If you're here, it means you read my request and decided to help out. Thanks. I'm sorry I don't have anything better to offer you , but let's face it, I'm not Terry Pratchett. I'm not even Vivian Vande Velde. At least she has some style. Anyway, this is just the rough draft, although I can't promise it'll get much better. The rough draft is due Wednesday, so I'd like some critique by then. However, I'm not sure when the final project is due, so any criticism after that would be well appreciated.

I may write and post more stories about Trouble and his shoppe, the other various places in Goldcrest, maybe even other parts of Winsora. All the characters in this story are human, so I guess the other little ethnic groups running around the country could use some representation. Well, the witch isn't technically human, but she's a huge stereotype. Of course, for that I'll need ideas, and to to do some actual writing, and that means work.

This is based on the story of a small village whose young girls have this annoying habit of winding up missing, presumed dead. This young couple that likes to go for walks in the woods stumbles on a small house and is attacked by an owl. A witch comes out of the house and turns the girl into a bird, which the owl captures and brings to her. The boy, being a complete wuss, runs for his life. When he runs out of strength, he stops running and takes a rest. While he sleeps, he has a dream about a blue flower with the power to repel all evil. So he goes looking for the flower, finds it, and goes back to the house. When the owl attacks him, he holds up the flower and it shrieks and flies off. Then he busts into the witches house, finds a bunch of girls, puts two and two together and starts touching them with the flower, turning them back into girls. There is a sound behind him, and he turns around to see the witch trying to escape with his girlfriend. He touches her with the flower, turning her to stone, turns his girlfriend back into a girl, becomes a local hero and they all live happily ever after, except the witch.

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Welcome to Winsora, the country that shouldn't exist

Welcome to Winsora, the country that shouldn't exist. Here you will find such bizarre creatures as werewolves, vampires, dwarves, wizards, American tourists, trolls, kobolds, and, most significant to this sequence of events, witches.

Winsora sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a landmass somewhere between the size of England and Australia. Although not significantly big, it is by most considered to be the most interesting piece of land in the world. Of the twenty wonders of the ancient world, thirteen reside there. It was discovered in the sixteenth century by Italian explorer Antonio Winsor. It was then occupied by Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Spain, France, Spain and England, respectively.

There was a great deal of peace in Europe during this period. This was a time when countries laid down their arms and realized that there was no way they could continue to fight with each other while one of them always had their hands so well tied up with the Winsora natives. These foreign witches just wouldn't truck with being hung or burned at stake. They said it would be bad for their reputations. And for some reason, these vampires chose not to live in large, gothic houses full of wood, garlic, gigantic windows with big, movable curtains, and any number of objects that could easily be fashioned into religious symbols. And none of the generic, humanoid monsters would stand still long enough to have their arms ripped off, much less to be beaten to death with them. They were hardly playing fair.

Many historians now agree that Spain's insistence at trying their hand at dominating Winsora was the cause of the eventual downfall of the Spanish navy.

And then it was gone. Not sunken into the sea, not raised into the heavens, just gone as though it had never been. All that remained was a few records, thought to be fiction even by their creators. No one remembered it in the slightest.

It was discovered again in the twentieth century, on March eighth, 1997, by flight 139 from Ipswich, England, to New York, New York. The world was stunned. A whole country in the middle of the Atlantic.

Winsora was surprised as well. You mean you don't remember us? We've been here forever.

And indeed. it certainly looked as though they had never left. Their technology was up to date, they remembered the majority of world history, they even had a good deal of Chinese and Japanese products. It was as though they'd been torn out of history, only they'd been too stubborn to keep out of it.

Our story does not concern this. It does, however, concern Winsora's capitol city, Goldcrest. And in Goldcrest, it was early one Thursday morning, and Trouble was brewing.

Nobody knew why he was called Trouble, and only his personal friends knew why he chose to run the small but successful potions, spells and enchantments shoppe in the middle of the city, but the whole city was glad to have him. He was good at what he did. Some said the Prime Minister himself came to him for enchantments on his pens, for self-multiplying paper and sterility potions. A ringing endorsement from Steve Johnson, the Goldcrest High metalworking teacher, said that an enchanted coat he had gotten from Trouble's shoppe--designed to be impervious to fire, blades, hammer blows, and, most importantly, the claws of various student and flying bits of metal--had lasted seven years before finally wearing out.

