Property Lines

This week, we’re picking up with Agata.  You can probably read this one alone, but I’d suggest reading Crush, the previous one in this series of stories, just to be clear on how things got to this point.  If you want to read the entire series, click on the Fiction Tab above, and you’ll find all the links to the story under Which Witch.  As always, let me know what you think – and how you think it ought to be improved!

I’m using the prompt from Trifecta, and from Write on Edge for this.

Trifecta’s word was

MOUTH

1a : the natural opening through which food passes into the body of an animal and which in vertebrates is typically bounded externally by the lips and internally by the pharynx and encloses the tongue, gums, and teeth   b : grimace <made a mouth>   c : an individual requiring food <had too many mouths to feed> 2a : voice, speech <finally gave mouth to her feelings>   b : mouthpiece 3: something that resembles a mouth especially in affording entrance or exit: as
This week on Write at the Merge, the picture of a crumbling castle was what I took as inspiration.
I highly recommend checking out both sites, to submit your own prompt response or to read some of the great responses other people have submitted.

Agata rolled painfully to her feet, scattering debris.  Dust swirled through the maelstrom of berserker barbarians.  Agata caught glimpses of the ogre, green-gray skin covering boulder-like muscles, eerie catseye gleaming yellow in the dimness.

The battle wasn’t going well.  She sighed, narrowed her eyes, and, with intense focus, shook out an imaginary blanket.

As the barbarians painfully clambered to their feet, dazed and confused at their sudden fall, Agata strode purposefully towards the now-frozen ogre.

“Gragh, is it?”  The creature stared down at her, dumbfounded.  “Yes, you.  Gragh?”

Its voice rumbled thunderously.  “Ya, me is Gragh.  Who you?”

“Agata.  What do you want here?”

“Gragh-”

“It wants to eat us!  Kill it!”

Agata whirled and glared them into silence.

“GRAGH CRUSH!”  The ogre snarled at the barbarians, fighting the invisible bonds.

“But why?

Gragh’s brow creased in thought.  “Gragh want…”

Agata found herself nodding encouragement to the hulking creature.

“Gragh want No Bother GRAGH!”

“You came here.

“Dey is come first to Gragh sleep place and try hurt Gragh!”

At Agata’s accusing glare, the barbarians broke into a cacophony of denials and explanations like children caught with their hands in the mouth of the cookie jar.

“It took the castle on the mount!”  A blonde-haired hulk in a skunk-fur loincloth stepped forward.

“Did he kill the owner?”

“It’s, um, been abandoned for centuries, actually.  Terrible location, no water, no trees…”

“So what does it matter where he lives?”

“It eats people.  And sheep.

Agata turned her scowl on Gragh, who shook his head in denial.  “Gragh no eat animal-things.” He curled his lip in disgust.  “Gragh vegetable-arian.  And rocks.  Rocks crunchy yum.  Fuzzy Baaas no yum.”

“Here’s the deal – you leave people alone, and” she turned to scowl at the barbarians, “people stay away from your castle.  Shake on it,” she barked, commandingly.

Agata watched and spelled every hand-shake before approaching the ogre with a proposition.

In short order they were headed off, a witch and her ogre-guide through the mountains.

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Crush

This week on Trifecta, the word was:

CRUSH (transitive verb)

1a : to squeeze or force by pressure so as to alter or destroy structure   b : to squeeze together into a mass
2   : hug, embrace

Head over to submit your own response, or read some other takes on the prompt.  There are some fantastic authors who submit weekly to the Trifecta challenge, and they’re always well worth the read.

This story is a continuation of the Which Witch series of stories.  It is pretty much entirely stand-alone, but you are certainly welcome to read back through the story pieces, by following the Fiction tab at the top of the page and clicking on the links under the title Which Witch.

I try to include a piece of artwork that I think goes with the story, and this week is no different.  Only I put it at the bottom of the story, because it’s not just me that thinks it goes with the story – my sister drew it, in response to reading this story ahead of time.  She didn’t even roll her eyes too much when I changed the original, accidental deadline of friday to “um, no seriously, you have to have it done Wednesday night, because I have to post it tomorrow”.  You can check her out at her blog, Drawn in and Quartered, or over at DeviantArt.  She doesn’t have too much of her personal artwork up on DeviantART yet, but I’m working on it – peer pressure is key!  This is one of my favourite pieces she’s done – it hangs on my wall, and when I eventually have the option of painting rooms in my own house, will likely the colour-inspiration of one of them.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I could totally kick her ass at drawing… when she was 4… and I was 10.  She claims it probably had something to do with the development of fine motor function, but that’s just a cop-out.  She’s just a sore loser.  What sibling rivalry?

