Mrs Endhouse is much much older than she looks, and very much less frail. Mrs Endhouse isn’t her real name. It’s the name she gives if someone asks. You don’t just give your name to people. That would be foolish. Who in their right mind would hand over such a powerful weapon for use against themselves? Also, she’s not and never has been married. She has a cat she calls Tinker. That’s not his real name either and even though he looks a sleek, healthy young cat, he’s not really a cat. She inherited him from her mother. She also inherited her profession – or ‘calling’ – from her mother. Her mother was a wicked witch. She, Mrs Endhouse, had been brought up on a diet of gingerbread houses and juicy children, as far as she could remember. It was a long long time ago after all. She had modified her wicked ways considerably, toned them down, over the course of her extraordinarily long life. Wicked witches are solitary creatures and she knew of no others. There had been several in neighbouring areas when she was younger but they rarely met, being somewhat like cats in temperament, that is to say, preferring their own company and mistrusting anyone who might be as powerful or more powerful than themselves. All those old ladies were long dead now. They’d been too inflexible and too stationary. Mrs Endhouse was a wiser old bird by a long way. She moved to a new area roughly once every 50 years or so. That way, she sensibly reasoned, people wouldn’t notice that you carried on being quite an old woman far far beyond what they considered your allotted term. She would move from the old place looking very old indeed and arrive at the new place looking middle aged – giving plenty of scope for 50 years appearance of ageing to accrue. She no longer tempted and entrapped children. She read a lot these days – novels, philosophy, that sort of thing – and had become softer hearted and more liberal. Now she only took those who attempted to gull her or rob her and those unfortunate idiots were generally adults.
Approaching the second millennium, Mrs Endhouse and Tinker are living on the outskirts of a village somewhere in the Midlands. They’ve been there for about 20 years. The neighbours are courteous and respectful. That’s how it normally is in this century. No children have ever gone missing since she’s lived here. No farmer’s cows have got pox or gone dry. It’s not like the old days. She had been slightly concerned when there was that foot and mouth outbreak a few years ago. Once upon a time a suspicious eye would have been cast in her direction. She might have had to think of moving before things turned nasty. But this was the age of science and nobody thought of accusing the ugliest and loneliest old lady in the neighbourhood of witchcraft, as used to happen in her mother’s time.
Once a month a village newsletter drops through her door. She always reads it with interest. First she turns to page 2 to read the letters from villagers, then page 1 for news, next page 3 for meetings and finally the back page for any new buildings or road works planned. When she’s finished with it, she tears it up and adds it to the compost. This month it arrives on a Wednesday – very early. The loud clack of the letter box wakes her up. It’s mid-morning before she reads it, turning, as is her habit, first to the letters section. The first is very interesting. It’s from the head of the village’s ‘Neighbourhood Watch’. Apparently, there’s a new scam for vulnerable old people to look out for. A particular class of criminal low-lifes carry out what the local constabulary refer to as “distraction burglaries” and the new scam is to knock on the door of the old person, then claim that they are terribly upset because they’ve run over a cat with their car. They’ve managed to gain entry to several homes using this excuse and stolen a considerable amount of money and valuables.
Mrs Endhouse smiled. She wondered how the lie got them through the door. Perhaps they asked to use the telephone or maybe they decoyed the old person out to inspect the fictional cat. In any case she was confident that she could decoy better than they could and she would be only too pleased to invite them in. There’s so much nourishment in young men – and these were working in teams! Tinker would be purring with pleasure when she told him. One each. What a treat. It would fatten them both up in just the right magical way for the next ten years. It should be said, that in Mrs Endhouse’s tradition of wicked witchery, the witch is somewhat similar to a reptile in the requirement of nourishment. They don’t have to eat very often but when they do, they can manage an extraordinarily large meal. That’s just for the purposes of maintaining the magic, of course. As for normal, day to day body maintenance, she ate mainly fruit and vegetables and Tinker was fond of a bit of fish.
The plan could not have been more simple. All Mrs Endhouse had to do was hobble to the village shops every day, looking old and weak, spend some money on groceries and then struggle home with her shopping bag – until the bad men noticed her. It didn’t take long. Three days later there was a knock on her door. She was a consummate actress. Terribly distressed to hear that a poor cat had been injured on the road. What could she do to help? He wanted to know, could he possibly use the telephone. Hadn’t he got a mobile telephone? Yes, but the battery was flat. Who did he want to telephone? A local vet. He didn’t want to move the cat in case he did it further damage and he didn’t know the area so couldn’t take the cat himself. He would look in Yellow Pages. Perhaps the lady wouldn’t mind checking on the cat while he was telephoning for help. It was just down the lane a couple of hundred yards (far enough to take a slow old lady enough time to have her house searched and robbed). Of course she would go and check on the poor cat. She would just show him to the telephone and then go and minister to the cat. He should go down the hall and into that room with the unusual looking handle in the middle of the door. Yes, that’s the one. Pull the door closed behind you. Excellent. Now she just has to go out and down the garden path to let the accomplice see her leave the house. Once inside, he’ll follow the sound of his partner’s voice …. into oven number two.
And that was exactly what happened. The door that she had directed the first con to enter (with the unusual looking handle – which in fact was a temperature dial) led into an oven. It looked like a sparsely furnished room with a telephone. That was an illusion. When the young man pulled the door closed behind him, it locked, the light went out, a false wall slid across the one with the door in it then stopped, changed direction and advanced into the room, the ceiling descended and the side walls closed in towards him. He was now occupying oven number one and shouting and screaming his alarm to those cold, indifferent walls. Oven number two, accessible by the same door as oven number one, now that oven number one had moved out of the way, soon accommodated the second man who had walked in there following the sound of his partner’s cries. The door closed of its own accord the second time. Once all the walls had locked into place, the heat began to increase.
Mrs Endhouse looked fatter, more cheerful and more content than she had the last few days when she had struggled to the shops. People commented on the change, it was so noticeable. Mr Green who ran the corner shop had asked her the last time she came in, if she would like him to deliver her shopping and save her poor old legs. She’d declined, saying it did her good to get out. Now Mr Green concluded that Mrs Endhouse must have had a touch of lumbago or something and had recovered marvellously well in no time at all. And Tinker was stalking the neighbourhood like a new cat. He seemed almost to glow in the dark. There were no further reports of the injured cat scam in the village newsletter. The old folk of the district were able to relax again – at least for the time being.
Next story: Mrs Endhouse Meddles