Goats bleated recklessly their warning. Oh no! She’s back. I scrambled around the one-room cabin, splashed a bit of lukewarm water on my face, and dove under the blankets she secured me with before leaving. The cabin sat far away from the village. No one ever came here, not with all the rumors and whatnot, so I knew the approaching footfalls belonged to her. If she caught me out of bed, there would surely be hell to pay. I don’t know where she’d been, but she believed me to be sick enough that I could be trusted to be on my own. Ha! A mistake on her part. Then again, perhaps I was. The veins in my hand had turned dark purple, the skin red. I had a wicked fever, but I was always cold. It wasn’t going to stop me though. I’d spent my blessed free time scurrying around the four walls, looking for egress. Oh, what I’d give to breathe the fresh autumn air!
The old lock clicked then the bulky door creaked open. A hunched draped in black robes scuffled through the opening, allowing a modicum of bright sunlight into the room. The only bit of color to be found anywhere was her stringy red hair. I went limp, attempting to appear asleep, but kept my eyes cracked ever so slightly. She carried a large, wicker basket brimming with god only knew what. She pulled out a large packet of something, wrapped in bleeding brown paper, and plunked it onto the table before hanging the herbs on a hook and placing the basket on the table. I could only guess what that packet contained. After all, The Witch of Brimley Falls was not welcome in town.
Only days ago, I ran through the woods playing soldier. Stick held high, shouting commands at my imaginary troops, I ruled the world. I’d been told plenty of times it wasn’t lady-like, but lady-like activities weren’t me-like. I much preferred rolling in the leaves, wearing trousers, and brandishing my stick swords at any who dared betray me. I often played deep in the woods, where no one could judge me. But this day I romped around on the edge of town and the forest. The skies were cloaked in massive storm clouds, and the trees blocked just about any remaining light. I strained my eyes to see where I traipsed, but I wanted to get my playtime in before the rain fell. If the clouds were any indication, the rain would last for days.
Unfortunately, in the dim light, my foot found an upturned root, and my face met the ground. It didn’t hurt much, and crying would have been too girly, so I stood up and brushed the dirt out of my hair. When I caught sight of my hand, however, I nearly passed out. A stake pierced the center of my palm. I didn’t realize I was so close to the perimeter of town I should have been watching for traps. This was small, so I guessed it had once been a part of the larger spikes chipped off and tossed aside. I didn’t feel it yet, but I knew it most definitely was not supposed to be in my hand. I panicked about what to do. This would surely land me in trouble, I was not supposed to be playing out here.
I gripped the stick very tightly, gritted my teeth, and yanked.
Oh God almighty that hurt!
But it didn’t come out all the way. So I yanked it again and again before it finally freed. It was the worst pain I’d ever known. Had I realized it would hurt so much, I would have just left it, become the tree girl, embraced my new wooden limb. It had also plugged up the hole, which now bled profusely. My head swam and my vision faded, I knew what was coming. But if I passed out here, things would only get much worse. I sat on my knees, the nausea abated a tiny bit. It was enough for me to tear a piece of my cloak off and wrap it around the wound. I tried with my good hand to make a knot. As I pulled it taut, the tender flesh and throbbing nerves sent a fresh wave of pain through my body and I fell over. That’s when she snatched me up. The next thing I remember, I woke up in the one-room cabin, my hand wrapped up properly.
She paid me no mind as she stoked the fire. The place was already insufferably hot. But she added a log, first squelching the flames, then allowing them to burn brighter. She fixed a large black pot, a cauldron you could say, to the rod above the fire and filled it with water. Once it bubbled nice and consistently, she grabbed the mystery package. Swiping it off the table, she glanced back at me then tucked it close to her body. Her back faced me as I heard the package’s contents plop into the water. Gross. Food should sizzle or steam, not plop. After depositing the mystery contents, she became less secretive. Shelves filled with jars of herbs and spices lined the fireplace and she added several quite liberally. In no time at all, the tiny room filled with an overwhelmingly putrid aroma underscored by a hint of sweetness. The basket’s remaining contents, some questionable vegetables, rolled out onto the table. She chopped them up into bite-size pieces and added them to the brew.
I continued to feign sleepiness while she walked about the room, occasionally tidying something, occasionally stirring the cauldron. Before I knew it, the warmth, the smells all lured me into actual sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I fought it the best I could, but short of jumping out the window there really wasn’t much I could do. And yes, I already tried jumping out the window. The first day I’d woken up here she was out, I thought it was my best chance to romp around free again, but my recon was off. She caught me and promptly placed me back in the bed.
I awoke sometime later to a sharp pain in my hand. She shushed me and pushed me back down. I spied a look at what she was doing, changing my bandage. I shouldn’t have looked. It was disgusting, red and purple, puffy and oozy. I almost vomited, though I couldn’t tell whether it was from revulsion or pain. I hadn’t let myself look at it before. But at that moment it became clear that I wasn’t going anywhere until it healed. If it healed. Skeletal, clammy hands rubbed a wet cloth over the wound repeatedly, provoking the pain. Then she rubbed something full of leaves and equally as smelly all over before wrapping my whole hand once more in clean bandages. I should have been grateful she wasn’t just letting it rot off.
Bones creaked as she stood up. She took my good hand and helped me off the bed before motioning toward the table. Residual pain still coursed through my body, sweat rolled off me, and my legs were weaker than I’d thought. After a moment of gaining my bearings, I walked to the table and sat down. She placed a bowl of steaming stew before me. My tummy rumbled ravenously and I quickly dug in. She sat across from me with her own bowl. I stirred through the liquid and its contents, carrots, potatoes, some celery until I found the contents of the mystery package. Eagerly, I fished a chunk out with my spoon and examined it.
“Is this beef?” I nearly yelled, unable to contain myself.
She nodded, “It is, so you better eat every bite.”
We didn’t have cows, they weren’t something the two of us were capable of raising and slaughtering. This had to have meant that she went into the village! It wasn’t like we were forbidden from going, but the villagers made it quite clear we were unwelcome. But mom had gone all to take care of me.