A Seasonal Tale:
Jack T Canis
The first breaths of Spring were heralded in this morning by the peel of church bells. Papa, Mama and I, made the short walk down the hill to attend service; the first time Mama has left the house, nay even, left her bed, since winter encroached. Truly I do believe it was for the best that she joined us today, for the fresh mountain air that caressed our little valley was chill, but so fresh and clean as to have been nothing but curative for Mama. I believe the colour definitely rose in her cheeks as we wheeled her down to the church in her bath chair.
The apothecary and her mealy-mouthed daughters were present at the service and couldn’t wait to accost Papa afterwards. I do not like any of them; her eldest daughter, smiles so prettily as poisonous deceits flow from her tongue faster than the rapids of the river that splits our village from our estate. Her youngest, nary as effete as her sister, yet still unwholesome in her appearance; waddled on her porcine stumps, twirling about her relatives, ushering prompts when pauses in conversation started to flag. But most of all I especially do not like the way the apothecary insists on mauling at Papa; her hand constantly touching his arm or hand. Most inappropriate. Her condescending air towards Mama is also cause to frown upon. Of course, Mama’s pallor was pale, she has been unwell and bedridden for the better part of the winter. How the apothecary had the audacity to be so callous about it, is beyond me. She did, however, insist that she could make up a tonic for Mama, which could help improve her condition. Before parting our company, she placed her reptilian-like talon upon Mama’s wrist and squeezed it in a companionable manner, apparently wishing her well. The look on her visage, however, belied her sentiment and I wonder now, knowing the knowledges that I know from a winter of confinement within the estate’s hidden libraries, whether there was more to this touch than an innocent eye might espy.
We returned to the estate after the service, whereupon Mama was taken unwell, perhaps the exertions of the morning had been too overwhelming for one so soon from illness. She retired to her rooms and I was left to ponder the events at the church.
I retired in turn, to the libraries to research, always research, as I try to find a cure for Mama’s illness. But how can I cure that which I do not know is causing the illness, at best I can now only create like-minded tonics that the infernal apothecary can conjure. I am in despair, both in my researches and in Mama’s sudden descent in health.
Papa requested that I attended the apothecary’s in the village, to collect her well-meaning tonic. Anything to help Mama regain her recent energies, before that hand had placed a curse upon her recovery.
I stood looking at the weathered sign that hung above the door and read the faded inscription ‘Ashenputtel’, what a strange thing to have upon a sign. It is German, I believe, but know not what it means. I have no idea why the apothecary would name her shop thus. It is a bit of a mystery, perhaps that is its only purpose.
I retrieved the tonic from the apothecary’s eldest, whose solicitous enquiries into Mama’s health dripped with insincerity and the smile upon her face, so false as to be cracked were it to have been hit with a gavel. I mirrored the solicitous smile, no fading maid am I. My visage I felt held steel to counter her ice.
Mama has been imbibing the apothecary’s tonic for two days now and I am perturbed, as it does indeed seem to have brought colour back to her pallid features. I am perturbed because it now makes me wonder whether I have misjudged the apothecary, her daughters and her intentions towards my father.
Mama seems more her old self and the tonic is indeed a wonder, as none of my concoctions, nor those by the doctor from the city ever seemed to have had such a wholesome affect upon Mama.
I am perturbed.
I am distraught. I am in anguish. After days of apparent improvement, Mama stood and walked for the first time this morning. The first time since the earliest frosts of the previous year, she walked upon the terrace that overlooks the pastureland of the estate. She stood, bathed in the warmth of the early morning sun. It was a glorious sight to behold. Porcelain fine features reflecting the sun’s radiance, she turned to me, smiling and I watched the light that bathed her, centre momentarily in her eyes and then all light slipped from her. The smile frozen upon her lips as the life left her; she slid noiselessly to the tiles; a crumpled, diaphanous fey, not of this world, no longer of this world. She is gone and I am beyond consolation.
In an unseemly brief length of time, Papa has become bewitched. Bewitched out of mourning for Mama’s passing, and into wedlock with a new wife.
The apothecary is now my new mother. I have two new sisters and I despise them all.
Jack T Canis lives in South Wales, UK with his wife and three neurodivergent children. He started his professional career as an archaeologist, but through the years has also been a self-employed armourer; an administrator for the NHS and in recent years a qualified person-centred counsellor specialising in bereavement and loss, now retired. Currently he is a full-time carer for his youngest child who has Sotos Syndrome and carer for his eldest child who is autistic. He is a part time writer. He is published in a number of publications including: Purple Wall magazine (honourable mention & co-champion), Datura, & Sledgehammer Literary magazine. He is in four anthologies and has been longlisted in the Cranked Anvil monthly competition & Bridport Flash Fiction Competition (2021).
His debut novel, ‘Ordinary World’ is available from:
The collection of dark short stories, 'Horrific Tales for a Horrific Year' published by Abergavenny Small Press (ASP) is available from:
A second short story collection, ‘#Rehashed’; the sword and sorcery e-novelette, ‘The Unsung Hero’ & the urban fantasy e-novelette, ‘The Weird and Unexpected World of Ronald Taylor’ are available from:
Twitter (daily): @jackcanis.
Facebook (rarely): @jacktcanis.