Which is why it was not surprise when Richard Lemaitre, out of breath and sweating like a pig, threw open the shoppe's front door and collapsed on the floor. People often came there in times of emergency.

Several miles off, near the edge of Winsora National Park (which, for a fun fact, takes up around forty percent of the country--Winsorians take nature very seriously--) was a cottage. There had to be a cottage, because there was a witch. Whether she was a good witch or a bad witch was only a matter of perspective. If, for example, you think of kidnapping young girls and turning them into birds for no adequately explained reason as a good and righteous act, then she was a good witch. If you don't, then she wasn't, because that was what she did.

It was not a very attractive cottage. Some attempt had been made, what with the cheerful, winding path lined with giant peppermints and candy canes, the frosting around the gutters, the gingerbread walls and the various other candy-themed decorations, but no matter how many times the witch's spells sanitized, repaired, and restored the cottage to it's original state, there always seemed to be problems. Leaves in the frosting, mud on the gingerbread, animal feces on the peppermints, and all sorts of other things you get out in nature.

Inside the cottage was a witch. She was not a very attractive witch. Some attempt had been made, with a bit of powder about the cheeks, some lipstick, a low-cut blouse, some nice earrings, and other various feminine decorations, but no matter how often she powdered, moisturized, and decorated herself, there always seemed to be problems. Seventy years old, a hunchback, more wrinkles than should be able to fit on a human face and eyes so sunken they might as well have been in the back of her head.

And if that wasn't enough stress for her old bones, she was currently trying to deal with seventeen years of pent up rage against the world, the medical system, a deadbeat dad and three very fresh and very bloody scratches to the cheek trying to brake out of a cage in her living room with brute force.

"It's no good, you know," she said. "That cage just isn't going to give."

"I'm gonna' kill you!" screamed the ball of rage, trying to break through the bars with her bare hands. "I'm gonna' to get outta here, and when I do, I'm gonna' rip you apart with my bare hands!"

"My, my, " said the witch, throwing some assorted herbs into the bubbling cauldron in the fireplace, hanging above a pile of burning toffee logs. The smell was sickeningly sweet, but you had to have a theme. "I think someone here has a little too much aggression on her hands. That's something we're going to have to work on during your stay."

"My boyfriend's gonna' come for me. And when he does, he's not gonna' hurt you. He's a gentleman. He'll let me do it."

"I look forward to meeting the nice young man." The witch scooped a handful of liquid out of the cauldron and threw it at the girl. She shrieked in pain. There was a puff of smoke. When it was cleared, the girl and cage were gone. In their place was a much smaller cage, which held a red-tailed hawk.

The witch picked up the cage with one finger. The bird bit at it, but couldn't get it's beak through the bars. The witch opened a door and carried the cage downstairs. And that, anticlimactically, was that.

"Thirty-five missing girls in the past few months," said Richard, after catching his breath. He and Trouble sat in chairs on opposite sides of a coffee table. "I read about it in the newspaper this morning." He looked up, staring Trouble straight in the eyes. "There's thirty-six now."

Trouble didn't look as surprised as he should have. But he did look distressed, and that was good enough.

"Stephanie?" he asked. Richard nodded. "What happened?"

"We were in the park. The national park. Just walking."

"Sure," said Trouble. "Just walking. Uh-huh. That's what the teenage couple was doing in the park."

Richard gave him a look that could kill, with the right enchanting.

"Don't make jokes," he said. "This is serious. We were walking, and talking. I don't remember what we were talking about. Something stupid, some action show on Crunchyroll. One of the Kamen Riders, I think. We weren't really paying attention to where we were going. Then we stumbled upon this house. A cottage, like in the fairy tails." He made an unconscious gesture with his hand that looked something like turning a doorknob. "It was made of gingerbread for some reason. All sorts of candy for decoration. When we were in the middle of the lawn, this owl came out of nowhere and swooped at us. It slashed Stephanie on the cheek. Being Stephanie, she got a good punch to it's gut, and it flew off. Then this lady, a witch, came out of the house and threw a spell at us. It was this purple ball of... like, energy or something. It hit Stephanie and knocked her out. I tried to fight back, but she sent another spell at me. It hit me, and I was out like a light. When I woke up, I was in the outskirts of the city. I ran straight here. Well, took the bus part of the way, but it was still a heck of a jog."

There was a pause.

"So you're going to call the cops, right?" said Trouble, hopefully.

"Of course I am," replied Richard. Trouble gave a big sigh of relief. "As soon as I've got Stephanie out of there."

"No." Trouble stood up, making a big "no" X with his arms. "No, no, no. I'm not helping you. I don't do the whole fairy-tale quest thing. It's just not my gig."

"Please, man," said Richard, clasping his hands in a pleading gesture. "You've got to."

"No. I do enchanted tools and supplies for home and business use only. I don't do weapons. If you want a magic map to help you find your way back... Then you'd get there and be screwed, because you didn't have a weapon. So I won't give you that either."

"I know the way back. I just need a weapon, something that won't kill the witch but will keep her from hurting me. Please?" Trouble turned his back on him.

"Call the cops," he said.

"I can pay whatever you want." At least this got Trouble to look back at him.

"No you can't. I know you better than that."

"Yes I can!" Richard protested. "Eventually."

Trouble stared him straight in the face.

"I'm going to say this one more time. Call the cops." And with that, he turned back around and marched off.

This was not a sign to Richard that the conversation was over. From his point of view, the conversation was not over until he got what he wanted. He stood up and slammed his palms on the table.

"You're going to help me!" he cried. Trouble stopped mid-stride to turn and look at him. "Please, for God's sake, please! It has to be me! I've got to be the one to rescue her. She's got to know that I've got the balls to come for her. And so have I."

"You're just as insane as she is."

"I know."

"I guess that's why you make such a good couple. Alright then." Trouble walked to a nearby shelf and picked up a large object from it. It was a staff, a painted red color, about as along as he was tall, and around the top it was decorated with a crown of blue petals. They were apparently glued on, but if Richard knew Trouble they'd be bound with something stronger than that.

Trouble walked back across the shoppe and pointed the staff at Richard.

"These petals come from a very, very rare flower. It's called end-of-nightmares, because the early European settlers believed it had the power to repel all evil."

"You mean it produces anti-magic."

"I mean it's full to the bursting point with the stuff. One of these petals can make a vampire lose his fangs and turn back into a normal man. One touch'll prob'ly turn your witch strait to stone. You won't get into too much trouble for that, since they can turn her right back these days. Should be enough to break any spells that she's put on Stephanie, too. I wouldn't worry about breaking and entering charges, since the house is built on public property." Trouble gave Richard a very serious look. "This staff is adorned with twenty petals. It's one of the most expensive things in this shoppe. I know darn well you couldn't afford it if you saved up for years. I want it back, in the exact same condition as it left this shoppe, as soon as you're done with it. And you'll probably owe me a rental fee for the rest of your life."

Richard took the staff gratefully.

"Thanks. I owe you."

"Oh, you have no idea. Now, you're going to tell me where this cottage is and get out of here. In two hours, I'm gonna' call the cops and tip them off about it. I won't tell them about this crazy idea you've got in your head, and if you get in and out in time they'll never have to find out. And if they do, the chief's had his eye on some of my hidden cameras that send images back to the owner's brain for quite some time. I could bribe him with them."

"That's pretty generous of you."

"Oh, don't worry about me. It'll be coming out of your pocket. And by the way, don't get killed."

As Richard approached the cottage, the owl swooped down to attack again. This time, he held up the staff and the owl turned right back around, shrieking.

He walked down the coco-powder pathway and reluctantly put his hand on the stick, gumdrop doorknob. It didn't turn, nor did the door pull open. He drove the back of the staff through the door, making a hole. He did this again and again until there was a big enough hole to walk through. Stealth wasn't something he felt like dealing with at the moment.

Through a sickeningly sweet entryway, and into a living room that stunk of burning toffee. There, sitting on a bright red couch, was the witch, smiling from ear to ear. He pointed the staff at her.

"Where is she?"

