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Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Word Count: 2229


Milly Watson was tired of being bullied, so she decided to enlist help from an unusual source. And found a new and terrifying ally...

Wayne Bailey held Milly against the wall, his strong arms easily preventing her from escaping. He was ten and big. Milly Watson was a slender eight year old.
“Yeah Watson. Ya stuck up little cow. Don’t like me do yer?”
At that second Milly hated nothing more in the world. Ever since the start of term she’d had to watch out for him, as he stalked the concrete playground looking for a fresh victim. Nowhere was safe during the two breaks, but her eyes couldn’t be everywhere, and this morning he had her trapped beside the dustbins where she’d thought she’d be safe.
Stupid stupid, she raged at herself inwardly, for letting him catch her. From where they were they couldn’t be seen from the staffroom windows, although she doubted if any of the staff at the Aneurin Bevan ‘Modern’ Comprehensive would have done anything to help. She wished sometimes for the old education system she’d heard adults talk about, with its petrifying teachers, their straps and canes to keep the bullies in order. 
A distant bell went, dragging her mind away from a pleasurable vision of Wayne bent over in some Victorian study while a giant headmaster laid into him with a stick.
“Now yer gonna get it!” The common accent jarred in her ears as she ‘got it’, a boot scraping down her shin while he took her skin just beneath one ear, pinching and twisting. Then he was gone, and Milly sank to the concrete, as the agony flared and her tears flowed.
She wandered home, alone as usual, wishing until she felt sick with longing. Wishing that Dad hadn’t gone away, wishing they didn’t live on the edge of that rough estate, remembering her former, private, school and wishing she wasn’t ‘banged up’, one of the boys in the class had a dad who was ‘banged up’, and apparently it meant in prison, in the Aneurin Bevan Modern Comprehensive. But wishing, she knew wasn’t enough. One of her aunts, whom she quite liked was fond of saying that.
“It’s no good just sitting back and wishing. You’ve got to make things happen.” Easy enough to say. But she had to go to school, and there was no getting away from her tormentor, and she daren’t tell on him to any of the staff. If only she was six feet tall! If only she had power, real power! If only she were a w----...
Milly stood stock still for a moment, her mind racing. She was at the traffic lights. Home lay straight across, a twenty minute walk away. To the right the high street led down into the town centre, where there were several second hand bookshops. What she needed might be in a book, and she wouldn’t have to buy one, just browse through the shop reading as she went. Was it a waste of time? It was worth trying, she’d try anything. Milly turned right and descended the hill.

The shop seemed dark and cavernous, but the proprietor, though slightly taken aback when she entered, proved friendly enough. He laughed at her request, but guided her to the back of the shop, and left her there.
She began to look along the rows of titles. The Golden Bough, Shamanism And the Occult,….It was no good. They all sounded fearfully grown up and the couple she looked into were incomprehensible. Then she came on Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Ashkaban. That was better! As she reached up to finger the novel her arm dislodged another book, which fell to the floor. Annoyed at her clumsiness she retrieved it, noting it was titled The Witches’ Book Of Spells. The pages fell open as she picked it up. Casually she looked inside, and a line of poetry caught her eye. 

Tis the witching hour of the night
O’erhead is the moon and bright
And the stars they glisten, glisten
Seeming with bright eyes to listen
For what listen they.
John Keats 1795 – 1821

