What's In A Name?
The witch looked on, cackling and clapping her hands together as Steve’s once male form changed to a decidedly curvaceous feminine one. His hair was longer, passing his shoulders and not stopping until it reached the small of his back. His general frame although not big to start with, was noticeably smaller and the clothes he had been wearing swamped him.
“We can’t have that,” she said, and with some more concentration, chanting and much waving of hands, his male clothing disappeared, to be replaced by a bright yellow cotton sleeveless summer dress, his boxers by panties and his shoes by sandals with a moderate heel.
Once again, the witch jumped up and down, clapping her hands together and cackling away, pleased as punch. “Elizabeth Knotts, you’ve really outdone yourself this time,” she cooed. “That should be enough.”
She gave a negligent flick of her gnarly fingers and Steve’s body slouched forward, the cards sliding gently from his hand, spilling on to the table.
As Steve lost contact with the cards, the witch lost contact and any control she had over him. She gasped, her eyes went wide and her hands flew to her insubstantial mouth. “Oh no...”
It had always ended this way—or worse.
The old man she had told the boy about had not been discarded, but had died in her attempt to transform him. There had been many others down the line who had suffered at her attempts.
She sat down and looked at the very pretty girl who had not moments before been a boy and now was about as far out of her reach as all the others. Insubstantial tears trickled down her non-corporeal face as she looked at yet another failed attempt.
* * *
Elizabeth was feverishly looking for Steve’s mum. She’d been all over the house and even out in the garden, but hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her. She caught up with Lynne.
“Auntie Lynne. Have you seen Ellen?”
“How many times have I asked you not to call me that?”
“Well you are,” she replied nonchalantly. “What else should I call you?”
“Just plain Lynne would be nice. Anyway, she went home to get some bits and pieces. She won’t be long. Why?”
“It’s Steve. I think there’s something wrong.”
She explained what she’d seen.
Lynne frowned. “You been at those space cakes again?”
“Not at all, no,” Elizabeth assured her. “It really happened. Then he went all glassy-eyed and just sat there - he didn’t even blink. There’s something wrong, Auntie Lynne, I’m sure of it. Can you come and have a look? Please?”
Lynne didn’t answer because someone caught her eye; “Jim, so nice to see you,” she said, talking straight across Elizabeth as one of her guests walked by. She turned back to her niece. “I’ll be with you in a moment, sweetheart.”
Elizabeth grimaced. She hated being called sweetheart more than anything and her aunt insisted on calling her that. As she watched Lynne walk away with James, she wondered why it was that no matter what was happening, what adults had to do was always so much more important than anything she needed them to hear.
Disgusted by this, she stalked off towards the basement stairs.
* * *
When Steve came to, she looked around her and recognised nothing. In fact, she couldn’t even remember where she’d been or how she got there. All she could see was a large room with a staircase coming down beside her.
“W-w-what?” she muttered, stretching her arms, wincing as her elbows and shoulders cracked and clicked. She looked around her, frowning. “Where am I?”
Ghostly cackles with images of witches and strange-looking cards filled her mind. The mere thought of them made her shudder…
And then she saw the cards on the table.
“No,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “It can’t be.”
She gazed around the room, seeing nobody and yet she had an uncanny feeling that she was being watched. By whom, she didn’t know, but she could feel the eyes staring at her.
She rose on shaky legs, grimacing because her whole body ached. “What have I been doing?” she asked herself.
Taking the stairs slowly and holding tightly to the banister rail, she made her way to the upper floor, wondering what all the noise was as she approached.
All those people, she thought. Where the hell am I and what in the world’s going on?
She decided to get out, striding as boldly as she could through the doorway at the top of the stairs and, trying not to catch anyone’s attention, stepped out.
So far so good, she thought and was just about to start across the room when someone bumped into her.
Another girl caught her shoulder on her way past, heading towards the stairs.
Turning to face Steve, she said, “Sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
They stood for a few moments just inches apart. Steve thought she was very pretty and dressed as Little Red Riding Hood she looked so cute.
Staring into her eyes, a whole bundle of thoughts raced through her mind, the most prevalent being how weird it was being a girl and actually thinking the other was pretty and attractive, which stirred feelings in her of which she wasn’t quite sure.
