuition and it’ll only take a few hours, before I’m done with you.”

“W-w-what’s the meaning of this? Do we look like we need lessons from a spotty changeling like you? If the sight of your old headmaster in his present predicament is so delightful, why not go back to the schoolyard to enjoy it and be grateful?” Ebenezer sank down on the wooden box and stuck out a mutinous, stubbly grey chin.

„Grateful? Hm…Bakewell and his son are actually friends of mine…even if they’re not usually fond of inviting blood suckers into their home.”

Without warning the little girl sailed towards George, sticking the pitchfork into his thigh with such force that his spider legs gave way and he fell to the ground. Ebenezer shrank back fearfully, but it was too late for an escape. Willow’s foot collided with his face and he fell off the treasure chest.

Behind Willow a woman emerged. She had a pale face, framed by long, black hair. She was slender and tall, with red lips and blazing eyes. Smiling, the woman approached George, whom Willow had effectively pinned to the ground with her pitchfork. He tried with both hands to pull the fork out of his aching leg, but he only succeeded in causing more pain. He cried out, blood running through his fingers and next to him Ebenezer fainted in sheer terror.

When Ebenezer awoke, he found himself trussed up like a turkey at Christmas in some sort of family tomb. In the semi-darkness he heard the water run down the ceiling and the walls, where it formed small brooks on the flagstones, turning the uneven ground into small ponds in places. On their glittering surface Ebenezer identified bathing bugs and newts. It was incredibly cold in the burial chamber and Ebenezer’s breath seemed to freeze the air on impact. The tomb was filled with a disgusting odour, sweet like rotting flesh and sour like vomit.

Somewhere behind him he could hear a familiar rustling sound and shortly afterwards he was hit by a wave of much warmer air. Somebody had lit a fire and the burial chamber now appeared in a rosy light.

A peculiar moaning and groaning, just like ancient buildings sometimes emit, reached his subconscious. At first Ebenezer thought the pitiful sounds had escaped his own mouth, but gradually he realised the groaning came from a place somewhere opposite him.

He got up as far as he was able to and looked for his companion. The chains binding his wrists cut into his skin. He stretched as far as possible to catch a glimpse of what lay behind the coffin standing between him and the fire.

Ebenezer’s eyes finally adjusted to the flickering light and his stomach nearly turned when he realised what was hanging over the flames.

George had been bound with ropes from head to toe and was now suspended on a spit, which was supported by two giant roasting forks; he was hanging over a large cauldron and slowly being turned over a lusty fire. Someone had shoved an apple into George’s mouth and had used one of his socks to secure the fruity gag. Writhing in pain, George had been the source of the moaning and groaning. Beads of sweat covered his ruby face and his tailor-made suit was beginning to let off steam.

Ebenezer examined the shackles on his ankles, which someone had fastened with a long chain to a ring on the wall opposite him. He tried to call out for help, but was so terrified, not a sound escaped his throat. He had no choice but to rattle his chains in despair.

„Don’t be so impatient, Ebenezer! It’ll be your turn soon enough, “said the young woman, when she heard the chains. Behind her on a coffin sat the little girl and picked leaves off a stem. She threw the leaves into a bowl by her side and cast an amused glance at Ebenezer.

“Hm…black pudding tastes even better, when you add a few herbs and spices, don’t you think, Mum? “

“I agree; sadly, we won’t get much blood out of these dried up fossils! You’ll have to do without the black pudding this time, my Darling.” The woman drew a dagger and drove it into George’s cheek. His blood spurted everywhere and hit the woman’s pale hand.

She laughed and licked the blood from the back of her hand. “You’d have thought two bloodsuckers from Avarice & Slimeball would be gorged on blood like leeches! From your wrinkly friend over there we’ll probably only get a quarter pint of juice and from you…well…we won’t be squeezing much out of you either, by the looks of it.” She cut off George’s silk tie and threw it carelessly over her shoulder. Willow caught it and sniggered.

“Mr Bakewell would never be able to afford such a fine silk tie…by the way, what did you want with the witches’ treasure? “

Ebenezer turned on his companion in his despair. “It’s George’s fault, all of it! He stole our clients’ money! Gambled with it at the stock exchange!”

