Author's Note: I wanted to write another story about Will Torchthwaite's misadventures after I finished How Not to Cope with Visitors, but it took me ages to think of a plot. Then when I did think of a plot, it took me even longer to write the story. But here it is at last: part three in the How Not to… series.
How Not to Deal with Goblins
A year had passed since the excitement about Aunt Hippolita's visit. Will Torchwaite had recently celebrated her eighteenth birthday. The town had held its breath on this momentous occasion, fearing a worse-than-usual outbreak of Will's ability to accidentally cause disaster. The day passed without major incident, however, and the inhabitants of Kiltullaroan allowed themselves to hope all would remain peaceful for a while longer.
They were wrong. Less than a week after Will's birthday, her neighbours were awakened by a piercing scream.
Interested – and decidedly annoyed – faces appeared at the windows of every house in the street. They were just in time to see Will throw open her front door and race through her garden, down the street, and out of sight.
Much speculation followed this extraordinary scene.
"If you ask me," said Witch Nagle to a group of her friends, "she's miscast some spell and has gone to ask someone for help."
"Of course I know nothing about that silly girl's doings," Witch Hunniford said to a group of her friends, "but it seems to me the reason for this is obvious. She woke up and suddenly remembered she had forgotten to do something important, so she's gone to attend to whatever it is."
Witch Beederby, Will's employer, had her own opinions on the situation. "I think she made some catastrophic mistake in making her breakfast. Perhaps she set her own stove on fire."
And so everyone had their own opinion, and everyone voiced it very loudly, and not one person came even close to the truth.
What had actually happened was this.
Will had spent most of the previous day trying to create a spell that would make a wheelbarrow follow her around all by itself. All her efforts had ended in failure, and at around eleven o'clock that night she gave up and went to bed. She was so tired, however, that she forgot to check all the windows were closed, and she carelessly left a loaf of bread sitting out on the table.
Everything was very quiet for an hour or so. Bastet, Will's cat, was out hunting mice somewhere around the town. Will was fast asleep and snoring gently in her small, cluttered bedroom above the kitchen. The kitchen clock ticked methodically on. The curtains fluttered in the breeze that wafted through the open window.
There was no one to see a curious, rat-like face appear at the window. No one saw a pair of small, beady eyes fix on the loaf of bread, or a pair of long, bony hands rub together in glee.
Every witch and wizard knew about goblins. It was one of the first things their parents told them: "Always be sure to lock your doors and windows, or the goblins will get in. Goblins love food, and they know that we witches and wizards have food in our houses. So they lurk around our towns, raiding our dustbins and staying just out of sight, waiting for a chance to get into our houses. And once they're in your house, it's almost impossible to get them out."
Will knew this as well as any witch did. Careless and thoughtless though she was, she always checked to be sure her doors and windows were closed... until now.
The goblin squeezed in through the window. It was a strange-looking creature – long, spindly arms and legs attached to a short, pudgy body; a head shaped like a rodent's with ears shaped like a bird's wing and perched atop a short, thick neck; its entire body covered with shaggy brown fur rather like a collie dog's. It made no noise as it loped across the room to the table.
Several more heads appeared at the window, exactly like the first one. The goblin's family had come to see where it had gone. The younger goblins gave a chorus of excited squeaks when they saw the bread. Within minutes the entire family were through the window and fighting over the bread.
Upstairs, Will snored on.
Will first learnt of her unwanted visitors at around six o'clock the next morning. The goblins had grown bolder upon finding no one to object to their presence, and soon they were crawling all over the house. One of the female goblins tore open a cushion to make a nest for her babies. Several of the young goblins entertained themselves by climbing up the curtains and sliding down them. Another goblin stolidly munched its way through a spell book.
Disaster struck when two goblins had a disagreement over which of them should have a crust of bread. They squeaked and chattered angrily at each other, lashing out with their long-fingered hands. One of them fell off the table and landed on a broom propped against the wall. The broom fell over, its handle colliding with a stack of dishes piled high beside the sink.
Crash! Clatter! Smash!
What a noise there was then!
Will awoke with a start. She lay still, waiting for any more sounds. Downstairs she could hear feet scurrying across the kitchen.
That sounds like a burglar, she thought. Or worse, it might be a rat.
She got up as quietly as she could and pulled on a dressing gown over her pyjamas. She took her wand from her bedside table and tiptoed out of the room.
When she saw the sight that confronted her downstairs, she let out a piercing scream. Goblins! Goblins everywhere! This was too much for poor Will. She turned and ran out of the house, slamming the front door behind her.
She ran towards the library. Surely somewhere it would have a book on how to get rid of goblins! But she had forgotten the time. The library would not open for another three hours.
