"Are you sure you'll be okay by yourself Mom?" twelve year old Mitchell said as he tossed the oversized black duffel bag into the bed of his Dad's truck.
"Mitchell, I'm 42 years old. If I'm not okay by myself for three days at my age, something is really wrong."
"Awe, Mom," fourteen year old Matthew said as he leaned down to kiss my cheek, "We know you'll be okay but we can worry about you anyway."
My husband Justin walked out the door in his usual hurried manner when he's preparing to leave for a trip. "What are you boys waiting on? Get in the truck. And where's Mark?"
"Last time I saw him he was talking some mushy stuff to someone on the phone," Mitchell said as he rolled his eyes.
"Oh hell," Justin murmured beneath his breath, "if he's going to be that way the whole trip, we might as well leave him here."
"I'm coming," sixteen year old Mark said as he walked out the door, "I just had to tell someone goodbye."
Mitchell and Matthew rolled their eyes in unison.
"Tell Mom bye. It's time to go," Justin said. Then he leaned down and whispered in my ear, "I love you," followed by a quick kiss.
The boys mumbled various words of farewell as they jumped in the truck to begin the argument over whose music to listen to first.
As I watched the dust whirl behind the black pick up truck, I took a deep breath. Finally a moment for myself.
The truck was barely out of sight when I heard a noise. A loud, whiny meow coming from somewhere in the trees on the side of the house.
Then I saw it out of the corner of my eye. He, or maybe she, was dark gray or maybe black, but definitely one of the fattest cats I could ever remember seeing before. He was sitting on a high branch of a pine tree as my Labrador retriever Lucy circled the tree below.
My first instinct was to call Justin or the boys, but I had just promised them I would be okay. Surely one fat kitty hanging on a branch wasn't a need for alarm.
Just as I'd convinced myself to go inside and ignore the coming attack, a hooded figure peeked around the oversized oak tree in the corner of the yard. I blinked my eyes really hard, hoping it was just my imagination but when I opened my eyes....the hooded figure had moved behind another tree even closer. A pale, bony hand rested against the trunk.
My body froze. I held my breath. Had someone been watching my family pack up and leave this morning? Where was the gun Justin kept? Maybe I could just run next door. Oh hell, I'm barefoot. I can't run anywhere. I picked up my phone, but never took my eyes off the hooded figure in the distance. I moved my thumb to tap the contacts icon, but just as I shifted my eyes to the phone screen, Lucy howled at the top of her lungs. I jumped so fast I knocked the ceramic cup full of warm coffee onto the porch. The cup busted into a million pieces and coffee splattered over everything. A piece of ceramic bounced off my foot and sliced the skin open. Bright red blood oozed down the side of my foot and mixed with the puddle of coffee.
I didn't know if I wanted to cry or scream. The commotion interrupted Lucy's kitty cat stalking. She arrived at my feet licking the spilled coffee from the concrete.
"No, Lucy! You're going to cut yourself. Get out of that!" As I yelled at Lucy, I looked up and the hooded figure was nowhere to be seen. I made a mad dash for the front door and Lucy followed. I locked the door behind myself, jiggling the knob before I walked away, just to be sure.
"Come on Lucy. Let's get my foot cleaned up, then we'll go back outside and clean up that mess." Lucy wagged her tail as if she understood exactly what I was telling her.
In the bathroom, I sat on the edge of the tub and let warm water run over my calves and feet. My heart pounded as I thought about the hooded visitor in the front yard.
Who was it? What did they want?
After applying a little antibiotic cream and a bandaid to the cut, I went to the kitchen and gathered paper towels, a broom and dustpan. If I didn't get the mess outside cleaned up, armies of hungry ants would invade the porch within a few hours.
Armed with the tools I needed for the clean up, I called to Lucy to follow me back out to the porch. I sure wasn't going back out there all alone. When I stepped outside, the hooded figure with bony hands was knelt down next to my rocking chair picking up broken ceramic.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" I squeaked out in confusion and fear.