Comments and critiques are always welcome, I hope you enjoy the story,

“GRAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Agata clapped her hands over her ears as the howl reverberated down the canyon, followed by the distant thunder of landslides.  Dust from the ceiling settled on her meal.

Removing the hand cupped protectively over her own pint, the barbarian woman took a swig and continued, “There are some nasty beasties out there, Miss, so you really ought to hire on a guard to get through the pass.”

Gunilla brushed her short blonde hair back, the heavy musculature of her shoulder and arm rippling, and jerked her head towards the rest of the barbarians.  “And I suggest you hire me, ‘cause some of the lads have trouble hearing ‘no’ when they want to hear ‘yes’, if you know what I mean.”

Agata shuddered.  Such large, heavy-set men.  Such tiny loincloths.  Barbarians are quite barbaric, she decided, firmly averting her eyes from the manly display of body hair and scarring.

“What do you hear when you want to hear ‘yes’?”

Gunilla let loose a full-bellied laugh.  “Me?  Depends on how much I want to hear ‘yes’, I’d imagine.” She grinned and winked.  “But my tastes don’t lean towards scrawny pretty little things like you, eh!”  She produced a small painting of a statuesque woman wearing a horned hat and a bustier that left too little to the imagination.  The barbarian woman stroked the side of the picture in a surprising show of tenderness.  “My Vilhelmina is an opera singer!”

“Very nice.” Agata cleared her throat.  “So what is so dangerous in the pass?”

The inn-door burst off its hinges and slammed to the ground.  A gigantic figure shouldered its way into the room, towering with its one-eyed head amongst the rafters.

GRAGH CRUSH!” It swung its club down hard in a shower of dust that had once been a solid oak table.

“OGRE!” the barbarian woman yelled, sweeping Agata out of harm’s way.  Potential client safely stowed, she let out a berserker yell of her own and leapt to join the fray.

crush

<– Quack! ||

Quack!

This story exerpt is a continuation of the Which Witch storyline, and comes immediately after Tuesday’s piece, Duck.  I’m sure you were all on the edges of your seats.  Will duck-Simon flap off to join his brethren?  What can an inventor do with no hands and a bill?  Time will tell!  And time happens to be now.  If you are somewhat confused by what you’ve just read, I suggest you at the very least go back to Tuesday’s post, and, at the most, click through to the Fiction tab at the top, scroll down to Which Witch, and read all the little pieces of storyline that culminate (so far) in Quack!

I don’t own a duck, so, as picture, I give you my dog, in his least-favourite aquatic form.  Look at those eyes!  Don’t they just scream, “for the love of all that is holy, don’t take pictures of me when I look like a drowned rat!”

Feb2011 152

“Quack! Quack Quack Quack Quack!! Qu-ah! Qhat! What just happ-AK, What?!  What just happened?”

The flighty waterfowl kept trying to express its anxiety through quacks and grooming as it transformed once again into a wild-haired machinist.

Flustered, Samuel ran his fingers through his hair for a few moments, before running them down his arms and legs and waggling them in front of his face to confirm that he wasn’t the bird he’d been sure he was just moments before.  “Aaaah!” he exclaimed, taking a few hasty steps away from Agata, and tripping on a mislaid wrench in the process.

“aaaAAAaaa!” he tried again, jabbing a finger in her direction, eyes wide.

Agata sat comfortably on the only piece of furniture vaguely resembling seating.  She thought it might be one of the surviving parts of one of the less landing-successful previous flying machines.

She looked up from her perusal of his blueprints, red marker in hand, and smiled.  “you were saying?”

“You- you- you- you… “

“Aaaare?”

“W-witch!”

Agata felt a moment of regret for her actions, seeing the frightened look in his eye, the way he held a wrench between them as a shield.

Of course.  Because witches are evil, even if you don’t believe in them.  She sighed and stood, wincing internally as he stepped back again.  She set down the set of blueprints and started towards the door, calling out as she went, “I’ve put in some suggested modifications that will improve stability and help you have more control in landing in future.  I’ve also taken the liberty of taking one of your sets of spectacles-in-a-hat as payment for my assistance today… and for turning you back into a person.”

“Modifications?”

“You’re welcome.”

