It all started when Eugenia looked out the window one Saturday morning and saw children peddle by on their bikes.
Ruth sat in her lime green chair. Her clever hands knitted a run of bright red yarn. The needles clicked together — clip-click-clip — a sound that always reminded Eugenia of a new scissors snipping.
“Of course there is the practical side of that,” Ruth said. “Oh, I suppose you could have found a man to do what needed to be done. I certainly wouldn’t put up with that sort of business.”
Eugenia, instead of looking through the window, looked right at it. Her reflection stared back at her.
“Nothing but wrinkles, that’s what I am. Could a person be one big wrinkle, do you suppose?”
“You are lovely, you’ve aged very well.”
“Like a wheel of cheese?”
“More like a bottle of burgundy wine.”
She did look good, Eugenia decided. There was a certain surety in the corner of her eyes that made the wrinkles blend right in, and despite the loss of several teeth, her smile was still warm and pleasant.
Ruth put her knitting down.
“I can’t say the thought has never crossed my mind. With our reputation it would have been quite impossible. Perhaps not these days, but then, when we were young. In those days they would have said we wanted a child for roasting and eating.”
“That’s what witches do,” Eugenia said, and gave a long look to the corner where the children had ridden by on their bikes only minutes before.
“The ones in fairy tales,” Ruth said, her hands clicked the needles together. “But not all, of course.”
“Could a witch conjure a child, do you suppose? If I was a real witch, that’s what I’d do.”
Ruth only nodded and knitted and knitted and nodded. Eugenia could see the faintest twinkle in Ruth’s eye, just a little hint of mischief, and that made the wrinkles around the corners of Eugenia’s mouth crinkle up in her pleasant little grin.
Now there was the odd thing about Eugenia and Ruth’s relationship — it was plain fact that they loved each other in ways that made them a stand out among the crowd.
But this was not the odd thing.
The odd thing was that Eugenia knew Ruth was a real witch, and Ruth knew that Eugenia knew she was a real witch … and they never spoke frankly on the topic, not once in forty-five years.
Not when both they were beautiful slinky women with long thick hair, and all their bits that should be firm and perky were firm and perky.
Not when they were middle aged, and things drooped just a bit.
Not even in their silver years when their hair turned to strands of rich ivory.
Not even when the magical pots in their bellies stopped making magic, and they both grew an odd whisker or two on their chins.
They had always coyly skirted around the odd thing with vague language and the most round about way one could imagine.
However, there was no mistaking the bad luck that might fall upon one of Ruth’s enemies.
For example, there was the policeman who once followed them during an evening walk through the park as Ruth and Eugenia held hands.
He’d made lewd comments and impolitely suggested things that should not have been suggested.
Ruth only mumbled a secret syllable or two, shook her finger at the policemen as he leaned against a tree twirling his billy club and seconds later he was slapping at hornets, and running for the nearby pond.
“Clearly,” Ruth had said later, “he wasn’t looking where he put his hands and stuck them exactly where they weren’t wanted.”
Ruth loved Eugenia very much and she knew their secret language — there was no mistake that when Eugenia asked about conjuring, she was really asking Ruth for a very unusual present.
Eugenia slept heavy, she always had, but when she snored it was quiet lady like and Ruth was forgiving of the noise.
Ruth got out of the warm covers, put her slippers on, and shuffled across the hall as she yawned and scratched. It was close to midnight — certainly no other time would do for conjuring.
She went down the stairs, and found her knitting bag.
Full of yarn — purple yarn and gray yarn, perfect for making sock or scarves. Orange and brown yarn, perfect for autumn sweaters.
Ruth wasn’t looking for any of these though, she was looking for the magic yarn — stuff spun from spring clouds, carnival cotton candy, spider silks, cat whiskers, the croaks of frogs, and squeaks of blind mice.
She hooked the magic yarn around her old knuckles and wove her fingers back and forth as she created a series of runes and symbols — Jack-in-the-Pulpit as it is sometimes called.
