by Monique Holton
vodka hot toddy
In the rayless dark of night three sets of feet clumsily tread on the fallen drying leaves and crunchy decaying bark of the small nature reserve on the outskirts of the city. Whilst the dog-eared book, tucked safely under Tisha’s arm, had suggested a forest, the teenage trio were limited to the popular bird and wildlife sanctuary located on the city fringe, largely due to the lack of open green space in the busy capital city in which they lived. Fortunately, in the inky black of night, illuminated only by the new full moon, the nature reserve easily masqueraded as a forest, and the screech of the rescued birds kept in their secure mesh wire cages perfectly imitated a forests heavy atmosphere.
Stacey stumbled on the fallen branch of a gum tree and the vodka bottle she was nursing loudly tumbled out of her hands. In the distance, a caged Tawny Frogmouth squawks a low boom in disapproval.
“Shit!” she exclaimed, quickly levelling the bottle so the precious clear liquid could not escape. She giggled with all the evidence of an easily drunken teen, “my bad!”.
“Jesus, Stace, can you at least try and be discreet. I’m pretty sure the bird park is monitored by a ranger?” Cadence statement was more of a question than a certainty, highlighting her role in the group as the insecure and passive one.
“Relax Cady, you’re so friggin’ uptight. And besides, if there is a ranger, we can just put a curse on him too.” Stacey flips her long charcoal hair with her one free hand, her envied mane somehow managing to glisten in the dark of night. She offers Tisha the bottle. Tisha rolls her eyes at Stacey and takes a swig.
“They’re not called curses Stacey. The book calls them incantations. They are merely charms or simple spells. Charms, ok? Not curses.” Her repetition is directed at Stacey, trying once again to educate her flighty friend.
“Ugh, you make everything so boring Tisha, I feel like we are in school, can we just get started before I need to pee. This spot looks good enough to me.” Stacey settles cross legged on the dry grassed floor, her long tanned limbs intertwine, the pose reminiscent of one of her widely popular Instagram posts. Even in her messy drunken state Stacey still looks every bit the polished high school queen bee.
The other two girls join her in sitting cross legged, facing each other to form a haphazard triangle. The three friends had been close since primary school; however the cliquishness and politics of their upper years of schooling had highlighted their differences, creating small voids in their friendship they had all been trying to ignore. Tisha hands Stacey the book while she retrieves some crystals from her jacket pocket, ever the organised and reliable of the three.
“Ok, so we need to cleanse our crystals first, get rid of their old energy, and then we can each take turns reading our incantations.” The friend’s recent interest in witchcraft had been spurred on by a 90’s movie night when they streamed the cult classic “The Craft”. Perhaps in a bid to nurture a common connection, mixed with the normal amount of teen boredom, they mirrored the films plotline by filling the gaps between school, boyfriends and exam prep with crystal shopping and weak attempts at spell casting.
“Oh, hang on, can we try this instead?” Stacey points at a page at the back of the book. “It’s called shapeshifting.” The slur in her “s’s” indicated she was nearing the bottom of the vodka bottle and so Cadence takes this as her cue to retrieve it from her hands. Ignoring Cadence act of mothering, Stacey reads; “Shapeshifting is the ability to physically transform oneself. It is generally a change from human form to animal form or a change in appearance from one person to another. Oh, yes, let’s do this, I want to be a hot girl Eagle!” She topples on her side in drunken laughter.
“Seriously Stacey, like we have the skill set to do that. There’s the need for a north breeze, a particular focus of mood, like determination and wrath or something, anyway, let’s just all chant for straight As on our final exams, like we planned, and get out of here”. The wind had picked up and the mix of the chilly night breeze and her growing irritation with Stacey was causing her to shiver.
Stacey straightens up, fed up with being talked down to. “I know Tisha. You can morph into me, that’s what you really want isn’t it, to be me?” Stacey spits her insult with a snooty indignant tone, her own growing irritation at Tisha’s self-righteousness encouraging the show of defiance. “At least if you were me maybe you would stop playing teacher and have a little fun for once in your life.”
“Stacey!” Cadence says scoldingly, and then much quieter, her voice retreating as if to second guess her confidence says, “that’s not very nice.”
“What’s that Cadence? You have an opinion on something? That’s not like you to have an actual strong thought in your weak little brain.” Stacey was now fully committed to her honesty rampage; she was feeling a strange sense of self encouragement spurred on by the changing weather and the pull of the full moon.
“I know. You can shapeshift into Tisha, and then you might come out of your shitty little shell. At least Tisha doesn’t act like, like a, I don’t know, like a delicate little starling.” Her bird reference was a last resort, her insult getting lost in her drunken haze and the growing screeching of nearby birds prompting the reference.
A gush of strong north wind pulses against Cadence’s skin; her hair stands on end and she practically yells her response. “See, that’s your problem Stacey, you think you’re an Eagle but your nothing but a common Magpie. A loud, carbon-copied, suburban pest!"
Tisha gasps, shocked by the rage in Cadence voice, her newfound assertiveness completely out of the norm. “Ok, girls, that’s enough. Let’s just stop, something doesn’t feel right, something feels off," she says. Overhead an unexpected laugh is heard, the raucous growing chuckle of a Kookaburra echoes throughout the wildlife park. The laughter is purposeful and increases in intensity, the bird looks down onto the triangle of teens below. Tisha looks up and greets the bird’s reflective eyes; locked in a stare, transfixed by its glare and demanding laughter, she is hypnotised.
In the distance, in a darkened corner of the reserve, a wildlife ranger opens wide a bird cage door. He pushes his hand in to startle the occupants and scoops three birds towards the opening.
“Go, get out," he says. “Off you go. No room for you now”. He gently coaxes three birds to freedom, the hurried flutter of their wings forcing a gush of wind upon his face.
“That’s the way.” He encourages. them. “Time to go. We have to make room for three new friends tonight”.
About the author
Monique Holton is a contributor to Stereo Stories and Poets Corner at
In Review. She was a recent category winner of the Spineless Wonders “100
Words of Butterfly” Writing Competition and is currently working on her
first young adult novel. Follow at moniqueholton.com