“Um, thanks?  And Goggles.”

Agata paused in the massive hangar door.  “Who goggles at what?”

“The… erm… spectacles in a hat… goggles – flying goggles.  They’re grand, aren’t they?   Keep the wind and the bugs out of your eyes.  Why would you need them… oh.”  He stared at the broom she’d hefted over her shoulder with dawning comprehension.  “Oooh.”

“’Oh’ is right,” Agata tried to stay chipper, wishing she felt more happy about carrying on her way after this encounter.  “Good luck with your flying machine – it’s really quite extraordinary.  Try not to kill yourself – that would be a waste.  And goodbye.”

With that, she was astride her broom and shooting skyward with a freedom of movement unrivalled by the bulky awkwardness of the flying bird contraption Samuel had created.  Indistinctly, behind her, she heard a yell.  It didn’t matter.  However he’d decided was best to treat a witch, she was unstoppable once she was airborne.

It had been nice, though, to be able to share the experience with someone, for once.

<– Duck|| Crush –>

Duck

Clearly inspiration strikes when deadlines are lacking.  This week, you’ll be seeing quite a few pieces of short story, most particularly from the Which Witch storyline.  We last left Agata in a big field with a strange machine, in Roc.  You can also read more of her story by going to the Fiction Tab at the top of the page, and scrolling down to ‘Which Witch’.  The nice thing about this (for me) is that it isn’t a prompt response… which means I can write it as long as I’d like to write it, which is sometimes a nice thing to do, however succinct a 300-400 word max can make a story.  I wrote this (very roughly) during Nano, and have since gone through and tried to smooth out the rough edges without losing the entertainment I found in writing it.

I’m also posting a random gratuitous picture of my puppy, because he’s just so CUTE.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think of the piece!

IMG_20110925_111823

“You want to do what with that machine?”

The man grinned.  “Fly, of course!”

“Fly.”

“Fly!”

“on that.”

in that.”

“That thing”

“Roc.”

“As in ‘sinks like a-‘?”

“Giant mythical bird – it’s a homonym, but spelled different too.”

“huh.”  Agata stared at the machine.

“Want to go for a ride?” the man was rolling down the sleeves of his grubby coveralls with equally grimy hands, an adventurous glint in his eye.

Agata held her broom in front of her like a warding.

The man squinted owlishly at her through a set of spectacles built into a leather hat that flattened the wild tangle of black hair on his head, leaving a fringe around his collar.  “We can probably hold off on sweeping it out for now, Miss…?”

“Agata, and it’s not for sweeping.”

“So it just looks like a broom.”

Agata hesitated.  “Yes.”

“Shall we carry on the experiment, then?”

“Only if I can take my broom too.”  Inside, Agata cringed.  The man’s eyes glinted with laughter.  “Shut it,” she snapped.

The man only smiled, looking slightly bemused.

“Samuel.”

“Samuel?”

“My name.  Yours is Agata.  I thought you might want to know.”

“Are we going to go flying in your contraption, or not?”

Samuel grinned.  “you take this wing, I’ll get the other.”

“Where are we taking them?”

“Out.”

“Of the shed?”

“hangar”

“I suspect I’ll need my coat, but thank you for the offer.”

“No, I call it a hangar.”

“Do you hang the plane up?”

“Well… no.”

“So you…”

“hang tools in it.  Hang out in it.  Will eventually have hangers-on to order about in it?”

“Hmm.  You take that wing, then.”

After a great deal of effort on both their parts, the devilishly heavy contraption was out and facing in, according to Samuel, the optimal direction.

“Hop in,” he said brightly, rubbing his hands together in delight.  He headed around to the pointy end and she followed.  He seemed surprised to turn to face the plane and find her in front of him instead.

“You’re not going to try and send me up there by myself, are you?”

“I’ve just got to get it started.”

Agata crossed her arms and scowled, letting her boot tap out her impatience.  “Well, then.”

He looked about helplessly for a moment, and said, “We’ll need to get in quickly after I get it started, to get it moving.”

He then fiddled with the large wind-catching blades at the front, and soon produced a roar of noise, along with such motion to the blades that Agata’s hair was instantly whipped into a rats-nest around her head, and she could no longer see the actual blades causing the wind.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”  she yelled over the noise as he hustled her back to the door of the machine.  The noise dimmed only slightly once they were inside.

Agata gripped her broom tightly as the machine started to rumble forward.  Samuel glanced warily back at the wooden shaft poking threateningly over his shoulder.

