Same Woods, Another Day
From tree to tree
she slipped for to see,
did this child with her basket of bread
Whilst wand’ring along
and whistling a song
as insurance against her dread
A dread of the stories
of witches and worries
read to her whilst in her bed
Stories that frightened
and twisted and tightened,
childish fears so easily fed
And here now her path
was the same as that last
little girl who’d been dressed all in red
A girl too on her way
to her Granny’s one day
who’d ended up lost, they said
On queue the trail thinned
and the canopy dimmed
and her courage completely shed her
Unsure of her plight
Her feet took to flight
and with terror her little feet sped her
And green eyes did gleam
and screech owls did scream
whilst behind her more horrors were bred
Into werewolves galore
and witches and war-
locks spinning ’round through her head
And just when it seemed
that like in her dreams
her young life was nearly bled
She broke through the gloom,
her Granny’s house loomed
… she was saved one more day from the dead.
Discovery Among the Trees
Flora’s coworkers always knew when she was coming down the hallway by the distinctive tapping sound of her heels slapping the polished tiles. She had a dozen pairs to coordinate with her collection of collared blouses and knee-length skirts. She was always, undoubtedly the best-dressed person in the room, whether she was at a meeting, post-work happy hour, or an industry conference. She didn’t have to worry about owning clothes for any social events, either, allowing her to pour her all into projecting the right image at work. As a consultant, she knew that having the right image was half the battle.
Flora’s lucrative career allowed her to afford an apartment in Manhattan just a subway ride away from her office. For just 60% of her post-tax income, she got to rent an entire studio to call home — no roommates to chase down for their portion of the bills, no more 2-hour commutes, and no domestic worries apart from the occasional rat, building break-in, and maintenance emergency. She had finally made it.
Flora had been putting in long hours at her job for five long years now. It had been made clear to her that showing loyalty to her employer would be a worthy investment that would catapult her toward limitless success — or at least to some promotions and raises. Instead, every compliment and thumbs-up from her superiors seemed to come with a new project assignment. Now, praise just gave her anxiety about the new responsibilities that were about to be piled onto her plate. She couldn’t complain, though. She had a solid, six-figure salary and a place to live in the city. The new American dream, right?
She heard whispers around the office about some new hires. The executives had finally decided to answer the staff’s desperate requests for more resources, even though it was a few years too late. Flora’s supervisor called her into his office one day to deliver the news.
“Flo, you’ve been such a rockstar this quarter!”
Flora didn’t let her smile break, regardless of her burning hatred for that nickname or the patronizing, corporate label. ‘I guess we’re kind of like rockstars if you count the alcohol consumption,’ she thought.
“Well, I just wanted to give you the good news myself,” he continued. “You’ve really been going above and beyond here, and as you know, the whole team has come to rely on you quite a bit.”
Flora felt her stomach jump with anticipation. This had to be about the promotion that her boss had been hinting about for the past year. She had done all that was asked from her for five years, each year renewing her self-doubt about ever deserving a promotion. She just needed to try harder, raise her hand more, and spend more time showing her worth. Her boss finally noticed her hard work.
“As you’ve probably heard around the rumor mill by now, we’re bringing on a couple of new consultants to help support your team. You’ll be responsible for their training and supervision. They’re still quite green, but you’re always so good at navigating challenges here.”
Flora felt her jaw tighten. ‘Be grateful they trust you with more responsibility,’ she reminded herself.
“Sir, that sounds wonderful! I look forward to meeting our new team members,” she replied with a smile.
They were interrupted by an impatient knock on the door by the executive assistant. Her wide-eyed expression told them that this was urgent.
“Flo, I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere. Always putting out fires over here!” His chuckle echoed down the hall as he walked away.
The executive assistant rolled her eyes as the supervisor marched ahead. Flora understood. She knew that “putting out fires” was manager-speak for “delegating everything to my direct reports while I stand around looking panicked.” She was usually resolving these urgent client issues so her boss could fulfill his duty of sitting in his office and looking busy.
Flora’s supervisor had some sort of official-looking document up on his computer screen. She really couldn’t help but notice. The man didn’t even try to angle the monitor away from anyone who entered his office. She slowly leaned toward the monitor to get a peek. It looked like he was reviewing a signed offer letter that had come back from one of the new hires. She really didn’t intend to do anything but get a quick glance, but there were some big, bolded numbers that caught her eye. She couldn’t believe her eyes at first, but there it was in bold text: this fresh graduate would be paid 50% more than Flora.
She finally snapped. She had kept it together for so long here — five long years, in fact. Five years of all-nighters, lost weekends, and withered relationships, the endless piling on of extra responsibilities as punishment for her hard work. The executives knew they had her backed into a corner. She wouldn’t dare leave. They knew how much they paid her — they knew she could already barely afford her big-city rent.
Flora walked back to her cubicle. A couple of the consultants popped their heads out when they heard her heels come down the hallway. She marched past them without a word and grabbed her purse. Good thing work was her life, or she may have had some personal items covering the gray walls of her cubicle. It was a pretty smooth exit. She walked over to the elevators and left the bleak corporate scene for the last time.