She rarely conjured things of the Gone these days, but tonight she would have to, if she was to gift Eugenia with a special present. In particular there was an imp she knew would happily sneak out into the night and steal an unwanted child for Eugenia.
Because as sad as it was to think, there were plenty children out there that were not truly wanted.
So she continued with her hands as clever and quick as a little monkey.
Finally, the magic in the yarn was evident. It pulsed in a cold blue fire; it dripped bits of cold flame, and up through the hole created into the Gone, a fiendish shape rose up — all shadows and gnashing teeth, slobbering and ectoplasm.
Goat horns ran in tight little spirals around its head, and it sprung up like a jack-in-the-box bouncing, bouncing, bouncing.
“Hello Rutheeeee,” it said with a snarl and made an uncouth snap at Ruth’s nose.
Ruth said, “Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl, behave!”
And, of course, that was the little devil’s name, and he shrunk back and hissed, “Old hag, ugly old witch, what do you want of Tintamarre-bedlam-brawl-pother-and-ruckus? To eat up another noisy doggy, long time no good meat for Ruckus-Tintamarre-pother-bedlam-and-brawl.”
(He tried very hard to confuse her about his true name, by mixing it all up as often as he could.)
“Watch those wicked lips or I’ll darn them up,” she said.
The little devil snickered and gnashed his teeth, which were not really sharp, but more like soggy old roots that had gotten weathered from being above the dirt.
“Ugly hag,” he whispered, and then brightly: “I’ll wager you’re still very pretty, pretty on the inside, though.” He swayed just a bit, leaned over, with one long fingernail pointing out, “What does Rutheeee want?”
It is an unfortunate fact that as witches grow older, they grow a bit weaker and slower, and exactly the opposite is true with demons and devils.
When Ruth had last seen Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl, he’d been nothing more than what a polliwog is to a frog. That is to say, he was young, inexperienced, and quite a primitive, stupid thing.
He had been all too happy to roam the mortal world for a night in exchange for eating up an obnoxious dog that lived next door. A dog that had howled incessantly, and ceaselessly chased Eugenia’s favorite cat.
But Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had been conjured many time since by young and strong witches, and he’d learned much more than Ruth expected.
“Tintamarre-pother-and-brawl —” Ruth said.
Suddenly she felt a bit nervous as the yarn tightened around her fingers.
She pulled and twisted, and managed to keep the knots under control, “—bedlam-ruckus — I want you to ——”, but Tintamarre-bedlam-ruckus-pother-and-brawl didn’t really care what she wanted, not one iota.
The magic yarn tightened around Ruth’s fingers; her old wrists were became tired; her arthritis was quite painful, especially so late at night … and then there was a grumbling of secrets, spells, and runes from Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl’s gnashing teeth, and more tightening of the magic string —
Upstairs, Eugenia slept soundly, but she was dreaming of Ruth in her chair where she liked to knit.
She dreamed that Ruth was knitting them a little child out of bits and pieces of yarn she had pulled from somewhere distant and mysterious.
Her knitting needles were moving so fast sparks flew, and the clicks sounded how a metal spider might sound if it were to crawl up a metal web.
But, then in her dream, there was a terrible, horrible scream.
Eugenia sat up in bed and reached for Ruth to comfort her. All she could find was Ruth’s pillow, cold and smooth.
And then, as horrible as the scream was, it was even more horrible when it was cut short by a mad cackle of demonic laughter.
Eugenia’s heart thumped in her chest as she put on her glasses and found her slippers. It was so quiet in the house she thought she surely dreamed the noise.
She went down the hall where the moonlight cast blue shadows on the floor. Down the creaky stairs … Her hand trembled as she held the banister.
“Ruth!” she said. “Where are you?”
Eugenia’s stomach felt all watery, and she was sure that if she saw so much as a mouse stealing a crust of bread she would run straight back up stairs.
Every bit of her was terrified, and every bit of her wanted to go back to bed and put the blanket over her head.