“Wouldn’t a club be more effective?”

“What?”

“you know, ‘you twit, can’t you get anything right, leave and never come back, thwap thwap thwap!’”

“thwap?”

“The sound of a broom striking a man about the shoulders when he comes home with ‘magic beans’ instead of money in exchange for the cow?  Presages divorce?”

Agata decided to file this under ‘unresolved parental issues’ and leave it at that for now.  While operating heavy machinery didn’t seem like the ideal time to rehash childhood traumas.

“Ah.  Well, a club would make more of a ‘thock thock’ noise.  And the… broom… isn’t for hitting you.  If you’ve gotten it wrong, we’ll likely both end up meeting a very violent end – why would I ease your passing by knocking you senseless with a tool for household tidiness?  Aaah!” she gasped, as, at that moment, the machine ceased rumbling along the ground as it bounced once, then twice, and then abandoned terra firma entirely and took, wobbling, to the sky.

Samuel let out a whoop of delight, punching the air once with his fist and causing the entire machine to lurch before desperately clawing at the instruments in front of him to stabilize it.  “Sorry!”

Agata hardly heard him, the words whipping out of his mouth and past her ears, pushed by the powerful wind.  Her hair slapped madly at her face as she tried to pull it back, one-handed.  She began to wonder if it had been his first test of the machine that had left his hair so bushy.

It seemed hardly any time at all before they were turning, wobbling, and losing elevation.  Quickly.  Very quickly.

Agata rapped sharply at Samuel’s leather-clad head to catch his attention.

“Are we trying to land?”

“Not trying, succeeding!”  He didn’t sound convinced.

“Not at this angle of descent,” she replied, confirming his fears. “Have you landed before?”

“Not with this model!”

“Why not?”

“Hardly any parts of the wreckage are salvageable – it’s basically built new every time.”

Agata half-stood in her tiny slot in the machine shoving her broom handle roughly at Samuel, with a barked, “Hold this!”

Leaning awkwardly over his shoulder, arms on either side of him, she snatched the controls, to his alarmed shout of “HEY!”

She assessed the situation as quickly as possible.   Yes, she thought.  I definitely don’t know how to use these controls. 

He snatched them back as quickly as she released them and they continued to wobble too quickly, and too steeply, towards earth.

“Go UP!”

“That’s only an alternative as long as we’ve got fuel!”

“Not all the way up… just even out a bit.  It’ll slow us down!”

He did as he was told, and the Roc coasted more gradually towards the ground, finally dipping down to judder and  kiss the runway once, twice, three times, before wobbling to the side with a screech of tearing metal and ripping sail-cloth as a wing was torn asunder, then coasting to a stop near the border of the open field, neatly turned 90 degrees from its original direction of landing.

“HAH!” Samuel exclaimed, whipping off his spectacle-cap and jumping up.  “HAAAAH!”

Agata stiffly rose from the hunched over position she’d maintained for the duration of the landing, fingers stiff on the handle of her broom.  The Roc had lost its wing.  They were both alive, but the machine had lost its wing!

She hopped down to the ground from within the listing machine, only to be swept up and danced enthusiastically around in a jig whose pace could not be matched by any fiddler in existence.

“Aaa-Ah!” she exclaimed, on principle.

“You did it!” he cried, a broad grin wreathing his oil-smudged face.  “You! Did! It! HAAAH!  Smoothest landing ever!”

“If the machine isn’t whole at the end, it isn’t a landing.” Agata stepped away from the capering inventor and seriously considered giving him a good thwap!  She settled for scowling, arms crossed, strangely unwilling to make him upset.

“First ground-arrival ever in which I have an actual machine to modify for next time,” he replied brightly, unfazed.

“Were you trying to get me killed?”

“Every technological advancement has to start somewhere!”

“Like in a lab?”

“Won’t fit in a lab.”

He had her there.

“Shouldn’t you have some kind of safety measure in place?”

Samuel stared at her and then shifted his gaze to the machine, before returning to her.  Arms out in a pantomime, he said, “It’s a flying machine.  Flying.  Machine.  What would you suggest?  Perhaps a broom?”

Agata hastily snatched her broom from where it had fallen, glaring at him.

“Anything that would prevent, or at least reduce the possibility of death and destruction.”

“Flying machine.”

“What?”

“Your point is moot.  It’s a flying machine, I invented it, but, frankly, having it fall out of the sky is just something that could happen, and then you really just have to pray to whatever god gives you the best chance of adapting to flight rapidly and hope for the best.”

