For Sunday Scribblings. The prompt is: recipe.
“A pinch of red pepper flakes. Where are … Ah ha. OK. One pinch then.”
Will sprinkled it into the cauldron. Steam puffed in his face. He coughed.
“Don’t go too heavy on the pepper!” his master shouted from across the room.
“I just put in a pinch!”
“Pinch it a little tighter next time, then!”
Alfred Lowenden was generally regarded as the greatest alchemist in the area. Will being accepted as his apprentice had less to do with skill and more to do with luck. Luck of birth, to be precise: Alfred was his uncle.
Will knew expectations were low, and he was anxious to prove his worth. Today, in his second week at the shop, Will was making his first potion for sale. It was to be a strength potion, nothing too complicated. He had a special recipe, the finest ingredients, and about 20 minutes before the customer arrived.
“Wormwood bark, check. Salt, check. Grubs, check. Red pepper, check. And … eye of newt. Uncle, er, Master! Where’s the eye of newt?”
“Newts are in the tank at the back!”
“Right, not newts! I need eye of newt!”
“The eyes of newts are in the heads of newts on the newts in the tank at the back!”
“Right then, thanks!”
Will grasped the counter edge and took a deep breath. There were reasons he wanted to be an alchemist, and none of them had anything to do with blinding newts. He had killed an animal before: a deer the one time his father had taken him hunting. He had vomited on the carcass, and his father field dressed it for him.
He approached the tank of lounging newts and saw one watching him. He gently picked it up.
“Hey buddy. Sorry about this.”
He walked back to his station, leaned against the counter to steady himself and raised the trembling blade of his pocketknife.
“Wait!” his master cried, waving.
Oh thank God.
“Use the newt spoon, over there,” he said, pointing to the tool bench. “Otherwise you’ll puncture the eye.”
“Great, thanks,” Will said. He retrieved the tiny scoop.
He held the newt over the cauldron. It blinked.
“I know you don’t want this,” he whispered angrily. “I don’t want to do this. Some clown wants to pick up a horse to impress his girlfriend, so here we are.”
The newt blinked.
Will started crying, stifling sobs to hide his weakness.
“This sucks. I’m sorry.”
He slid the spoon into its socket and tightened his grip as it squirmed. With a soft squelch, the eye was plucked from the newt and fell into the bubbling brew.
“Looks good. Nice work,” his master said from over Will’s shoulder as he looked at the now amber liquid. “And just in time. Let’s bottle it up and get this out front.”
The man at the counter was about half as high as Will and 75 percent nose. He rocked back and forth with his hands in his pockets and glanced around at the bottles, vials, and beakers that filled the shelves.
“This will last you a week,” Lowenden said, handing the potion over.
The man took a long swig and set the bottle on the counter. He paused, then suddenly pitched back, screaming, holding his hands to his head.
He knocked over a chair as he fell to the floor and rolled. Beneath his hands his temples bulged until small knobs, like wood, burst free. They grew quickly, branching and rebranching in all directions.
He staggered to his feet. “What have you done?” he shouted as he tore a portrait from the wall with what were now clearly antlers.
Lowenden grabbed the bottle, closed his eyes and sniffed.
“Red pepper, yes. Grubs, yes. Eye of newt. … what?”
He turned to Will.
“Fool! You added tears of a virgin!”