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Knits and Knots

by Chelsea McGlynn

Juniper’s fingertips prickled as she knit. Knit one, purl two. They always ached before a storm. Or perhaps it was when someone was thinking of her. She couldn’t remember, but knitting soothed the prickles and kept her hands busy. Knit one, purl two. “Idle hands do the demon’s work,” her mother used to say. Knit one, purl two.

Juniper’s knitting needles were wooden and shiny from use. The pointed tips widened out to thick, gnarled stems at the bottom, like twigs broken off from an oak tree. She traced the knots of wood with a wrinkled finger and ran her palm over the wool scarf underway. She tsked to herself. Her knitting was clumsy. Snarls and knots of yarn throughout the scarf ruined the pattern. Some of the lumps and puckers even looked like words, but not of a language she knew. The language of sheep, she supposed. Juniper cackled at the thought.

The new day nurse bustled into the room. Juniper thought her name was Rhonda or maybe Reba.

“Good morning!” the nurse sang out. “I brought you a snack to take with your mid-morning pills.” She plucked Juniper’s knitting away and handed her five colorful pills in a medicine cup.

Juniper pursed her lips and shook her head.

“No pudding until you take your medicine.” The nurse — Is she Rickie? Or maybe Rilla?, Juniper thought — waved a banana pudding cup just out of Juniper’s reach.

Juniper hated banana pudding, but maybe Harold would want it. She pretended to gulp down the medicine and gave a cherub-like smile to whatever-her-name. Once the nurse left, she spat the soggy pills into her trash can.

* * *

Juniper’s bunny slippers squelched on the linoleum floor of Rest for a Spell Retirement Home. She had stepped in a slimy puddle outside Goodloe’s door. The slime was slowly melting the fuzz off her slippers. A burning faux fur smell trailed in her wake. At least her half-finished scarf was safely wrapped around her neck.

Juniper tapped at Harold’s door and peeped in. She held her pudding cup out in her upturned palms like an offering.

Harold didn’t look up from where he stood, mumbling under his breath, and squinting at a large, leather book in his hands. A five-pointed star was painted on the floor with denture cream surrounded by a circle of salt. Harold coughed and sputtered mid-word, croaking out a mangled “daemonium.” He whipped his head up with a gasp and saw Juniper peering from the doorway. “My air,” he wheezed.

Juniper yanked the oxygen tank over to Harold and held out the plastic mask. When Harold looped the elastic over his ears, he dragged the tank closer, wheeling it right over the salt circle and denture cream star.

“Oh, dear,” said Harold, behind his mask.

Harold’s record player flipped on with a screech and started playing backwards. The hands on the wall clock sputtered to a stop. The fluorescent lights flickered out. Black sludge rose from the floor, shooting out of the break in the salt circle towards Juniper. Long, sticky strands sprung out, twisted up her body, and pressed against her eyes with a thick, syrupy weight. She opened her mouth to shout, and the sludge tried to pour into her. She tasted molasses and black licorice; it was better than pudding, at least.

The lights flashed back on, and the molasses in her mouth disappeared with a pop. Harold wafted smoldering herbs back and forth, hacking into his mask. “Sage,” he said, between coughs. “Should keep him occupied, but not for long. We must warn the others.”

“Him?” asked Juniper.

Harold didn’t answer, only waved the sage over her and watched the last tendrils of molasses drip off her arms and squirm away like slugs.

* * *

Juniper was perched on the wicker furniture in the bingo room when Harold ushered in the other two residents of their hall. Mizz Cleo glided in, wearing a matching purple turban and muumuu, while Goodloe limped behind, fussing with a pocket of his stained lab coat. They’d all been companions longer than she could remember. However she could barely remember yesterday, so that wasn’t saying much. Her fingertips prickled. Knit one, purl two. She worked her needles in the wool, the scarf still wrapped around her neck. She figured her knitting could hardly get worse.

“Couldn’t this wait until after lunch?” asked Goodloe. “I need to get fennel and cloves to complete my potion.” Goodloe rapped his cane on the wicker table with each word for emphasis.

“It certainly could not wait. There’s a demonic presence on the loose,” Mizz Cleo said. She pulled out a bottle of scotch from a pocket of her muumuu and took a swig. “Besides we couldn’t possibly reach the lunch room. The fire doors have demon sensors. They’ve locked us in.”

“The windows?” Harold asked.

Mizz Cleo shook her head. “The spirits said I’d break a hip that way.” She took another slug of scotch. “Harold, what exactly did you summon, hmm?”

