Thunder and Herbs
The written words of Jenny Hackett
Practical Witchcraft for Outcast Teens
Chapter 3: Sorceress/Seamstress
Summer’s starting: you can tell from the way the sun beats down on the lush trees and yellowing grass and from the abundance of flying, blood-sucking insects that dance in the sunlight. The morning forecast called for rain later in the day, so Daniel and Michelle have decided to take the opportunity to laze around in a park near school while the fair weather lasts. There’s nothing overly special about this particular park except for it being the first green space on their shared route home, a journey that neither of them is in any rush to continue.
Daniel shifts, uncomfortable in the cheap, insulating fabrics of their school uniform. They’re toying with the coin in their pocket, idly wondering if weather manipulation has any place in Yarn’s syllabus. They’ve had four or five sessions with Yarn by now and they’re starting to get into a bit of a rhythm, though they’re not so fond of the scrapes and bruises they’ve been getting from Yarn’s teachings on combat and self-defence. It’s not like they don’t see the value of these lessons; they just wish they could be more theoretical. At least they’re getting good experience in how to sit with bruises on their legs.
“Hey, Daniel,” Michelle says excitedly. “Check this look out!”
Daniel looks across at Michelle. She’s wearing the same uniform as Daniel: same cheap blue shirt, same red-and-silver-striped tie, same black trousers, same black shoes. Her strawberry-blond hair, lightly bleached by the sun, has been done up in a ponytail that reaches the top of her back, while the skin of her cheeks is soft, fair and dotted by a faint collection of freckles. (Daniel would recognise those freckles better than their own face, though admittedly they try their best not to think about their own face too much.) Finally, the top of her head is crowned by a string of daises and other wildflowers that she must have spent the last half-hour or so painstakingly building out of the various tiny plants that share space with the grass.
As far as Daniel’s concerned, shes perfect: they would’ve asked her out if she weren’t utterly gay. (And if they were less of a coward.)
“What d’you reckon?” she asks. “Queen of the fairies or what?”
Daniel chuckles, internally wincing at the deepness of their own voice. They wouldn’t admit it to anyone, even Michelle, but they’ve actually tried training themself to have a more girly laugh by fake-laughing to themself when they’ve been at home alone. It hasn’t helped.
They do their best to smile, regardless.
Daniel’s also been working on something: a project set for them by Yarn. They’ve been watching the passers-by in the park, diagramming the effect of their presence on the local reality-weave. It’s pretty tiring to focus on this for any serious length of time, kind of like staring at a television in the dark, but they’re getting to the point that they’ve started to notice patterns. For example:
Dog-walkers tend to be tangled up with their dogs, with reality-fibres straying this way and that in complicated extradimensional knots. The longer they’ve owned the dog, the more tangled the fibres. Daniel’s not sure how they know how long someone’s owned a dog for, but they do.
Couples are tangled together in a similar way, but a lot more neatly. You can tell who’s recently had a breakup because the fibres are torn in a pretty distinctive way. It can be a little unpleasant to look at, especially if the breakup was particularly bitter.
Younger people have weaves that are more regular than older people, and the fibres are less vibrantly coloured. Presumably, character takes time to develop.
Interestingly there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference between men and women. Nothing universal, at least. Certain gendered archetypes have recognisable shapes and trends — the businesswoman; the lad; the rugby player; the housewife — but there’s nothing that overall unifies all men or all women, at least so far as Daniel can see.
Apparently magic doesn’t believe in gender.
Daniel makes sure to jot all of these observations in a yellow exercise book, disguising them as idle doodling in case anyone gets too curious. Their doodle-code is something they’ve done for years in diaries and the like, from well before they were doing anything magical. Luckily, Michelle’s not one to pry, and she’s always good at giving Daniel space when they need it. It’s not the kind of friendship where there are no secrets, but it is the kind where secrets don’t need to be covered up with lies.
Something catches Daniel’s attention, and they look up to see that Michelle’s taken to wandering about the green, investigating the lives of the birds and small mammals that make their homes here. Biology’s her favourite subject, after all. Her habit of making her studies as extracurricular as she can manage is something people often mistake for childishness — most kids their age have had their curiosity drummed out of them years ago — but she doesn’t care what people think. She’s gotten pretty good at ignoring the opinions of others since the time half the school shunned her for coming out, teachers included.
Michelle’s been through a lot, but she’s resilient as hell. It’s probably one of the reasons Daniel admires her so much. They smile, and turn back to their notes.
A few minutes later, there’s a noise from above. Halfway up a tree, Michelle loses her grip, tumbling to the ground with a scrape and a thud and a muffled “fuck!”. Daniel’s got no idea what she was doing up there — probably examining a nest or something — but they rush over with great concern and haste just the same.
“What happened?” they ask. “Are you okay?”
Michelle stands up shakily, bracing herself against the trunk of the tree. She groans.
“My foot slipped and I…” she begins, but pauses to look at her right trouser knee. It’s been torn to shreds; the skin underneath is raw and decorated with small cuts and scrapes. “Shit. Mum’s gonna kill me for tearing these again.”
