A Story for Halloween: The Woods Where The Witch Lived!
Emaciated trees, oppressed and still: stood somber and silent in the pale afternoon. Skeletal limbs reaching into the grey abyss: tragic silhouettes. The house: a morbid den, a ramshackle crumbling abode, rotting timber and broken glass; a decrepit forlorn figure permeating the damp heart of the desolate woods. The woods where the witch lived.
"I'm not sure about going so deeply into the trees, it's getting dark and it's not even late yet. I don't like it." Shona shrugged, placing a hand on the bark of a nearby tree. The dry crust fell away: powdered ash in her hand. An abundance of fat white maggots wriggled moistly under her fingers. She screamed and jumped backwards, her long blond hair splayed, a silky strand caught on a bony twig pulling her forcibly forward. She screamed again, a high pitched shriek sending black wings in panicked flocks from their ossified perches into the bleak watery skies.
"Jesus, Shona!'' laughed Betty nervously, turning to see her friend. "You frightened the hell out of me. Here let me help you." Betty pulled at her hair. The strand was wound tight.
"Cut it off,'' cried Shona, ''now, now." Tears streamed down her chubby cheeks.
Betty pulled out her pen knife and cut the strand of hair. They both stared as the strand fell to the earthy floor. Unnoticed to them a small flower bloomed. Shona rubbed her head. It hurt. She glanced at her hand; yellow and sticky from the now departed maggots. Betty laughed, a hearty chuckle. Her thin frame as gaunt as the surrounding trees.
''It's not funny. I nearly had a heart attack. Let's go, it's getting colder and darker the further we go. I'm not having fun any more."
"Don't be a baby. We're almost there." Betty pointed towards a clearing of sparse land. The trees thinned even more as they made their way towards it. The sun a milky white in the late afternoon hovered over the exposed area. Blackened tree trunks lay scattered on the naked ground, not a weed, not a flower grew. The earth was parched. The woods were silent.
She sat almost hidden by a sprawling root. Her long white neck and graceful head solitary in her kin but happy to be widowed. Her deadliness her only companion, abandoned by virtue of her poisonous duty. A destroying angel. The pale sunshine dipped and she dissolved once more into the bleakness that engulfed the waning woods. The raven wings had retuned to their barren roost. The hours had grown and the night was now dawning, stalking the boundary ready to pounce.
''There. Mushrooms!" cried Betty with delight. A small gathering of white cap mushrooms nestled under the fallen trees. Betty dropped to her knees and began picking the mushrooms. Shona knelt beside her and gently laid the mushrooms into a small wicker basket. It was a quick job.
''Are there any more. It's been a bit of a trek just for these!'' Shona observed the area, her eyes fell on a single white mushroom. A bigger mushroom. A beautiful mushroom.
''Look at the one! It's lovely. Perhaps we should leave it though, not take everything." Shona stated watching Betty get to her feet.
''We'll take it, sure it will only die anyway out here with no one to pick it. It's a fine fat mushroom too." Betty started over to the pick the mushroom.
''Leave the mushroom!'' Shona said, ''I don't feel right about it. That mushroom looks a bit different and it's not with the others. Leave it."
Betty laughed, running dirty fingers through her short brown bob she bent to pick the mushroom.
''Don't ye 'av enough in yer basket there, honey?'' said a voice. The girls looked about, shocked by this intrusion.
''Who said that?'' asked Betty standing up, directing her attention to Shona. Shona shrugged. Her face drained of colour. She wiped her hands on her jeans, sticky from maggots and dirty from the earth.
''Ah! greed! One of them seven deadly sins. And always when folk 'av enough, just enough yet they always want more." An old woman wearing a dark green dress stepped out from behind a tree, a thin tree too thin to hide her, yet she had been hidden. She was bare foot.
Betty laughed and turned her attentions back to the mushroom. ''You own the woods do ya?'' she chided.
''Betty!'' exclaimed Shona shocked at her friends attitude to an elder. She smiled awkwardly at the old woman. She didn't smile back.
''The woods, own the woods. Leave the mushroom child and go with what ya 'av."
Betty held up the mushroom in triumph. ''My mushroom now. You can keep your dying woods!" she scoffed.
''Indeed! And now the Destroying Angel is yours. They say you reap what you sow. Now you can reap what this rotting earth has sown."
The girls looked about the trees. Their barks grew wider, taller, the leaves bigger, greener. The dull grey withdrew and dabbled yellow sunlight shone through the trees. A rabbit ran across the clearing, stopping to chew on a clump of green shrub. Bird song sweet and shrill echoed through the wood. Bees buzzed around wild flowers and butterflies danced in the breeze.
''What the hell?" Betty exclaimed looking about her. The woods were alive and brimming with energy. She looked at the mushroom in her hand. Not her hand, an old woman's hand: liver spotted and wrinkled; gnarled thin fingers with bony knuckles stretched over grey mottled skin; long yellow finger nails - chipped and curled. She looked at Shona, but it was no longer Shona who stood in-front of her.
A hideous, tortured scream erupted through the woods, sending birds and insects and woodland creatures for cover. The woods fell still: and a pretty young woman in a bright green dress made her way bare foot and free back to her little cottage sat deep in the woods, swinging a little wicker basket full of mushrooms by her side. Finally the spell was broken and she had many things to catch up on but mostly it was catching up on him that brought the biggest smile to her face: absence really did make the heart grow founder, and this heart of hers was full of revenge.
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© 2019 Gabriel Wilson