We landed the broomstick in a large field.
Zanzibar looked cross.
“Where are we?” he whined. “I don’t see my sardines on toast, or fish and chips.”
There are days when even a witch, a kind witch, a long-suffering witch, a loving witch like me, wishes she had a spell to turn an irritable old cat into a sweet, fluffy kitten. Not a cat who is battle-weary and travel-hardened. But a tiny, new kitten for whom the whole wide world is one huge adventure just waiting to be discovered. Like finding the recipe for sole delice in a cream sauce pinned to your pillowcase one night.
“Well?” moaned Zanzibar again. “Where are we?”
“I don’t have a clue,” I said. Because I didn’t.
All I knew was that it was fall, autumn, the twilight of the year. And that I was somewhere where it smelled perfect – mud, squishy leaves and something else – something not so perfect. Something animal. Something smelly. Something — yuch! “Cows” – I yelled. And Zanzibar proved his incredible agility performing a superb imitation of a harrier jet’s vertical take off ability and narrowly avoiding a large, warm, moist patch of cow poop.
“Poooo,” he sniffed. “Disgusting!”
“Well it answers part of your question,” I said trying hard not to laugh.”We’re at least in the country and not in a city. The only question is where?”
“Nooooooooo.” said a strange voice. “The only question is Whoooooo.”
“Whoooooo?” Zanzibar and I chorused, straining to see where the voice came from.
“Whooooo?” said the voice. “To whit, to whooooooooo.”
I shifted my gaze and looked up into a nearby tree.
I jumped. Looking down from his perch in an old tree, the red-eyed owl stared at us.
“Whooooo,” he said again. “Whooooooooooooooo?”
I got the message. “I’m Heckerty,” I said, bowing slightly just in case that’s what you’re supposed to do with red-eyed owls.
“And I’m Zanzibar, her cat,” said Zanzibar looking more than a little awestruck at the sight of the huge red eyes in the tree way above him. This was one bird he had no intention of chasing.
“Whoooooooo?” said the owl.
“Heckerty and Zanzibar,” I explained. “From Spellbound. We’re on our way to England so Zanzibar can have sardines on toast.”
I thought the owl was about to say “Whooooo” again, but instead he blinked at us several times and then said “Hooooo”.
Now I grant you, there’s very little difference between “Whoooooo” and “Hooooo”. Go on, try it yourself and see. Can you tell the difference? I can’t. And neither can Zanzibar. So we sat there, completely puzzled. The owl looked at us sadly. “Whoooo, Hoooo,” he said several times. I looked at Zanzibar and then had a beautiful idea. If I came up with a spell, maybe I’d learn the difference between Whoooo and Hoooo. I was just about to get my cauldron and all the things I need to make a spell, when Zanzibar stopped me. “What?, I asked him. “Hoo,” he said. “Don’t you start,” I said. “It’s bad enough one person can only say Whoooo and Hoooo.”
“Hoo,” said Zanzibar, “hoo, hoo, HOO!!” His paw pointed to the map I seldom use when flying. but should consult more often. And there – in all its glory I saw where we were.
“Hoo,” I shouted. “Hoo, hoo” said Zanzibar delighted that I’d finally understood. “Hooooo, hoooooo” said the owl as he slowly flew away across the moon.
And there we were.
In the ancient village of Hoo.