Thursday, December 18, 2008

4. The Mood-Altering Vegetables

The veiled witch drummed her mannish fingers on the table, impatiently. "Just like the feller, init?" complained the disembodied voice of Endora, across the table.

"Leavin' a body hanging like this! Here we are, waiting for him to finish his story, and it seems he's been gone a week!"

"He'll be back," said the voice of Merlin.

"What makes you think so?"

"He didn't look like the butterbeer type, did he?"

Drum, drum went Endora's fingers.

Merlin cleared his throat nervously. "Well, since we're waiting anyway, Sadie luv, why don't you tell us how your business is comin' along?"

"It may be doin' better next time you ask," the veiled witch said gruffly. "Seems there's a new line of stuff comin' out, that only a fel-, er, lady like myself can move. You know, from seller to buyer, kind of thing."

"Do tell," Endora sighed boredly.

"Well, you know old Miles O'Roughage, as used to teach Herbology down the road?"

"That old scoundrel!" Merlin exclaimed. "They sacked him, didn't they? Is he still up to the same tricks?"

"Yes, and no," said Sadie, answering the questions in order. "He has developed a-mind you don't let this get past this table, mates. I've been sworn to secrecy, I have."

"Our word is as good as yours," said Endora, coolly.

Sadie gazed into the emptiness across the table for a moment, then cleared her throat and went on. "Well, dear old Miles 'as turned over a new leaf. 'E wants to give somethin' back to humanity..."

"Apart from man-eating orchids, blood-sucking bougainvillea, exploding mushrooms, and cyanide poppies, I take it."

"Hush, Merle," Endora snapped, as Sadie turned toward the fire with every appearance of clamming up. "Do go on, luv."

Sadie sighed. "I'm just touched by the man's reformed character, is all. 'E wants to serve wizardkind, 'e wants to make up for the 'arm 'is little youthful pranks may 'ave done. Just imagine the applications! Turning a business luncheon to your advantage. Getting shot of the pesky relations as drops by for a visit of indefinite length. Puttin' paid to the perishers next door, whose Muggle music machines shake your windows at two a.m. It will revolutionize society. It may even bring about world peace."

"That's lovely, dear," said Endora. "But what is it we are talking about?"

"Mood-alterin' vegetables!" said Sadie, triumphantly.

This declaration was followed by a long silence. Something odd seemed to have happened to Merlin's breathing, but since he was invisible it was hard to tell whether he was choking on a drop of firewhiskey or trying to stifle his laughter.

"Right," said Endora at length. "I see. Mood alterin' vegetables. World peace. I see the connection immidgetly. I say, Sadie luv, that isn't rye you're drinkin', is it? You might want to ask what year it..."

"I can see you 'aven't the imagination to carry the concept thru to its im-pli-ca-tions. I must confess, I didn't neither, at first. But that was before Doc O'Roughage gave me his menu."

Sadie pulled what appeared to be a used betting form from the depths of her shawl, and spread its dog-eared edges flat on the table. "See here," she said. "Produce of every variety, cross-pollinated with a bit of magic, and wallah! A triumph for the twin sciences of dietology and makin' people feel the way you want 'em to. Ology."

"Ahem. Yes, I see," said Merlin, whose voice still carried notes of a struggle.

"First, here are the fruits. Napples, to make you sleepy. Chanteloupes, to make you feel like singing. Honeydon'ts, to discourage amorous husbands from intruding on the sanctity of a wifely headache."

"That gives a new flush to the cheeks of the oral contraceptive," Merlin remarked in a strangled voice.

Sadie was too carried away in her enthusiasm to dart more than a briefly paralyzing glance in his direction.

"Closely related are the Funnydo's, which cause an irresistable urge to wear eccentric clothing. There are Clockwork Oranges, which keep you very regular, and Gratefruits, which give you a sense of thankfulness. Impeaches help you detect lies, Rue-Barb fosters a sense of regret for what you have done, Lemmings-which, by the way, make a capital Lemmingade-fill you with an urge to follow the crowd, and Razzberries offer the ability to stand up to ridicule. Miles was workin' on a new strain of Key Limes, which was to be called Lock Limes, but without much success. Every time he tried to make a Lock Lime pie, the oven sealed itself and he could never get it out."

Sadie's audience sat in dumbstruck silence. After a few wheezing breaths, and an attempt to relight her pipe, the veiled witch went on.

"Then there are all the salad-type veggies. Bamboozle Shoots, which make you gullible, and Spleen Sprouts, which help you vent your anger in a healthy, vitamin-rich way. Colicflower, which makes a body moody an' in-tro-spec-tive; Green-with-Envy Beans, Corn Fusion, Bustle Sprouts, Sweet Peace, Care-Its, Madishes, Hoarse Radish, and a crunchy, stringy number called Celebrity, which will only consent to be dipped in brand-name salad dressing.

"Some of these veggies are obviously not to be used lightly. Such as Outofturnips, which cause people to interrupt each other and say things that are none of their business. And Beetens, which give you a rather defeated feeling, and Eeks, which can leave a body quite 'ysterical wif terror. There are Stunions, which have a paralyzing effect like, and Crabbage, which makes a body most irritable. Don't-Lettuce makes you unwilling, Rapscallions make you mischievous, Chides give you a scoldin' turn of mind, and Shallnots turn you into a bossy so-and-so. There are Butterup Squash, which make you sus-cep-ti-ble to flattery, and Punkins as causes you to tell one miserable joke after another, and Decress which makes you feel rather small (but somehow, they make tea sandwiches seem ever so much more filling), and the worst of all, Despairagus. I nibbled one o' them and thought I'd never come through alive."

Merlin laughed nervously.

"Is that all?" Endora squeaked.

"Oh, there are just a couple of nuts at the bottom here," Sadie said, checking the racing form. "Peek-Ons, which make you feel ruther nosy, and Catchyous, which are supposed to improve your performance as a Quidditch keeper or seeker, but I found they only make you sneeze. Oh yes, I almost forgot Somemonds, which unlike almonds, fill you with an urge to share. They had better sell well, for after I tried one, I signed over all my chink to St. Mungo's before I could stop myself, and now I've got to start over."

An invisible hand snatched the horse racing form out from under Sadie's hand, and tore it into shreds.

"'Ere, what did you go and do that for?" she cried, rising to her feet belligerently.

Merlin's voice was stern: "That's that, my dear, and if you go to see that Miles O'Roughage again, I know a fellow in the Magical Plant Pests line who will pay him a visit. Mood Altering Vegetables indeed! It's mad! Don't you see how they could"

A cloaked figure stood beside the table.

"Pray, go on," said the figure.

"Oh no," said Endora hastily, pressing Spanky into his seat with both invisible hands. "We was just gossipin' while we waited for yourself to come back. Where was you, then, dear?"

The figure peered at each corner of the table from under his deep, dark hood. Then it shrugged and said, "I suppose it's time for Part Two of The Double-Barreled Wizard."

Endora's voice shook with relief as she said, "Bless you, lad. Do go on!"

[Originally posted 5/29/04]

No comments: