The three old ladies who lived at Blasted Heath Cottage, near Glamis Castle, Angus, were having a problem with their special Halloween stew and were scratching their elderly heads when there was a knock at the door.
Old Lady One opened it to find a young lady standing there, accompanied by a very large dog.
“Trick or treat?” said the young lady.
Old Lady One was on the point of saying “shove off” when she realised that the trick, if it involved the large dog, might not be worth the risk. She therefore plumped for “Treat”.
“You’d better step inside so that I can see what we’ve got, she said. “But our black cats, toads, and other familiars might not be so pleased to see your dog, so would you mind tying him up outside?”
“No problem”, said the young lady, “but I’m not familiar with the word ‘familiar’”.
“You must be”, said Old Lady One. “You’ve just used it”.
“That’s not what I meant”, said the girl. “What did you mean by ‘other familiars’?”
Old Lady Two piped up with “It’s an animal that’s a witch’s companion. You have read Harry Potter, haven’t you?”
The girl looked interested rather than alarmed. “Are you witches then?”
“Might be”, said Old Lady Three. “More to the point, who are you?”
“My name’s Ophelia”, said the girl. “I’m from Denmark. I had to get away from Elsinore because my boyfriend’s gone all existential on me.”
“Existential?” said Old Lady One. “”You’re the one who’s using unfamiliar words now!”
“He’s been reading too much Jean-Paul Sartre”, Ophelia said. “All that ‘To Be is To Do’ stuff. Or, as my boyfriend puts it, “To Be Or Not to Do”, or something like that. I wasn’t really listening at the time”.
There was a pause, after which Ophelia asked, “So where’s my treat then?”
“You can have a bowl of our stew when we’ve made it”, said Old Lady Two. “The problem is, we only do this once a year and we can’t remember all the ingredients. We know about the eye of newt, wool of bat, and blindworm’s sting, but I’m sure there’s more than that.
“Adder’s fork”, said Old Lady One. “I’ve just remembered that one”.
“And toe of frog” offered Old Lady Three. “We’ve bought most of them already, but we did get some odd looks when we were going round Sainsbury’s this morning”.
“There’s something really important that’s missing”, said Old Lady One.
“So what do you reckon?” asked Old Lady Two.
“Alzheimers”, said Ophelia.
“Are you sure?” said Old Lady One. “That doesn’t sound very Shakesperean, or something you can buy at Sainsbury’s. Come on, can’t you remember all the lines from Act 4 Scene 1?”
“Hardly”, said Ophelia. “I’m from a different play, remember.”
“But that’s just the problem”, said Old Lady Two. “We can’t remember”.
“Just a minute,” Ophelia said. “I’ve got something in my bag that might help”.
So saying, she reached into her bag and pulled out a collection of flowers and plants that she placed on the kitchen table.
“It’s all here”, Ophelia said. “I carry this lot around with me just in case I feel like making a speech should I lose my reason and want to throw myself in the river. I’ve got rue, columbine, daisies, pansies, and this one – rosemary.”
“And?” said Old Lady Three.
“Rosemary – that’s for remembrance. Just chew a sprig and you’ll remember everything you’ve forgotten!”
“Are you sure that’s how it works?” asked Old Lady One.
“Well, it’s worth a try,” said Ophelia. “Give it a go and find out”.
So the three old ladies picked up a sprig apiece and started biting into them. The result was instantaneous.
“Got it!” said Old Lady Two, with a sudden brightening of her craggy countenance. She then looked slyly at Ophelia.
“Young lady?” she said.
“That dog of yours, tied up outside.”
“What about him?”
“What breed is it?”
“What do you think? He’s huge, we’re from Denmark, so it’s not hard to guess, is it?
“No matter. The point is, it’s got a tongue, hasn’t it?”
“Of course he’s got a tongue”, said Ophelia, who then suddenly realised what Old Lady One had in mind. “It’s ‘tongue of dog’ that’s missing from your list, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is” said Old Lady Two, who had already grabbed a large sharp knife and was making for the door.
However, Ophelia was faster than any of the old ladies and had rushed out of the cottage, untied the dog and made off down the road with him before there was any chance of a de-tonguing.
“And that”, said Old Lady Three, “Is how to deal with trick or treaters. Anyone for fish and chips?”