“Ruth?” she whispered as she came into the room they’d been sitting in the afternoon.
She saw Ruth’s knitting bag was turned on its side. And coming out from the bag, among the common yarns, was the magic yarn, glowing blue with dazzling cold fire.
Very faintly, coming from the bag, she could hear the last faded cry for help like a bit of wood whittled down to nothing.
Ruth’s voice disappeared into the Gone, and the string started slipping away, then disappeared into the knitting bag … and without giving it another thought, Eugenia took hold of the string and went with it.
Eugenia held her breath, because she was sure if she exhaled she would certainly lose control of her bladder. This was a practical worry, even a badly timed sneeze could do that these days, much less when she was being unexpectedly pulled through a long and dark tunnel on the end of a piece of magic yarn.
She didn’t have more than a few minutes to reflect on the situation before she was plopped down right in the middle of the Gone.
The magic yarn had slithered from her grasp, and now laid itself down on the ground and had melted into a long path.
One would think that the domain of devils and demons would be a dark and terrifying place, but this is not quite the case. It is an odd place to be sure. Devils and demons can only mimic what they have seen. But their perceptions are imperfect, and they make mistakes.
For example, Eugenia looked up to see a bright green sun shining down, a white sky and blue clouds that seemed to be made of bumpy stone instead of soft wisps of fog.
She was surrounded by a peculiar forest where the trees had branches and leaves made of ice, and fruits made of fire.
It was really not so terrible, she thought as she stood up and looked down the path the yarn had become.
She squinted to see where it went, and then listened, hoping to hear Ruth.
But all she heard and saw was the scratches and clucks of Hen-Who-Runs-Backwards as she ran down the path.
Hen-Who-Runs-Backwards was a fine looking black hen who was completely unsurprising, except for fact she was running backwards.
To the hen’s credit, she did so with much grace.
Eugenia watched Hen-Who-Runs-Backwards run by —
“Bacon and eggs, bacon and eggs! That’s what Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl likes!” the hen clucked and continued on.
Eugenia wondered what that meant, and what a Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl was.
She stood, watched the road for a moment, and it seemed she was alone. There was some doubt in her mind now, that maybe she shouldn’t have just grabbed that yarn without thinking about it. Instead she should have ran right back up stairs and hid under the blankets.
But then she thought of Ruth and how Ruth would always save her the soft center of a warm cinnamon bun when they shared one at the coffee shop. That was Eugenia’s favorite part, but she knew Ruth liked it just as much as she did.
She thought for a moment, and was ashamed to realize she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d offered it to Ruth.
Then she thought about how Ruth tried very hard to keep her temper when Eugenia would let her eyes get the best of her and she would spend a large sum of money on a new pair of shoes.
And she thought about when they had taken a cruise around the coast of Mexico. They had stopped at a port and watched a candymaker mix chocolate.
He added just a pinch of red chili; he explained it was to make the chocolate taste richer and more full, and Ruth had said, “That’s what you are Eugenia, you are the little pinch of red chili in my life.”
She had a great many of these kinds of thoughts, and so instead of just looking down the road, she said “RUTH! Where are you?!”, waited for a reply, and when she didn’t hear anything she started walking.
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl lived in a silly little house made of moldy leaves and mud, right next to a bog, which was about the same thing as house except a lot wetter.
Inside his home, there was just about enough space for him and a witch named Ruth.
It should go without saying that Ruth was quite unhappy with the situation she now found herself in.
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had taken her magic yarn and bound her two big toes together, then twisted it up all around her feet, up around her ankles, then her knees, up to her thighs, then around her soft belly, and right up over her little old lady boobies and right up to her armpits.
This left her arms completely free.
Then the yarn was wrapped right up around her neck, and then right up over her mouth, and continued on up around her head and left her nose, ears and eyes uncovered.
None of this was pleasant, to be sure, but Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had also hung her upside down on a hook from the ceiling. It was all very uncomfortable.
