The Witch

She was the only one getting off the four-thirty-seven. The light was behind her as she walked toward the tiny station house. Her white cotton dress with the large sunflower print danced around her long legs. The sunlight broke into a million rainbows as the breeze played with her ginger hair.

The train only stops twice a day in these parts. The ten-fifty-two going east and the four-thirty-seven going west. Being station master is not a full-time job. I merely close the feed store twice a day. Everybody knows.

The advantage of the job is that I know who’s getting a package and who’s getting visitors. This woman, this vision had me puzzled. She had no luggage, just her small patent leather purse dangling from her left hand. The clack-clack of her sandals was the only sound she made.

I tipped my hat when she came closer. “Afternoon, ma’am. You need any help, directions?”

Her smile was warm, disarming. “Thank you so much for offering. I’m looking for Samuel Moonlight’s home. Could you direct me?”

“Sam’s place is a bit out, I have my truck here, be glad to give you a ride.” I offered.

Her blue eyes warmed, her cheeks flushed ever so lightly. She placed her right hand on the back of mine. “I’d be in your debt, sir.”

She was evasive on the ride there. Sam had passed on three weeks ago. Master Leonard Pickins, a lawyer from ten miles away had assured us that a relative existed. “Just a matter of locating.” He had mumbled.

“It’s not much, Sam’s spread.” I informed her. “Not sure if he has any provisions left in his larder. Would you like to stop at Higgin’s for some basics?” I offered.

She smiled her serene smile, “I’m sure I’ll be fine tonight, I thank you for your concern.”

I shrugged. The truth is most of us couldn’t fathom how Sam had made his small spread work. No water to speak off, only the toughest of sheep and goats would manage to live and reproduce.

We didn’t’ see her that first week. I had mentioned her arrival to anyone coming to my store. Mary Costner, a known busybody and church lady took it upon herself to go and meet her. When Mary came back, she settled in Higgin’s shop and told all and sundry about her trip to Sam’s.

“Her name is Samantha, and I do believe she’s a witch.” Mary announced when she believed her audience was big enough.

“This ain’t the seventeenth century, Mary.” Gordon spat into the bowl from where he stood. Nary a drop missed.

“I know, Gordon, I’m well aware of the date, thank you. But history aside, the possibility of witchcraft still exists.” She insisted.

“So, Mary.” I spoke up. “What is your evidence?”

“Um, supposition, be more correct, Martin.” She nodded. “We all know that there is no water in those hills. We all know that Sam had barely kept his tiny flock alive and only ate when the ewes produced. And, somehow, he never looked needy for food, did he?” She crossed her arms over her ample blossom and looked from one to the other. We shrugged and nodded, more or less in unison.

“So? Make yer point, woman.” Gordon groused.

“When I drove up, I heard water running. As if someone had opened a tap. But when I turned the corner of the sack, for let’s face it, Sam’s place, though sprawling, is just a breeze away from toppling, I saw no evidence of water.” She nodded for emphasis. “Except the marigolds.”

“What marigolds?” Joanna, Gordon’s wife, asked.

“Exactly!” Mary nodded at Joanna. She had found a kindred soul.

Gordon shrugged. “So, what’s wrong with marigolds?” He spat again with the same deadly accuracy.

“It means, love, that the woman plans to grow a garden, tomatoes, possibly potatoes any variety of greens.” Joanna patiently pointed out to her husband.

“And what would be wrong with that?” Gordon was a cattle man, did not concern himself with the rest of the food that was so patiently placed in front of him each night.

“Gordon, you numbskull!” Mary exploded. All heads swiveled back toward her. Mary, known for her infinite patience and outward goodwill, had never so much as raised her eyebrow, let alone her voice.

“She is planning on raising vegetables, or herbs near her home, such as it is. Which means she has found water there and is planning to stay.”

“There’s no water there abouts.” William had been quietly listening. He’s the second diviner in these parts. Sam Moonlight had been everyone’s first choice if a well needed to be dug.