The hooded figure never flinched. It slowly lifted its head. Dark brown sad eyes gazed back at me. I immediately recognized my hooded visitor as Ms. Hazel Oliver from down the street. The boys insisted Hazel was nothing short of an evil witch. The neighborhood stories included everything from Hazel chanting around candles in her yard at midnight to eating dogs and children. I'd only seen her a handful of times in the fifteen years we'd lived in this house, but she had a look about her a person can't quickly forget.
Her skin was the palest I'd seen on anyone in my life. Her hollow brown eyes were surrounded with dark gray circles. Her stringy salt and pepper hair fell half way down her back. She had thin lips and a pointy nose with a wart on the tip. She was rather slender but it was hard to tell since she was always dressed in loose fit black clothing. No matter the season, Hazel always wore the same black jacket. She was definitely one of a kind. Someone you will always remember.
"Whose blood is this?" She asked as her eyes fell to my feet.
"I asked you a question first," I demanded as I held a growling Lucy by her collar.
"I scared you, so I'm helping clean up the mess you made."
"Why were you in my yard in the first place?"
"To get Nox before that evil creature of yours killed him," Hazel whispered as she pointed a long pale bony finger at Lucy.
Lucy growled louder.
"Lucy isn't evil. Is Nox your cat in the tree?"
"Yes. That's his name. Now bring me that broom."
I slowly walked toward Hazel, but held on to Lucy's collar with my free hand. Lucy had never attacked anyone, but she seemed quite upset by Hazel's presence in her territory.
When I'd gotten within a few feet of Hazel, I held out the broom. Hazel dropped the large pieces of broken ceramic into the dust pan and swept the small pieces onto it as well. When she finished, she reached for the paper towels I still held. She knelt down and dried the concrete, as I stood by holding onto Lucy.
"There," she said as she wadded the papertowls into a ball and dropped them onto the dustpan too, "It looks like nothing ever happened here."
"Thank you," I managed to mumble.
"Now to get Nox out of the tree."
"Can't you just cast a spell?" I blurted out without even thinking.
"A spell?" Hazel laughed with a hint of sarcasm in her voice, "What makes you think I can cast a spell? You don't believe those kids that I'm a witch, do you?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry I said that. So how will you get her down?"
"Do you have a ladder?"
"I think we have one in the shed, but you aren't going to climb a ladder."
"And just why not?"
"I just don't think it would be safe....." my voice trailed off, I just couldn't tell her I thought she was too old to do such things but I guess she read my mind.
"I don't know how old you think I am, but I assure you I can climb a ladder."
I started to argue with her, but I bit my lip instead. I slowly released my grip from Lucy's collar. There was no way to carry the ladder and hold onto Lucy at the same time. She had at least stopped growling.
Lucy surprised me. She slowly circled around Hazel's feet then stopped to sniff. She seemed calm enough for me to slip away and retrieve the ladder. She licked at the concrete where the coffee had landed earlier as I made my way to the shed.
When I returned with the ladder, Hazel and Lucy were together beneath the tall pine tree where Nox held on for dear life. I stood the ladder as closely to the tree as possible. I still wasn't sure about Hazel climbing it though. All I could imagine was having to call Justin and the boys to announce that the witch from down the street had fallen off the ladder into our yard.
"I'll climb the ladder," I announced once I had it positioned.
"Nox won't come to you. There's no sense in trying."
Lucy barked as if she agreed with Hazel, so I gave in and watched Hazel slowly climb to the top.
"You be careful. Don't hurt yourself "
"You sound like my dear Andrew."
"Is Andrew your son?"
Hazel smiled. I'd never seen her smile before.
"Andrew is my husband... or was. He's been gone fifteen years now," she said as her face dropped back to its usual sad state, " We never had children."
"I'm sorry," I muttered.
"It's okay. I have Nox. He keeps me company. He's all I have now."
Hazel turned her head back towards Nox, who seemed to hang on for his life not far above her head. Nox let out a soft meow. Lucy immediately began jumping around, wagging her tail and barking. She got so excited she bumped into the ladder. The ladder shifted and rocked causing Hazel to hang on while I grabbed it to hold it steady again.