"My, my." The witch shook her head. "So much aggression. Youth these days."

"I'm not playing games here. You're going to tell me where Stephanie Jackson is, or Thor help me, I'm going to hurt you in every way imaginable."

"Why I'm certain I don't know who you're talking about. I don't know anyone by the way of Stephanie, and if I did, I'm certain I wouldn't bring her on a walk in such a dangerous enchanted forest." Ti was a personal shot, and he knew it.

"The police are on their way. They'll find her and anyone else you might have hidden."

"The police. Won't that be exciting. But I'm afraid that when they arrive, all they'll find is a friendly little confused falconer, whose just had her front door broken in by some rowdy little hoodlum."

Richard was silent. Something she'd just said struck him as important.

"Falconer," he repeated. "You keep birds."

"That's what I said."

"How many do you have?"

The witch's smile broadened, like a riddler who'd finally met his intellectual equal.

"Thirty-six," she said.

There was only one thing to do.

"Stephanie!" He cried.

From behind a door, there was an eruption of squawking chirping and bird noises of all kinds. He dashed to it and broke it from the fragile frame with a well-placed kick. The momentum nearly carried him down the stairway on the other side. He didn't fall, but he ran down the stairs fast enough to make up for it.

When he made it down, he was in a room surrounded by cages hanging from the ceiling. They were almost all different sizes, but each one held a bird.

"Now see," he said, "why do the cages have to be made out of metal? I mean, for Zeus' sake, if you're going to pick a theme, you've got to stick with it, even if it's not one I particularly like. Why not make the cages out of candy canes, or better yet, licorice?"

"Because then all my precious birds would bite trough the bars and escape," answered the witch, who'd followed him down the stairs and was standing close behind him.

"Exactly, and then Stephanie'd come back to me, and I wouldn't have to do this stupid quest, I'd just have to take her to the shoppe and turn her back. See? That way, it works out better for everybody. Well, except you."

The witch raised a hand in a magical gesture. Her hands failed to crackle with magical energy. Richard turned around.

"I'm sorry, were you trying to cast a spell? And me and all my anti-magic, I'm sorry, how insensitive of me. Sorry again, really sorry, I'll be right out of your hair as soon as I'm done here." He dropped the sarcasm from his voice. "You can't do anything to me. Not while I have this staff."

The witch, predictably, went for the staff. She only got one hand on it, which she quickly jerked away. As previously declared, it had become stone.

The witch hissed. Richard smiled, confident. The witch swung her stone hand like a club, hitting the staff right in the middle and sending it flying so hard it knocked several cages off the ceiling. Another swing struck the stunned Richard in the head, sending him to the ground.

She stood over him, holding the stone hand above his heart, ready to crush his ribcage. He tried to kick her off, but it was as though his leg hit solid steel. Or maybe... Rock. He looked up. The witch had turned to stone.

He got up, and there was Stephanie, holding the staff pressed right against the witch's back.

He threw his arms around her.

"Are you alright?" he asked. "Did she hurt you?"

"Other than turning me into a bird?" she quipped back.

He pulled back to get a look at her face. She was smiling. It was always good to check.

"Yes, other than that, that's already taken care of, unless you have some feathers somewhere you're not showing me."

"I'm okay. She didn't do anything."

"Great. Now let's release the rest of the girls and get out of here."

Stephanie looked at him, very seriously.

"You know if you release them, they won't stay silent about this. Sure they'll agree not to describe you to the cops, but you'll still be the talk of the town. Everybody at school will know, not to mention the youth center."

"Yes, but aren't you going to tell everyone anyone?"

"Hecks yes. My boyfriend saved everybody from the crazy witch, I'm going to be bragging left and right."

Richard laughed. Stephanie laughed. Then they freed the rest of the girls and got the heck out of there.

From then on, Richard and Stephanie were the talk of the town. Boyfriends, brothers, sisters and parents were all happy to donate a couple of dollars to pay off the rental fee for the staff. Trouble wasn't happen about the dent it had got when the witch's stone hand struck it, but he didn't charge any extra because it would be easy enough to repair. The witch is currently serving fifteen to twenty years for all thirty-six charges of kidnapping.