Part VI: The Witch in the Woods
The group walked through the dense snow, led by Nahele. It was dark and visibility was very low apart from the near fluorescence of the white snow crunching beneath their feet as they trekked through the woods. They had been walking for sometime in complete silence, apart from the occasional grunt from Charles, before someone spoke.
“How much longer?” asked Maria. “My daughter can’t make it much farther in this.”
“We’re nearly there,” replied Nahele, never breaking stride.
“We’re on our way to a witch you say?” Charles’ shrill voice rang out.
“An elder. Cast out like me,” said Nahele.
Charles let out a sarcastic chuckle. “An elder. Jesus christ. We’re gonna die here,” he spoke under his breath. He turned around and glanced behind at Jennaleigh, who was at the back of the pack. She looked at him with wide eyes and pulled out the can of pepper spray and held it up, shaking it back and forth as she did so. Charles’ gaze quickly turned to a look of contempt peppered with hatred, and he quickly turned back around toward the front of the group.
Jennaleigh couldn’t stand the old prick. Always something negative to say and with no useful input, he was a living, breathing stereotype; a truly awful and bitter human being, not unlike her own Charlie back at home. It couldn’t be a coincidence she thought, that this man was here. She found herself hoping that if something came barreling through the trees and towards them, that it would take him first, just so she could see it. So she could hear his screams of agony and laugh as he begged for death. Jennaleigh stopped in her tracks, shocked at the darkness and vividness of her thoughts. She slapped herself across the face to ground herself, and quickly picked up the slack and caught up with the group. As she reached them, she saw a small flame flickering in the near distance.
Nahele motioned for everyone to drop down, and they all did without hesitation. He drew his bow from his back, knocked and arrow, then crouched down low to the ground. He brought his fingers to his mouth and let out a piercing, melodic whistle. Soon after, another whistle rang through the woods from the direction of the flickering flame. Nahele motioned for the group to rise before they resumed their trek towards the light.
They soon reached a small hut made of sticks and straw; the source of the light. Nahele motioned for the group to stay as he opened its door and walked inside, disappearing after it closed. Jennaleigh heard nothing inside, which she thought was strange.
Minutes passed, and still Nahele was neither seen nor heard. Charles spoke out.
“What the hell is taking so long? I’m freezing my balls off here.”
Jennaleigh rolled her eyes and let out a noise of disgust.
Charles glared at her. “What’s up your a*s, princess?”
Jennaleigh looked at him, half shocked and half angry. “The f**k did you say to me old man? Sorry if I don’t wanna imagine your shriveled balls,” she said brandishing her can of pepper spray once again.
“You’re an angry dyke, ya know that? I hope you die out here in the cold.” Charles looked confused for a moment, then looked matter-of-factly at Jennaleigh.
“You’re f****d in the head, dude. What the hell is your problem anyway? Are you normally this much of a psychotic a*****e or does the full moon reveal your true form?” Jennaleigh snapped back.
“Listen here, C**t…” Charles began before Maria cut him off.
“Do not speak like that in front of my daughter!” she yelled out loud.
“Are you kidding? She just saw a woman get snatched up by a monster, I doubt that words are gonna shock her. Isn’t that right, little girl?” Charles said, leaning down towards the little girl, who was hugging her mother’s leg and starred at the old man, wide-eyed. “What, is she retarded or something?”
Jennaleigh saw red. She pulled out the pepper spray, and tapped on the man’s shoulder. He snapped around and Jennaleigh laid on the trigger. A steady stream came out of the can and sprayed all over the mans glasses. He let out a scream before flinging them off of his head and dropping to his knees, hands over his eyes.
“YOU F*****G B***H! I’LL KILL YOU! F**K, IT BURNS!” Charles screamed into the otherwise silent night.
Maria and Fiona looked in shock at the flailing man, and Jennaleigh stared, smile on her face as the man rolled around in pain in the snow.
Nahele at last emerged from the hut, followed by an ancient looking woman behind him. She wore a garment that looked as if it had been fashioned out of leaves and leather. She had red streaks under her small, sagging eyes, and a satchel strap across her shoulder. She looked at Jennaleigh; it was if her gaze shot straight through her. Suddenly Jennaleigh realized what she had done to the old man, and snapped back to reality.
“What has happened?” asked Nahele, hastily.
Jennaleigh stammered. “I… I… don’t know what came over me.”
Nahele bent over and grabbed the old man from the snow; his screams had lessened in intensity, but were still present.
“That f*****g b***h! I’ll kill her, I swear to God!” yelled Charles, being ushered up by Nahele.
“Silence!” Nahele spoke with ferocity. “These woods belong to Ee’umboweh, it is not wise to scream.”
“F**k you, man! That b***h almost burned my eyes out of their sockets!” Charles replied angrily as Nahele brought him through the doors of the hut and out of Jennaleigh’s view. The old woman followed, stopped in the doorway and turned toward Jennaleigh. She waved her arm as if to say, “Come,” before also disappearing out of sight. Jennaleigh looked at Maria, who looked back at her with gratitude in her eyes.
