Something Wicked: Part II
A Meadowsweet Story
If you missed Part I of "Something Wicked" you can find it here.
The townsfolk knew very little about the little blue cottage on the edge of the forest. They knew it was owned by a very strange family and that a very strange woman lived in it now. They knew that sometimes strange sights would appear on the edge of the forest—flashes of light, hulking shadows and unearthly colors. The townsfolk had learned to blame the weather or something that they ate or a trick of the light for all the good it did them. Most had learned to avoid looking in the direction of the cottage altogether. One could never truly trust one’s eyes, they reasoned. But they were all sure of one thing: anything strange sights or sounds that did occur were most certainly related to the Meadowsweets in some way.
When Archie Goodfellow, a man in his mid-thirties and a newcomer to the town, noticed a strange assortment of clouds hovering over the forest he stopped midstride. He marveled at the cloud configuration that looked so much like a towering demon with horns atop its head and billowy wings cloaking its body. Archie gazed at the clouds and thought he saw one of the wings shift but knew a moment later that it must have been the wind.
Archie shook his head. He had heard that sometimes people saw strange things coming from that general area of the forest. He continued on his way to the bakery as the gray light of the early morning gave way to the golden warmth of dawn. The sun, he knew, would banish the ominous clouds and the chill he felt deep in his bones.
Imelda stood in her front yard, her bare feet covered in a thin layer of garden soil and glared menacingly at the clouds.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said to the sky. The mountainous mass of clouds had taken the shape of a massive horned demon, and Imelda had no good humor to deal with the likes of that today.
She snatched the herbs she needed from her garden and marched back inside. She threw the herbs, stems and all, into the pot of simmering water on her stove. She scanned the cabinet for rosemary and let out an agitated groan when she discovered the
empty jar where she usually kept the herb.
She grabbed the jar from the cabinet and tucked it into her bag. She pulled on her boots and took the little beaten path toward town. No one in town would be happy to see her—this she knew. The townsfolk had a hard time accepting Imelda. She wasn’t as clean and polished as some of the ladies in town, with her wild brown hair and her dirty fingernails. She had no prestigious career and no children. The townsfolk, subsequently, had trouble placing her in a category of who they thought a woman in her mid-thirties should be.
She glanced again at the clouds. The shape was more defined now. She was going to have to change her plans. She glanced at her watch. Ember and Lydia were arriving in six hours to spend the weekend with her. Certainly, she could dispense with this nuisance by then.
"By the pricking of my thumbs..." she muttered to herself as she hurried down the path toward town.
Archie had just pulled out the first batch of muffins from the oven when the door crashed open. The little bell fastened to the door swung wildly. Standing in the doorway was a very peculiar-looking woman. Her brown curly hair was long and dark, her eyes full of ferocious energy. Archie’s first thought when he saw her was that she reminded him of a thunderstorm—beautiful, powerful, a force of nature.
She strode into the room and peered over the counter into Archie’s office. “Frank?” she called, completely ignoring Archie, who was standing frozen, still holding the tin of muffins.
“Is there something—?” he began, but was cut off when she shouted even louder,
Archie wondered for a moment if some extraordinary set of events had rendered him invisible. He stepped forward and set the tin down hard on the counter. It made a sharp, snapping sound.
The woman’s eyes finally landed on his. “There’s no need for that,” she said.
Archie made an indignant choked sound in the back of his throat before he regained his composure. Despite the woman’s haughty demeanor, she was still a customer—and if he was honest with himself, he had to admit that business had been slow recently.
“Retired,” he said calmly.
“What?” she asked.
“Frank retired,” he said. He pulled out a tray from behind the glass display case and arranged the muffins onto it. “I bought the bakery from Frank about four months ago.”
“What?” the woman repeated, looking equal parts confused and distressed. “Where did he go?”
Archie shrugged. “Vacationing in the Caribbean somewhere, I think. Is there anything I can do for you?”
The woman looked at Archie with a discerning eye. Archie made a concerted effort not to shift uncomfortably under her gaze. The woman pulled out a glass jar and held it out to him. “I used to buy herbs from Frank. Rosemary, sage. While I can grow many other things, rosemary and sage just refuse to work for me. I need rosemary for—for a recipe. Please.”
Archie took the jar. “I don’t know…” he said.
“What?” the woman snapped, but her face softened when she saw that he was smiling.
“Just rosemary?” he asked.
The woman nodded. “Thank you.”
Archie nodded and went to find the herbs he used for bread. He scooped some dried rosemary into the jar and headed back to the front of the store.
The woman had turned so that her back was to him. Someone else had entered the bakery. A young woman and her daughter. Archie recognized them as the Pattersons who lived down the street. Mrs. Patterson clutched her daughter’s hand as she stared at the woman. Normally so friendly and open, Mrs. Patterson now looked guarded, almost hostile.
“What are you doing here?” she asked with acid in her voice. “It isn’t your day.”
“I needed something,” the young woman said. “I won’t be long.”
Archie cleared his throat at the woman, and she turned. Two pink splotches had appeared on her cheeks, but she otherwise looked unperturbed by Mrs. Patterson’s remark. She took the jar he offered to her. “How much do I owe you?” she asked.
“This time it’s on the house,” he said.
The woman smiled and thanked him again and walked quickly out of the shop. She kept her eyes on the floor as she passed Mrs. Patterson, who shrank away from the woman.
Mrs. Patterson and her daughter, Lucy, approached the table.
“Good morning,” Archie said. “What can I get you this morning?”
“Two blueberry muffins, please,” Mrs. Patterson said. Now that the other woman was gone, Mrs. Patterson had once again assumed her open and friendly demeanor. “I know you’re new in town, so I feel that it is my job to warn you. You should stay away from that woman. Her entire family are very strange.”
“Strange can sometimes be exciting,” Archie said. He handed over a brown paper bag containing their muffins.
Mrs. Patterson pursed her lips like she had just tasted something bitter. “They say that she’s a witch.”
Archie looked through the bakery window at the woman’s retreating figure. He sensed there was something remarkable about her. Maybe even magical. The last thought was unbidden and unexpected. He never expected a witch to be so beautiful.