“Only an old friend of mine. Died a few years back, but we still play canasta every Tuesday. No reason for death to stop a good tradition,” Harold said.

“You play cards with a demon every week?” Goodloe raised a bushy eyebrow.

“He’s a bit of a sore loser, but perfectly harmless otherwise,” Harold said. “Until he escaped my salt circle,” he admitted.

“When’s lunch?” asked Juniper.

The other three sighed.

“Do try to keep up, dear. I know it’s hard with your dementia,” Mizz Cleo said.

Juniper quirked her head around, like a nervous sparrow. “Dementia. De-men-sha? Demon-sha? I have a demon?” Her fingertips prickled and she knitted faster. No idle hands for her.

“No, nothing like that, Juni. Only some memory loss from a little levitation mishap.” Harold patted Juniper’s shoulder.

Juniper couldn’t remember a mishap but supposed that proved Harold right.

“And Goodloe’s meant to be working on a cure, not another noxious slime.” Mizz Cleo glared at him.

Goodloe rolled his eyes and changed the subject. “What about what’s-her-face? That new nurse?”

Harold said, “Rita? In the east wing by now. Besides, she’s not a—”

“Don’t say it!” whispered Mizz Cleo.

“Wizard, like us,” finished Harold.

“Wizards? We’re wizards?” Juniper asked. Her fingertips still prickled, but she stopped knitting and slid the yarn off the needles. Examining the slender, gnarled wood, she wrapped her fingers around them, took aim and yelled, “Zap!”

Bolts of electricity zipped out of each needle and hit the far wall with a bang. Her frizzy, gray hair crackled, and she shrieked with laughter. The prickles ran up from her fingertips to her shoulder, but she didn’t mind. “Again, Again!” she trilled, and let two more bolts loose.

“Give me those, you old bat!” Goodloe tried to wrestle the needles out of Juniper’s hands.

“She must’ve skipped her fire-retardant pills again,” Harold said and reached for the needles as well.

“Noodle fingers?” asked Juniper. She released her grip on the knitting needles and pointed at Harold’s hands.

Harold glanced at his right hand, where his fingers were slowly transforming into wriggling noodles. Rigatoni, penne, rotini, cavatappi, and a manicotti thumb. He sighed. “Side effect from a potion Goodloe brewed me. Shouldn’t’ve subbed in the marinara sauce.”

“But it took care of that damn arthritis, didn’t it?” Goodloe growled, sticking the knitting needles into his pockets.

Mizz Cleo gasped and pulled her feet up. “Something bit me!”

They all bent and peered under Mizz Cleo’s chair. A pair of dentures were bouncing along, clacking its teeth. Harold reached a rigatoni finger out but snatched it away when the teeth lunged at him. The dentures chattered its teeth together. There was a chattering answer from the hallway.

Juniper clapped, “Hooray! Tap dancers.”

A swarm of dentures bounced and gnashed their way through the bingo room doorway, click-clacking towards them. The wizards scrambled to stand on the wicker furniture, out of reach of the approaching horde.

“Harold, did you really have to summon teeth?” asked Mizz Cleo. She used the scotch bottle to smack at some dentures which had latched onto her hemline.

“I didn’t mean to! That’s the last time I use denture cream to draw my pentagram.”

Dentures began climbing the furniture, grabbing hold of the wicker with their eye-teeth, jumping and biting higher and higher.

Juniper itched for her wands. She shoved her hands into her robe pockets and felt the pudding cup still stashed there. With a sudden grin, she peeled off the plastic lid and hurled the cup towards the door. It hit the floor with a splat, and pudding slopped across the doorway.

The dentures pouring in from the hallway stopped to explore the yellow gloop; then they dived in, biting and snapping at each other. The teeth climbing up the wicker chairs dropped off, one by one, and bounced back to join the fight for the pudding.

Goodloe huffed. “They don’t even have tongues. Why do they want pudding?”

Harold plucked the knitting needles out of Goodloe’s hands and handed them back to Juniper. “Go zap ’em, Juni.”

Juniper stood over the dentures, zapping the distracted teeth to a crisp. As their comrades burned to ash and melted resin, the rest of the dentures fled back down the hallway. The wizards fled in the opposite direction, pulling Juniper along with them, towards Goodloe’s room.

* * *

The four wizards huddled together, with barely space for all of them to stand. Bubbling beakers and bunsen burners covered every horizontal surface of Goodloe’s room. Bundles of herbs dangled from the ceiling. Buckets of slime released an eye-watering stench.

“We have three objectives: attract, bind, and dismiss,” Harold said.

Juniper snapped her teeth at him.

