Twyla hobbled through the forest of Spanish moss draped oak trees, carrying a large sweetgrass basket tucked into the crook of her right arm. The wrinkled mahogany fingers of her left hand, grasped onto a tall carved walking stick, which she used to pull each of her ancient steps forward.
Eventually, she reached her picnic destination, and sat her old bones down on a tree stump near the edge of a lagoon. As she was pulling out miscellaneous items from her basket, a few algae-covered logs in the murky green water began to drift towards her.
Twyla was taking a slow sip of cool sweet tea from a mason jar, when the largest log, a twelve foot long alligator, crept out of the lagoon behind her. It crawled towards her and let out a low growl. Twyla turned her head to the source of the sound and was greeted by a massive set of jaws, filled with sharp teeth.
“Good afternoon Gertie, baby.” she said with a smile.
Twyla set down her tea, and opened up a parcel of seasoned fried chicken, wrapped in brown parchment paper. She tossed a crispy drumstick into the hungry mouth of her scaly green friend. Gertie gobbled up her treat happily and nuzzled the old woman’s hand in gratitude.
The pair were soon joined by other alligators, turtles, and snakes. Some enjoyed bites from Twyla’s picnic spread,while others basked nearby in the warm afternoon sun.
The old woman read aloud from a story book, pausing every now and then to nibble at a piece of cornbread, drizzled with tupelo honey. Gertie rested her colossal bumpy head at the base of Twyla’s feet, and listened to the soft twang to the woman’s voice as she read.
A sudden boom of gunshots and the frenzy of frightened waterfowl jolted Twyla’s attention away from the book. Several more shots followed, causing the creatures to hiss and slide into the lagoon for safety. Twyla lifted herself up from her stump with the aid of her tall walking stick and stepped onto the surface of the water.
With a quick nudge of her staff, she created a gentle wave beneath her feet, which she used to propel herself forward to the direction of the disturbance. Gertie followed closely behind.
Most of the locals had the good sense to stay out of Twyla’s woods. Children grew up hearing stories of the mysterious swamp witch and her legion of vicious alligators, panthers, and venomous snakes.
Some swore to have heard haunting whispers of disembodied voices and sightings of eerie moss-covered creatures lurking in the shadows.
Occasionally, a few of the local women would brave the woods and venture up the rickety steps towards her hut, desperate for healing tinctures, love potions, or other enchantments. When they came, they traveled through her woods as though they were walking through the palace of royalty. They were always careful, quiet, and respectful of her wild kingdom.
Twyla peered through a veil of Spanish moss, hidden away from the eyes of a burly man with plump red cheeks and a twirly ginger mustache.
He carried a long wooden rifle slung over one of his hefty shoulders. He wiped away a puddle of perspiration from his wide sweaty forehead with a silk pocket square from his mint seersucker suit.
A lanky boy with skin the color of gingerbread, bent down to collect the body of a mallard lying near the big man’s feet. The boy’s eyes were filled with immense sadness and grief for the bird. He lifted its limp body gently, almost as if it were made of delicate glass.
“Monty, fetch me anotha mint julep.” the burly man barked.
The boy placed the duck in a burlap sack and moved with haste to prepare the man’s drink. Once his beverage was presented to him, the big man snatched up the frosty metal cup and tossed the used sweat-covered pocket square in the young boy’s face.
Twyla’s tiny body vibrated with anger as she watched from behind her curtain of moss. Gertie let out a low growl, and glanced up at Twyla awaiting orders like a soldier poised for battle. The old woman squared her shoulders and lifted back the curtain of moss with a wave of her staff.
“You need to get up out of here with all of this mess.” she said, pointing a tiny wrinkled finger at the man.
Monty knelt down and lowered his eyes in respect as soon as he saw Twyla emerge from the trees. The big man looked the small old woman up and down, and erupted into a boom of deep laughter. Gertie snarled and stomped forward, enraged by his blatant disrespect towards her mistress.
“Shit! Look at tha size of that thing” shouted the big man.
He pointed his rifle at Gertie, and fired a cloud of gun smoke at the colossal beast.
Twyla flicked the bullet away with her walking stick, as if it were a mosquito.
“What in tha hell?” the man hollered.
His red face paled as he stared at the old woman in disbelief.
“What kind of devil are you?'' he asked in a quavering voice.
He spun the rifle away from the unharmed alligator and aimed it at Twyla’s face.
“I ain’t gonna ask you again.” she said.
Before the man could pull the trigger, she lifted her staff up high and launched a swarm of vines from the water behind her.
The man thrashed and screamed as the tangle of vines wrapped around his body and pulled him into the water. His eyes widened in terror when he noticed a group of big logs drifting his way. Twyla nodded her head at Gertie to dismiss her from her side. She dove into the water without hesitation, eager to join in with her fellow alligators.
Satisfied with her work, Twyla looked away from her pit of happy gators and turned her attention to the burlap bag that held the dead duck. She walked past the boy who remained kneeling on the ground below her. She closed her eyes and gently touched the bag with the tip of her walking stick.
Soon, the contents of the bag began to stir. The mallard poked its blue-green head from the bag and greeted Twyla with a quack.
The boy watched her in amazement as she turned around to face him.
“Monty is it?” she asked gently.
Monty nodded a quickly as the old woman looked down at him.
“You need some meat on your bones. Come along with me.”
She then took the boy’s hand and helped pull him up from the ground. The two then rode a wave back to her tree stump where they enjoyed the remainder of the picnic.