A Recipe for Success

The Challenge:

Create a written piece using one or more of these prompts.

Tail of two Gypsies | Inquiring minds want to know | Something based on a superstition that proved the superstition right!

Here’s my attempt…


narrow building

The bookstore went almost unnoticed as Kali shuffled by.  I say shuffled, because Kali was deep in a funk, a treacherous, black funk, the morose sort that consumes your every thought, dragging you down into a dark whirlpool of despair.  It was just this sort of funk that had Kali shuffling down that particular street on that particular day.  Her boyfriend of nearly three months, a personal record for her, had not called her for two straight days.  And what’s more, when she called him, his line was busy!  This was not good and could mean only one thing—he was growing cold.  She’d seen it before and it always hurt, but never like this.  This time she was truly in love!  She had to do something about it; only, she had no idea what.  That’s why she was in such a funk and nearly passed the old shop.

It resided in an ancient, dilapidated building that leaned precariously against its neighbor for support.  In the store window squatted an extremely fat, black cat atop a humongous pile of books.  Above the door, attached at just one corner by a chain, a wrought-iron sign dangled dangerously, swinging in the breeze.  On it perched a stuffed owl, barred, if I’m not mistaken, holding a book in one talon and gripping its iron perch with the other.  Above the owl, in faintly gilded gold letters, were the words, “Ye Olde Book Shoppe” and beneath it, in smaller letters, “Inquiring Minds Want to Know”  And if that weren’t enough to get the attention of any even moderately curious girl, the front door swung open all by itself.

Kali entered.  Inside her eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light.  Everywhere there were books, books in great, huge stacks, books laying all jumbled across the tables,  piled in heaps under the tables and even in the aisles.  It was unlike any bookstore Kali had ever seen.  In the center of it all, behind a dark mahogany counter, surrounded by mountains of books, stood an old woman, her spectacles thrust down to the very tip of her nose.  Silver hair framed her face like a halo Kali had seen in Renaissance paintings.  Skin the color of ivory stretched tautly over her tiny frame, with not a wrinkle or blemish to be seen.  Kali knew in an instance that she was old beyond belief: her eyes gave her away.  Piercing and intelligent and warm all at once, they spoke of more than any one lifetime could possibly behold.  And even though they were what caught and held her attention, Kali could never recall afterwards what color they were.

Kali realized that she had been standing for some time simply staring at the woman.  She blushed and stammered, “What a lovely store you have.”

“Nonsense!  Balderdash!  Say what you mean, not what you mean to say.”  The woman retorted in a surprisingly sharp voice.

“But I did, it is a lovely store.”  Kali said defensively.

“Interesting? Yes!  Quaint? Maybe.  A mess?  Most definitely!  Lovely?  I don’t think so!”  The woman pushed her glasses up and looked as if to study Kali more closely.  “What is your name, girl?”

“K-k-kali,” she answered, a bit put off by the woman’s abrasiveness.  With a little defiance, she added, “And yours?”

“And what are you seeking?” the woman asked, ignoring Kali’s cheek.

“Seeking?”  Kali repeated a bit perplexed.  “Nothing!”

The woman chortled.  “Everyone is seeking something.”

“Not me.”



The woman paused a bit, searching Kali’s face.  Then she said, “No boy problems?”

Kali’s amazement showed.  “How did you know?”

“Close your eyes and turn around three times.”

Too confused to resist, Kali did as she was told.

“Now, with your eyes still closed, move forward and pick up a book.”

“Which book?”

“Any book you want, but you must keep your eyes closed!”

Kali moved forward gingerly, her hands in front of her, groping air.  She came upon a pile of books and felt her way along them, fingers exploring first one book (too heavy), and then another (too big) and another, each one inspected, weighed, judged and rejected, all with her eyes clamped shut.  At last, she gripped a little cloth-covered book with raised stitches along the binding.  Her skin tingled at the touch of it and warmth spread through her as she held it.

“This one,” she said tentatively, half question, half statement.

