Challenge: Green Witch Glen
To my imaginary readers,
So sorry I was late in posting the most recent installment of this literary short story challenge, but I was at the beach. I know, I know, life is unfair sometimes, but it’s best we forgive and forget, and move on with our humble lives.
In other news, I’ve officially submitted to two short stories last month. It’s incredibly stressful waiting for those results to find their way into my e-mail inbox. But, there you have it. For anyone looking to start branching their work out, I found two great literary magazines. Glimmer Trainworks a lot with previously unpublished authors and f(r)iction hosts contest for short stories, poetry, flash fiction, and even creative nonfiction. The website, Tetheredbyletters, also offers free editing services and a bunch of other resources for budding authors. So, check it out.
For those of you who don’t know what this supposed literary challenge is all about, you can click this little link, and it’ll zoom you right over to the post that started it all. You can also find more of my work on either Booksie or Wattpad. And, if you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter @elixssamrose.
Without further ado, I present,
Green Witch Glen.
I lived on the edge of this world and the one beyond. To most people, it appeared merely as a mossy cottage in a forest glen. It was far from any village or hold. But, on clear winter nights, I could still see chimney smoke rising through the trees. I didn’t need their company. I didn’t want it. I had the trees and my herbs to keep me company, and the occasional critter who wandered to my doorstep. I’ve had sick foxes, limping deer, and the occasional bird with a strained wing. Sometimes even the strange, hairless, two-legged beasts wondered to my door, drawn by bits of poison gossip and stupid curiosity. Regrettably, I am forced to call them kin.
Witch. Sorceress. I hear these words often. They’re hissed or spat at my feet, and yet when someone falls ill or a child would be birthed wrong, it’s to my cabin they come running. I imagine it didn’t help that the ravens had taken a liking to me, and flocks of them perched on my roof. I could have turned the people away. Once, an old man hobbled to my door looking for a potion that might help him better please his young wife, and he was the same man who, days previous, was in the woods gathering firewood when I overheard him say the village better start watching their children more carefully least I lure them to my cottage to boil their blood in a stew to drink and remain young.
And this at a woman whose only crime was healing their ailments. I had half a mind to fling a hex at his back and let him bring misfortune down to that little town of his. Lucky for him that was a road I had traveled only a lifetime ago and my soul was still weeping from the inevitable mark such abuse of power often leaves.
I treated his ailments and the ailments of all who followed him. But I did it with a rough hand and not a care for if they cried out in pain. If they didn’t want to suffer then they shouldn’t get hurt, and I told them as such.
I would have you believe that at this time I was quite an old woman. Though, I looked no older than thirty years. Don’t ask me how it happened. I suppose it has something to do with living so close to the magic so many of you have forgotten already. Or maybe it was the little people forever playing tricks on me. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover they were behind that strange little girl finding her way to my glen.
I’d gone some time without a visit from anyone but the occasional furry critter and the flashing lights of the little people. I was out foraging. I could glean much of what I needed from the woods and anything else found its way to me. Sometimes in the beaks of my raven friends. Sometimes sitting on my table when I arrived home from a long day; no doubt left from the Dryad. Little gifts starting showing up some time after I nursed an old oak tree that had been struck by lightning. No doubt it was her home.
I’d stumbled on a lovely patch of mushrooms when I heard singing coming from the pond I knew was nearby. It had been so long since I heard any such thing that at first I didn’t know what I was hearing. I picked my way through the brush, and she was sitting on a rock, kicking her feet in the water. If sunlight and a flower bed came together and decided to be a child, I’ve no doubt it would look just like her. I thought for sure I was looking at one of the fair folk and feared I finally stumbled into one of their games.
I must have stood there for near a whole minute when her song stopped and she glanced over her shoulder at me. I’ll never forget that smile she gave me. This pond was deep in the woods – deepe than any villager would travel willingly and she was such a young girl – seven at the oldest.ravens and laid heavy on my shoulders, hers glowed in the sunlight and had weightlessness to it. Where her face was sun kissed and spotted with freckles, mine was milky white and without so much as a mole, but the differences weren’t just there to see on the surface as I would come to discover.She was everything I was not. Where my hair was dark as the
“Hello,” she said. “Are you a fairy come to play with me?”
I looked around the water’s edge and asked, “Where are your parents.”
“Don’t know.” She went back to humming and kicking her feet in the water.
Why this child was so at ease has always been a mystery to me.
I took her home with me. I couldn’t say why exactly, only that her very being put a lightness in my soul that I hadn’t felt in so long as I’ve been crafting. It never even occurred to me to try and find her parents. No doubt someone would show up at my door who recognized the child and I could send her on her way. I’d have to admit, it would be a lie to claim I wanted her gone. She was quick to learn and delighted in every small thing. She once discovered the honeyed milk I left out for the little people and expressed such delight at what was to me a mundane little ritual, that I’d remembered the first time my mother showed me how to do it and the wonderment I felt when told of the world our mortal eyes couldn’t see. It was the same wonderment glittering in her eyes.
I began to make excuses, sending her away when people came by for little things like fevers, persistent pains, and elderly aches. No one mentioned a missing girl to me and for this, I concluded she wasn’t missed even while knowing they would never mention to me that a child was missing.