“You could hire a witch to test it with you.”

The man barked a laugh.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  Witches aren’t real.”

Agata smiled sweetly.  “Oh don’t they?  Here, I’ve got a great idea for getting out of your flying death machine unscathed.  Be A Duck!”

<– Roc || Quack –>

Roc

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood
This week’s prompt for Write on Edge’s Red Writing Hood was:

to write a fiction orcreative non-fiction piece set entirely in an airport. Take us on an adventurein 450 words or less

It really didn’t work with the firefly piece (she only just left the airport!), so I figured I’d go back and catch up with Agata (you can find the storyline in Which Witch under my Fiction tab above).  If you don’t want the whole story, the overview to make this story more understandable is quite simple:  Agata is a witch.

a picture I found on public domain, click the pic to go to its source

Agata coasted gently down into the woodland alongside the field.  Her hair was wildly tangled from the wind, and her boots sank ankle-deep in the swampy ground under the trees.  With a sigh of disgust, she hoisted her broom and pack over one shoulder and trudged out to the unusual building sitting in a long and narrow, hard-packed clearing.

It stood at least three storeys tall, a half-tube constructed of bits of scrap sheet metal and canvas.  One end was sealed, but the end she could see into was one enormous door that had been slid aside to allow her a clear view of something even more bizarre.

A mechanical monstrosity stood in the middle of the building, balanced on two wheels and an end-piece, looking awkward and extremely unstable.  Like… almost… a duck.  Agata wondered what purpose it could possibly serve.

From somewhere within the construct, a steady clanking rang out, interspersed with some very creative cussing.

“Hello?” her voice echoed in the large space.  “Is anyone there?”

The clanging fell silent, followed by a clatter and a crash.

A large man emerged from within the beast, scowling and brushing his grimy hands off on his equally grimy coveralls.  He dabbed at his forehead with an oil-smeared cloth, leaving a black streak above his eye.  Wild tufts of hair sticking out haphazardly on his head.

Agata realised the man had spoken while she was taking in the bizarre scene.

“Pardon?”

The scowl became fiercer, but also more ridiculous with the single surprised black eyebrow he’d given himself.  “What’d’ye want, girl?  If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, I’m not mad, I don’t need a nurse, or to be taken to the mental hospital, and no, you can’t buy my land, it’s mine, and I need it.  I’m a busy man.”

“I’ve never seen you before in my life, I’m not a nurse, and what on earth would I do with a narrow, hard-packed strip of land?  As for your sanity – ”  She hesitated, glaring at the machine.  It was too intriguing.  “I’m withholding judgement until I find out more about that.”

He was transformed, a broad and delighted grin on his face.  “Curious, are ye?  Excellent.  Can’t stand folk without curiosity!  Hang on, it’s almost ready to take out for a spin!  Just you stay put!”

And with that, he dove back under the machine, clanking enthusiastically.

Agata crouched to peer beneath.  “Um… I mostly just wanted to know what it was?”

“Eh?”  Rattle, thud, clang.

“What does it do?”

He scrambled up, grinning.  With a proud hand across its beak-region, he replied, “Why, It’s a flying machine!  I call it the Roc.”

Ruffled

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

This week on Write on Edge’s Red Writing Hood, the challenge was this:

You have 400 words to write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece about freedom, in any way that makes sense to you.

Go HERE if you’d like to read more prompt responses, or submit your own.

The story is a continuation of the Which Witch storyline, which you can find in my Fiction Tab.

The picture is one I found on Deviantart, by Anna Earley, an art student in the USA.  I love the shadow in it, the way there’s only a hint of yellow throughout, and the lantern on the end of the broom is a great touch.  She does character drawings, as well as scenes like this one, that really look like part of a story I’d love to hear the rest of.

“Hem-hem?” Miss Chesham quieted the room immediately, dimpling sweetly at the crowd of women.  Perhaps more than the sweet old woman she appeared to be.

“Welcome, Lady Wytches of East Hammond! I would like everyone to extend a warm welcome to our guest, the Wytch Agata. She has come from, er,” she consulted a small lacy notepad, “Deutschland, where, if you’d believe it, wytches are tortured and killed! Simply barbaric!”

The Lady Wytches murmured greetings and welcomes, rustling in their elegant dresses as they turned to observe her. She waved sheepishly, feeling grubby and underdressed in her wrinkled navy dress, a crow amongst ruffled pink chicks.