Will sat down outside the library door. The anger, shock and frustration of the past few minutes almost overwhelmed her, and she gave vent to her feelings in no uncertain terms. It was just as well the library was a good distance from any houses. If she had been heard shouting and swearing in the early hours of the morning, the town gossips would have even more to discuss.
At last she calmed down enough to consider the situation.
"I can't get a book from the library," she said to herself, "and I don't want the entire town to know I've got goblins. They'd blame me and tell me how irresponsible I am. I suppose I am to blame, but how was I to know about that window? I can't check everything!" She stopped herself here. That line of thinking would lead her to moping around, and this was a time for action. "I'll get rid of these goblins myself. They like food, don't they? So all I have to do is lure them outside with some food!"
Her mind made up, Will set off for home.
It wasn't as easy as she thought it would be. In the first place, finding food to lure the goblins out with proved much harder than Will had expected. There were no shops open at this time, and the goblins had long since devoured all the food in the house.
In the second place, getting into her own house was much harder than it should be. Will tried to push open her front door, only to find that the dratted goblins had pushed a chair in front of it. She went round to the back door. The same thing had happened there. A goblin watched her from the window sill. When it saw her frustration, it hooted like an owl.
Will was not familiar with the emotions of goblins. She was certain, however, that this one was laughing at her.
She drew her wand and aimed it at the window. The goblin immediately dived for cover. Will cast a glass-breaking spell straight at the window. The window pane cracked and fell apart into dozens of tiny fragments. She cast another spell that sent them all whirling up into the air and down into the kitchen bin, where they couldn't injure anyone.
The goblin peeked over the worktop to see what was happening. It immediately dived down again upon seeing her climb through the now-missing window.
"Oh no, you don't!" Will reached out and grabbed it by the ears before it could run away. "You have no business being in my house, so I'm going to throw you all out!"
She looked around for a safe, secure place to put the goblin while she rounded up the others. The only place that looked at all secure was the washing machine. It hadn't worked for over a year, ever since a stray cup of tea had destroyed the spells that made it work. It would keep the goblin out of her way, though, which was all she needed.
Into the washing machine went the goblin. Bang! went the door as Will slammed and locked it. Now to catch all the other goblins!
Will stormed off, full of righteous anger. Although she had locked the washing machine door, she had forgotten that one of the machine's walls had been partially torn away from its body – the result of her attempts to recreate the spells on it.
The goblin squeezed through the gap and hopped merrily out of the machine.
"I don't understand this," Will grumbled as she crawled under the table to grab a goblin cowering there. "These damned things seem to multiply when my back's turned. I could have sworn there should be fewer of them running around now."
The goblin chortled as it dodged her attempts to catch it. Will tried to grab its ears as it dashed by her. She missed the goblin and banged her knuckles against the table-leg.
"Ow!" Will clutched her injured hand and glared after the goblin. "Damn you, you bunch of little pests! Just you wait till I throw you all out! You'll never get back into my house again!"
She got up, grabbed a fishing net from where it leant against the wall, and swung it at the nearest goblin. The net went over the goblin's head.
Unfortunately, it was a very old fishing net, with very little net left. The goblin leapt through it and scampered off.
Will said what she thought, loudly and at length. The goblins snickered at her. She tried to grab one of them when it came too close, but it nimbly danced out of her way.
The doorbell rang in the middle of this chaos.
Will didn't hear it over the noise of a horde of goblins destroying her house. Nor did she hear the knock at the door that followed it.
Perry pushed the door open cautiously. "Will? Are you home?"
A goblin bounded across the hall. Will followed it, shouting obscenities. Perry watched, wide-eyed, as Will tried to corner the goblin, only for it to jump out of her way.
"Er, Will?" Perry ducked as another goblin sprang at his head. "What's happening?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Will snapped. "Goblins have invaded my home." She straightened up and brushed the dust off her clothes. "Can you help me get them out?"
Perry looked at the goblins skipping up and down the stairs. From the kitchen and living room he could hear crashes and thuds. He trembled to think what sort of chaos the goblins were wreaking.
Never let it be said that Peregrine Larkimer would abandon his friends in their hour of need. He took off his coat with a business-like air. "The first thing we need is somewhere to put the goblins we capture."
"I've already found one," Will said. "I put them in the washing machine."
"I thought you said you put them in the washing machine," Perry said, puzzled.
"I did." Will stared, equally puzzled, into the empty machine. "And I closed the door! How did they get out?"
It was a mystery. But it would have to be solved later, when there wasn't a battalion of goblins laying waste to the house.