“Be that as it may, William.” Mary seemed to have found her equanimity. “She gave every impression of having found some.”

“Hmph.” William made a point of being casual when he strolled out of the shop.

“Bet I know where he’s going.” Mary remarked with glee.

We questioned Mary for a few more minutes, but it was clear that even though the newcomer had been cordial, she had not invited Mary into the dilapidated home. The evidence being slim, we shook our heads again and went back to work, considering the afternoon to have been mildly entertaining at best.

It was a little more than a week later when William sidled through the backdoor of the feed store. I lifted my chin in greeting. He touched his cap, showing me, he wanted to talk, in private. I kicked Buddy’s boots, telling him he was on. He’d been napping on the 150-pound sacks of cattle feed. The lay-about tipped his hat up and nodded at me. I only pay him when his eyes are open. It’s a fair trade off.

William and I stepped outside. “’s New?” I lit my pipe. William moved the straw from the left side of his mouth to the right.

“She’s making it.”

It only took me a few heartbeats to figure out what he had said. “Ya shitting me!” I hissed.

William leaned back against the wall of my storage shed. “Don’t know how, but she does, like Sam did, I reckon.”

“So, Mary …” I let the thought trail off.

“Prolly.” He chewed on his straw some more. Pulled it out and turned to face me. “She’s good folk.”

I nodded and watched him walk away. I took my time on the pipe, sucking and puffing and thinking. One thing was clear, if William thought she was okay, then she was. If William thought she had what? Skills, powers, then she did.

Come Sunday, I did something I had not done since I was twelve and convinced Lenore to skip bible school and come fishing with me. I skipped church. Knowing that most everybody was locked in the small white building, condemned to listen to the out of tune organ and pastor Humming's stale sermon, I set off to Sam’s place.

I found the woman, half siren, half goddess, in her garden. The ground looked dark and moist. She rose when she saw me, wiping her hands on her apron, she smiled.

“Martin, correct?” She tipped her head to the left; delightful dimples bracketed her smile.

I nodded, feeling self-conscious. “W-we met when you stepped off the train.”

“So, we did.” She nodded and waited for me to say my business.

“Miss, um ma’am.” I stammered, suddenly tongue-tied. “We have always been under the impression that there is no water up here in the hills.” I squirmed, didn’t mean to be so clumsy. Darn it, I had rehearsed more elegant words.

She smiled, the way a teacher smiles at a student who has asked a good question. “And yet, I seem to have some.” She faced me square on. “Tell me, Martin, how well did you know my uncle.”

I told her how Sam and William and I had grown up together, played hooky from school to catch tadpoles, squired the same girls to church picnics, compared first kisses, looked through the lingerie sections of the Sears catalogues and the magazines we found under William’s father’s bed. How we had competed on horseback and with marbles. Gone fishing and swimming in the stream down below.

Samantha brought out a pitcher of lemonade and a few sandwiches as I reminisced.

“So, you and William knew him as well, or better than most. Do I have that right?”

I nodded while I chewed on the delicious crusty bread. I could make a meal with that bread three times a day, seven days a week.

“Then you know he was different.” She concluded.

I stopped chewing and looked at her. Yes, we knew. Everybody knew. When he turned eighteen or nineteen he had isolated himself here on the barren hills, raising a handful of sheep, a goat or two. Tinkering with metal, making sculptures and talismans. That he had taught himself all about herbs, how to handle even the dangerous ones. That he always knew, without having been asked what Doc Merriweather needed. Had brought certain teas when Joanna was stuck in labor. Had shown up at Manny’s one night, with a poultice for the horse that had come up lame, how … There were so many unexplained examples. Never asking for recognition, just handing off the remedy and instructions and driving away again, up into these hills.

I nodded. “Like a sixth sense.” I conceded. “We knew that he just knew. None of us ever asked how.”

She nodded. “He wouldn’t have explained, couldn’t most likely.” She poured me some more lemonade. Where had she gotten the lemons from?