Flora wasn’t even planning on telling her parents. Her mother just happened to call one day right after Flora had sold her couch to a bright-eyed college freshman. That was the last thing left in the apartment besides her old paintings. She had to leave her Blue Period behind.
“How are you doing, Flo? How has work been going?”
Flora cringed. Her mother had a remarkable ability to hit every nerve in just a few seconds. Work and money were the only languages she really understood. At least Flora didn’t have to plaster an unwavering smile onto her face for a phone call.
“It was going great. I’m done with that, though.”
“Oh, you got a new job? How much does it pay?”
Flora’s eyes just about rolled back into her head. Of course this was her mother’s first question. What a perfect reminder of why she left Long Island.
“You could say that. I won’t have to worry about money again.”
“That’s wonderful, honey! Your father will be so proud. We knew you would get your head on straight someday.”
Flora sighed. “Yes, thanks, I think. Anyway, I have a very important business meeting now. Got to run.”
She hung up, picked up her bag, and walked out the door. Some say that she moved out to a hippie commune in Utah to get as far away as possible from her corporate hell. Some say she ran away with a mysterious gentleman. Others say she had a mental breakdown and drank herself to death in Jersey. There are bits and pieces of each theory that, when put together, give you a picture of the full truth. She did run away from the city to return to nature. No mysterious lover, though. No way she ever had the time for dating between her work hours. No alcoholic binges in Jersey, either.
One thing’s for sure: the mental breakdown part is true. She’s lucky she made it as long as she did on the consulting hamster wheel. Some people get thrown into a padded room when they snap. Some lose their jobs, relationships, and homes. That’s how Flora was different — she willingly gave those all up. She spent over three decades living by a set of rules she never signed up for. Screw the rules. Write your own. That’s what I did, anyway.
In a way, Flora died in Manhattan all those years ago. I left that depressed husk of a soul behind to disappear into nature. Some call me a witch now. See, you can’t even avoid the rumors when you hide yourself away in the forest upstate. They’re not wrong, though. I just use the abilities I’ve learned from the spirits that enchant these woods to sustain myself and protect the beautiful forest I call home. I can conjure any food I want with the harvest spell. Oh, and I place various curses on my old bosses to entertain myself. This week, I gave them fleas.
I have called this forest my home for many years now and have mastered many spells to create my paradise. I created my own rules. I no longer follow the traditional human lifecycle. It’s amazing what being unbothered for so long does to your lifespan. The magic helps a bit, too. First, do whatever you want. Second, don’t listen to anyone — that is, if they are foolish enough to enter your territory. Finally, don’t stick around the witch’s home any longer than you need to. That means that YOU should be on your way now. I’ve done more than enough talking for a lifetime — yours, anyway. Tell the world that Flora’s dead and that a silly old witch killed her! Ha!
Kudzu is a problem.
It's everywhere. The only respite from the stuff is the wintertime, when the emerald leaves wither and the vines fade into a dark topaz landscape. Originally brought into the new world by settlers looking to prevent erosion, it is now as ubiquitous as it is annoying.
Get deep enough into the mountains, though, and the kudzu fades away. Eventually, it will reach up from the edges of town and claim its place in the old Appalachia that thrives just out of street lights' glow.
The creeping sprawl of a few towns in the last several decades has brought with it modern conveniences such as cable television, running water, and reliable electricity. Trailing along, though, is that goddamned kudzu.
My city has spread a little each year, until it finally swallowed up a mountain that used to be deep woods. Paved roads and subdivisions soon claimed what once was wilderness; poor mountainfolk got bought out for small fortunes that let them relocate closer to the National Forest, or, in some cases, inside it. Others took the money and ran, reinventing themselves down in Atlanta or Athens or Macon.
On this particular mountain, though, there is a lone holdout. An old, weathered clapboard house stands sentinel against the changes of time and modernization. An outhouse is still in use, and all the water is hand pumped from a deep well that's existed since the civil war. The surrounding six acres are thickly wooded but bordered by a six-foot privacy fence. It was installed by the developers after the lady who lived there asked nicely. Rumor has it, it was installed about a month after she asked nicely and was ignored; after the lead developer's wife came down with a mysterious fever and boils, somebody local did the math and didn't make the lady in the woods ask twice. After the fence was built, that guy's wife was nearly instantly fine with only minimal scarring from the boils.
Kudzu covers the outside of that fence, but doesn't climb over it. It stops, seemingly in uniform, an inch from the top.
Not a vine of the stuff grows within those six acres.
There's a single opening in the fence that allows a rutted dirt road to snake in through old oaks and walnut trees up to the front door of the cabin. It was on that winding drive that I found myself driving one Saturday. I was desperate. I hadn't grown up in those mountains, but I'd moved into them about ten years prior. I'd been around town long enough to hear rumors and see firsthand the weirdness of the kudzu. Hell, my oldest kid on a dare his sophomore year in high school, livestreamed on his Facegram running up, grabbing the fence, and lifting himself up to peer over into the woods beyond. He doesn't know I was watching, and the people watching didn't know he peed himself. His mom told me when she did his laundry. Teens in the Halloween season get up to some dumb shit sometimes, and messing with that lady who lives in the woods counts as seriously dumb stuff.