"We'll have to find somewhere else to put them," Perry said, turning his attention to the matter at hand. "I'll run over to my workshop and find the bird-cage I've made for the mayor's granddaughter."
"A bird-cage won't be big enough or strong enough to hold all those goblins," Will pointed out.
"This one will. The mayor's granddaughter is going to get a phoenix for her birthday. The cage is built to hold it."
Perry ran home and fetched the cage. Then he and Will began a slow, careful trip around the house. As soon as they cornered and captured a goblin, they carried it to the cage sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.
They should really have thought sooner of the problem with this solution.
"This cage will only hold two goblins," Will said wearily. She had passed the point of being surprised or exasperated by anything she saw, and had reached the point of tired indifference.
Perry was not about to let that little detail stop them getting rid of these pests. "Then we'll take the goblins out two at a time and set them free behind the old elm tree."
The old elm tree he spoke of marked the boundary dividing the witches' town from the humans' land. Once there, the goblins would be out of everyone's way.
It was a long, slow, drawn-out process. Will and Perry caught two goblins at a time. Then they took turns for one of them to go to the elm tree while the other stayed to keep an eye on the remaining goblins. Scores of interested faces appeared at the windows of houses all the way down the street. No one offered to help, however.
Will ground her teeth every time she walked into her house to see yet another goblin skipping around the place. But gradually she began to see a noticeable decrease in their numbers. Now instead of twenty goblins in each room, there were only ten. Still far more goblins than she ever wanted to see in her house, but a manageable number.
They were down to five goblins in each room when disaster struck.
No one was ever sure afterwards whose fault it was. Perry insisted it was Bastet's fault. The cat had poked her head through the kitchen window to see if the goblins were still around. In the process she knocked over a saucepan. Will was certain it was a goblin's fault. The dratted creature had jumped into the kitchen sink and sent a tidal wave of tepid dishwater straight at the high pile of dirty dishes. Onlookers claimed Will herself had caused more than half the chaos, because she slipped halfway across the kitchen floor and pulled a stack of cups down with her.
But no matter who was to blame, the result was pandemonium.
Cooking implements, dishes and dishwater went flying through the air. Furniture was toppled. A cupboard fell off the wall. The cooker collapsed against the ironing board. A chorus of screams rose to the sky amidst the flying debris.
The neighbours watched in amazement as a mass exodus of goblins poured out of Will's house and ran for the hills. Goblins, pests though they were, had enough common sense to realise staying in the house posed a considerable risk to life and limb.
Inside the house, Will and Perry stood in the middle of a ruined kitchen. The floor was covered with sudsy water and broken dishes. Soot from the cooker had coated everything. The kitchen table had lost a leg. Two chairs had lost their backs. The door handle had come off and the door itself was half off its hinges.
A long, solemn silence filled the room.
"At least the goblins are gone," Will said at last. Her words caught in her throat, making them sound more like a question than a statement. "I can fix all this."
The thought of Will "fixing" the chaos they saw before them filled Perry with horror.
"Come over to my house and have a nice cup of tea," he said. "We need it, after what we've been through! We'll start cleaning up later."
Will did go over to Perry's house, and she did have a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately, she also tried to fix the devastation in her own house.
The village of Kiltullaroan was awakened in the middle of the night a few days after the goblin fiasco by an earth-shaking "boom!". Villagers thronged to see what had happened. What they saw made them rub their eyes and wonder if they were still asleep. For Will's house was now tidier than it ever had been, with no trace of having ever been damaged… and it was floating six feet above their heads.
Mayor Wreckwick wrung his hands upon seeing this. "Witch Torchthwaite! What have you done?"
Will's head appeared at one of the upstairs windows. She leaned so far out the window that the onlookers gasped in horror, expecting her to fall at any minute. "Hello, everyone! Sorry if I woke you."
Perry shouldered his way to the front of the crowd, stifling a yawn and oblivious to his nightcap hanging off his head. "Will, what happened?"
"I tried a time-reversal spell," Will said. "And it worked! But I'd left out some potion ingredients on the table, and they reacted to the spell. I don't suppose anyone has a ladder? My broom is in the shed, which is still–" She pointed to the ground where her house had once stood, "–down there."
Someone fetched a ladder, and Will was able to retrieve her broom. It wasn't so easy to bring the house back down again. After much thought and experiments with spells, runes, and even ropes, the people eventually had to admit defeat.
Will's house is still floating above the ground, and she still has to use her broom to reach her front door. But everyone knows that someday, she'll find a way to bring it down again. The thought of that day leaves the most courageous witch shaking in her boots.
On the bright side, the people tell themselves, they've never seen a goblin since.