“Oh, I understand. You wanted to repay your clients with the sale of Bakewell’s estate and the witches‘ treasure? “

Ebenezer nodded and crumpled like a piece of paper on a damp day. George had started to gobble like a turkey and drool dribbled from his mouth; it evaporated in the flames below with a hiss, rising up again a smoke that made George’s eyes water and caused him to sweat even more. The woman turned the two roasting forks with the help of a lever and now George’s backside got a roasting instead. The woman’s face expressed merely her eager anticipation of a good meal, but no pity. Ebenezer began to cry.

“What’s this? Are you crying out of pity for your colleague or because you’re anxious for your own neck? “Willow hopped off the coffin opposite and strolled over to Ebenezer, who shrank further into his damp corner. She squatted down in front of him, close enough to grab him by the throat with her outstretched hand.

Half dead with fear, Ebenezer stared into the girl’s face. Between her full, red lips two long, brilliant white fangs emerged. Her eyes glittered yellow like a cat’s. The contrast between a beast’s face and the pigtails of a schoolgirl was so terrifying for the old banker he turned his head and was sick. Willow shook with suppressed laughter.

„What’s this? You’re lost for words? You weren’t shy when you threatened Bakewell and his little son earlier this afternoon! What was the wording again you used in the letter sent last week? Ah yes, the house will now be repossessed and must be vacated without delay. We are merely following our terms of business. There are no exceptions to the rule.” Willow got up and looked scornfully at the banker. “You evicted Bakewell and Kevin from their home in the middle of a snow storm! And they call us monsters. I can promise you this: vampires don’t make exceptions either!”

Willow picked up a bucket from the floor; it contained a ladle with a long handle. She went over to the cauldron, where George steamed and writhed, and gradually poured the bucket’s contents over the roasting banker. The marinade ran down into the fire below him and evaporated with much hissing and spitting in the flames; the fire greedily soaked up the oil and herbs, filling the burial chamber with a far more pleasant aroma. George tried to scream, but the apple in his mouth prevented him from expressing his thoughts on the dinner arrangement. He could only grunt like a  pig. Disgusted, Ebenezer turned away and wept.

“Never spared a thought for the poor witches and warlocks who died at the stake, did you? The Bakewell family has been looking after this treasure for four hundred years now and never ever would a single Bakewell family member have abused their trust. But not you…oh no…YOU ARE BANKERS…stealing’s incorporated in your business terms. Eurgh!” Willow turned away and spat in the fire. “Well, you said you’d give anything to see inside that chest. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true!”

The vampire child went up to the treasure chest and laid her hand on the lid. She mumbled a few words, which Ebenezer couldn’t catch. As if the erstwhile owners of the treasure had heard her words, the chest’s lock began to glow red. With a loud CRACK the lock fell off and the lid sprang open. Ebenezer cried out and withdrew even deeper into his corner, but George, whom the vampire woman had clearly turned around on the spit roast to ensure he could see the treasure chest, opened his eyes wide and risked a glance despite his pain.

Ebenezer, who had at first shut his eyes out of terror, now cautiously opened one lid and peered under his eyelashes. Nothing rose out of the treasure chest, neither ghost nor mummified witch. Relieved, hthe old man rose a little and stretched to see the contents of the chest.

It sparkled and glittered; there were gold coins and precious stones in all shapes and sizes: pearls, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Right on top of the treasure he saw a rolled up document. Willow picked it up carefully. She broke the red seal, undid the scroll and read the contents. Her lips moved as she did so and, when she appeared to have reached a particularly interesting line, her tongue flicked across her fangs and she giggled. Eventually she handed the scroll to her mother and turned to give George another basting.

The vampire woman read the document at leisure, rolled it up again afterwards and handed it back to her daughter. Willow took a burning candle from the coffin behind her and resealed the document with a little molten wax. She pressed an embossed ring into the hot wax and waited until the seal had hardened. Finally, she returned the scroll to the treasure chest.

For another five minutes Willow stared down into the chest until she finally dived with her hand into the treasure and rummaged around with her eyes firmly shut. She slowly withdrew her hand and introduced a long chain of exquisite pearls to the dancing light. All the colours of the rainbow were being mirrored in the oysters’ tears. Willow placed the pearls lovingly on the coffin lid behind her, before turning back to the chest and saying “THANK YOU” in a loud voice.

Instantly the lid snapped shut and the lock sprang back into its former place. Ebenezer groaned. Never, not even in his wildest dreams during particularly boaring board meetings had he dreamed such riches existed! The pearls were as large as pigeon eggs. The diamonds, the rubies and the emeralds were priceless…and the gold…those sparkling coins. He rattled his chains and cursed.