“Martin.” She sighed. “There are many ways to know things. We can see them, touch them, read about and study them, and we can accept them from the universe. We know where the sun and the moon will rise and set. We know that certain stars always stay together. We know what to expect each season. Is it so unbelievable that some people understand more, see more, intuit more of what goes on around them than other people? Can you live with the notion that I can make the improbable happen without upsetting, taking away or influencing others?”

She bit into her sandwich and chewed contentedly. Savoring the nutty flavor of the bread, the sharpness of the cheese. Finally, she looked back at me.

“I don’t know how my uncle knew what he knew, I don’t know how I know, but this is the place for us to do what we are supposed to do.” She took another bite, visibly enjoying it.

“When I was ten or so, my mother brought me here, one summer. I felt the peace, the magic, the power that is in this place. When my mother saw my reaction, how I followed Uncle Sam like a puppy, she had an argument with him and took me back to the city. She told me to forget what I had felt. But how can you forget magic? When I learned that Uncle Sam had left his little magical corner to me, I didn’t think twice. I was happy to leave the city and come here to find that peace again. I dropped everything and got on the train at once.”

She drank deeply from her glass. “All magic has two sides, Martin.” She continued. “It takes patience, faith and peace to allow the good side to flourish. The malevolent side takes just one word to grow into its own. So, I beg you to let it be. I promise to do no harm and continue my uncle’s work.”

We sat in silence till the sun was low in our eyes.

“Under one condition. No, two.”

She smiled, her face turned to the warmth of the setting sun, and nodded as if she knew what I was going to say, and she may very well have.

“That I may court you and have all the bread my heart desires.”

That was forty years ago.

She has never consented to marry me but has given me a rare privilege and invited me inside her home, where the spring bubbles up, and a few precious yards further disappears into the earth again. Inside Sam’s handmade home many plants, herbs, nut and fruit trees flourish.

I’m eighty-two, my love, Samantha, is sixty-five. She has promised me that I will have twenty more years, if I want them. I told her that I would only consider them if she is with me.

May 31, 2024 18:28

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Nancy Wright
22:29 Jun 10, 2024

I really loved this. It feels like it could be a great book, if you chose to take it there! Great job at creating a world within a world, too!


Trudy Jas
22:33 Jun 10, 2024

Thanks, Nancy. Really apreciate your comment. Whether it will ever "grow up" is doubtful. I'll let your imagination do that (Don't forget the like, wink, wink) :-)


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Harland Chambers
02:17 Jun 05, 2024

Beautiful command of dialogue throughout this rich story. Hats off to you, Trudy. You capture it all this week - migraines, death and magic.


Trudy Jas
02:20 Jun 05, 2024

😊 When you fear death b/c you have a migraine, you need a little magic. Thank you HC


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Martin Maynard
02:38 Jun 04, 2024

This is one of my favorite stories so far! Loved it


Trudy Jas
02:54 Jun 04, 2024

Thanks, Martin. Of course you would. LOL The MC's name is Martin. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for reading me


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Joe Smallwood
03:36 Jun 02, 2024

I liked it. It was historical and gave the plot a chance to have characters change, which accounts for the length and all the conversation. Your dedication to maintaining the authenticity of the dialogue is commendable. It's evident that you've immersed yourself in the fiction of the time period, capturing not just their way of speaking but also their attitudes. This adds a layer of depth to your characters and the story as a whole. I hate to read or watch historical fiction that has the characters talking like Gen Z. Ugh! Lovely tale, gent...


Trudy Jas
05:29 Jun 02, 2024

LOL Thank you, Joe. So glad you like this one. It felt timeless to me, but yes, the characters we a bit more formal than "texting" :-) Thanks for your kind words.


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Mary Bendickson
18:38 Jun 01, 2024



Trudy Jas
19:25 Jun 01, 2024

Thanks, Mary. As opposed to the other one. LOL


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