by Peter Schranz
witch Puce came to the villages of Lum and Ces
with three mirrors: one reflecting gazers as they
appeared the moment they were born, one reflecting them
as they appear the moment they look into the glass (this
one wasn't the least bit enchanted), and one as they
would appear at the moment of death.
The king of Lum and Ces was a rabbit named
Mohassem Wuck, and he lived in the palace called Sack
And Sugar between the two villages. His queen was
named Alemmalie, after a color only rabbits can see.
witch Puce seemed to be a human with long coarse hair,
all white but for a black strand sprouting straight from
her scalp that could not be cut or wrenched out even by
the most powerful strongman in the most bewildering
sideshow. She carried the mirrors on her crooked back to
Lum. Candles lit the village and rabbits came out
to look at her.
"Behold," she said to the little colony that greeted
her. She raised the first, a full length mirror
padlocked to a drawing easel. This mirror was called
Aius Gaius after the emperor of the land of Aius, a
two-year-old boy who neither had nor needed a regent.
Puce raised the second, a mundane hand mirror with a
long handle and a spike at the bottom that she pushed
into the alemmalie grass. This mirror she called Oe,
often misspelled 'Away.' Oe was the name of the daughter
of Lillet, sister of Dode, Lady of the Blank House, who
filled her empty wing with precious, uncharmed mirrors.
The witch raised the third, surrounded by a wide and
wrinkled frame, a triangular glass joined to a stool, so
that gazers needed to gaze down at themselves at the
last moments of their lives on this world. A rabbit
would have to stand upon the mirror or knock the stool
over. This mirror was named Underfact, after itself
"How many peas would you give me to see such things as
you see?" The witch Puce asked, tugging at her black
"We would give you a hundred peas," said the rabbit
"We would give you a thousand peas," said the twelve
"We would give you the great sultan's chessboard of peas
if only you would let us gaze as we wish into these
things," Fraium's husband Uwn said.
Other rabbits gazed at themselves in Aius Gaius as cute
little blind pink dots, and in Oe as furry and curious
adults, and in Underfact as wizened and dignified
senescents. No foxes lived around Lum or Ces,
none at all.
"I wish only for thirteen peas, with which I can finally
produce witch-puce. My name is Puce and I am a witch,
and if you give this prize to me in exchange for my
glasses, I will be the first ever to make a dram of
witch-puce, of my own invention and name."
"Tell us about witch-puce, darling ape-lady," said
Fraium as her husband raced to their pea-garden.
"There is a trichomancer in the land of the Laughing
Wind who cursed a single hair on my head," and here Puce
picked up her long black hair, which dragged behind her.
"Witch-puce, when poured onto the hair, separates the
cursed hairs from the blessed. We all have cursed hairs,
but this one I clench here in my hand is by far the
worst. If you give me these peas, I will make enough
witch-puce for myself and for every rabbit in Lum
"My husband will return presently with your peas," said
Fraium. Her fur was mostly blessed, but one or two on
her right ear left something to be desired. "My lord and
lady Mohassem and Alemmalie Wuck will be happy to know
of your presence here."
Fraium, Uwn, Puce and the peas left Lum for
Sack And Sugar, meeting the guards at its soft, pink
gates. "Business?" they said together.
"I wish to speak of witch-puce to your king and queen,"
said the witch, and nothing more was required.
Sack And Sugar was pink at the bottom and each
story was just that much redder. Rabbits do not
distinguish between pink and red. Pink they call
ileary, and red, dark ileary.
halls were adorned with endless portraits of the
multiplicative Wuck dynasty at play and at work. The
throne upon which the two rabbits lunched was spun from
only such vegetables as make the finer thrones: wicker
and reed and carrot greens, cured by those secret lapine
"I see no reason to allow the witch Puce to suffer from
her curse," said Mohassem Wuck. "No reason at all."
shall take your frightening mirrors, madam," said
Alemmalie, "And you shall have our peas. Would you like
our laboratory to produce your puce?"
people are too kind to a poor old nothing," said the
Witch-puce is not all too difficult to make: other than
the thirteen peas, one needs only bark from a hanging
tree, just enough pearl dust to fit inside a lock, and a
rabbit's tooth. Most of these things Puce had already,
and procuring the rabbit's tooth was not exactly a hump.