To make matters even worse Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had forced her to knit the most horrid strings of slimy goo together. A goo that he seemed to have an endless supply of.
First he’d asked for a little slime hat that he could wear, but seeing what true artisan she was, he thought she might just make him a scarf as well.
Once she was done with that, he needed a new slime sweater, and that was what she was knitting now.
“Pants!” Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl screeched, “Mooooore muculent, Rutheeee! Mooorre muculant!”
Ruth was getting tired, and her hands ached.
The only knitting needles Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had were made out of rough slivers of bone and they were giving her blisters and her arthritis was burning in her knuckles and her wrists.
“Pleeasssse!” she begged, “Tintamarre-bedlam-pother-brawl-and-ruckus, behave!” But it didn’t work anymore because she had gotten so flustered she couldn’t remember the right order.
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl just cackled and picked at his turned up snout with a long fingernail, and found a bit more slime for Ruth to knit with.
When Eugenia was afraid she liked to hum, so she was humming like a hive full of bumblebees.
She walked down the road, and it wasn’t long before along Pig-on-his-Hind-Legs came running by. Just as you might expect from his name, he ran on hind legs.
He didn’t even give Eugenia a second glance, instead he oinked twice, and said, “Eggs and bacon, eggs and bacon! That’s what Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl likes!”
Only seconds later the pig was gone and Eugenia thought to herself that she should try to remember what the pig said, because it sounded a lot like what the hen said. And certainly it was worth remembering if it was said so often.
So she stopped humming and began muttering under her breath, “Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl likes bacon and eggs. That’s what he likes. Or was that bacon and eggs that liked Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl or was that brawl-and-pother, or pother-and-ruckus?”
She walked until her little old feet were sore, and her little old ankles felt like little wooden splinters were being driven into them.
When she got too tired, she stopped and rested, and when she got thirsty she pulled an ice leaf off a tree and let it melt on her tongue.
When she got hungry, she tried one of the fire fruits that were actually cold fire — so she could pick them and hold them without any trouble.
She suspected it would be far too spicy for her, but it wasn’t, it was just right.
And after she was refreshed she moved on.
Finally, she came up on a little mud house, with a little bit of smoke coming out of the chimney, and a little stinky bog right next to it. She hid behind a tree, her knees trembled as she tried to muster her courage.
It didn’t seem to muster like she’d hoped so she waited a bit …
… it wasn’t long before she saw the owner of the house, which was of course, Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl.
He came out dressed from head to toe in a brand new slime suit. He was in a more foul mood than earlier, because even in the Gone every demon has a day job he must attend.
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl’s job was to pop into the mortal world and whisper things into children’s ears.
This wasn’t all bad, but he was strictly limited to suggesting ways to make very loud noises, unexpectedly, and especially around adults.
It wasn’t a terrible job, but some of the other demons got to whisper much darker things, and not just to children.
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl knew he was a young demon, and he’d work his way up, but it was a long way to go still.
So that was where he was headed when he came out of his house, and then Eugenia saw him explode into a thousand blue and green blow-flies, and shoot up into the sky in a swirling stream.
When he was gone, Eugenia heard the faintest little muffled cry, “Oh, help!”
She knew Ruth’s voice even under these decidedly strange circumstances, so she cautiously tiptoed to the front of the house, and opened the door.
Even a right-side-up Ruth that had been bound would have been a horror for poor Eugenia to see, but an upside-down Ruth was almost too much to bear.
Ruth had worked her chin up and down enough so some of the yarn was loose, and she said: “Eugenia! Help! Find the end of the string and unravel me!”
“But where?” Because there was a great deal of yarn wrapped everywhere around Ruth.
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had also bound Ruth’s wrists with a thick bit of slime, so she couldn’t even point.
“Wrapped around my head, I think,” Eugenia said, and so she started looking for the end of the string around Ruth’s head. She fumbled a bit, and then found the end, and started unraveling and unspooling it, bit by bit.
