The Sprite in the Well

(First published in the Indie Advent Calendar 2016)


“We need some treacle,” Granny said, one midwinter morning.

“But the well is frozen.” Everything had been since the severe frost, two days earlier. Poggitt, our big Hunterback frog, had been missing for the same length of time. Sulking probably, over the absence of the key ingredient to his favourite food – flapjack.

“Well, take an ice-pick and try to dig some out.”

“But how am I supposed to get down there?”

“You’re a witch, Skye. I’m sure you can work it out.” Granny left, muttering about treacle tart recipes and feeding the bats.

“Apprentice witch,” I grumbled. But with Poggitt missing I didn’t even have anyone to commiserate with.

The novelty of a treacle well had worn off fast. We now had to get our water from the stream, which meant that you ran the risk of frostbite whilst washing the breakfast things. I lit a lantern and warmed my fingers before lowering it down the well-shaft to figure out the best way down.

Eventually I put together a sort of rope harness. I know Granny likes to use the magic option as often as possible, but I didn’t fancy a slow death by drowning in semi-solid treacle if anything went wrong.

As it turned out, I’d have been more likely to break a bone.

The lantern did little to dispel the gloom, so I flicked a couple of witch-lights into being above me.

“So that’s where you’ve been!”

Poggitt croaked sheepishly.

“I should have known,” I continued. “The temptation of all this solid treacle was too much for you wasn’t it? Never mind that anyone might have been worried about you!”

From his webby-handed waving, I understood that he’d not given any thought about how to get back up again.

“I don’t believe you,” I said. “But, considering the times you’ve backed me up with Granny, I’ll let it pass.”

He croaked again.

“Don’t be so smug. Now, where to start?” I stepped back.

“Hey, watch where you’re putting your great big feet!” someone shouted behind me.

I jumped at least a yard in the air and the treacle underfoot dipped alarmingly. “What in the seven hells are you?”

“Well, that’s just charming.” He, she, it(?) was a twig-like creature, just under two feet tall. The trailing ends of its wings and its feet were trapped in the frozen treacle. I squatted down to get a closer look and it reared back. “Don’t touch me!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” I tucked my skirts around my legs to ward off the chill. “You must be freezing.”

It snickered, “You could say that.” It stretched out its twiggy little finger and tapped my nose.

I yelped and scooted backwards. The little beast had encased the tip of my nose in ice. “What have you done? Get it off, you little horror!”

“Can’t,” it said. “I’m a frost sprite. I don’t do warmth.”

“Keep your fingers to yourself then.” I summoned another ball of witch-fire and held it to my nose. Once it started melting, I was able to pry the ice off. “Come on Poggitt, let’s go.”

But Poggitt refused to budge, nodding insistently toward the sprite.

“So?” I said. “He got himself into that fix, he can get himself out.”

She, thank you. You could at least get the gender right.”

Really, you couldn’t tell. “Free you up to freeze other people’s noses, or worse? No, waiting until spring might teach you some manners.” I turned to go, but Poggitt tugged insistently at my skirt. “I’m sure the treacle will be fine,” I told him.

“What our friend from the Hunterbacks is trying to tell you, is that until I get free of this, there’ll be no thaw.”

I swung back. “What do you mean?”

The sprite rolled her eyes at Poggitt. “I thought you said she was clever? I mean, witch-girl, the reason I’m stuck is because I freeze things. That’s all I can do. I got caught in this muck two days ago and everything I do just makes it worse.”

“So this unexpected freeze is your fault?”

She looked quite put out by that. “I was expecting water down here. Trust witches to have something unnatural in their well.”

“Are you trying to say that you need my help?”

She looked like she’d bitten into something sour, and mumbled under her breath.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, yes please.”

I smirked, pleased to have put one over on the little pest. “It shouldn’t be that difficult, I just need to introduce a little warming charm.” I drew a couple of sigils in the air, clicked my fingers twice and pointed to the treacle at my feet. “Mellespina.”

“No, stop! Wait!”

One of these days I’ll learn to think things through first. All too soon I was up to my waist in warm, runny treacle, and the more I struggled, the more it threatened to suck me down further.

“Do something!” shrieked the sprite. She’d dragged her wings free, but only their constant fluttering kept her from disappearing beneath the surface.

Poggitt’s webbed feet allowed him to float, but only just. Ironic, I thought, that his dream come true had just become a nightmare. All he needed were a few oats—

“That’s it!” I closed my eyes, visualised the store cupboard and began a summoning charm, trying not to stumble over the words in my haste as I felt the treacle soaking into my bodice.

“Is that snow?” The sprite looked up nervously as whitish blobs began to fall toward us.

“No, oats.” As more fell, I used my arms to stir them into the treacle and as the mixture thickened, I was gradually able to work my way to the surface. “There you go, Poggitt. Enough flapjack even for you!”

“You people are weird.” The sprite flicked some last sticky oats from her wings. “I’ll guarantee you a mild winter though. I’m not coming back here in a hurry.”