The laboratory at Sack and Sugar was pink-walled
and triangular and deep within the mansion, this so that
no windows would be grubbed up by smoke or other,
stranger vapors that might like to get all over the
long will it be, exactly?" Uwn Hydrack asked Puce. He
rubbed his nose with his little paw.
hour a pea," said Puce. "You know I think the king and
queen might like, one day, to have a soak in the
witch-puce. You too might stand to do well from a dip."
the alembic she dropped the peas and the tooth. She hung
the hanging tree bark over the alembic and they watched
the pea-and-tooth gasses waft around.
and Uwn sang little songs to each other in whatever
language it was that the rabbits of Lum liked to
speak, and in thirteen hours the witch-puce had been
formed and poured steaming into a quartz flask. The
rabbits had assumed in darling naïveté that the liquor
would be puce-colored, but the witch had simply named it
after herself and nothing more. It was sort of a foul
gray color if anything, especially after the soggy bark
had dropped into the depths of its soup.
"Disgusting," said Fraium.
off," said Puce, raising the potion to her head. "I
shall give it a whirl." A drop fell from the flask and
touched her scalp, whereupon the long cursed black hair
fell from her head. Puce smiled and held the flask to
her breast with one hand, surveying her head with the
other hand. The curse left her head, certainly, but it
did not leave the hair, which, before any but the
meagerest celebration occurred, took root in the
laboratory floor. It swung around and whipped at the
pink walls and grew thicker. It whipped the walls so
hard that the wool with which Sack and Sugar was
insulated pushed forth from the tears. Puce, Fraium, and
Uwn escaped the laboratory and heaved closed the door.
Puce would have had to duck had the dropping off of the
trichomancer's hair not returned the witch to her
birth-form, that of a lithe black rabbit.
hair seemed to quiet into a stupor once nothing to kill
remained in the laboratory. They made quick audience
with the Wucks.
you say you've finished the witch-puce?" Mohassem asked.
yes," said the witch, troubled by the king's
indifference. "But it is still inside of the
"Good God!" he said, "We must go at once!"
trichomancer's curse will whip anyone who enters," said
Fraium. "Puce lives now only because she'd grown short
enough to evade the whippings of the curse."
yes," said Mohassem. "I thought you looked different,
you know of any charms or baubles that could tamp down
this hair?" Alemmalie asked.
let's shamp this cowlick, 'Lem," her husband cheered
know of one," said the witch. "Will the King and Queen
be so handsome as to allow the use of my witch-puce upon
their coats? Truly and without offense, at least a
single hair upon your bodies must be cursed, as you have
a great many."
their hairs take root and whip as well?" Fraium wiggled
her nose at Puce.
be silly. The trichomancer only cursed one rabbit hair
that I'm aware of," the witch answered. "Right? King and
Queen, have you ever met a trichomancer? No? No. Good."
purpose is grand," said King Mohassem. "Apply it however
produced the quartz flask of the potion and hopped to
the vegetable throne. Out she poured the liquor onto the
king and queen, who shared it. Puce mumbled these magic
words as the potion poured forth: "Umbullah billah,
balillah billah bullah," which Puce knew meant The
father and his son are bad, but the father's worse.
What that meant she felt--rather
presciently--that she'd be better off not knowing.
the bodies of the Wucks dropped seventeen silver hairs
that wiggled away like worms.
on earth will happen to them?" asked Alemmalie as she
squirmed from the hairs.
you heard the grammatical hex that the negation of a
negative statement possesses the same meaning as the
affirmation of an affirmative statement?" Puce asked.
She did not hold out great sacks of hope that they
would, but she was polite in all the forms she took.
"Indeed, I have," said Mohassem.
have I been denied such knowledge," said Alemmalie. Puce
thought privately that they both were being rather too
wry for rabbits whose palace was cursed.
same hex applies in mathematics and maledictology," she
said. "Come watch, if you wish."
and Uwn were far too frightened themselves to see, and
so they returned to Lum, where their children
entered this report at a certain juncture that patience
will reveal. The seventeen hairs of the Wucks had not
gone far, being sightless entities, and so Puce
collected them in an ampoule and made for the
Trichomancer's Whip, as it came to be called by those
future rabbits in whose conversations it came up, sensed
the presence of Puce, Mohassem, and Alemmalie and began
to flog the laboratory walls. Puce cracked the door and
nosed the ampoule into the laboratory, where the hair
smashed its thin glass and released the seventeen other
cursed hairs. They clung to it and burned into it. Soon
the great black hair's whipping ceased and a thin,
smoking carcass remained in the laboratory.
would we do without you grammarians, mathematicians and
maledictologists?" Alemmalie said, shaking her little
perhaps might be defenseless against the trichomancer.
The people of Lum and Ces have been
terrifically helpful, but my quest has only begun: for
who, in the body of a bony old ape with a long and
horrendous hair, could free reality from such a foe?"
