I shuffled into the dungeon. I couldn’t go any faster because of the shackles. Try as I might, I couldn’t locate anything close enough to balance the restraints.

They had prepared everything. On the table in front of me was a peach. I picked it up, examined it. Ah, yes. There it was, a tiny hole with a drop of juice glistening next to it. I wondered what they had put into it this time. Something to make me sick again? Something worse? They intended me to know they had tainted the fruit and I would suffer if I took even the smallest bite. It was not a secret. It was an invitation.

I put the peach down and looked up at the grill in the door. I knew they were watching, waiting to see if I would perform. If I could perform. I was more than hungry. My captors thought I had only missed a couple of meals but they were wrong. I had not eaten in three days.

I concentrated. An apple. It was an apple this time. Someone had done some careful measuring. The two fruits had to be about the same weight. It was the only way this could work.

I kept them waiting but in the end I gave them what they wanted… but only because it suited me. My hand hovered over ‘peach’ but I saw ‘apple’. I held the vision and…


Behind me the door clicked open. I had been a good girl. I had performed my little trick over a longer distance than last time. They, like me, had no idea how far the ability the witch’s spell had given me could reach. But they intended to find out.

They let me keep the apple. It was my reward and they were not going to starve me. I would be of no use to them dead.

Two silent guards escorted me to my tiny cell and removed the restraints. The door closed behind them. I was locked in.

I waited to make sure they had finished with me for the day. I added the apple to the collection of objects tied up in a scrap of cloth torn from my filthy bedsheet.

I concentrated. There was something at the extreme edge of my range, a dish perhaps? I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to know. If I wasn’t careful, I’d end up with it and not the object I wanted. My means of escape still eluded me. When they first imprisoned me I caught sight of the keys, three big, old pieces of dull metal clinking together on a large iron ring. If I could only find something close to the same weight, I would be able to escape but so far the scraps I had accumulated were not enough.

How long had I been a prisoner? I tried to keep track of the days but it had proved impossible.

I sat on the bunk and thought about how I got into this mess.

It began with a dare. People said the old woman who lived near the smithy was a witch. I didn’t believe it and neither did anyone I knew but the finger had been pointed and you don’t stand up for anyone once that happens. In any case she wasn’t one of us. She was from over the mountains and there were rumours about that place. It was said there was a witch in every street.

She was tried and found guilty. No-one expected any other verdict. A pyre was constructed and three men were sent to fetch her… but she had vanished. Her cell was empty.

No-one was brave enough to set foot inside her abandoned cottage… until my friends and I dared each other to enter.

It was late. An owl hooted as we five girls stood on the front step and Maud, the eldest of us, pushed open the door. It was Annie who found the old, metal bound box. There was nothing else in the cottage except a few broken plates and some rickety, old furniture.

We gathered round Annie.

Maud nudged her. “Why don’t you open it?”

I was a little afraid but we all agreed there must be something valuable in the box.

The lid splintered as Annie raised it. Inside was an old, yellowed parchment with a single word written on it. I felt as if it was calling to me. My fingers itched to touch it. Besides, it was no use to any of the others. Only I could read.

I snatched it from Annie’s hand.

The parchment was warm. The single word was “Switch”. As I unfolded the document more words appeared, blazing like tiny fires. I began shouting in some strange language. My mouth bled and blistered. My throat filled with razors yet I couldn’t stop reading. As I came to the end smoke curled around my fingers and, with a loud sizzle, the paper disintegrated in a shower of red hot ashes.

From that moment on I was infected with witchcraft. I discovered, if I held an object and thought of something similar, often the objects changed places. I soon realised size and shape made no difference but if the weights were close enough, the spell – for I had decided it must be a spell – would switch the items.

At first I didn’t see what use this could be until I worked out all I needed was a pebble of similar weight and I could exchange it for a coin in someone’s pocket. I became adept at judging weights. I gave into temptation and became a thief.

It took a while for the thefts to be linked to me. Once they were, I had to leave the village in a hurry. So far, I had only switched small objects but, to get away, I had to try for something bigger… and something living.

At the back of the nearby stables I found a large rock. I placed my hand on it and closed my eyes. I didn’t really believe it could work.