I never knew I had stories to tell until she was there to listen to them, and she wasn’t frightened of the ravens or the wild animals that came to my door. Rather, she watched on with that same excited enchantment. I taught her about herbs and foraging and put her to bed each night with tales of the realm beyond.
“I know they’re there ma’man,” She’d gotten to calling me that. “I saw them in the pond that day I found you.”
“Those were Nymphs.”
“What are those?”
“Water spirits. But be careful of them. Sometimes they like to drown people.”
She gasped, but her eyes were delighted. “And the ones that look like clouds? What are they?”
“Those are the Sylphs.
“And what about the one who leaves you gifts?”
“That’s a Dryad.”
All of our nights went like this.
She made my spirit light in a way that it had never been. I began asking myself questions I never before would. Questions like, when did my magic become so mundane to me? I knew I was getting attached the same way I dreaded it. I began singing while I worked – something I’d all but stopped doing. My days were no longer quiet, but I felt blessed for this. There wasn’t a second where she wasn’t laughing or playing with her invisible friends where I could watch her out the window while I worked.
Once, a troop of men came to my cottage. I instantly felt it wasn’t a friendly visit. They came with stern expressions and clutching their axes tight. I sent the girl away to the back and met them at the cottage door.
“Some have been saying there’s been a child spotted around here.”
My heart quickened. “I have no child.”
I knew the instant I said it that those words were a mistake and I couldn’t deny it anymore that I was afraid. Oh, not of their axes and numbers. It would be simple enough to pack what I could and travel deeper into the forest. I didn’t want to give them the girl. She was far too precious for them – to me. No doubt they would see to stuffing her magic down until the light was snuffed and she was as empty and frivol minded as the rest of them and more. I couldn’t stand a single day without her light footsteps, her sweet singing voice, and her bright dancing eyes.
“The girl’s parents thought she was dead. Might you mind we have a look around?”
I could spit in their faces and strike them blind. “There is no child. Unless you’re wounded I don’t want you here, so leave.”
The ravens started up all at once then, perhaps feeling my distress. The men flinched like the sky might fall on them.
“You better go. I haven’t fed them recently and they might be hungry.”
She was sitting at the kitchen table when I shut the door.
“Who was that ma’man?”
“No one,” I told her. “Go wash up for dinner.”
They would be back, I knew. Just the same I knew it was time.
A few nights passed and, while she slept, I sat long by a candle. I had packed two small bags and planned on leaving when the moon was high. She’d never once mentioned to me a mother or a father. She never asked to be taken home. She was happy with me and I could care for her better than the village could. I could nurture the magic in her. All of these were justifications but could you blame me? Wasn’t it enough that I tended them despite their harsh words? Must I give them back a ray of sunlight the woods saw fit to deliver to me and take from them?
I roused her close to dawn and dressed her warm. She didn’t ask where we were off to. I sometimes woke her early to forage with me before the dear got to everything. I wept as I walked, clutching her hand tight the entire way.
“Why are you crying?”
“Hush,” I said with a harsh tongue, and it silenced her the rest of the way.
I could tell when she started to recognize the forest. Her eyes darted about in that familiar way, taking note of the tree stumps and the river and the deep grooved trail we walked beside. At last, we stopped where the forest ended and the village began. The sun was just peeking over the roofs. It had been so long since I’ve been down from the glen. I didn’t expect there to be so many houses or bricked roads.
I knelt down in front of her and fixed the warm cloak I’d put around her. “It’s time you went home now. But remember, you mustn’t tell them anything about where you’ve been. Say you’ve forgotten. That you woke up at the edge of the woods and ran straight home.”
She threw her arms around me.
I pulled her away. “Hurry on. Your mother is probably sick with grief.”
But she didn’t leave. Her little hand caressed my cheek and the tears there. “Why don’t you come down with me?”
I laughed, but I didn’t mean it to be so bitter.
“You can teach them magic and tell everyone your stories.”
“And who would help all the little critters in the woods then?”
She looked at me long and wearisome, but what I said had obviously done something to make her relent. Before she left she gave a sloppy kiss to my cheek, and then she was skipping and bounding down the grassy hill toward the cluster of houses in the fog. I watched until she was a bright speck, then turned around into my cold shadows and deep wood.
I was going to leave, but every time I tried my feet would grow roots. I couldn’t stand the emptiness of the cottage. The old boards were echoing the ghost of her presence and some nights I woke weeping. I turned most everyone away, tending only to the forest and the critters.
I inquired about the missing girl once. I was told how delighted her parents were and that it was a mystery where she’d been, though because the child was so beautiful it probably was that the little folk saw fit to make off with her.
Things returned to normal, as they should, and the ache of that goodbye stayed with me through the long winter that followed. The truth of what kept me there was that I thoughts she might come back to me in time, but the seasons turned and she never showed.
I still sing while I work now. Mostly to fill in the quiet but I think too that she changed me somehow. I was less rough with the few people who mustered the courage to find my door. I hadn’t noticed the change until they began leaving gifts behind. Baskets of berries in the summer, apples in the fall, and ciders and flour for the winters.
Then, years after on a new spring day, the first visitor after winter came by. She was a pretty young woman with sunlight hair and a freckled face. I recognized her instantly and the smile she gave me, it so full of warmth and love I could tell she recognized me too. That light in her eyes – the magic – wasn’t lost as I feared. It was strong as ever.
Thanks for reading everyone. As always, I invited artists of all wakes to join in the challenge.