That night Lila couldn’t sleep. Her mind was too awake, full of plans and lists. She had collected all the necessary ingredients to carry out the spell, except the strands of Willow’s hair. She sat cross-legged on her bed, The Darker Arts balanced on her lap with the moon casting its dim light on her back.
She had taken one of Willow’s tree-legged cauldrons from a store closet and placed it under her bed, the ingredients already in it. Lila was dreading what she needed to do; summoning a demon to steal information from Willow’s dreams.
She stood up from her bed and walked across the corridor to Willow’s bedroom; the door stood ajar, as it always did. Willow’s room was quite dark, the oak tree blocking most of the moonlight, though Lila knew the layout like the back of her hand. It was slightly larger than her own, but longer and narrower; the walls were lined with shelves, stacked to the ceiling with an assortment of books, scales and glass containers of dried herbs. Under a window, that in the daylight afforded one a view of the Forest, stood a cluttered desk scattered with quills, inkbottles, parchment and books laying face down and some dog-eared. In the centre of the room against the wall stood a large four-poster bed and sleeping peacefully with her hands tucked under her head, was Willow.
Lila walked towards the bedside table where Willow kept her hairbrush; it was made of silver and was decorated with an oval hand-painted porcelain medallion. She pulled five of Willow’s grey strands out of the brush and laid the hairs in her palm. ‘I’m sorry for what I’m about to do, but you’ve left me with no alternative,’ Lila whispered. She hurried to her room and sat down beside her bed, pulling the cast-iron pot from under it, careful not drag the cauldron’s legs on the hardwood floor, in fear of rousing Willow.
She dropped the hairs into the pot and as the last strand fell, a thick white opaque mist started spewing from the cauldron. A small scaled hand, complete with five clawed fingers, grabbed the brim of the pot, and pulled itself up. A small triangular head with large insect-like eyes and a thin wicked smile gazed up at Lila. The demon deftly jumped out of the pot, in the same manner one would jump over a fence, and landed on all fours.
‘What do you want,’ it groaned, standing up on its hind legs, picking its nose, ‘why did you summon me?’
Lila stared at the creature in disgust, not knowing what to do or say.
‘For the love of-’ it said, grabbing at its fluff of red hair, ‘Speak up!’
‘I wish of you to obtain a memory. A memory from Willow.’
‘Drogg, at your service. So,’ it said, ‘where’s this Willow?’
Lila pointed at Willow’s room.
‘Great,’ it said rubbing his stubby hands in delight, nearly salivating, ‘here goes!’
As the creature walked off, a vision flooded Lila’s vision. She saw Willow’s face and Drogg forcing itself into her head, clawing and scratching and biting.
‘No!’ Lila called. ‘I … I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I’ve made a big mistake!’
Drogg stopped mid-step and turned its head around to face Lila. ‘What? What did you just say?’
‘I said, I want you to stop,’ Lila said, trying to sound assertive.
‘Hmm. I’m afraid that’s not how it works, lovey. I need payment, you see. I need dreams to sustain me, like food sustains you, and if I don’t get them I get a bit upset.’
‘Well, I’m the one who summoned you here, so I can send you back.’ Lila stood up and rushed to The Darker Arts that lay on her bed turning to the page where the Dream-snatcher spell was, hoping to find a way of getting rid of the creature.
‘Are you looking for a counter-spell? You won’t find one, it doesn’t exist,’ Drogg said smugly. ‘I simply have to get what you summoned me here for and then I’ll be on my merry way.’
‘I won’t let you.’
‘Let me? You have no idea, do you?’ He gave a high-pitched laugh. ‘Once you’ve summoned me there’s no going back.’
‘I’ll find a way.’
‘Well, good luck with that. Then I guess, if you aren’t going to give it to me, I’ll have to TAKE IT!’
Drogg crouched down on all fours again and started moving towards Lila, his claws scratching on the wooden floorboards as he ran. Lila froze and raised her arms to cover her face as Drogg sprang, aiming to claw her.
