I Saw Something Weird in the Old Barn

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Write about a mysterious figure in one’s neighborhood.... view prompt


Fiction Fantasy Inspirational

She ignored the voices outside her window, taunting at first, then riddled with malice as she continued to ignore them. Click click clackety-clack went her needles as yarn, needle, and finger fused into one rhythmic dance.

I was standing before this charming cottage, wondering whether I should intervene. To pass by would be the simpler option, however a sense of moral duty prevented me from doing so. Through the window, behind lace curtains, sat a silhouette of a lady knitting. The cottage was a vast improvement on the old run-down barn that used to occupy that space for years. As children, adults had warned us to keep away from this dilapidated structure. It stood at the far corner of the park. A path alongside led to the canal. We all thought that the barn was condemned, with its peeling paint, rusty padlock, and loose panels. Long grass and nettles around its perimeter deterred any unlikely visitors. I hadn’t ventured this way for months, but recent events had been a catalyst for anxiety and lingering self-doubt. A long walk along the towpath would clear my head.

You don’t need him, I thought, and they don’t deserve your web-design skills.

Man, job, and self-esteem had all gone up in a puff of smoke, and I was preoccupied with the disaster that my life had seemed to become.

That evening, I chanced upon the scene of this fairytale cottage. Autumn’s jewels hovered above it in the trees, where red, copper, and gold hung from cascading branches. Outside, the taunting youths jeered, “Grumpy old hag.” But Magic dwells in that delightful little cottage, I thought. And as I lingered in the low evening sun, ruby red leaves above me caught droplets of light-infused raindrops and bobbed up and down, beckoning. With the mounting excitement of a child about to step into a storybook, I approached.

“Don’t go in there,” the harshness of an older child’s tone momentarily broke the spell. “She’ll turn you into a warthog,” the destroyer of magic mocked. I paused, caught between this world and the one I was about to enter. I don’t know how long I stood there—perhaps a minute—before the door opened. There stood a kindly looking lady with silver hair and a golden smile. She looked just like my grandmother. Her eyes twinkled with welcome as she peered at me over small round spectacles that sat on the end of her nose.

“Come in, Teresa,” she said. And then she unnerved me even more with “I have prepared your favourite brew.” I was understandably sceptical, slightly alarmed, but intrigued, so I stepped over the threshold into a small, quaint room. A green velvet-covered armchair sat off-centre and before a stone fireplace. Beside it sat a basket filled with knitting needles and balls of colourful yarn. A low coffee table fashioned out of a tree trunk held a patterned china teapot and two cups.

The scene was endearing yet unremarkable until the gentle lady poured from the teapot into one of the two patterned china cups; vanilla and cinnamon drifted up and filled the room with the scent of my favourite tea. I was about to ask, “How did you…?” But before I could finish my question, she winked and poured into the other teacup. This time, a richer, darker, more pungent smelling liquid flowed.

A bunch of twigs, tied around the bottom of a long branch, leant against the wall in the corner. Before it, in a second identical armchair, a fluffy black cushion stirred, as two pointed ears appeared and two green eyes studied me with curiosity.

“Are those boys annoying you?” I asked, concerned.

“What do you mean?” Confusion played on her face. Then she replied, “As you see, all is well.”

Meanwhile, the cat performed its salutation to the sun, stretching this way and that, unruffled by my intrusion. “Those boys,” I began, “they threw sticks at your house.”

She looked relieved, and her smile returned. “Ah, they only exist in your world, my dear, not mine.” With that, she removed her spectacles and reached over to place them on my nose. “Now look,” she said and nodded towards the window. Mesmerised, I did as she asked and pulled back the lace net. No one. There was nobody there. No matter how many times I blinked, the street remained empty.

Hypnotic and beguiling, her voice continued. “In my world, in the space around this house, you see what is in your mind and your heart. I happen to know that you see magic, mystery, and a world beyond your own. But you also see your world in danger, your magic threatened, and your truth questioned. You heard the slanders, saw the broomstick, and my lazy cat in the corner, and you fashioned your own truth about who I am. Now come sit awhile while I tell you tales of truths unknown in that other world of yours. Just pick a colour from my basket of yarns; I will knit you a protective jumper while we talk.”

I chose my colour and handed the ball of brightly coloured wool to the old lady.

“I will speak to you first of the ‘crone’ and her inner wisdom; of how she carries the injuries of all who came before her, and of all who follow after. I will also tell you tales of healing, of joy and how to lift spirits whilst your feet still touch the earth and how a crone wears a unique beauty, one that sparkles beyond compare. This truth, you will ultimately wrench from hidden depths within you, as you bear witness to a promise of new beginnings, new journeys, new magic.”

The air in the room seemed to hang upon her every word. Only the clickety clack of her needles accompanied the deep musicality of her voice. A mustard jumper took shape as she spoke, as if her words, not the needles, created it, infusing it with their insight and inspiration.

“With this magic,” she continued, “rearrange the fragments of your story, see a deeper truth emerge. Your magic is in the story you write for yourself, not the one you allow others to write for you; because that which you seek is yours to embrace.” Then she held up the jumper.

“Wear this jumper that I have infused with yarns of hope, vitality, and wisdom. Inhale its essence and let its glow be a guiding light for others. Go follow your gentle story of discovery because it is never too late.” With that, she handed me her mustard creation. I pulled it over my head, accepting that knitting a jumper in under an hour was as commonplace in this world as pouring a variety of teas from the same teapot. My skin tingled as its protection enveloped me.

Smiling my thanks, I bid her farewell and made my way along the alyssum edged path and through the wooden gate; noticing its post had been polished by the hands of many visitors. I turned to wave goodbye. But she was fading; ethereal waves of mist descended over her.

“No wait, please,” I said. Urgency tinged my voice. “Your name? I never asked you your name.”

Her lips formed syllables accompanied by a smile, and with that, she was gone. The colours of her dreamy cottage dissipated into waves that billowed towards the sky. I watched them rise upwards; pink infused clouds formed shapes, like a map to a distant land. When my gaze returned to the old woman’s dwelling, it was no longer there. In its place stood the old disused barn with peeling paint, mismatched wooden panels, and rusty padlock.

I will never be certain whether I misheard the hushed vanishing syllables that scattered into the dream that had surrounded her, but I thought I heard the gentle lady say, “Teresa.”

“My name is Teresa.”

July 15, 2021 18:05

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