But I’m a girl too, she thought.
There was definitely something there though - something between them. Whether it was just friendship that sadly she couldn’t remember, or whether it was more than that, she didn’t know, but it was almost palpable.
Lynne arrived, breaking their unspoken communication.
“Who’sh your friend, shweetheart?” she asked of Little Red Riding Hood.
As soon as Steve saw Lynne, she fled, running full tilt towards the door, slamming into it, fumbling with the locks and catches. Finally, she wrenched it open and ran out into the cold night air, not even stopping to close the door behind her.
“Wash it shomething I shaid?” asked Lynne, taking another generous slug of her drink, giggling after burping, as she disappeared off into the guests, her body swaying with the beat of the music.
* * *
Windows and lamp-posts seemed to flash past as Steve trip-trip-tripped down the dimly-lit street, beating a staccato rhythm that echoed off the houses on each side of the road with a metallic ‘plick-plick-plick’. Her long, mousey-coloured hair whipped about her face, getting in her eyes, making them water as did the chilly air of the first November morning.
Blindly, she ran across a road and narrowly missed landing spread-eagled across the bonnet of the family saloon car that was approaching the junction. The car had two children in the back that appeared to be sleeping, while the driver - a woman - scowled, shaking her fist.
“Are you mad?” she yelled. “Watch where you’re going; I’ve got children...”
Steve heard no more and raising her hand, while smiling a thin smile of apology, she pushed herself away from the car, gasping for air and with a heaving chest, she ran round the front, ignoring the blast from the car’s horn as, once again, she glanced over her shoulder.
Upon reaching the next lamppost, she stopped; wheezing and trying to get her breath back as she looked up the street from whence she came, to check if she was, as she felt, being followed.
No-one was there.
Her senses however, told her otherwise. She could feel the stranger’s presence, stalking her as she reached down and slipped off her sandals, wincing as her feet touched the near freezing cold of the paving slabs beneath. Looking around her for any sign of movement, she knew someone was there, someone who seemed to have melted into the shadows, never far behind. She knew because she could feel their eyes boring into her and her brain screamed for her to get as far from them as possible.
She was certain that the woman at the house was not the same woman as she had seen in the images that kept playing in her mind - the weird and evil cackle, the warty nose and the lank, lacklustre hair. The shock of seeing that weird woman, just scared her - scared her enough to make her run, even though she didn’t know where she was running to.
The girl though - Little Red Riding Hood - was a different proposition. Steve knew they’d met before; it was just the when of it that eluded her. She was nice, pretty and there was something about her that made Steve wish they would meet again; to get to know one another better, perhaps even becoming friends, hopefully more.
The fact that the two of them were girls seemed wrong to Steve. Was it the thought of wanting to become romantically involved with another girl? She didn’t know, but he was sure that for whatever reason, that wasn’t an issue.
Were they already friends then? If that were the case, then surely the girl would have said more than she did - wouldn’t she?
The situation was all so confusing to Steve. Not only did she not know anything about Red - aside from the feeling that they had met previously, but she didn’t even know anything about herself.
She tried to remember birthdays, Christmas, school or a holiday perhaps, but nothing came to her and as she thought about it, the feeling that she was being watched and from nearby, reared its ugly head again.
It was time to press on.
* * *
Elizabeth ran downstairs into the basement and was startled by what she found.
Steve was missing; the cards lay just as they had when he’d begun reading them for her, save the discarded pack that was beside the spread, but of him there was no sign.
She checked upstairs, but could find no trace.
“What wash up with that friend of yoursh?” asked Lynne, the alcohol beginning to have an effect on her speech, which was decidedly slurred.
“Which friend?” she asked. Suddenly it dawned on her. “No way!” she exclaimed, her eyes going wide with disbelief. “So that’s why he didn’t want to read them!”
“What was that, schweetheart?”
“Nothing. I’ve gotta go out,” she said and with that, ran to the front door.
“Jusht a minute, young lady; it’sh after midnight...”
