She looked to her right, she looked to her left. She braced herself against the broomstick and leaned back, circling her head all the way around, to look at, nothing. There was nothing, everywhere. Nothing but long, flat, calm, ocean. It was a pale, translucent, bluey green, and Polly had to admit, it was quite pretty. Had she been on a beach, looking out at this, margarita in hand, she believed she would have found it quite relaxing. But she wasn’t, what she was, was stuck.
Stuck somewhere over the Indian Ocean. If she had to guess she’d say she was somewhere between Australia and Sri Lanka. But beyond that she had no idea. Her broomstick was stuck in the air, some three feet over the water. Frozen, in such an unearthly pose, Polly entertained herself that it would have made a hell of a photo for any passing cruise ship passenger. If she leaned into it, the tips of her Doc Marten boots could flick at the water below, creating pleasing ripples. She enjoyed that, but then, there wasn’t much else to entertain her out here.
‘Small things please small minds,’ she muttered to herself, frowning down at her heavy boots. They were going to be a problem. Polly’s energy levels were low, and before long the thin protective spell she’d cast around her, against the heat, would begin to fade. The energy that kept her perched precariously on the broomstick was nothing to worry about, she was insured. It was the one thing she had as a backup. But even that had been paid for by her grandmother, with her surplus energy stores.
Polly tugged herself free of her heavy coat and the Doc Martens, setting them to hang over the end of the broomstick. She pulled her energy back and allowed some of the heat in. It was okay actually, kind of pleasant in fact, and at least now she had some energy left; for food, or water, or to defend against a storm or a shark. Did they have storms or sharks here? She wasn’t quite sure.
If she was going to be honest with herself, she wasn’t quite sure of anything. This was the thing that made her appear rebellious and even a bit stupid, though really, she was just trying her best. But then, Polly looked down at her herself, she didn’t even look like she was trying her best. Like most witches of her age she had originally fallen back on human pop culture to give her ideas on ‘the look’. Some of her friends went all natural Wiccan style, with long wavy hair and long white dresses. Polly went more for what she saw as a contemporary witchy style; long black, tailored coat, black Doc Marten boots, and an old school broomstick. As a whole, the twenty something witching community looked just like humans, albeit ones on their way to two very different musical festivals.
The human pop culture ran deep with Polly, she did like humans so. She had read Harry Potter when she a teenager, even her friends had liked the books too then, and getting their broomsticks had seemed like the coolest thing. Until it wasn’t, and Polly was the last one left on hers, even if she still needed a protective spell long after her teenage years had ended. Polly loved flying, long before and after every other witch had tried it and given it up. The fact was that although broomsticks had made a comeback since the Harry Potter books, magic had moved on. It wasn’t even called magic anymore, it was energy, and it was in limited supply.
Such a limited supply, thought Polly, sighing. She let her feet dangle into the warm water, it tickled. She spread her toes wide and felt the water swell up between them. Well, this was lovely, all things considered. She cast her eyes about the horizon again, as though she was on a boat that might be drifting toward shore. Still no land, and there wouldn’t be. She would be locked here in space, till someone came to find her. They always did, and she always hated it. It wasn’t the being rescued per se; it was the derision in their eyes when they did it. Because she was Polly, always late, always out of energy. And always having to be bailed out.
Polly’s problem was that each witch was allowed to draw so much energy from the world, from the cosmos. And as a kind of tax on being allowed to do this each witch had to show up at the Summer Solstice to repay their excess energy. The idea was you expended the energy you’d already taken throughout the preceding year, so it was all transferred back into the earth below somehow. But then whatever you’d created, whatever you had in excess, you would hand over. It was a way of healing the earth, repaying it for its kindness, and creating a store for when the dark times came. And they would come.
The system had been like this for years. Not only for the good of the earth, but also as encouragement to young witches to produce their own energy, and maybe even as a deterrent to prevent them from relying too much on Mother Earth. But Polly had never quite managed to make that move, never learnt to control herself. So while her friends grew older, and more self-sufficient, hardly ever coming to the yearly ritual, there was Polly; going to the Summer Solstice event, yet again, to mix with optimistic teenagers and the condescending looks of older witches.
As the tension built in her, Polly began to tap her foot against the ocean surface, enjoying the slapping noise and resulting ripples it caused. She sighed again, but this time she scrunched up her eyes. No, she couldn’t cry, she wouldn’t cry. They would see when they got here, and she couldn’t have that. They already had a dim view of her; the commission that is. It wasn’t even like she was always in trouble with them. She could have avoided them, but she wanted to do so many things, had tried to help so many times. Her relationship with them had become some sort of mutually approved humiliation. She would turn up to try, and they would give out the same response; unfortunately.
Oh how she hated that response. Unfortunately she couldn’t do that, unfortunately they wouldn’t need her for this particular posting, unfortunately she’d done the wrong thing, or more often than not, said the wrong thing. The same word over and over again, never said, but written down, and always in the same patronising tone. Unfortunately her, unfortunately Polly, ‘unfortunately me,’ she said quietly, her feet coming to rest on the surface of the water.
She breathed deeply and stretched, arching her back. She looked up at the blue sky, so deep and so completely endless, she forgot everything. For a brief second, anyway. Then her eyes fell down. She scanned up and down her broomstick. She had never even learnt to transport properly, there would be no other witches going by broomstick to the island, no one to stop and lend a hand. So she could only wait, like she’d waited in the years previous.
Always just a couple of hundred miles shy of the island, always embarrassed not to have anything to pay back. Each year, she was going to be different, but each year it was still the same. Her energy would have been ‘wasted’ on the humans. Well, the commission said wasted, Polly had had tremendous fun. She even felt accomplished. Polly pricked at the ocean’s surface again. She thought fondly of the woman she’d helped just last week, and she bit at her lower lip to stop what would no doubt be thought of by the council as a self-indulgent smile.
But as she thought about it, Polly let her smile break across her face. She kicked at the water, splashing it all around her. She giggled and cackled loudly into the immense quiet around her. She looked and sounded like a wild, excitable toddler or puppy, and she didn’t mind at all. They would mind, but she never did. She stopped her splashing, her eyes glowing fiercely as she grinned widely out at the horizon. They would come soon, and she would be embarrassed, but it was worth it. Just for that one moment. For all the moments.
For the woman in a business suit, her legs tight in a pencil skirt, who had ran the length of Paddington train station, like her life depended on it. Polly watched her from the bridge, and saw she was never going to make it, not without Polly. Who gave what she could, what she had left; a second wind, a toy falling from a pram, a family moved off course, a girlfriend pulling her newly arrived boyfriend toward her, a miniscule delay in radio communication, and a station guard who took a second more than he would have to scan his eyes up and down the platform. Then victory. Polly threw her arms into the air in triumph as the woman stepped on to the train, smiling with relief. She watched as she walked down the carriage, eventually finding a seat and slumping into it; her face red, her skin glistening, her smile wide.
Polly watched the woman in her mind’s eye, and then she looked out again, at the wide expanse of the ocean, and pondered. She might look stupid, she might be unfortunate, and she might be a lot of things people didn’t like. But, she thought, as the sun began to set in the sky, it’s totally worth it. And with that Polly let the stress drain from her body, she let her toes dangle in the water. So what? About any of it? She relaxed her head back and looked up at the sky, it was going to be a beautiful night.
A three word story inspired by ocean, witch & tax. Contributed by my friend Polly (who also requested that everyone in the story be named after her. Conveniently I only ever planned on there being one character).