It’s been a long long time since I wrote any stories or poems or even blogged, by the looks of things. However, there’s this lovely goth boy who asked me to write him a bedtime story and I gladly obliged. So I’ll post it here as well because I quite liked the way it turned out, even though it was written in just a couple of hours and I had no idea how the events would unfold when I had put down the first sentence 🙂
* * *
Once upon a time there lived a little boy. He was quite ordinary in looks and if you saw him play with the other little boys and girls, you would have had trouble telling him apart from the other little savages on first glance. He was ten years old like most of the kids in the neighbourhood, roughly the same height as his playmates and even his freckles looked like everyone else’s. His name was Tommy and that was very common as well – one of his closest friends, Bartholomew, was called Tommy for short just like him (although our Tommy’s full name was Thomas Albert) and another awesome buddy was named just Tom because his parents strongly believed in all things simple.
One hot summer day Tommy was walking down the dusty streets of his small hometown, kicking little pebbles out of his way. He was sulking as his best friends had both been grounded the day before since they had thought it would be funny to play yet another joke on the old lady who was rumoured to be a witch among the kids. She was very, very old, her loose skin hung off her birdlike frail figure like yellowed parchment and she was always dressed in black. Her wispy white hair was long and often tangled because it was difficult for her to brush it properly on her own due to her arthritis. Add to that the fact that she lived alone in a small house on the edge of the town – it was all the kids needed to be convinced that she must be an evil old crone, just like in fairy tales.
Lately the children had invented a new way to pass the time and amuse themselves. They’d ring the doorbell of the old lady, wait until the shuffling of slippers was nearly at the door, then yell “DING DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD!!!” and laugh their heads off as they dispersed quickly. Tommy didn’t like this kind of jokes because he felt a bit sorry for the old lady. He didn’t really remember much about his own grandmother but something about that thin white hair brought back a dim memory of a warm lap where he loved to sit and play the clapping game. Even though he did not participate in this “doorbell fun”, he never found it in him to tell his mates off for bullying the old woman either.
In any case his best friends had been caught red-handed by Tommy’s mom last afternoon as they were about to take flight from the old lady’s front door. Tommy’s mother did not find any of this amusing either and took the boys home, making sure their moms and dads learned all about their behaviour as well. When she got back to her own house, she scolded Tommy, too, even though he protested that he had never ever done anything to the woman in all his life… but that’s moms for you.
So there he was, walking down the street and brooding because it was difficult to have fun all by himself when he could have been racing his friends on bikes up and down the street or go swimming together or at the very least play some football with them, if only they had not been stuck at home. He wasn’t really paying much attention to where his feet were taking him until something made him look up. He was surprised to discover that his absent-minded walk had taken him right to the cottage of the so-called witch and that was definitely the last place he wanted to be at the time. He was about to turn around and leave when he suddenly noticed the old woman leaning on her fence and looking at him intently. Tommy was not a chicken by any means but at that moment he felt his heart skip a beat.
The wrinkled old woman beckoned him with a gnarled finger and as of their own volition his feet began a hesitant trip across the street. The journey which usually took only a blink of an eye seemed to last an eternity this time, all the while his heart was thumping rapidly in his chest like some wild bird thrashing about, trying to break free from a cage. What would she say to him? Would she yell at him because she had seen him with his friends and therefore think that he had come to taunt her on his own?
When he had made it to the fence in what seemed like a whole other lifetime, he finally gathered up the courage to look the elderly woman in the eye. To his utter amazement she was smiling at him! His shock was even greater when she opened her wrinkled mouth and quietly asked: ‘Would you like to come inside? I have tea and biscuits. I think we should talk.’
Tommy was so dumbfounded that he could only nod in response. His knees were shaking like aspen leaves in the wind but his curiosity got the better of him. None of the kids of the neighbourhood had ever even been in the witch’s hallway, never mind being offered tea with biscuits!
The old woman tottered inside, holding out the door for him and smiling encouragingly. Even though thoughts of gingerbread houses and hot ovens for cooking children were flashing through Tommy’s head, he decided to follow her. He was even further astonished to find two steaming cups of tea on the living room table, next to a cookie jar. They could not have been poured out more than a couple of minutes ago and yet everyone knew the witch lived all by herself!
The lady of the house gestured towards the couch for him to take a seat and he obliged immediately. She pushed one cup towards him and passed along some cream and sugar as well. His hands were shaking badly but he managed to pour the cream into his mug without spilling any of it and was secretly proud of himself for this little victory.
“My name is Marian,” said the wispy-haired woman suddenly. It broke the silence in such an abrupt way that Tommy almost yelped and dropped the spoon inside his mug with a loud clatter.
The woman smiled again.
“Don’t be afraid of me, I’m not going to put a spell on you. I think your name is Tommy, is that so?”
Tommy gave an almost imperceptible nod, then immediately scolded himself in his mind for being such a coward and coughed to clarify his voice. “Yes, I’m Tommy,” he admitted bashfully.