Ignoring her aunt - who was truthfully too addled by drink to have an attention span of anything more than a goldfish - she opened the door and poked her head out looking down the street, but there was no sign of the mystery girl.
She looked back inside to see that Lynne had - as she thought, been distracted by the drinks and the guests. She quietly went across the room and upstairs to her bedroom, where she picked up a quilted jacket, stashed it under her cloak and made her way back downstairs.
Her aunt was helping Steve’s mum in with two large bags when she reached the bottom of the stairs and, waiting the few seconds for them to get to the kitchen, went to the door and closed it quietly behind her as she left.
Making her way down the street, the cold air and quiet of the night began to make her wonder if the girl could possibly have been Steve and if so, how?
She stopped suddenly.
It was after midnight and she - a fifteen year-old - was out on her own, chasing after someone she didn’t know with the wild idea that by some means he’d been turned into a girl; how ridiculous was that?
There was something about the girl she’d bumped into at the top of the stairs though - something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on, but rang bells of recognition in her head.
“What the hell,” she muttered and carried on down the road towards town.
* * *
Steve entered an area of town where the lights were brighter and the smell of cooked food accosted her nostrils. There were burger bars, fried chicken outlets and restaurants in amongst the colourfully lit shop-fronts, but better was the amount of people who were about, even though they were into the wee small hours.
She slowed, hoping that those around her would stop her feeling so exposed, but it wasn’t to be. The feeling that eyes were boring into the back of her head did not diminish and despite the fact that her feet and thighs ached, her chest burned and more to the point, she had no idea where she needed to go, she pressed on.
Shortly afterwards, she arrived at the town square - a pedestrian-only precinct - which at one time had been the main street. Its cobbled roadway though, no longer played host to cars - aside from early morning deliveries - just the passing of hundreds of thousands of feet, eager to spend money in the many shops and cafés that lined both sides.
Large, cast stone circular beds planted with shrubs and small ornamental trees, had been placed at regular intervals, surrounded by ornate seats cast in the same material, giving the street a somewhat continental atmosphere. She stopped at the first one she came to and was about to sit and rest her feet, when her own reflection in a shop window caught her attention.
She moved closer, the image in the window becoming larger and clearer with each step. She looked quizzically, touching her face with her fingertips, drawing them over the smooth pale skin, along the jaw and down the sides of her neck.
Her hands trembled as she looked at the girl in the window looking back at her. Cocking her head to one side and turning slightly to capture her image from different angles, she smiled and smoothed down her dress, watching as the material accentuated the curves of her lithe young body as it tightened; her breasts jutting firmly from her chest, her curvaceous torso tapering down to her waist and then flairing across her hips.
She checked her hair as it flowed over her shoulders and down her back and as she did, she saw someone - a man perhaps - in the reflection, who appeared to be looking over her shoulder. She turned quickly to see that there was no-one there. Perhaps it was her imagination, but the feeling of being watched - stalked even - was as strong as ever.
Now that she was not exerting herself, she was cold and getting progressively colder as the temperature of her body dropped, yet she was still in a cold sweat. She may not have been running, but she was scared - very scared.
Sitting on one of the cast stone seats, she went over the events that had led her there. The feeling of being watched or followed had not gone away and seeing that person looking over her shoulder in the shop window had proved to her that she wasn’t going mad; that what was running around in her head had really happened.
“Are you alright?” someone close by asked.
Steve spun on the spot, turning towards the voice. It was Little Red Riding Hood. She nodded.
“You must be frozen… here.” Red took out a jacket from under her cloak, which she placed around Steve’s shoulders. “I’m Elizabeth, we...um, bumped into each other at the party. Is that better?”
Steve nodded again, feeling the warmth returning to the top half of her body. Obviously she had been colder than she thought.
“I think we’d better go back, don’t you?”
Steve shook her head vigorously.
“Why?” Elizabeth asked.
“I saw her there,” Steve replied nervously. “The witch.”
“That was just Lynne. She was the one who organised the party. I’m pretty certain she wouldn’t have done anything to you. She might breathe on you,” she said, wrinkling her nose and flapping her hand in front of it. “But I doubt it would kill you.”