Disciple Mary was formally accepted into the Lady Wytches as a full Wytch. The Wytches agreed that Yeoman Brannik was charging too much for his cabbages, he shall be spoken to. Polite applause all around.

Agata joined them in the next room for afternoon tea. She was immediately accosted by three girls near her own age, nearly bursting with excitement.

“Oh my goodness, Aggie, it must have been such an adventure, travelling all the way here!” Blue Eyes squealed.

“It’s actually–“

“Oooh, we shall be the best of friends! Come!” Curly Hair grabbed Agata’s arm, smiling toothily, and dragged her away from the table of tiny sandwiches.  Her stomach growled its displeasure.

***

Agata slipped out the side door and into the evening air, inhaling deeply as she embraced the darkness and silence.

What coven meets for afternoon tea! Wytches! Lady Wytches! She snorted. Busybodies who can’t spell or cast a spell from what I’ve seen of them.

She kept to the shadows, unwilling to risk a wytchly interruption. Three days of taffeta and lace and ruffles, everything white or coral or peach, the wytches gasping and tittering at her so-called adventures, at her ‘charming’ accent, and her mannish outspokenness.

Agata eyed a large muddy puddle. With great deliberation, she jumped, feet together, and landed in the center of the mire, mud squelching around her boots, water soaking the hem of her skirt.  She smiled, head tilted back to the moonlight.

She ducked under a prickly bush, emerging a moment later, scratched, grinning, and gripping a familiar haft.

Everything I need is here. She stared at the distant glow of the village lights for a long moment.

Agata straddled her broom in a most unladylike fashion as she flew away.

Shades

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

This week, Write on Edge’s Red Writing Hood challenge was to roll with the quote “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

I decided to expand on the Witch Story.  If you are interested in the rest of the parts of this story, check it out in the Fiction tab at the top of the page.  The previous post in this story is here.  Let me know what you think – can you picture the characters well?  The emotions?

Go check out the rest of the prompt responses, or submit your own, HERE.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

She glowered at the sign, a strong suggestion that it ought to change its tune if it knew what was good for it.  It remained, as signs are prone to do, unabashedly unchanged.

She sighed, lifted her skirts and stepped over the stile, twisting to the side to avoid contact with the stubborn plank.

She put her hands on her hips and surveyed the forest before her.  It was grim, all dark pine trees weeping lichen tears, mist twining serpentine about the branches.

An hour trudging through the forest, passing signs proclaiming more and more wildly unlikely dooms to be meted out, and all she had to show for it was a bug bite on every exposed inch of skin.

“Show yourself, damn you!”

She wiped her hair away from her face, flailing at the mosquitos that buzzed excitedly at her exposed skin.  She was hot and sweaty, sticky and less than impressed at the only answer being a plank warning her of her upcoming disembowelment by rabid demon dogs.

“Is that before or after the herd of caribou grind my bones to dust?”

“Probably after – rather hard to be disembowelled once one has been ground up.  I’d reshuffle the signage, but you’re the first one to make it this far.”

There had been no telltale rustling in the underbrush.  When she swung around, the old woman was simply there.

“Are you the witch?”  She combated her surprise with abruptness.

“Gretal Baer at your service.”  She flashed a crooked grin, the laugh-lines around her eyes and mouth creasing her face.

“Agata Schwarze,” she replied grudgingly.  She shuddered, loathing the feeling of sweat dripping down between her breasts the fabric of her dress clinging to her back.  The old woman brazenly wore mens’ cotton trousers, cut off just below the knee.  Agata frowned at the sight, propriety warring with jealousy.  Strongly muscled and tanned forearms visible below the rolled sleeves of her shirt, a kerchief tied snugly at her neck in the way of farmers, the woman looked completely at ease.

As though reading her mind, Gretal chuckled.  “So young and yet so judgemental.”

She felt her face flush more.  Who was she to judge?

“What do you seek?”

“Witches.”

“Which Witches?”

Agata frowned, sensing another meaning behind the question but unsure what it might be.  “Good witches.  Witches to teach me.”

“You are young and the world is still in black and white.”  The old woman’s shoulders slumped with the weight of years.  “Come back to me when you can see the shades of grey.  Come back when you can abandon all hope but still enter.”

Agata would have argued with the woman but in one step, she was gone, as swiftly and silently as she had appeared.  All that was left was the pattern of light and green shadow playing across the mossy forest floor.