BRAT STEW

BY NICK PETROU

This would be a meal those two brats would never forget.
            Parsnip-nosed Lilith popped open her fists and touched one grey finger with one grey thumb. With a bone-breaking click, the pine logs under her cauldron exploded in a cloud of smoke, and creepers of flame grew in twists up to its cast-iron rim. The bog water bubbled and screamed, and the twilight woodland answered with howls and the directionless flapping of featherless wings.
            Lilith’s skin clung to her rocking chair, and her skeleton almost left it hanging there like a cloak when she stood. Her thigh and shin joints were flintstones clashing. Her breath seeped out green. But there was work to be done, and visitors always made her feel young again.
            Lilith skinned three sweet onions with a grin which mimicked that of the deer skull noosed to her ceiling, and then she dropped them into the cauldron. She pinched black salt from a tortoise-shell bowl and mould from the hoof of a pig. She gutted five snakes, five toads, and fifty toadstools. The black blood turned the red blood plum, and the cauldron went wild, huffing skull-shaped fog clouds and sputtering poison milk. She put a lid on it and went out into the woods.
            The bats and rats, they flew from her quick. So did the dogs and frogs. But the doe, she was far too bold. Lilith’s pupils shrunk to needle-tips, and she snapped the doe’s neck. The ferns recoiled as Lilith hovered over them to claim her prize. She spilt its hot guts right there on the woodland floor.
            Dragging the empty doe back to her hovel, Lilith stopped, nostrils trembling to a scent on the wind. Yes, they were close now. Close now indeed. She only hoped that, this time, they would stay a little while.
            Lilith threw the doe in the cauldron, fur and all, and then she stirred — cackled and stirred, and then burst her best boil into the stew for good measure.
            But where were they? Would they be late? Or perhaps not come at all?
            She combed her wicked hair and thumbed her wicked tomes, and still — no torch glow, nor giggles, nor knocking on her door. She summoned an imp and slew it just to pass the time. Then she sculpted her spine to her rocking chair, and sighed.
            Just as she started to dream — of juicy man-flesh and plagues — there at last came the knocking, and now Lilith did stand without her skin.
            She said, “I smelt you, and I waited, and I thought you weren’t coming.”
            She struck one finger off her thumb like a match, and the door flung open, revealing two parsnip-nosed brats with grey flesh and deer-skull grins, their partners and their own brats gathered behind them.
            “We wouldn’t miss it for dinner with the Devil himself,” said Lilith’s eldest.
            “Yeah, smells good, Mum,” said her second-born.
            “Doe stew — our favourite!”
            “Don’t be shy, kids. Hug grandma.”
            “So, Mum, how have you been?”

END

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