“Not her… I saw a witch…” Steve tailed off and looked down at her feet, realising that whilst she may remember having seen one, she couldn’t remember what it meant. “It sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”
Elizabeth smiled, gently touching her hand. “Don’t worry about it,” she said equally gently, which made Steve feel a lot better.
“Well, now you know who I am, what’s your name?”
Steve didn’t know.
She didn’t know her own name.
The shock of not knowing where she was was one thing, but finding out she didn’t even know her own name took this to a whole other level. “I-I-I don’t know,” she sniffed, clearly scared of the fact.
“I can’t just call you ‘oy!’ or ‘hey you now can I? Is there a name perhaps that you would like to be called, just until we find out who you really are?”
Steve thought about it, but nothing immediately came to mind. “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
“You must have a name you wished you were called,” she said. “I know I do.”
“You? What’s wrong with Elizabeth?”
“Nothing I suppose. It’s better than some of those lame names people are calling their kids nowadays.”
“So what name did you want?”
“Promise you won’t laugh?” she said.
“Cross my heart.”
“Alexandra. I thought it had an air of mystery about it.”
Steve smiled. “That’s a nice name, but I think Elizabeth’s better.”
“Come on then. What about you?” she asked, excitement showing on her face. “Ooh, ooh, I know: Tabitha.”
“I am not a Tabitha - makes me sound like somebody out of Bewitched. ”
“But it’s such a nice name,” she said. “So come on, your turn.”
Steve wasn’t aware that they were taking turns, but she liked the game. It was fun and Elizabeth was a fun person to play it with.
“Chloe,” she said at last.
“With all the names you could have chosen, that’s the best you can come up with?” she asked, watching Steve closely.
“What’s wrong with Chloe?”
“Nothing - I suppose,” Elizabeth replied. “But I still think Tabitha’s better.”
“Yes, way,” she responded. “But if you want Chloe, then Chloe it is.” She looked into Steve’s eyes, taking her hands and holding them. “Hello, Chloe. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
There was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still. Chloe, who until then had no name that she could remember, suddenly felt as though a bell had rung in her head. It was a nice name and although the situation wasn’t exactly a Christening as such, she now felt like she belonged to the world.
The two girls sat on the cold stone bench looking at one another - a look that made Chloe’s heart race just a little faster. She didn’t know about how Elizabeth felt but the situation was fast becoming one of those where her natural instincts were starting to take over and her heart was telling her to kiss the girl.
Her head however, was telling her not to.
“I think I’d best take you home. At least it’s warm there. I don’t know about you, but I’m freezing my tits off here.”
Chloe felt a lot better. She was still scared about the fact that other than her new name - which sent tingles of excitement up and down her spine when she heard Elizabeth say it out loud - she knew nothing about herself. The memory of Bewitched was the first thing that had come from a time prior to that very evening. Other than that, she could remember nothing. Perhaps it would return.
There was also the sensation of being followed, watched, which could well have been Elizabeth following to catch up, but what of the man - if that’s what it was, who appeared over her shoulder in her reflection? Perhaps he was a figment of her overactive imagination and given the circumstances, that didn’t seem out of the question. Despite those two things and the fact that she didn’t know where she was going to go after they got back to Elizabeth’s house she couldn’t help but laugh.
She slipped on her sandals, put the jacket on properly then the two of them turned back the way they came. The feeling of being watched was still there, but she felt safe - safer than she had all evening.
* * *
Elizabeth wasn’t sure about Chloe. She was confused about her story - about the amnesia and about the fact that she was attracted to her - not that she was about to act upon it. However, for some reason, she felt close to this girl, but for all the wrong reasons. Already, she felt that it was more than just sensing that they were kindred spirits - it was kind of the same way she felt about Steve.
Everything had happened so quickly. Steve had come into her aunt’s house and all he’d had to do was walk across to the table where she and Lynne had put all the food and she felt it: an instant attraction.
The fact that he tried to stuff everything on the table into his mouth at once, only made him more endearing and made her laugh, but no sooner had they met, he was dragged off to play fortune teller downstairs while she was roped into greeting the guests and perhaps more embarrassingly, being cloakroom monitor.