“I know you’re not entirely like your friends, even if you look a lot like them,” the old woman continued. “For example, you have never rung my doorbell or broken a window of mine and that is definitely commendable. However, I want to ask you something.”
Tommy took a gulp of his tea and realized too late that it was still way too hot for such a big mouthful. Trying to suppress a grimace of pain, he looked at the woman next to him and motioned her to go on.
“Do you think I am a witch?” Marian asked him suddenly.
“Err… uh… I… that is… I don’t know… I think so,” spluttered Tommy. “Are you?”
She smiled again. It was a funny smile, as it made her look a lot younger than she was. Tommy reached for a biscuit and decided to concentrate on eating it in order to appear less nervous than he really was. Everything was silent for a while, except for the ticking of a large grandfather clock on the wall. Tick tock. Tick tock.
“Well, what do you think?” came Marian’s voice but something about it seemed to be a bit… different. Tommy raised his eyes and dropped his biscuit on the floor. The smile that had made her look younger before was no illusion – she really WAS younger! Her hair was thicker and darker, though still light and straw-coloured. Hundreds of cobweb-like wrinkles on her face had been smoothed out, so that only a few remained. Her posture had straightened and her eyes seemed to sparkle with suppressed mirth.
“Oh my God, you ARE!!!” was all Tommy could manage to utter on the first attempt. “But how… why… how did you do that?”
“That doesn’t matter right now. What’s important is that you thought me an old hag and yet you were brave enough to come inside my house, alone, not knowing whether I have gingerbread tapestry or not!” She was still obviously amused at his confusion but Tommy did not share the sentiment. He felt deeply embarrassed instead.
“I’m not brave… I never thought it was funny to bully you the way my friends did but I never said anything to them about it and I’m really sorry!” He hung his head in shame, as he felt the burning blush creep across his cheeks and forehead. The feeling was genuine, he had never been more sorry about anything in his short life, not even the time when he accidentally broke his little sister’s favourite model airplane and she cried inconsolably for two hours straight.
Marian had stopped smirking and turned serious. “Apology accepted,” she said in a sober tone. “However, as luck would have it, I can see inside people’s hearts sometimes. I can peek inside yours as well and it seems like you’re in need of more company, especially now that your two best buddies have been locked up until further notice from their parents. In due time I might even teach you a bit of what I know about the world and people therein but for now – would you like to come visit me once a week to drink tea and have a chat? You can ask me about anything and I shall see if I can answer as truthfully as I can. I like you, Tommy, you’re a good boy.”
Tommy felt the need to secretly pinch himself on the thigh. This was bordering on the absurd! Why would she want to hang out with him, a ten-year-old kid? And why did she choose to look like an old hag if she could change her appearance at will? He decided to ask the latter out loud.
Marian smiled that dazzling smile once again. “That one is easy,” she said. “I can only change the way you see me, not the way I am. Take my hand!”
Tommy was hesitant at first but still decided to go through with the experiment and touched her outstretched hand. What seemed to his eyes like slightly plump, normal fingers, were bony and dry to his actual touch.
“Wooooow,” was all he could press out.
“As for your other question that you did not mention aloud – I don’t have many people left who care much about my presence and since you currently seem to have a bit more free time due to your mates being grounded, I thought we might see if we could become friends. So, what do you think?”
Tommy thought about it for a moment and came to the conclusion that he had nothing to lose but a lot to win. He nodded fervently, albeit a bit sheepishly. “Will you teach me how to look some other age than the one I really am?” he asked self-consciously, not wanting to come off as impolite.
Marian laughed again. “No, not just yet! However, I have a neat little toy I can give to you as a present. Come back in a week and tell me what do you think makes it work!” With these words she placed something small in his hand. He had to raise it close to his face to realize what it was. When he finally did, he was glad that he was sitting on the couch as he almost dropped the tiny thing out of shock. It looked like some kind of intricate clockwork mechanism, he once had seen a movie about that sort of stuff… only it couldn’t have been! There was a tiny dotted egg, out of which came a bald little chicken who grew in size rapidly and also spurted fiery feathers outside its skin. When it was looking the most magnificent and majestic, it suddenly burst into flames and the ashes were compressed into a tiny dotted egg.
Tommy then looked Marian straight in the eye and stated boldly and loudly: “I think you’re an awesome witch!!! I’ll be back next Wednesday with little George here!” With that he gestured to the ever-changing phoenix in his hand.
Marian smiled her mysterious smile again: “Thank you, Tommy. I’ll see you in a week then. Oh, and George, as you named him, likes warm places but don’t leave him too near to anything flammable, please.”
With these words she showed Tommy out of the house and locked the door behind him. Tommy looked back over his shoulder, then at his palm where George was doing his cycle trick, shrugged and decided to go home. In a week’s time he’ll have lots and lots of questions and then he’ll see how much witches really know!