In no time she was using all her strength to lower Ruth to the ground.
When Ruth finally got her wits about her, which didn’t take long, she gave Eugenia a big kiss right on the cheek.
“How did you find me?” she asked. “No, no, no time now, quick, find those knitting needles. Hurry, hurry, he’s going to be back soon—”
“Who?” Eugenia said.
“Tintamarre-ruckus-and-brawl — oh, I don’t remember now!” Ruth said. “I am an old, old woman, and my memory is no good. But I think, if you undo these bindings I could knit us a bag to catch that little devil in, if nothing else.”
So even though it made her stomach twitch, Eugenia pulled the slime off of Ruth’s wrists and found the knitting needles and handed them over.
Ruth started furiously knitting. Eugenia didn’t have a word to say, but she tried her hardest to be useful, so she tried to remember what Hen-Who-Runs-Backwards and Pig-on-his-Hind-legs had said.
“It is all my fault, of course,” Eugenia said. “You know very well that I knew you would — I really shouldn’t have asked.”
Ruth frowned, but kept knitting.
“Not your fault at all. I really should stick to kitting stuff, well, more earthly. I am much to old to conjure demons.”
“What if we have to stay here forever? And he hangs us both upside down? I can’t knit! Ruth, I just can’t do it. My hands are not clever like yours — all I wanted was a little child, to leave a little something to the world — Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl, that’s it!” Eugenia said suddenly remembering, “that’s who likes bacon and eggs, that’s what the hen and the pig said.”
Ruth just smiled and knitted and knitted and smiled.
When Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl came home that evening, he was very hungry and grouchy after a long day of work.
He was also quite disappointed to find Ruth had managed to unbind herself, and was sitting quietly on a big lump of mud that he used for a sofa.
“Soooo, Rutheee, you old waggle-waggle-hag, you got out? But you can’t go home! Can’t go home!”
Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl stomach was rumbling.
And it should be known he was thinking quite seriously of eating up Ruth, but finally he thought she might be a bit tough to chew, so he had decided against it. At least for the moment.
“What’s in the bag?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing you’d be interested in,” Ruth said. “Just some bacon and eggs.”
Hen-Who-Runs-Backwards and Pig-On-His-Hind-Legs had spoke the truth, because just that day they’d been held captive and he had let them in order to make room for Ruth. Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl little horns unrolled themselves, his ears perked up and he sniffed the air.
“Give it to me, then,” he said.
“You’ll have to come get it,” Ruth said, and opened up the bag.
“Just in case, so you stay — shush, shush, shush, Rutheeee!” Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl said, blew his nose into his hand, and flung a palmful of sticky slime right at Ruth. Indeed, it stuck right over her mouth, so she couldn’t say a word.
Then, without another thought, Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl dove head first into the bag.
Ruth pulled the drawstring tight.
“No bacon and eggs!” he screeched, “Nothing! Nothing! It’s a trick!”
He started tearing away at the bag opening.
If you were wondering where Eugenia was this whole time, she was right behind the door, and she jumped out and said: “Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl, behave!”
And of course, Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl had to, and as long as they could remember his name, he had to do what they said.
This is nearly the end of the story, because what came next is quite expected and does not require many details.
Ruth and Eugenia made Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl take them straight back to their little house in the mortal world.
But it should be clearly noted, that bravery and faithfulness is sometimes rewarded in unexpected ways: Eugenia did get her wish to have a child, but just not quite the child she had in mind.
Ruth thought that Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl looked adorable in the little outfits she’d knit for him, and Eugenia thought him to be the perfect child, because unlike most children, all she had to do was say, “Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl, behave!” and like magic he’d behave.
Also, it wouldn’t be fair to say that Tintamarre-ruckus-bedlam-pother-and-brawl truly hated this arrangement, it was at least a bit more satisfying than his day job, and from time to time if he behaved, he’d get bacon eggs for breakfast, and sometimes even a noisy little doggy for dinner.
And of course, they lived happily ever after.