"Oh goodness," I exclaimed, "Hazel, please hurry and get off this thing before the next thing I have to do is call for an ambulance."
Hazel laughed. She reached out with one hand and she held on with the other.
"Come on now Nox, I'm ready to go home."
Nox slowly crept down towards Hazel. I held on to the ladder and stared at Lucy, daring her with my eyes to even come near.
Hazel finally got Nox. I let go of the ladder to grab Lucy so Hazel could come down. Lucy growled but she stayed away from the ladder long enough for Hazel to finally get back to the ground.
I breathed a sigh of relief, "That was too much excitement for me in one day."
"Thank you for helping me getting Nox," Hazel said as she held her baby, "We should head home and get some rest."
"No problem. I need to put the ladder back up and get some rest myself "
"I'll be going now. Make sure to tell the boys that the old lady down the street isn't a witch after all," Hazel said with a smile.
"I'll be sure to let them know."
As Hazel began strolling away, I turned to get the ladder but it was gone.
"Hey Hazel, " I called out, "The ladder is gone."
"It's not gone. I already put it up for you in the shed. Right where you found it," Hazel answered and winked.
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Loved your story, Melony. Wholesome and light-hearted, with just the right amount of suspense and mystery. Good ending ;D
Thank you so much for stopping by to read it and for the encouraging comment.
An English professor of mine would frequently refer to the quote from Hamlet- "Brevity is the soul of wit."
Interesting dialog. The son's worry for his mother through me off. I though perhaps she was in a wheel chair or ill, something like that. The bony hand hooded figure led me to think it was the grime reaper and not a solitary old lady that lived down the street, who always wore the same black jacket and was in fact a witch. Overall, well paced.
I can see it like a Ghibli movie. Well done.
Great fun, I really enjoyed your story. I think Hazel could have cast a spell to get the cat back, she just wanted to make a friend. I like a story that makes your imagination race.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment. And yes the idea was that Hazel could have used magic, but she didn't just so she make someone see she wasn't so bad after all.
A surprise ending! When the son was worried about the mother I wondered why... did she hallucinate? I even thought she might be a ghost that only the boys could see until Justin kissed her. You had me looking so hard for something strange over there I didn't see it coming from over here! Something strange and scary turned into something magical and special. I wish there were a Hazel in my neighbourhood :)
I grew to love Hazel too as I wrote about her. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.
Fun read! Looking forward to part 2 when Ms. Hazel helps mess with Mark and his gf on Halloween!
Sounds like an awesome idea. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment!
This was a fun read :) First off, the opening sentence is eye-catching. It's not filled with action or a dramatic hook or anything, but a twelve year old packing a bag and asking if his mother will be all right? It's unusual, flipping the expectation on its head. So, great way to open the story. The scenes after that, man, thoae were dramatic. A sense of weird with the cat, then menace with the stranger, then even a little horror with the coffee and blood. At this point I had no idea where things were going, but it was staring to look like...
Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment. It was a fun story to write too. I'
This is a great story. You have a lot of excitement and mystery. I do wonder though about the bathroom scene. If your narrator was truly scared about the hooded figure, why would she stop to get a bandage? That scene seemed to slow the pace of your story and lightened the tense situation. Having the narrator hobble around with a minor injury would make her more vulnerable and make the unknown visitor potentially more dangerous. Additionally, Hazel could possibly heal her foot when she put the ladder away for an added twist. Just a thoug...
Excellent ideas. I guess I thought because she locked the door she felt safe inside but I see your point. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. I may tweak it a little before the deadline.
This had me all kinds of freaked out. I love what you did with this story,
Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment!
A lovely lighthearted story, and a great wee twist at the end! Had to read it twice to make sure I was reading it right!! All that was missing was for her to wiggle her nose! Really enjoyed this!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it so much!
I liked it...a story that moves along without 5,000 adjectives describing every glistening blade of grass or sparkle of moonlight... and a nice surprise ending.
Thank you. I sometimes worry that my writing style is basic, but I don't enjoy reading a ton of adjectives either.