Willow took the pearls and sat down in front of Ebenezer. She held the jewels under his nose. “The members of the Bakewell family have never bothered taking any interest payments to which they were entitled under the scroll’s terms. Four hundred long years of interest…these pearls once belonged to Myrtle Bakewell, the magistrate’s wife, born in April 1570 and passed away in December 1620. I can tell by the greed in your rat-face that the value of these pearls outweighs Bakewell’s debt by far. Now be a good boy and sign this document here.”

Willow pulled a quill and scroll from her coat pocket and scratched the sharpened goose feather forcefully across Ebenezer’s wrist. He winced and shrank back in fear. She handed him the bloodied quill and a parchment covered in red, wavy symbols. Willow pointed her finger at the last part, where a horrified Ebenezer discovered the symbols spelled out his own name.

Against his better judgment he accepted the quill and scratched his signature under the symbols. The symbols disappeared instantly together with his bloodied signature and the parchment rolled up by itself. At that very moment his shackles and chains fell off.

Willow got up and held the old banker in a long and thoughtful gaze. “You are permitted to leave…but George must stay behind…he’s compensation…those are OUR terms of business!

Bakewell and his son will be allowed to return to their home today, you understand? You may never set foot on the estate again and the pearls are to be payment for all debts Bakewell has with your bank now and any he might incur in the future. If you value your life, you’d better not ask for interest!”

Ebenezer got up but shook so much that Willow feared his head would fall off. She withdrew to let the old man pass unhindered. He snatched at the pearls, which Willow let glide slowly through her fingers before releasing them into his. He stuffed he pearls into his coat pocket and hobbled as fast as his old legs would carry him out of the burial chamber without daring another glance at Willow or her mother…

When he’d reached the cast iron gate at the entrance of the tomb, Ebenezer finally risked looking back over his shoulder. Alice the vampire woman stood with a dagger in her hand over George, who seemed to hover in the air, glowing and steaming. His muffled cries and the scent of roasted flesh were too much for Ebenezer, who tore open the gate with cold, cramped fingers and hurried down the icy path as fast as his feet would carry him across the ancient cemetery, back into the safety of the forest.

Willow laughed and laid an arm around her mother’s waist. “To hell with those blood suckers! For months Kevin and his dad have had to suffer thanks to greedy George. His colleague seemed rather glad to part with George The Leech, don’t you think, Mum?”

By way of a reply Alice cut George’s roasted throat.  She laughed. “Look, virtually bloodless! Must be just share prices coursing through his veins!”

Two hours later Mr Bakewell and his son sat in front of a cheerful fire in their living room and handed Willow a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Kevin rubbed his tired eyes – he had already been asleep on the sofa at Willow’s house, when she arrived to tell father and son the good news. In front of them stood the treasure chest; its symbols began to glow happily, when Bakewell’s hand caressed the lid.

“Thank you, “he whispered so Kevin wouldn’t hear. “It was very kind of your mother to give us shelter. I really didn’t know where to turn, when we received the bank’s letter last week.”

Willow returned the embossed ring. “That’s what friends are for! You helped us, remember, when we first moved here and didn’t know anyone in Stinkforthshire.”

Bakewell pocketed the ring and cleared his throat. “No member of my family has ever betrayed the magic incantation that opens the treasure chest. My ancestor Myrtle tried so hard to rescue as many people as possible from the tyranny of the Church, but unfortunately she wasn’t always successful. The real witches and sorcerers understood this and gave her this treasure to look after…for the day when warlocks and sorcerers, witches and completely non-magical folk could live in harmony and peace again. What a stroke of luck your mother’s a witch and could open the box. The bank’s blood suckers can go to hell now!”

Willow busied herself with her cup of tea to hide a grin spreading across her face. He might be looking forward to a world full of witches and sorcerers, but a future, where vampires and humans lived happily side by side THAT, Willow felt sure, would be too much of a good thing, even for tolerant Mr Bakewell.


(copyright for story and artwork: Maria Thermann)

What Creature of the Night would You want to be?

While I was writing Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove, I kept thinking how writers through the ages have been fascinated with the transformation of humans into some form of animal – from werewolves in horror and gothic stories to bats and wolves in vampire fiction, from geese, fish, hawks and other critters in T H White’s The Once and Future King (published 1958, written between 1938 and 1941) to the big black dog and rat in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books, where wizards can change their appearance.