“Keep you eyes closed,” the woman barked.

“How much does it cost?” Kali asked.

“Everything and nothing!”  The woman was suddenly at her side.  She took the book from Kali’s hand and then returned it to her wrapped in crisp paper.  “When I tell you to, you can open your eyes again, but don’t look at the book until you are again in your own room.”

“Now,” she whispered.

Kali opened her eyes and nearly fell over.  She stood upon the very street she had shuffled down before entering the store.  The woman was nowhere in sight and neither was the store.  In its place an empty lot squatted between hulking buildings.  Kali blinked several times as if to clear her vision.  She felt numb, dreamlike.  It wasn’t real, she thought, until she looked in her hand.  It was the package of brown paper tied with cord.

“Oh, my!” she said aloud, “It really did happen!”  She fumbled with the string, trying to work it over the corner of the book.  Then she remembered what the woman had said.  Slipping the package into her purse, she hurried to get to her room and see what she had bought.

About half way there, she realized that she hadn’t paid for it.  This pulled her up short.  That couldn’t be right.  That would be stealing!  But what did she say, “Everything and nothing?”  What was that supposed to mean?  Was it a riddle?  She hated riddles!  Nothing means it’s free and everything means it isn’t.  So which is it?  How could it be both?  It made her head hurt.  Shrugging it off, she continued on her way, perhaps just a little less excited as she had been.

Once in her room, she cut the string with a pair of scissors and ripped the paper off.  The cloth cover was orange.  Her favorite color!  The title, hand-lettered in purple ink, was “Recipes for Success” and beneath it, in smaller bright green letters, “A Collection of Curses and Spells by Gilda Hogsbreath”.

Kali’s hand trembled as she turned the cover.  On the facing page, a poem was inscribed.  It said:

On these pages

words of power

Comfort in your darkest hour

Be not hasty in their use

For they will not

abide abuse

This one thing is sure

If your heart is not pure

What you speak will transpire

But not as you desire

Heed this warning

Or else!”

Kali frowned.  Or else?  Or else what?  She turned the page and the backside was blank.  “Well, that’s a silly poem, isn’t it?” she thought.  “And not a very good rhyme, either!”

She began flipping through the book, perusing the titles at the top of the pages, things like “Find Something Lost”, “Put an End to Gossip”, and “Put Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder.”  Every recipe listed ingredients under the title and beneath that, instructions.  One called “You Call the Shots” sounded promising.  Its ingredients included, “a pinch of dry mustard, two drops of hot pepper sauce (the green ones), a sprig of clover, hair of a one-eyed cat (Calico) and three toe nails from a large dog, among other things and the instructions called for a quarter moon on a Tuesday between midnight and 2 a.m.  Very strange!  She continued to flip the pages until at last she stopped on a page in the center of the book.  At the top it said, “Make Him Stay.”

“Hmm…” she thought aloud, “This sounds interesting.”

The page contained a short list of necessaries: the tail of two Gypsy moths, ½ cup of white vinegar transfused with two crushed garlic cloves, an article of clothing from the intended target (preferably something intimate) and a dash of cayenne pepper.  She could do all of this, except the intimate article of clothing.  She had none of his clothes.  That would be difficult, especially if he wasn’t seeing her.  The directions were even worse:  grind the moth tails into a fine dust (very easy) and add a dash of the pepper.  Sprinkle entire content over the article of clothing.  Pour the garlic vinegar over all and roll up tightly.  Do this on date with significance to both you and your target.  Hide it in a dark place for exactly 240 hours, remove and wear.  Your beloved will follow you like a faithful pup.  Drawn to you like a moth to the candle flame.


I know this is not complete, but it is what I produced in response to the above prompt (plus a few edits).  I love this character.  Kali and the disappearing book shoppe have found a place in my heart and I want to do something with this some day.  Until then, I share it with you.




Author: Michael L Huff

I am a former educator and pastor, now living in retirement as a homesteader, farmer, bee herder, Realtor® and writer.

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