"Puce," said Mohassem Wuck, "This night we have a dance
to attend, and the rabbits do many dances: the Cup of
the King, for example."
the Hasty Guess," added the queen.
to forget the Hop. That is to say, we understand your
need to send away the trichomancer, but no rabbit can go
for long without frolic and live. Remember you this,
the fastness of the trichomancer is guarded by a
thousand woolly lions."
you believe that this knowledge will encourage us
to assist you?" said Mohassem. "I cannot speak for my
wife, but the very sentence that you last uttered makes
me want to leap into a bush."
cannot speak for my husband, but what can a small
kingdom of rabbits do to a thousand woolly lions?"
cursed hair suffered a death-twitch and the three of
them, wary at the thoughts Puce had filled them with,
made back to the room of the vegetable throne, on which
Mohassem and Alemmalie sat.
the rabbits of Lum and Ces thank you for
your mirrors and for your loosing of our cursed hairs,"
Mohassem decreed, "And we find that the services you
have rendered are all we require at this time."
flop-eared rabbits with nails on their helmets escorted
Puce to the soft, pink gates of Sack and Sugar.
witch Puce, now with neither mirror nor curse, looked
far across the grass in the direction of that laughing
wind, where she had been only once. She wandered to
Lum, where twelve familiar kit rabbits were daring
each other to look into Underfact, hopping up on the
stool, squeaking, hopping down again, and laughing in
the way kit rabbits laugh at death.
witch Puce," one of them called. "How came you by this
sneaked it from the hoard of the trichomancer in the
land of the Laughing Wind. Your king and queen wish
rather to unbosom their sorrow about his one thousand
woolly lions by dancing the Hasty Guess tonight. Are you
of that sort?"
trichomancer you speak of is both a castcurse and a
havehoard: if you mean to send him on his way, you'll
find no better twelve than the Hydrack siblings."
remembered all of their names, but there is no use
recording them here. They said goodbye to Fraium and Uwn,
who could not stop them from going, but felt that Puce
had not exactly overstayed her welcome as much as
underkept her distance.
Between the villages of Lum and Ces and
the land of the Laughing Wind rough dirt and thoughtless
gravel engaged the feet. The witch Puce, with the hair
of her curse trailing behind her, had approached Lum
and Ces from this direction, but in the body of a
human ape her clamberings had been as dexterous as they
cannot, all alone, make for the fastness of the
trichomancer," said one of the Hydracks. "Sand encrusts
and hop and find no foothold worth memorizing," said
we trusted you," said a third.
silent," she commanded, and the sound of her voice was
like the script in a grimoire. "You act as though I, the
witch Puce, am just as doomed as the twelve of you.
Perhaps I am bedeviled, but things can be done, and they
can be done by me."
thousand wooly lions bar our way, and all we speak of
are the puffs on our feet," a Hydrack complained. "We'll
be torn to shreds. No, we'll be torn to piles of
out thirteen of your hairs," Puce shouted. "For I have a
plaid potion in my satchel requiring them."
Hydracks plucked from their ears and their haunches
thirteen pointy white hairs. "What in the world is a
plaid potion?" one of them asked, though they all wanted
"Nothing, really," said Puce, taking from her satchel a
phial so tiny that surface tension hugged the liquid
inside to its walls. "A drop of water steeped in pearl
dust. To drink it causes nothing but a stomach ache, but
with thirteen hairs inside," she dipped one at a time
into the phial until all thirteen bloomed out like
fletching, "why, perhaps it is still best not to drink
it, but," she continued, tapping the stubborn liquor
from the phial, "It paves a fine road."
potion finally fell to the rocky ground and before them
as far as their low little eyes could see, a narrow
length of the gravel rose and sunk and churned as though
the gnomes below were jumping and hitting their heads.
Soon the sharp chunks of gravel, somehow being taught by
the drop in the phial to understand certain spatial
facts, had synchronized themselves into a reasonably
smooth, cobbly road along which the thirteen rabbits
hopped amiably. Though on each side of the road rough
foot-souring pointinesses threatened them, the road was
soft and friendly.
long they felt a halting wind blow by their faces and
whistle along the red dirt.
before us lies the land of the Laughing Wind and the
hoard of the Trichomancer," said Puce.
the horizon grew a long, bitter gate of countless pointy
black posts. The rabbits retreated a few steps and the
Hydracks called fearfully to each other for comfort as
the gate swept past them, asking the witch what she had
brought them all while the wind chuckled around them.
one thousand wooly lions of the trichomancer cannot be
kept in a narrow cage," she said, "and so the cage
cannot have a narrow gate." The gate was swinging away
now, back over the horizon.
have never seen a gate without hinges," said one of
Puce's fearful companions.
will see its hinges soon enough, when we approach the
would the trichomancer not opt for a gate that rises
rather than opens like a door?" asked another Hydrack.