So what creature of the night would I be, if a Merlin-type magician came along and granted me that wish? Hm…probably a cat…not because I’m so vain that I regard myself as sleek, elegant and graceful enough to fill the paws of such an animal, that’s for sure!

If anything, I’m rather the opposite of everything cats stand for…plump, middle-aged and probably a little scruffy, given that I’m a full time writer with little time to spare for dressing up or money in the bank to stay on top of the latest fashions.

No, it would be because cats lead such interesting lives. Cat owners who have fitted miniature cameras to their cats’ collars have been amazed how large a territory our kitties patrol during their nocturnal ramblings. Forever curious about the world, cats investigate everything in their path and never get bored. Every day is exciting.

Domestic cats that have gone feral can have huge hunting territories of a 25 km radius or more. They hunt rabbits as big as themselves and far from living a lonely hunter’s life often team up with other feral cats and live in a “pride” like lions.

Any cat owner who’s ever tried to outstare their cat will know that it is impossible. What are these enigmatic beasties thinking about? Do they dream? Have they formed their own philosophy about life, the world and us?

Since ancient Egyptians first domesticated cats in their grain stores and temples, the cat has been our reluctant companion. Becoming a feline for just one night might explain to me why my own cat loved to sit on my keyboard the very moment I settled down to do some work or why she couldn’t find a better place to sharpen her claws on than the folder with my latest work, or my leg, my chair or writing desk. Was she trying to tell me she didn’t like my writing or was this just a little teasing to get my attention?

If you bumped into Merlin or a fairy godmother with a wish to grant, what creature of the night would you like to be?

What’s Bartholomeoaw’s real Catty Secret?

For those of you who have already finished reading Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove, Bartholomeoaw’s secret will be a “cat out of the bag”.

Willow’s pet is a little  more than meets the eye – which for most people in Stinkforth-upon-Avon means a mangy old cat that has seen better days and should perhaps better stay at home instead of going on vampire hunt.

While Bartholomeoaw has the appearance of a domestic cat, there is more to the species of cat that meets the eye from anyone’s perspective. Cats are often referred to as the ultimate hunters. As strict carnivores – notwithstanding my own cat’s hankering after digestive biscuits – cats in the wild eat mainly meat.

In nature we will find cats in practically all the regions our planet has to offer – from deserts in Africa to the icy cold horizon in the Arctic. Only Australia and Antarctica are cat-free zones. Famous for their grace and strength as well as astonishing agility, cats come in a huge range of sizes, colours and “danger factor”. From the massive lions of Africa to the kitty in your shoe-box, they all have in common that they bewitch us with their beauty, their elegance and mysterious stare!

The species CAT is actually split into three sub-families. There are big cats of the Pantherinae family, which includes lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards for example. Then there are the much smaller cats, the Felinae, which range from pumas, bobcats, lynx to ocelot. The graceful cheetah is in a category all on its own, namely the Acinonychinae.

The main difference that separates these families are the flexibility of their larynx. Who hasn’t shuddered at a lion’s roar in the zoo, when their yawn suddenly erupted into that ear-shattering noise? Only big cats can roar – probably just as well, or my own cat would have driven me to distraction long ago!

Cheetahs don’t have retractable claws like other cats and they are also much, much faster runners than other cats, or indeed other animals for that matter.

Domestic cats like Willow’s cat Bartholomeoaw often lie on their side so we can stroke their tummies. They learn how to do this when they are still kittens, namely when their  mums grooms them every day by licking their fur. It also serves as a warning pose to enemies in nature, since cats with their tummies exposed, their four legs outstretched, their teeth bared and their claws flexed can turn around in seconds to bite and scratch anyone who comes to close.

When you get to know Willow’s pet a little better, you will realise that stroking Bartholomeoaw’s tummy is not an activity to be undertaken without taking special precautions…like wearing oven-mitts for example!

Domestic cats might eat anything from mice and frogs in the garden or fields surrounding your home to raiding bins in cities or eating dainty portions of cat food in our kitchens. In the wild feral and domestic cats might even hunt rabbits, a prey nearly their own size.

Domestic cats are not adverse to a morsel of nice fish, while cats living in Stinkforth-upon-Avon might occasionally feast on vampires-turned-bat and wash it all down with a slurp of blood-wine.