That was it until later when he started doing the reading for her. She didn’t understand why he’d been so reticent to read for her, but had pressed him into it anyway - and what was that thing with the cards? He had shrugged it off, but she knew he’d put them on the stand on the other side of the room.
What if that had really happened? What if they really had just appeared in his hand?
A little way through the reading and suddenly he went all strange. She told Lynne about it and the next thing she knew, Steve had disappeared and Chloe had appeared. She knew it was Halloween, but this was strange even for that.
Now she faced something even more bizarre: whether Chloe was Steve or not, she was attracted to her - and not in just a friendly way either, far from it. When she greeted the new Chloe and stared into those beautiful brown eyes, it was all she could do not to glue her lips to hers. She had never believed in love at first sight.
“Love takes time,” her mother had told her. “You have to work on it.”
Yet she’d heard stories about people who meet and from that point on are together forever. What if this was one of those times?
She felt something with Steve that she’d never experienced before - a kind of need to be near him - with him and that transposed to Chloe. She just hoped that Steve and Chloe were the same person otherwise she was in big trouble. She was already having a hard enough time getting her head round the prospect of getting all smoochy with another girl. To find out that she would be vying for the attentions of both of them would be such a complete headache.
“Penny for your thoughts?” asked Chloe.
Elizabeth turned and looked at her companion. That honest face; those eyes - eyes she could happily drown in and that hair - swaying gently behind her as they walked. What was not to like - to love? “Nothing - really. It’s just been a really weird night.”
“I know what you mean,” Chloe replied with a smile.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...” she began. If it had been difficult for anyone, it had to be Chloe. First she was Steve with a life ahead of him, dreams, aspirations and a past and then suddenly, it was all gone. That wasn’t to say that Chloe didn’t have a future, but it was hard to tell at this point. She certainly didn’t appear to have a past.
“It’s alright, Elizabeth, honestly. I really haven’t had time to think about things. I’m here now and you’re making it really easy for me. You don’t even know me and yet you’ve put yourself out for me. I couldn’t have hoped for better.”
Elizabeth grabbed Chloe’s arm and stopped her, tears forming in her eyes and without any hesitation, threw her arms round her new friend, hugging her tightly. The closeness she felt at that time was the best she’d ever felt and right there, she felt that she wasn’t so alone.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
The two girls continued up the road arriving at Lynne’s house shortly afterwards.
The lights were still on and they stood at the gate at the bottom of the short path to the front door for a few moments.
“You don’t have to do this,” said Chloe, noticing the hesitation on Elizabeth’s face.
“If not here, then where?” she asked. “Look, you need somewhere to be until we can get all this sorted out and here’s as good a place as any. You’ll freeze to death out here or worse and I can’t bear the thought of that. No. You’ll stay here tonight and that’s that.”
They opened the gate and started up the path.
“Finally,” said a man’s voice.
They turned round. Before them was a man who looked quite old, with dark hair that fell to just above his shoulders. His face was lined and his deep-set eyes seemed to have a hard edge to them.
“I see you have chosen. Still trying to recapture that youth, I see.” His expression was one of amusement.
“Who are you?” asked Elizabeth.
“My apologies, ladies. My name is Edward. Edward Ellsworth.” He inclined his head with a thin smile that didn’t seem at all pleasant. “But then you knew that, didn’t you Elizabeth?” He was looking at Chloe when he said that.
“Er, she’s Elizabeth, Mr. Ellsworth,” she said, pointing at her friend.
“Don’t toy with me, witch. I can see through the disguise. Is she another unfortunate victim of your lust for revenge?”
“I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about, Mr Ellsworth.”
The man looked at Chloe and then at Elizabeth. “You really don’t, do you?” he asked.
“No and I think it’s time you left, before I call for help,” Elizabeth stated, leaving no room for debate.
The front door opened and three of the guests almost fell out laughing.
“Hey, It’s ‘lizh-beff. Hello, ‘lizh-beff. We’re going home now,” one of them said, or at least, tried. “Who are you?”
“Never mind,” said Edward, testily. “I will return, mark my words.”
“Who was that, ‘lizh-beff?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it, he’s gone now.”