“Switch!” My fingers tangled in the mane of the finest horse in the village, sixteen hands of grey perfection. It took me longer to find the next boulder of the right weight but I did it.

“Switch!” The saddle was not the best quality but not the worst either. I rode away into the gathering twilight.

In the next village – “Switch!” – and I discovered a new, crisp loaf of bread weighed the same as a couple of shirts stolen from a washing line. I was beginning to enjoy myself.

“Switch!” A ham in exchange for a bucket I found beside a doorstep.

“Switch!” A pat of butter in exchange for a handful of leaves.

“Switch!” A knife to cut the meat in exchange for a branch fallen by the roadside.

“Switch!” A broken jug in exchange for a cup of milk.

Breakfast over, I rode on, unconcerned by the trail of confusion I left behind me.

The next night, having used the spell a few more times, I had enough money for a soft bed in a warm inn. I began to undress and found my left boot was stuck. I couldn’t bend my toes. I couldn’t even wriggle them. I began to worry. Had I broken something?

I managed to tug the boot free. I stared at my foot. The little toe and the one next to it were no longer flesh and blood. Instead they were the colour and texture of granite. I stifled a scream. I was turning to stone! It could only be as a result of using the spell.

I had to stop at once before I did more harm to myself… and I had to find the witch. I had to persuade her to repair the damage and take back her spell.

Giving up was not as easy as I thought. I had no money and couldn’t travel without food. Worse, I soon made another discovery. The power of the spell and the temptation to use it were getting stronger. When I placed my hand on an object, anything nearby of a similar weight became visible to me, like a faint overlay on top.

I reached the next town but on the way…

“Switch!” I couldn’t help myself. I was so hungry I exchanged a pile of earth for a pork pie cooling on a windowsill.

“Switch!” More stones became a pocketful of coins to buy supplies for my journey over the mountains.

That night I discovered another of my toes, this time on my right foot, had turned to stone. The petrification of my body was speeding up.

As I reached the mountain pass two days later the horse threw a shoe. I was tired and I wasn’t thinking. Before I knew what I had done…

“Switch!” The new horse might have weighed the same but he was a different animal altogether, a proud stallion without a saddle.

Worse was to follow. I had been observed. Whoever saw me must have gone to the lord of the manor, who sent out a search party. They caught me with ease. I’m no fighter and I never had any skill with a sword… even if I had been able to find something to switch for one.

They took me to a castle. At first my captor introduced himself with an apology. I was a lady of power and he respected my kind. He was charming. We ate together but I drank a little too much wine. I told him the truth and showed him my feet. By that stage all of my toes had petrified.

I woke in a cell. Lord Farley explained his neighbour had something he wanted, a large jewel. If I were to steal it for him, he would free me. It would be easy. I could get close with a worthless object and… “Switch!”.

We both knew he was not going to release me. I was too useful. There would be other neighbours, other objects.

I told him I had to be close to the target. He began testing me to determine my limits. I began biding my time until I had enough stuff to equal the weight of the dungeon keys. I was determined to escape.

Still on the bunk, I grasped the bundle. I wondered how much more I would need for the switch. I wouldn’t be able to even envisage the keys until the weights were closer.

A sound from the doorway, a key turning in the lock. It had to be the middle of the night. Couldn’t his lordship sleep?

A guard blocked the light of the guttering torches in the corridor. He pushed the door closed behind him. I did not like the look on his face.

“I never ‘ad a witch.”

I cowered away from him. “I’m not a witch. Leave me alone.”

“Why should I?” His hot breath struck my face. “Farley won’t protect ya. He wants results. I said I could get ’em.” He began to unbuckle his sword belt.

There was nowhere to run.

His fingers grasped my chin. “Don’t worry, sweetie. You might even enjoy it.”

I had the bundle in my hand and all of a sudden something of equal weight was crying out to me.


He fell in slow motion as his heart, held in my hand, beat one final time.

I threw the sticky, bleeding mess into the corner. I wanted to be sick but I had to get out of there. I bent over the body and took his dagger. As soon as I touched it I could sense others of the same weight. I knew where they all were so I knew where all the guards were.

The corridor was empty. I breathed a sigh.