This is probably an exaggeration, but Daniel’s heard too much about Michelle’s mum to dismiss it entirely. They’ve never met in person, but from what Michelle’s said, her mum’s gone nuclear over much less than this. Daniel would expect a reasonable person to be more concerned about Michelle herself than her clothes, but experience has taught them that parents are often not reasonable people.
In fact, most people aren’t reasonable people.
Daniel peers closely at the tear in the fabric; they can just about make out the damage to the underlying reality-weave. The threads away from the tear have fairly uniform fibres, with quasigeometric plaits repeating as far as the fabric goes, but as the threads get closer to the tear they become less and less regular until right at the tear itself where they degenerate into infinitesimal scribbles. Daniel gently touches the coin in their pocket and comes to a decision.
“I think… I think I can fix it,” they say, slowly and awkwardly. “Do you, um. D’you have your P.E. kit?”
Michelle pauses before answering. She got a pretty sceptical look on her face. It makes sense: Daniel’s never shown much interest in sewing.
“I should do. Why?”
“Because, er,” Daniel begins before swallowing in an attempt to steady themself. “Because I’m gonna have to ask you to take your trousers off.”
Oh, for a better situation in which to say that.
“Okay,” Michelle says after a bit of a pause, “back in a mo’,” and she hurries into the bushes away from prying eyes, grabbing her red-and-black rucksack on the way.
Daniel watches her go with some surprise. To be honest, they’d expected she’d put up more of an objection.
Mending’s one of the first things Yarn taught Daniel in their sessions. Apparently, it’s pretty fundamental: the first step to changing something is to understand how it works as it is, and the first step to that is being able to fix it. They’ve spent hours in that dance studio breaking and fixing things over and over again until the whole process is almost second-nature, kind of like soldiers do with their guns. Of course, the hard part won’t be fixing the trousers. The hard part will be hiding the details of how they’re fixing them from Michelle.
Michelle comes back from the bushes, having swapped her trousers for a pair of ugly-looking P.E. shorts. The torn trousers are slung over her shoulder like one of those bullet belts from the movies, only significantly less cool.
“Okay,” she says, clearly uncomfortable from being so exposed. The modesty provided by the shorts is pretty meagre, after all. “Now what?”
Daniel holds out their left hand to take the trousers; Michelle obliges by passing the garment with her right. Daniel lays them out of the ground next to their own rucksack, trying to straighten them out as much as is possible on the uneven grass.
“Okay, um,” they say hesitantly. They’ve no idea how this next bit is going to work, socially speaking, so they’re just going to come right out and say it. “Look away?”
Cocking her head to the side sceptically, Michelle asks: “What d’you mean, ‘look away’? What are you gonna do?”
Daniel looks her straight in the eye with all the sincerity they can muster.
“Please,” they say, “trust me?”
Michelle sighs theatrically — clearly she’s finding this a bit much — but she turns away all the same. Daniel takes the opportunity to get out their special penny, rolling it along their sleeve and onto the back of their hand with a flourish. This would be so cool if they could show it off, but Yarn would almost certainly not approve.
Daniel begins by waving their coin through the air to catch some stray threads. It’s a little like (and also nothing like) threading a needle: they’re trying to gather a good amount to use to stitch up the hole. Once they think they have enough they get to work, juggling the coin from fingertip to knuckle to thumbnail to fingertip to wrist as they do their best to smooth out the fibres and restore some order to the pattern. After doing this as best they can, they start the process of knitting the garment back together using the original structure evident in the undamaged parts of the garment as a guide; they move the fibres carefully, pulling them together and through each other in ways that would bend the mind if you tried to think about it. Daniel doesn’t try to think about it. They just do it.
The whole process takes about fifteen minutes. To be honest it’s probably slower to do it this way than it would be to do it by hand with a needle and thread, at least for someone as inexperienced as Daniel, but since no needle or thread are available that’s neither here nor there. At any rate, they could do with the practice.
When the job’s over, Daniel looks up and puts the coin back in their pocket. After doing this, they take their right hand back out of the pocket and place it on the outside, protectively cupping the coin through the fabric. It’s reassuring, in its way.
A moment passes before they announce: “Finished.”
“I can look now?” Michelle asks sardonically. “‘Cos I’m a bit… exposed right now, you know?”
“Yes,” Daniel says, “you can look.”
Fair enough that Michelle’s a bit peeved: the shorts don’t leave a whole lot to the imagination. If Daniel had been anyone else they doubt she’d have put up with it.
Michelle turns back around and grabs the trousers from off the ground. She checks the right knee, then the left, then the right again, her expression somewhere between puzzled and amazed.
“Holy shit, Daniel,” she says in a hushed tone. “There’s hardly a seam! Since when can you sew?”
Daniel shrugs noncommittally. Best to let her believe what she wants.
“Well, you know,” they say nervously — but she clearly doesn’t know, or she’d know it wasn’t sewing. “Don’t spread it around, yeah?”
Michelle looks them dead in the eyes, all traces of her earlier playfulness absent in her expression. She takes a moment before speaking, and when she does she speaks in the most serious tone that Daniel’s ever heard from her.
“I would never, ever do that to you,” she says.
Daniel believes her completely. The thing of it is, that’s probably one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to them.