In the very next paragraph were certain instructions.Milly felt something jump in her chest and her heart started beating faster. That thought at the traffic lights had been an inspiration. She was on the right track, and must just keep looking.
When she got home, her mother was there, looking tired as usual. She was busy cooking, enabling  Milly to do what she had to do. It wasn’t easy and she was exhausted by the time she sat down at the table. Dinner was fish fingers and chips with frozen peas, nothing like the proper meals they’d had when Dad was around and they lived in the larger house with views across to the sea, and their own garden. Now their garden ended six feet from the front windows, and usually contained a couple of empty beer cans by the time morning came.
“I’m going to have an early night Mum.” Her mother looked surprised at that.
“Heartbeat’s on. Don’t you want to stay up for that?”
“No. I’m tired. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight darling. Oh by the way, I nearly forgot. Present for you.”
She gazed at the present, thrilled. It was a small woven raffia basket, half full of straw.
“It’s beautiful. Where did you get it?”
“That old Spaniard in the market. He had it full of bananas, and when I said how nice it was, he just took the bananas out and gave it to me.”
“It’s super, I’ll hang it up in my room. Thanks ever so much.”
She kissed her mother and went up the stairs, feeling the slightest bit guilty. She didn’t like lying, especially to her mum, but she needed time on her own. There were things she had to do, and tonight according to the newspaper was the last night for a fortnight on which to do them. 
Milly changed into her pyjamas, cleaned her teeth, and went quietly back to her room. The theme tune of Heartbeat was sounding from the tiny kitchen, which meant she had an hour or more, before her mum looked in on her. In her room, she checked the items so laboriously scrounged. One white candle. That had been easy. The green one had needed searching for in a box of Christmas decorations in the loft, and a black one couldn’t be found. But she’d found some brown ones along with the green, and hoped they would do. From her schoolbag she extracted a used three ring folder, which had cost her thirty pence in the bookshop. It even had some clean foolscap inside. It was now her Book Of Spells, and she opened it up and read the lines she’d pencilled in out of that amazing old book in the shop. Milly opened the curtains. It was a cloudless night, and tomorrow, according to her Mum’s Daily Mail , was full moon. What she had to do had to be done on a waxing moon. She arranged the candles and readied the matches borrowed from a drawer in the kitchen. She was ready.
Milly lit the white candle, and stared up at the face of the moon. She visualized herself as all-powerful, and Wayne Bailey as a harmless midget. By the flickering candlelight she began to read, self-conscious at first, but with her voice growing ever stronger.
Mother Earth, Fire, Wind Water and Spirit,
I ask thee to cleanse my body of all negative energies…
Several more lines followed, as distant thunder rumbled  and a gusting wind started to moan around the house, the tree branches nudging her window. When finished, she repeated the ritual, but this time with the brown candle also burning. Lastly, she lit the green candle, and repeated certain verses, ending with:
Mother Earth, Fire, Wind Water and Spirit
I ask thee to free and guard my body from all negative forces.
Peace be.
She felt curiously peaceful as she hopped into bed and turned out the light.  Milly soon slept, and she never heard the slight rustle as something landed softly on the floor and, after some moments, moved silently towards her bed.
Milly awoke early, stretching luxuriously, before she remembered it was a school day. Her heart sank abruptly, and she stared at the wall, fighting down panic. Her preparations and optimism of the night before now seemed futile, and the day outside looked cold and grey. She turned over in bed, thinking that the dark patch before her eyes was sleep. Then it moved.
Milly went rigid, and felt as though every hair in her scalp was standing erect. For she was not alone. She was staring into the eyes of an alien creature. Up on one elbow, she relaxed a little, and her breathing slowed.
“You’re beautiful”. The thing raised two arms momentarily, and Milly froze again, worried that she might frighten it. Where on earth had it come from?
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”
But others certainly might, and she could hear her mother’s feet on the stairs. She grabbed for the Book Of Shadows, to shield her visitor from her mother’s eyes, but it wasn’t necessary. Her Mum just called from the landing.
“Milly, half past seven.”
“OK Mum.”
She regarded her visitor, the thoughts running through her brain many and varied. Where had it come from? She didn’t for one moment connect it with the candle lit ceremony of the previous evening, until she remembered another evening, with her mother going to use the bathroom, and the subsequent screams of terror… Had her preparations had some effect? The thought brought her back to reality, and the prospects of break time.  Milly felt a grim determination settle on her. Wayne Bailey was tough enough when dealing with someone half his size, and she was terrified of him, but the question now was:
What frightened Wayne Bailey?
She decided to make her visitor comfortable, and thought of a name.
“I shall call you Harriet”.
As she packed her schoolbag and, with extraordinary care, her pencil case, she felt marginally more confident than she had the day before. But as she walked the hard pavement, and saw the grim school buildings come into sight, her heart was hammering.
Break time. Bells.  Kids milling around drinking milk and chatting. A sidelong glance assured her that Wayne was watching her. Clutching her pencil case firmly but carefully she headed for the dustbin area, where they’d be out of sight of the others. She knew Bailey was following her, she could feel the eyes boring into her back. Round the corner she turned, at bay. Wayne came round the corner and she watched him, as she slowly unzipped the soft case.
“Yeah Watson, yer stuck up little cow.”
She didn’t need to force an expression of fear, as she felt her breathing quicken. But somehow she felt bigger than the previous day.
Now, back him up so he can’t get away easily.
“Touch me and I’ll tell Mister Porter.”
He laughed, with reason. Mister Porter, their form teacher, was a pallid acned youth who was manifestly scared of children.
“Pansy Porter? He ain’t gonna do nuffink. He can’t touch me neither. My Dad’d  kill him.”
“Let me go and I’ll give you a present.”
A momentary interest showed in the close-set eyes.
“Yeah? What’s that then?”
“Look”. Unzipping the pencil case and moving in a half circle, so Wayne now had his back to the wall, she carefully extracted the roll of cotton wool. As she held it up to him he bent closer.
Flipping off the top of the roll, she revealed Harriet.

Milly emerged from the pet shop and started to walk home. She felt sad at having to say goodbye to her new friend who’d done her such a favour. She remembered, would always treasure the memory, of Wayne Bailey’s yell of pure terror, his petrified pleas for her to stop it, take it away, the steam rising from his waist as he peed his pants before racing away through the playground and out of the school gates. He hadn’t been seen since. As she walked home she felt as though she were treading on air.
It was a beautiful Victorian name for a beautiful creature.
Well, I think you’re beautiful, although most people wouldn’t.
Her mind drifted back into her research on her Mum’s laptop.
Heteropoda Venatoria, and they liked living in trees and sometimes arrived in Britain in bunches of bananas. You were lovely, so black and hairy, with all those legs. Probably female, according to Google. Did the ceremony really work? Mum must have been given that straw bag just around the time I was standing at the lights, before I did the bit with the candles. Maybe it’s the thought that does it. Sorry I can’t keep you, but Mum would have a fit if she saw you, she can’t even bear to get those small ones out of the bath when they fall in. But you gave me my life back, and I’ll never forget you. A Giant  Brazilian Crab Spider with a leg span of twelve centimeters.  My little friend Harriet.
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