I made slow progress. I couldn’t creep, not with all but the heels of both feet made of stone. I could manage the weight but it was impossible to flex them.

As I climbed the stairs I heard music wafting down from the floor above. His lordship must have been holding a ball.

I reached the kitchen. Everyone was busy. No-one noticed me or, if they did, they didn’t raise the alarm.

Outside at last, I breathed in the cool night air. I didn’t have to find the stables. Several horses were tied to a rail at the front of the building. A couple of men sat with their backs to me on a low wall. I untethered a horse from the far end of the line. I held my breath, fearful of discovery, then mounted my stolen steed and we cantered away.

Two days later I had crossed the mountains. I hoped I would find my witch soon. Both of my ankles were now lost to the encroaching petrification. My legs ached when I walked. I was becoming more and more afraid.

A small village slumbered just beyond the pass. I took water from the well in the square and let the horse drink from the trough next to it. We were both hungry but what kind of food was worth my left calf?

I looked around me. Some of the houses had objects swinging from their eaves. They were both familiar and strange. In my own village we had signs like these, the baker a wooden loaf, the shoemaker a metal boot and the smith an oversized horseshoe. In this village I saw a grey raincloud with a shining, flashing bolt of lightning beneath it. Next door was a rope which uncoiled itself and vanished, then reappeared and repeated the pattern. Another house had ears of corn changing from tender shoots to a golden sheaf and back again.

I had found the witches but which witch was mine? There were no signs displaying someone turning to stone.

A young girl skipped across the square. Something was odd about her. Her hair was changing colour from one moment to the next.

“What are you staring at?”

“Why, your hair… It’s so unusual.”

“Oh, don’t you start. I have to live with this until it fades away. Mama says it serves me right for stealing someone else’s spell.” She looked me up and down. “You’ve come from over the mountains, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I have.”

“So what are you after? Weather spells? That’s what most people come for.” She indicated the house with the thundercloud. “There. Mrs. Knowles writes the best ones.”

“I don’t want a weather spell. I have to find help for these.” I showed her my feet.

She shook her head. “You’ve been using someone else’s magic as well, haven’t you? Stealing spells when you have no powers of your own will always land you in trouble.”

“What can I do about it?”

“Depends who you stole the spell from.”

I described the old woman.

The girl wrinkled her nose. “You should have chosen someone else to annoy. She won’t let you off without it costing you. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes…” She giggled. “…not that you need them any more!”

“Where do I find her?”

“Not here. She lives in the next town. Follow the road for a day and a half. When you get there, ask for Lady Moira.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, that’s all right. There is one thing, though. Don’t try using that stolen spell this side of the mountains. It will have ten times the effect. You’d be stone from head to toe before you knew it.”

I shivered, thanked her again and followed the road. I was hungry but I didn’t dare do anything about it.

The following day I arrived at the next town just before noon. I asked a man filling a large jug at a fountain where I might find Lady Moira.

He gave me an odd look. “Are you sure you want to find her? Whatever the problem, you’d do better turning back. She never helps anyone except herself.”

“I have to see her. I have something of hers I must return.”

“Oh well, you’ve been warned.” He pointed to a large house at the end of the street.

The gates flung themselves aside as I approached. I was expected.

The door opened. A beautiful young woman about my age, not an ugly old crone, stood on the threshold. She had hair the colour of ripe grain, which changed as I watched to a deep red. It was the girl from the square.

“You tricked me. I had already found you.”

“You had but I wanted to punish you for stealing my spell.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to and now all I want to do is give it back.”

“Then why don’t you?”


“Like this.” She took my arm and led me into her garden.

I had never seen so many different flowers in one place. We stood by a pond covered in water lilies and surrounded by a profusion of multicoloured roses.

“Here we are. Now cup your hands together. That’s it. Just right.”

“What do I do now?”

“To give the spell back you must tell it to finish with you. There’s nothing else you need do. Say, ‘Switch, finish!’.”

I took a deep breath and spoke the words, “Switch, finish!”

They were my last.

You see, witches are tricky. The words are the words and the finish of that spell was the finish of me.

Here I stand in the witch’s garden. She has placed a basket of peonies in my hands. When they fade she will replace them. She says, of all her statues I am her favourite.

She wouldn’t switch me for anything.