The creek was changing. No longer a happy jumping stream, tossing mist that split light into rainbow colors, it lay tired and wide like a mongrel on a summer day.
Our path narrowed as cattails pressed closer and taller, dimming the daylight. The cool green grass here grew waist high with blades of sharp edges.
Trees called Weeping Willows gave up trying to get their branches into the sun and slumped in defeat. Even the ground in this place surrendered its firm character and gave our steps a springy bounce.
We were on the witch’s path.
We talked in whispers. No one wanted to be the focus of attention. I was sure that something was watching from the brush, ready to leap on us at any moment.
We looked in every direction, side-to-side and rearward, the path closing behind at every bend. I thought we had gone far enough for today. We should go back and check with Old Roy to make sure we were on the right trail.
Warren poked me and pointed into the unknown. “Noah, you should be at the front,” he said, embarrassing me.
I was the leader of our group, but there went Jessie Beauchamp. She took the head of the column like she couldn’t wait to get there. She had slowed down a little but kept right on walking. Probably because she was a girl she felt a kinship with the witch and wasn’t as scared as I was. Of course, I didn’t want her to know that, so we pushed deeper into what was becoming a swamp.
We went around a turn and stopped. We had arrived.
Next to a small fork of the creek was a cabin with its back jammed into the brush. Rust threatened the tin roof and a chair that was already rusted or painted orange waited on the small porch. The privy, only a few steps away, leaned in the soggy ground. A couple of fan-like plants I’d never seen before grew in the yard.
“Do you think someone lives here?” whispered Warren.
A female voice behind us shattered the stillness like a shout. “I do.”
We jumped at the sound.
The town gossip, Mrs. Lambert, was always going on about watching her figure, but this woman was doing it right. She was maybe a little older than my mom, in worn clothes, but clean. Framed by a white and blue bonnet, her pleasant face smiled at us.
She was nice-looking, not at all like a crone.
Eli was thinking the same thing. “You don’t look like an old hag.”
Jessie mumbled something I didn’t quite catch.
Eli didn’t understand her either. “What?”
Jessie appealed to the witch herself. “I said that witches can look like anything they want. Can’t they?”
The woman smiled, studying us with our shoes and cuffs wet and dirty from the creek-side path. Or in Jessie’s case, the bottom of her dress.
“How nice to have company,” she said, “but I was expecting one more. A little girl.” She leaned forward and pinched Eli’s cheek. “Did she get lost on the way?”
What kind of predicament are the kids in? Will they get out of it, or in deeper? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September in the Archive list to the right and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
Thank a veteran.