Happy Deathday, Granny Bucket

By Martin Pearson

Philomena Bucket stood on the summit of the Gydynap Hills, watching, with some trepidation, the eerie mist that snaked up through the darkness.

“I’m glad that they are meeting here, and not in The Squid,” she thought to herself. “Even by Hopeless standards, this is beyond weird.”

It was late evening on the seventh day of February, the anniversary of Granny Bucket’s death. A few weeks previously Philomena had rashly suggested that there should be some sort of event to mark the occasion.

“After all,” she had reasoned, “everybody has a birthday, and they also have a deathday.”

If, like Granny Bucket, the departed are able to enjoy a full and active afterlife, happily haunting all and sundry, then Philomena could see no reason why there should not be a party, of some description, to celebrate their special day.  What Philomena had failed to take into account was Granny insisting that she should have a veto regarding the guest list, and then summarily rejecting all of her granddaughter’s suggestions.

As the mist drew closer, Philomena could see wispy forms gradually taking shape within it. These were Granny’s party guests, the ghosts of her witch-brood ancestors; generation upon generation of Bucket women. Some were from such a distant past that they were almost invisible.

Philomena had no idea how the Bucket surname had originated.  Given the mysterious nature of that ancient Irish clan, I like to believe that it derives from the old Gaelic word “púca”, for a shape-shifting spirit. The truth, however, is probably far more prosaic. Whatever its root, the name has been carried proudly for hundreds – possibly thousands – of years by countless female Buckets, regardless of their marital state. And here they all were, shades gathered upon a dark hilltop, honouring Granny Bucket. Philomena gazed fondly at her grandmother, and as she did so, the scene changed. She was in a tiny, badly-lit room where an old woman lay in a truckle bed. Her face was almost as white as the pillow upon which she lay. It was Granny. These were her final moments of life. Philomena was only a child at the time, but she could remember this vividly.  The vision faded and once more it was night-time on the Gydynaps. Philomena’s gaze fell upon another party guest. Although a wraith, this one looked to be little more than a girl. Suddenly, alarmingly, she was ablaze, her hair a fiery halo, her mouth opened in a soundless scream. Shaken, Philomena turned away abruptly, only for her eyes to fall upon another ghost, who, an instant later, appeared to be hanging from gallows, her eyes bulging and her legs kicking helplessly. Horrified, Philomena knew at once that she was witnessing the deathday of these women. Wherever she looked, she was assailed by visions of violent death. Few had been as lucky as Granny, to die in bed surrounded by a loving family. 

There was another watcher on those hills. For reasons known only to himself, Durosimi O’Stoat had asked for an invitation to Granny’s party.

“After all,” he had said, “I am family.”

It was true, to a degree. Somewhere in that melee of ghosts drifted a common ancestor, a forebear who marked the exact time when two magically powerful families – the Buckets and the O’Stoats – had found each other.

When no invitation had been forthcoming, Durosimi decided to turn up anyway.

By now the phantom witches had started chanting. This was obviously what passed as fun in witchy circles, Philomena decided. Not so much a party as a gathering. A meet.

“Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again,” intoned Philomena aloud, somewhat surprising herself, for she had no idea where the words had come from.

It was almost as if this was a signal. Led by Granny, the witches drifted towards her and, surrounded, she felt herself lifted, as if by nothing more substantial than clouds. She floated, unafraid and deliriously happy, in the night-air, for what felt like an age.

Durosimi watched with fascination. While no stranger to the world of the supernatural, this was something completely new to him. In fact, so mesmerised was he that he had almost forgotten the reason for his gate-crashing the party. Then the weight of the little black bottle that he carried drew him sharply from his reverie.

The ghostly throng surrounding Philomena seemed to be unaware of Durosimi’s presence. It was only when he held the bottle aloft that one of the witches turned towards him, as if in answer to a summons. She drifted through the night until her shimmering form was within his arms’ length.

Durosimi smiled, coldly. The spell had worked. And then he froze. The witch standing before him looked exactly like Philomena Bucket.

“Melusine?” he asked, incredulous.

It was Doctor John Dee who had given him the idea. The sixteenth-century alchemist had visited Hopeless some time before and had revealed that Melusine O’Stoat, burned for heresy and witchcraft in Elizabethan times, was not only Durosimi’s ancestor, but Philomena’s as well. She had been a wonder-child, the product of the union of two magically powerful dynasties. The O’Stoats would not allow her to revert to her maiden name, however, and that had been her undoing. It was dangerous being an O’Stoat in those days.

Granny’s party had been the perfect opportunity for Durosimi to summon the spirit of Melusine, and trap her. The black bottle looked innocuous enough, but Durosimi had soaked it in enough magic to capture a dozen of her kind. But he did not want a dozen; only Melusine. How he would extract the power and knowledge that he craved, he had yet to work out.  

Philomena opened her eyes. She was lying on the damp grass of the Gydynaps.

“Happy deathday, Granny Bucket,” she called, but no one replied.

The phantom witches had gone. Even Granny.

Philomena shivered, pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders, and made her way down the hill.

“Well, that’s over,” she thought to herself, with a certain amount of relief. “Thank goodness that nothing untoward happened.”

Durosimi gazed at the nondescript bottle sitting on his desk.

He smiled to himself. Who said that you couldn’t put a djinn back into a bottle?

But now that he had her, how was he going to control her? 

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