"For this one seems impossibly too wide."
said be silent," Puce answered.
danced fearfully down the ensorcelled road to the
Trichomancer's eternity-long fastness whose name was
Vinegar Tom, at whose foundation stood the cage of
the thousand wooly lions, the cage whose gate had just
wooly lions did what any reasonable member of their race
would do at the vision of thirteen uneaten rabbits and
charged. All one thousand advanced at once from the cage
below the floorboards of Vinegar Tom, and the
rabbits knew this because it takes very little time and
effort to count with total accuracy the number of wooly
lions who approach you with their uvulas showing. The
lions barreled over the gravel as easily as over the
road, all kicking dust up at once and fully obscuring
the fastness of the trichomancer.
most of us it is very difficult to imagine how thirteen
rabbits could all escape the uvulas of one thousand
wooly lions, and to be perfectly fair, of the thirteen
times in recorded history that those exact circumstances
occurred, it was only this present report that did not
end in utter rabbit death, which fact is precisely why
this report is worth reporting while the other twelve
witch Puce, when the closest of the lions reached
tossing-distance, aimed a phial of witch-puce true at
its fur-clotted forehead, over which in no time it
cannot possibly come as much surprise that every strand
of the trichomancer's wooly lion's hair was cursed, and
as Puce's liquid shears dropped, and as the magic words
raced from her mouth, all the animal's wool fell into a
writhing, evil pile. It stopped in its naked tracks and
turned back at the other lions, who themselves grew
rather distracted by the little pink cat.
what has the witch made our vanguard?" asked the
has thrown the wool from my eyes," answered the
hairless, winking lion of the dripping forehead. He
nodded vigorously and threw just the tiniest witch-puce
mists onto other lions, whose wool dropped away from
them like burning flesh from an unpersuasive heretic.
They, cognizing for the first time with their own minds
and not the trichomancer's, saw the wisdom in throwing
their share of the witch-puce farther out into the
gargantuan hurricane of lions of which Puce and the
Hydracks had become the eye.
this way the mere drop of witch-puce ended up on all the
wooly lions--for after all far more than one thousand
molecules compose a drop of that substance--until the
rabbits had surrounded themselves with one thousand
dying piles of wool and as many new, naked, embryoid
lions. They, despite their carnivorism, had no interest
in the meat of the rabbits as much as that of the
trichomancer, who for so long had deceived their bodies
imagine our goals have blent," Puce declared to the
lions who could hear her.
witch says she imagines our goals have blent," said the
lions who could hear Puce to those who could not.
dust from their charge finally settled, and at the
highest window of the highest and thinnest and most
capillaceous of Vinegar Tom's numberless towers,
the shadow of the trichomancer moved in menace and
disquiet. Puce knew to whom the shadow belonged, for it
had once been cast over her.
Hydracks, for all the courage they promised Puce, could
watch only in a very specific, dumb daze as the
converted lions turned on their tails to find the food
of which the trichomancer was composed. The daze was the
only of its kind in history, considering the very much
less two-sided conclusions to the twelve other episodes
during which one thousand wooly lions advanced hungrily
upon thirteen rabbits.
lions sunk their claws into the soft walls of Vinegar
Tom, climbed its battlements, leaped over its
crenellations, tore themselves apart scaling the highest
bulwarks and towers of the fastness to please themselves
on the trichomancer. Behind Puce and the Hydracks, who
watched in either daze or unassailable serenity, paraded
many rabbits of Lum and Ces. Mohassem and
Alemmalie marched at the vanguard, he carrying the
mirror Oe of Lady Dode of the Blank House, she carrying
on its side the mirror Underfact, of itself. Aius Gaius
had shattered on the way, regrettably.
the rabbits cheered madly as they gazed backwards, away
from Vinegar Tom and into the mirrors Oe and
Underfact. Had they known of the curse whose magic words
the cornered, panicking trichomancer had already begun
to mumble, and had they not been rabbits--who remember
why they laughed as kits at death--they might have found
retreat wiser than cheer.
revealed to them all what they looked like at the moment
of their gazing into it and it revealed to them what the
trichomancer looked like up in his tower (for Oe was not
the least bit enchanted). As a horde of the lions
managed finally to claw their way into that highest
window of that highest tower, the rabbits gazed into
Underfact, which revealed to them what they would look
like at the moment of their deaths, and what the
trichomancer would look like at the moment of his. His
final curse erupted from Vinegar Tom, and a dome
of tentacular lightning-bolt hair whipped from the
throat of Vinegar Tom and swallowed every last
being who could see the fastness at all. For just a
moment the two mirrors cast identical reflections.