“Thank you for that. He deserved worse. He’s an awful man,” said Maria tenderly with hands over her daughters’ ears.
Jennaleigh smiled at the woman, then at her daughter.
“Trust me when I say that it was my pleasure,” she said with a smile, her best attempt at comforting them. “Let’s head inside out of this cold.”
Jennaleigh led the mother and daughter through the doorway and inside of the strange hut.
The first thing Jennaleigh noticed was the size of the hut. It was much bigger than it looked; bigger than she thought it would be. There were animal hides draped over the walls and it seemed to contain the light quite well, apart from a solitary opening in one of the walls that must have been the flickering light she had seen, or so she thought.
Nahele led Charles near a small fireplace made of what looked like mud, and set him down beside it. He yelled in agony as tears streamed from his red-stained eyes. Jennaleigh didn’t know what had come over her. Sure, what the man said was awful and reprehensible, but seldom (if ever) would such an instance provoke a reaction like that. It was as if she had to hurt him. She didn’t understand why, but she felt an uncontrollable desire to cause him pain. She felt crazy, in a way to feel such reckless hate towards this man. Sure, she had plenty of reasons, justifiable ones at that, but nevertheless she was bothered by it. It was as if this place; this hellish nightmare frontier brought out simultaneously the best and worst in her, and she couldn’t make sense of it.
The Old Woman walked over to Maria and her young daughter and ushered them to a bench across from the fire. She took a rolled-up pelt from down off of a shelf, unrolled it and tossed it over their shoulders. Maria looked up at the woman, smiling wholeheartedly.
“Thank you very much,” she said to the woman, who nodded her head in response. The old woman then looked at Jennaleigh who still stood near the entrance. She looked up and down, gaze shifting until she set her eyes on Jennaleigh’s pocket area. The old woman spoke something in a different language, and frantically waved her arms about. She turned to Nahele, pointing at Jennaleigh and began to raise an indecipherable commotion. Nahele rose up from Charles’ side and began to respond to the woman in the same, strange language. They went back and forth for a few moments until at last the old woman seemed to lower her arms and calm down. Nahele walked over towards Jennaleigh and opened his hand, stretching it towards her.
“She demands the mark,” spoke Nahele, stoically.
Jennaleigh quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out the item, and placed it into Nahele’s open hand. He walked back over to the old woman and opened his hand, showing her the mark. The old woman looked at Jennaleigh, then the mark, then back at Jennaleigh once more.
“Why… are you… here?” The old woman asked in severely broken English to Jennaleigh.
“Um… He… Nahele brought us here,” Jennaleigh replied.
“What… do you… wish to find?” The old woman spoke again.
Jennaleigh looked at Nahele, puzzled. He offered no clear direction through body language or look. Jennaleigh was on her own.
“Um… shelter for the night from the cold. Some food maybe?”
“There is… always cold… here. You can’t… be safe… from that,” the old woman replied.
Jennaleigh didn’t know what to say. She looked at Nahele desperately, who finally seemed to take the hint.
“They are lost here. They seek a way home,” Nahele said to the old woman.
The old lady laughed a hearty and whistling laugh.
“Home? This… is… home… now.”
The woman laughed again as she sat down in a chair beside the opposite end of the fire from Maria and Fiona.
“But there must be a way!” Maria blurted out. “Please, anything! For my daughter. She has to leave this place.”
The Old Woman fell silent for a moment, as if she was lost in thought, then began to speak once more.
“Maybe… for some of you… but not… all of you,” The woman said, nearly whispering.
“What does that mean?” asked Jennaleigh from across the hut.
The old woman got up from her chair with a grunt, and walked a few feet to a set of standing shelves. She quickly scanned a through a large collection of clay containers, opening a select few and grabbing what looked like different plants from within them. She walked over to an iron cauldron that hung above a faint, flickering flame and poured the ingredients inside of it. She stirred them for a moment before grabbing a cup made of metal and tipping the contents of the cauldron into it. She grabbed a leather sack from a nearby table, opened it’s top and poured a dark-looking liquid in the metal cup. She shook it quickly, then hobbled over to the old man beside the fire.
“Here. For… burn,” said the old woman leaning over and offering the cup to the old man, who still had tears streaming from his face. He looked up through squinted slits, and snatched the cup from the woman’s hands.
“Gimmie that,” he said as he chugged the contents of the cup in a few gulps.
“Ugh! The f**k was in that!” Charles yelled out.
The old woman walked back to the shelves and began to tinker silently.
“So… what did you mean when you said some of us? Is there a way to leave this place?” asked Jennaleigh, curiously
“Only… one,” said the woman in her strange and unusually foreign accent.
Suddenly Charles darted up from beside the fire. He swayed back and forth for a moment before letting out a pitiful yelp and falling over on the ground, blood erupting from his mouth and eyes. He writhed on the floor for a moment, crimson blood pouring from his orifices, until he fell suddenly still and lied motionless in a bright red puddle of his own making.