“Yes, and stop the dentures. Thanks, Juni.”

“I’ll call on the spirits for aid,” Mizz Cleo said. She pulled out a pack of tattered tarot cards and began flinging one card after another over her shoulder. Most of the cards ended up catching on fire or sizzling in a slime bucket. Mizz Cleo squatted to examine the ones still intact, laying in a jumbled pile on the floor. She traced the pattern they made.

Harold squinted at the cards. “What does it mean?”

Mizz Cleo shrugged with a sigh. “Heavens if I know. I made my fortune off of those 1-800 psychic hotlines.”

“I knew it! Always pretending to be ‘channeling the spirits.’ You’re a fraud,” Goodloe said.

“Zap!” Juniper poked her long, knobby finger at Goodloe’s chest. Her knitting needle privileges had been revoked again. When no smoke appeared, Juniper frowned at her finger. “My wand’s broken.”

Mizz Cleo glared at Goodloe over her purple glasses. “Maybe I am a charlatan, but I’m a good one. You’re merely a glorified chemistry teacher!”

“That was just my day job. I’m an alchemist!” Goodloe said.

As Mizz Cleo and Goodloe bickered, Juniper followed her nose out the door. Something didn’t smell right, and it wasn’t just Goodloe’s experiments. In the hallway, the smell was stronger; burnt caramel and black licorice. As Juniper watched, a herd of dentures chattered around the corner and down the hall, followed by a lump of molasses as tall as a man, oozing towards Goodloe’s room.

Juniper jumped back through the threshold, shouted, “Teeth” at the startled others, and grabbed a bucket of fresh slime. She lugged the bucket halfway down the hall and slopped the slime onto the approaching dental horde. The dentures wriggled and snapped, but the slime stalled their progress enough for Juniper to scurry away. Enamel, crown, and root dissolved in the acidic slime with a hiss. But the molasses slurped past the snapping teeth, unimpeded by Goodloe’s slime.

Goodloe and Mizz Cleo hurriedly scattered salt into a rough half circle by his door. Harold held his summoning book in quivering hands, flipping pages frantically. Juniper’s fingertips prickled. She dug her fingers into her scarf and traced its lumps and whorls. Knit one, purl two.

The sludge oozed to a stop a few feet beyond the salt circle. The molasses melted, drip-dropping into little puddles of goop, revealing the demon inside. He looked like any other balding man in his early seventies except for his flicking forked tongue and gnarled, clawed feet protruding from a pair of Chinos. He hissed at the four wizards.

Mizz Cleo stepped forward and flung her arms wide. “I command you, spirits! This is hardly my fault. Lead the demon to the circle of salt.”

Nothing happened.

“Well, it was certainly worth a—” started Mizz Cleo.

The demon surged forward and grabbed her arm. Molasses trickled from his hands up Mizz Cleo’s arm, shoulder, and neck and began to cover her mouth and nose.

Juniper pulled her wool scarf off and flung it at the demon. “Knit one, purl two!” she shouted. As the scarf flew through the air, the strange knots and snarls glowed from within, condensing into runes that Juniper half-remembered.

The scarf wrapped around the demon’s hands and wove between his fingers, until they were securely knit together. He snarled and jerked, but the scarf trapped his wrists in the makeshift handcuffs and stubbornly heaved him into the salt circle.

Goodloe poured the rest of the salt to complete the circle and then limped to Mizz Cleo’s side to help her sluice the molasses off her.

Harold stepped up to the circle, face to face with the demon, and intoned the tiny Latin words from his summoning book. His voice raised to a shout at the end of the dismissal spell, but the demon remained. It smirked and gave a hyena-like laugh. Down the hallway, the half-dissolved dentures chittered in mockery. Harold squinted, running his finger along the lines of words, muttering under his breath.

Juniper scooched over to his side, peering down at the book and back up at Harold. She tapped Harold’s eyeglasses off his head and they settled on the tip of his nose.

Harold pushed up his bifocals. “Ahh! I see: it’s ‘omnis spiritus,’ not ‘amnis spiritus’.” He repeated his incantation, enunciating each syllable distinctly. The balding demon hissed and writhed in the circle. He flicked out his hideous forked tongue and dug at the floor with his misshapen feet. As Harold recited the last Latin word, the demon screeched and burst into flame, leaving only charred linoleum behind.

“Zap!” Juniper said for good measure. Her magic scarf had disappeared with the nasty demon, but Juniper wasn’t worried; she still had plenty of yarn to knit a new one.

Copyright © 2018 by Chelsea McGlynn

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