Somehow, with Drogg inching towards her in mid-air, she had an idea. “The demon is the anti-dream, a nightmare”. Images of lavender, mugwort, anise, rosemary, garlic and marjoram flashed before her eyes, herbs known to ward off bad dreams. She remembered the little herb-filled pocket Willow had made for her ages ago, tucked under her pillow. She leapt towards her bed and reached under her pillow, grabbing hold of the nightmare ward as Drogg sped past her crashing into the bookshelf, causing multiple volumes to cascade on to the floor.
Drogg shook his head, rubbing a large bulge that had formed above his eye where a book had hit him. He spun around, shrieking in pain, and sprang towards Lila’s head, latching himself onto her hair, pulling and clawing himself towards her ear, trying to force himself into her head.
‘Mine!’ he screeched. ‘Mine, mine, mine!’
‘No!!’ she screamed. She tore apart the herb-filled pocket, grabbing a handful of the dried herb mixture and stuffed it into Drogg’s mouth. They struggled on the floor with Drogg clawing and biting Lila’s hands as she tried to force him to swallow the herbs.
Finally Drogg rolled away as his small scaly body started trembling. He began retching, trying to expel the herbs from his stomach, then his body became limp and a second later started to slowly fizzle away leaving nothing but an oval-shaped scorch mark and the smell of burnt hair behind.
Lila’s bedroom door burst open. ‘Lila!’ shouted Willow, out of breath. She was standing in the doorway, rubbing her shoulder, her hair loose and messy. ‘Are you alright? I heard horrible noises, but the door was stuck. I couldn’t come in.’ She rushed forward and knelt beside Lila. ‘Are you hurt?’ she asked cradling Lila’s head in her arms, not waiting for her reply.
‘I’m so sorry, Willow!’ Lila sobbed. ‘I didn’t mean - ’
‘What happened?’ Willow urged, holding Lila’s face in her hands.
‘I- I summoned a demon. A dream-snatcher.’
Willow released Lila’s head and slumped backwards, resting her back against the side of Lila’s bed. ‘No,’ she sighed, her voice hoarse.
‘I’m so sorry!’ Lila cried, crawling towards Willow, placing her hand on her shoulder. ‘I never meant for it to get this out of control.’
‘Did it get the memory?’
‘DID IT GET THE MEMORY YOU WERE LOOKING FOR?’
‘No, I couldn’t go through with it-’
Willow sighed in relief, but her relief quickly turned to disbelief. ‘Lila, I TRUSTED you! I trusted you…’
‘I only did it because you didn’t tell me everything you knew about my mother,’ Lila said.
‘By god, Lila, you almost got yourself killed! The nightmare demon is a powerful creature. No counter-spell exists!’ Willow frowned, looking at the scorch mark where Drogg’s body had perished. ‘How did you…’
‘I stuffed his mouth with the herbs from the nightmare ward you put under my pillow.’
Willow’s stern face broke out into an incredulous smile, ‘I made that to keep you safe from bad dreams, and you used it to banish a demon?’
Lila nodded, her head lowered.
‘You’re unbelievable Lila le Fay, you really are. And not in a good way, mind you, before you think that I condone this… brazen behaviour of yours. I would have thought that after yesterday, you’d be more cautious, more careful. Your friend was murdered. But, oh no! It’s just full steam ahead for you, isn’t it? Rush into things without using your head!’Willow took a ragged breath and closed her eyes, when she spoke again it was as faint as a whisper. ‘Where did you get the spell?’
Willow looked behind her and saw The Darker Arts spread open on Lila’s bed. ‘Good grief. That is the most despicable book I’ve ever known. I thought I … No, I know I hid it. But you just had to go sniffing around in the attic! That book is dangerous, that is why I hid it in the first place. ‘No, that is just too far. Just too far, Lila!’
‘I’m so sorry.’
‘When will I be able to trust you again?’
‘You CAN trust me.’
