Chapter 1:- Have a slice of berry pie
"I say, Vicar!" Alfred licked his fork clean. "That was exceptionally tasty pie." His tongue probed his mustache for overlooked morsels. "What kind of berries did you say you used?"
"I didn't." The Vicar gave Alfred a thin smile. "They are a special variety. I picked them myself."
"Ah." Alfred licked his thick lips and leaned forward. The chair creaked under his weight. "Would there perhaps be more?"
"I'm so sorry, that was the last of the pie. I have to thank you for coming to tea." The Vicar hid his repulsion under a thin layer of civility.
"Thank you for inviting me. Well, I should be off then."
"Not quite yet. Please, Alfred. Just relax." The Vicar daintily sipped tea. "You do so remind me of a frog. One of those fat, uncouth, slimy ones from the ponds below the canal."
"What?" Alfred frowned, his fat face wrinkling in consternation. "Did you just call me a frog?"
"Quite. A very repulsive specimen."
"What is wrong with you, man? You're the Vicar. Why are you calling me a frog?" Alfred stood, his chair scraping across the floor.
The Vicar smiled, thin white hair drifting around his narrow face. His smile was peaceful now, satisfied. "Because, my dear parishioner, you are a frog."
Alfred blinked his bulging eyes. His thick lips writhed and flapped as he tried to protest. All that came from his mouth was a decidedly froggy croak. His skin twitched, all over, as if something were crawling beneath. The ruddy pink faded to a blotchy green. The bumps and wrinkles smoothed out. Within moments, Alfred no longer stood on the Vicar's Persian carpet. A massively bloated frog sat in his place. It croaked and flopped towards the door.
The Vicar gave a pleased nod and set his teacup aside. "A fitting fate. Wouldn't you agree?" He stepped carefully around the frog and opened the door. "I always detested you, Alfred. You and your croaking. May you have a short life full of swampy nastiness."
The frog hopped out into the summer afternoon.
"Yoohoo! Vicar!" Mrs. Blenchwithe waved her massive white purse from his garden gate. "I do so hope you don't mind me dropping by but I have information you must know."
The Vicar's smile turned wooden. Mrs. Blenchwithe was a gossip, a mean-spirited one. He detested her as much as he detested Alfred and his blusterings.
"Welcome, Mrs. Blenchwithe," he said smoothly. "My door is always open, as you well know. Would you care for some berry pie?"
A short while later, a goat ran bleating from his house, chin wagging in panic. It jumped the garden fence and trotted into the neighboring fields.
The Vicar's smile grew wider. He hummed as he gathered a basket and his gardening gloves. Most of his parishioners would benefit from a taste of his special berries.
The next day he invited more to his house for tea. Berry jam and berry cakes waited on lacy doilies. He smiled and greeted them as they came, one by one.
A turtle, a hedgehog, two quarreling sparrows, a rabbit, and a vole later, he was even more pleased with himself. All it took was a helping of berries and his word and they morphed into the most suitable animal.
"God's judgment on you," he said as the latest, a fat sheep that used to be Mrs. Picket, bounded away. The Vicar smiled. "Such an unattractive animal. Such an unbearably irritating noise you make. Go on, shoo." He closed the garden gate with a profound sense of satisfaction.
"Years," he said to his roses. "Years I have put up with them, their whining, their utter conviction that they are important. I've been patient." He plucked off dead roses with a precise twist of his fingers. He flung them to the ground and stepped on the withered petals. "And now I take my revenge on them for every petty argument and complaint. For their lack of appreciation for everything I've done for them. Ungrateful snobs, the lot of them."
"Vicar? Did I just see a sheep running from your garden?"
The Vicar paused, a dead rose pinched in his fingers. He smiled, calm and serene. "A stray. Please, do come in."
He still had a small pot of berry jam. It would be enough.