Chapter 4

The magic bottle

 

Mary was the first at the bus stop meeting point. It was early in the day, the air fresh and Mary felt a little chilly. She looked over to the Magic Forest. Some birds were wheeling in the air, the forest seemed to be peaceful. Nothing made her think that something evil was to happen.


Bernie and Norbert were the next ones. Bernie had brought his new pocket knife. All the way he had tried to show Norbert what swell things he could do with it. But that one had only yawned in a bored fashion and moreover picked his nose. Mary at least took a look at the knife. She did not want to touch it because last week she had cut her finger when cutting bread. Bernie was glad when he saw Jenny and Susy approaching because they both were interested in such a new knife. While inspecting the pocket knife, also Berta and Elfrida came.


Berta had managed to steal out of the house before her mother could commit her to cleaning service. When also Daisy arrived, only Rosy was missing. She came a few minutes later.


“Sorry”, she said, “I spilled milk over my trousers and had to change.”
“Perhaps you should also have taken a shower”, Berta said, wrinkling her nose. “You somehow smell fermented.”
“Tormented?”
“Fermented, milk gone bad, that’s called fermented.”
“Oh, that will wear off in the fresh air, Berta.”
“No, Rosy. It rather smells worse and I don’t know if I can stand it.”
“So take a clothes peg.”
“You’d better wash!”
“Well, are you finished?” Elfrida became angry. “If we stand about here any longer, I’ll get flat feet.”


So they started off. The two pigs were still discussing for a while but no one listened. Elfrida’s thoughts were with the magic bottle anyway which at their escape in yesterday’s thunderstorm she had left behind. She told herself that no one would have found their camping spot. Moreover the little bottle was hidden with a drinking bottle in a provision pouch but she was not that certain because it had been Jenny’s idea to hide all provisions in a bush. The closer they came to the place, the quicker became her steps. Only Rosy and Berta dawdled in the rear, while Bernie and his friend Norbert double-timed them. They passed the small fir trees, left the big old oak behind them and reached the spot where they had wanted to spend the last night. Elfrida was the first to reach the hiding place and heaved a sigh of relief when she saw the pouch in the bush. Quickly she rummaged it and cried out in terror: “O no, it’s gone!” Daisy and Susy tipped the contents onto the forest ground and took a thorough look. Indeed, except the magic bottle everything was there.


“That can’t be possible!”


Daisy again and again searched the provisions.


“Why is only the bottle missing?” Bernie asked. “Why not the whole pouch?”


Elfrida who had been kneeling on the ground, got up, looked at all her friends and said in a firm voice:
“I only know one person who would do that!”


The friends looked at each other, terrified. No one said it aloud but they all thought the same: The witch! They stood frozen and helpless. Why did the old witch steal the magic bottle? There was no sense in it, why should she need it? For sure, she now could travel to all countries and times but she was able to do that anyway by her witch-craft. No, there must be another reason for this theft. Elfrida was the first to say it:


“It’s a trap!”


“You think our supplies are poisoned?”


“No, Rosy, certainly not.” Elfrida looked at her with reproach. “Of course she knows that we want to have the bottle back. She also knows that we don’t put up with this. She’ll be waiting for us already.”
“So we can still eat our supplies?”
“Munch, munch, munch, nothing but munching in your head”, Berta snapped.
“And nothing but cleaning in yours!”
“No, my dear Rosy, there is much more in my head!”
“O yes, dear Berta, and what for example?”


The loud croak of a crow interrupted this exchange. Jenny inclined her head and finally turned to Elfrida:
“If I have that bird correctly, it just said: Now they know.”


They all looked at Jenny who understood the language of birds.


“Are you really sure?” Daisy asked. “It is because you once said that you don’t understand crows that well.”
“Yes, I’m sure. This crow did not mutter the way others do.”
“Perhaps”, Daisy thought aloud, “she said it because she’ll fly to the witch later on and tell her. If so, the witch will be waiting for us.”
Now they conferred what to do. There were a lot of proposals but none of them was really useful. They clearly had first to find out why the witch needed the magic bottle after all. Bernie came to the point:
“The bottle is nothing but a bait.”
“Why is a bottle a gate?” Rosy asked, perplexed.
“Why gate?” Bernie was equally perplexed.
“Well, you said something about a gate.”
Bernie had trouble to speak because he had to laugh.
“Bait is the word. Bait is something to lure someone to catch him.”
The friends laughed so loud that it was ringing through the forest. The crow, still watching them, croaked once and flew away.
“Now she’s flying to the witch.”


Jenny looked after her thoughtfully.
“But our laughing disturbed her and that’s good. Now she’ll tell that we are not afraid and in good spirits. Thanks, Rosy, well done.”
“That’s what a clown is good for”, Berta mocked.
Rosy said no more but started checking the provisions. Most of it had been soaked by night’s rain, the rest could still be eaten. While Rosy took a thorough look at it, Bernie scratched his chin and said:
“When we walk to the witch directly, we’ll run straight into the trap and do not even know what it is. If we wait too long, she might start something with the magic bottle. So we need a spy.”
“A bird!” Mary shouted.
“That’s it, or something like that. Maybe Jenny can ask the birds in the forest to help us.”
Jenny got up and walked a little distance into the forest. She whistled and chirped until she received a reply. Minute after minute passed until she returned, quite downcast:
“All the birds in the forest are afraid. They say that as lot of witches are at the old witch house and no bird dares to fly there. Reckon, we’ve got to think of something different.”
“Okay”, Elfrida now said, “so we’ll buy a spy.”


On their way back it was Rosy who had reason to lament. They all – with one exception – decided to take the supplies home. The longer the way, the more her complaints died down because she became out of breath. However, even the longest road has an end and so the supplies were stored at home before they all met in Elfrida’s room to talk the situation over. They decided to plunder their money boxes and go to the next pet shop.
After Mrs. Bobbles had served them hot chocolate, they discussed which animal they should take.


“Do you remember how last time in the pet shop we bought the hamsters?”


Elfrida’s eyes shone with delight. There was quite a babble. How they liked to think of the story with the hamsters.


“First your Daddy did not want the animals and in the end he helped us”, Daisy said to Elfrida.
“Come on, Elfrida”, her friends shouted. “Tell us once more how you brought your Daddy round.”
Elfrida laughed and replied: “That was quite easy. I’ll tell you the whole story once more, that will cheer us up.”


She sat down on the floor and started.