‘You have given me no reason to believe you.’
‘But…’ Lila started, but stopped as Willow’s grey eyes narrowed.
This was the first real scolding Lila had ever had. She had never seen Willow more furious, never heard her voice so firm and angry. She looked up at Willow and started crying. She crawled onto her bed and pulled her quilt over her face to hide her guilty tears.
Willow stood up and sat down next to Lila, ‘My dear, please know that it isn’t because I’m mean, or that I’m trying to hurt your feelings. It is to protect you. Everything I do has always been to protect you.’
‘Not telling me more about my birth mother as well?’ Lila asked, wiping off the tears running down her nose.
Willow didn’t respond.
‘Don’t you see? I want to know. I NEED to know. Why can’t you just tell me?’
‘The truth will hurt you.’
‘I don’t -’
Willow pulled down the quilt and tugged on Lila’s arm. ‘Come,’ she said, as she picked up the Darker Arts.
They walked down the dimly lit corridor, down the warm wooden staircase into the kitchen. The nook by the fire was bathed in a faint ruddy glow. Willow whispered three short words and the coals caught fire throwing their light against the stone walls.
‘What are you doing?’ Lila asked.
‘We’re burning it,’ Willow said, holding up the book. She held it out and waited for Lila to take it.
Lila crossed the room cautiously. ‘Can’t we just put it back in the attic?’ Damaging a book was sacrilege in her eyes. It was murder. Burning a book, even if it was a foul, loathsome piece of work like this, was wrong.
‘Come. I want you to do it.’ Willow was unyielding. She stood, hands on hips, waiting for Lila to toss it onto the flames.
Lila shrugged and tossed the book into the fire in the same way she empties the chamber pots in the morning. The book caused the flames to momentarily dull, and then turned dark green.
‘Stand back, my dear,’ Willow warned, holding out her arm.
Lila nestled up against Willow’s side and watched the book spit, scorch and turn to dust.
‘It is done.’ She looked down at Lila and motioned for her to join her on the sofa.
‘Your mother left you on my doorstep because she couldn’t raise you herself.’
‘You don’t have to tell me, Willow,’ Lila said.
‘I want to.’ Willow kissed her forehead and pulled her closer. ‘I’d made a promise – a promise to help her if ever she needed my assistance. I never thought she’d ever … I never thought she’d ask me to raise her child. I never dreamed that she would ever give you up. Your mother loved you, Lila. Do you know how hard it must have been for her to give you away? I do, because I love you. Do you understand?’
Lila shrugged. ‘What was she like?’
‘She was a performer in the circus some time before the Flightfoots started their own. Oh, how the people adored her! But she came and went like the ebb and flow of the river, her absence marked by a hollowness in the hearts of many. I met her in the circus ring when she was only eleven years old. She was a runaway and joined the circus as a young girl. The circus master, a Luigi Rousseau, asked me to help treat a cough she had picked up. At first she refused my help, she was a head-strong girl, your mother, but she took the medicine and soon she was back on stage.’ Willow chuckled. ‘She was beautiful too, like you.’
‘And my father? Did you know him too?’
‘No, I never met him, I only saw him twice, and then at a distance. I only knew him through her. She couldn’t stop talking about him, she was so in love. I only know that you have his eyes, your mother’s were brown. She said that his eyes looked like lichen clinging to a tree.’ Willow smiled and stroked Lila’s cheek.
‘Your face!’ said Willow noticing scratches on Lila’s cheek.
‘Oh, that’s where Drogg scratched me.’
‘She says nonchalantly,’ Willow mocked. ‘Those are demon marks, they’re no ordinary cuts. I’ll go get something from the medicine cupboard. I think I still have some yarrow and stardust cream left after that time you tried to pull off a wild pixie’s wings.’
‘Oh, I was only five! I wanted to make myself a necklace. What does a child that age know?’ Lila protested.
Willow paused at the foot of the staircase, ‘If that five-year-old’s name is Lila… Too much! And by the way…’