“She pointed at the wardrobe. She said a few words, not in English. And then died,” Anne said as the tears flowed.
The ambulance men removed the body on a stretcher.
“It’s sad, but she had a long life,” Mags answered.
“How old was she?”
“Nobody knows, she wasn’t even sure.”
“How can that be?”
“You said she spoke before she died? What did she say?”
“I’m not sure, it sounded like, ‘Inima,’ what does that mean?” Anne said.
“She was from Romania? Is that right?”
“I think so, but she never liked to talk about her youth. Even her more recent past.”
“Where is her passport?”
“Never seen one, she didn’t go anywhere.”
Mags was busy with her phone.
“Google tells me, ‘Inima’ in Romanian means ‘heart’. Why did she say that as her last word, I wonder?”
“She was pointing over there? Let’s look.”
They opened the wardrobe, shifted faded clothing, slid skirts and blouses sideways.
“What about up there?” asked Anne.
She pulled over a stool and climbed up, peering at the shelf.
“What a load of junk, wait a minute, how sweet.”
Anne pulled at a faded red heart.
“Look, how lovely. She must have had an admirer?”
“Yes, to keep it for all those years,” agreed Mags.
“Let’s have a look, what’s inside?”
The girls sat on the bed with the chocolate box between them.
“How odd, strands of hair, all different colours?”
“Why would you keep them? Maybe she had loads of boyfriends?” said Mags.
“Or girlfriends, it’s long hair?” suggested Anne.
“No girlfriends in those days, not in the open at least.” The girls giggled.
“What else is in here?” Mags put the hair onto the bed.
“What does ‘scholomance’ mean?”
“No idea, what are you looking at?” asked Mags.
“There is a piece of paper, it has that word and a list of names. Nine with ticks next to then…”
“Yeah, and what?”
“Let me see.”
“And what is all this?” Mags looked at both sides of the hand-written scrap.
“A load of gibberish. Is it Romanian?”
“My God what have we found?” asked Mags. “And how did she know my full name?”
“Maybe the care company told her?” said Anne.
“But why am I listed?”
“There are nine female names listed with ticks, and then you. No tick?”
“How many strands of hair are there?”
“Nine, you were number ten. What does that mean?”
“She wanted my hair?” asked Mags.
“Let’s find that fortune-teller who leaves stickers all over the place, I think she is Romanian?”
“Can we come to see you?”
“No.” A female answered.
“We have questions for you,” Anne said.
“Meet me at the petrol station’s coffee shop, in thirty minutes.”
Thirty minutes later the girls sat with coffee in front, looking out of the window, no sign of a gipsy. A few men filling their cars, a light flickered, a dog chasing a cat, nobody selling pegs.
Both girls felt a touch on their shoulders. “Where’s my coffee?”
Shocked, they looked into the eyes of a beautiful young woman.
“Where did you come from?” Anne asked.
“I have been here a while,” answered the lady.
If the girls expected a crystal ball, and Tarot cards they were disappointed. A modern, smartly dressed businesswoman, smiling as she joined them at the table.
“What can I do for you?” she asked. “Let me guess, you are going to ask what is written in a diary, or on a notepad?”
“Close, what does this mean?” The paper slid across the table.
“Where did you get that?”
She pushed back in her seat, appearing to jump backwards. Her skin whitened, she trembled, before sliding down, open-eyed shock.
Anne told her the details. Then asked, “What is scholomance?”
The gipsy calmed herself, “Let’s start again, I’m Marie. Pleased to meet you. Yes, I have a crystal ball, Tarot cards the lot. I’m a medium and can foresee the future. But, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming.”
“Go on, we have asked you a couple of questions.”
“The second was easy, scholomance is the Devil’s school of black magic. Only the best, or worst, practitioners passed beyond the test stage.”
“And the writing on the paper?”
“As you thought, it is written in Romanian, an old, old language.”
“What does it say?”
“It is a seldom-used spell. You chant those words, and cut a lock of hair from your victim.”
“Yeah, and then what?”
“The witch gets another six years, six months and six days of life.”
Anne and Mags studied each other face’s then Marie’s.
“What happens to the victim?” they asked in unison.
“Our old lady gained another, what? About nearly sixty years? Jesus, how old was she?”
“It appears that way,” said Marie. “She must have used the spell when young, possibly when she left Romania?”
“And you were to be tenth?” said Anne.
Coffee cups were drained, all three in deep thought. Each with different ideas knocking at their heads. Marie held her hand out for payment.
“Thank you ladies, best of luck to you both.” She was gone.
“It seems I had a lucky escape,” said Mags.
“But why, how did she pick you?” Anne asked.
“I’ve no idea. She knew you for as long as me, why me?”
“Yes, we both started caring for her at the same time.”
“Were all the hairs different colours?”
“Yes, but no ginger, like yours. That must be it?”
“Where are the hairs and the spell?”
“Oh, no, they’ve gone. How have I lost them?” said Anne.
“Did you bring it all here, I only saw the paper?”
“They must be in the room? Yes, yes, I thought for a moment I had the hair in my pocket. Did we pack it all back in the chocolate box? We don’t want anyone else getting hold of it.”
“What can anyone do?”
“We had better go back,” said Anne.
The old woman’s room had been cleaned, the bed looking fresh and tidy.
They rushed to the wardrobe. Empty, cleared out.
“Who cleaned out the old lady's room?” Mags asked the landlady.
“I got lucky, a new tenant moves in tomorrow.”
“Good for you. Where is all her stuff?”
“That’s where I got really lucky, she helped me dispose of it all.”
“Yes, a well-dressed girl.”
“Oh, well, nothing more we can do. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, have a good evening.”
They made their separate ways home.
At midnight, Mags was awoken by the sound of scissors opening and shutting. Clip, clip, clip.