So what was I doing driving right up to her doorstep?
I needed help. The job I'd had for twenty years had given me a severance package and my last day was coming up. I was too old to start over and too young to retire. I figured, fuck it, why not try some old southern hoodoo?
She wasn't at all what I expected. I guess too many Disney movies and Hollywood productions had steeled me to expect some bent old crag with giant warts and a hunchback.
She was gorgeous. I mean, really. Determining her age was impossible. She could have been 40, she could have been seventy. She was a white lady, but a dark complexion. Like maybe somewhere in the line there were Cherokees, which wouldn't be surprising given the area. Long, straight hair with a few streaks of white. The brightest, sharpest, iciest blue eyes I've ever seen. She greeted me with a smile on her front doorstep, and invited me to sit in an old rocking chair her grandfather made by hand. She didn't even ask me why I was there until we'd chatted for twenty minutes and shared a cup of coffee brewed on a wooden cookstove.
"I heard you help people," I said, not really knowing how to begin when she finally looked at me questioningly after discussions of town and the weather wrapped into an almost comfortable silence.
"Sometimes, sugar," she said in her thick Appalachian accent that added "r" to "wash" and pronounced "creek" as "crick."
I explained my problems in a rush, vomiting words as fast as I could and feeling foolish for sitting in this heavily forested piece of land out of time.
"I can help you, baby, don't you worry none," she smiled, and her teeth were surprisingly bright and white. I guess I expected dark, jagged yellow crags.
I think I did expect them to be sharp, though, and I wasn't surprised when they were.
She continued. "There is always a price. Mine is easy. One day, I'll need a favor, and you'll do it."
I went for levity. "I've seen this movie before. You'll want my firstborn, or something, right?" I laughed, but it was a hollow sound that she met with silence.
"No, Mike. I know you already have Amber and Jimmy. Jimmy has quite a following on the social media, and he's so good at baseball! I know you and Lucy must be proud, y'all done a real good job with them kids."
My blood turned cold and she just grinned wider. I have no idea how she knew the names of my family.
After a pause where she held her grin, she spoke again. "No, sweetie, this aint like the movies or them fairy tales. Well, I reckon it is more like a fairy tale. The real ones. With fairies, not dancin mice or beauties sleepin in the woods. Naw, this here is older than that mess y'all grew up on. I'll do a thing for ya, and come a time, you'll do a thing for me."
I agreed, and we shook on it. When I pulled my hand away, I noticed a little well of blood on the meaty part of my hand, like when somebody checks their sugar. I never even felt whatever stuck me, but I damned sure noticed when she licked her hand clean.
She just gave me another wolf smile and my blood went a little cold. I made excuses and went home.
Two days later, the company offered to rescind the layoff and slide me into a promotional position over in another division. I didn't know until I'd settled into the new gig that the last guy died in an armed robbery later the same day I'd visited the old woman.
I told myself for years it was just coincidence.
I never visited the lady's house again.
I tried not to think about her, and that teeny tiny wound that left a scar on the palm of my hand.
It was hard to ignore that little spot, just a freckle, really, when it began to itch like mad when I opened a plain brown box that was addressed to me. It wasn't delivered by the post office, but was dropped on my front porch by a guy who moved too quickly for the Ring camera to make out his details.
Inside were two things that made my heart stop. One was a shiny stainless steel revolver, a little snub nose. It was loaded. The other was a note with a name and address circled. Scrawled in a handwriting older than electric typewriters were the words "Payment due by" and a date two weeks into the future.
I've seen the man whose name is on that paper. I've driven by the address several times. Tomorrow is the date on the note. The itching on my palm has gotten so bad that I've hardly slept the last two nights. I'm about to kill the headlights and coast into that man's driveway.
It looks like somewhere, somebody else is about to get a promotion at work. When I'm done, I'll throw the gun into a patch of kudzu way out near Sylva.
Kudzu is a problem, but I trust it to keep my secrets.
Limerick(s) of the Week #24: Witch in the Woods, Bitch in the ’Hood
The witch in the woods had the final say
That bitch in the 'hood was making me pay
For walking my dog
On her lawn, in the fog
Then she stepped in it, cursing my way
I doubled over with a stitch in my side
Stabbing me, making me switch in my stride
Came from pins in a doll
That made my heart stall
All the hallmarks of that fitch outside
I bled from every hole that I had
Hematocrit falling till I was bleeding plaid
Vascular systems collapsed
And my wherewithal lapsed
Until I couldn't get out of my bed
Blood from my eyes was the way I cried
Tourniquet on my neck was the way I tried
To keep from bleeding out
And connipting about
All failed and finally up-and-died
A part of her is in essence, mentioned in the most cruelest of labels. 'Evil.' Nevermind the part in which woman was added as another adjective to her description, because it's quite apparent she is no man. No, but evil describes her well, almost perfectly.
If I had not been a cocky man, I might have lived a quieter life.
Unfortunately, I was no such lad.
I had seen her house in the distance, crept around it at the bottom of it's large raptor-like feet, then tickled the end of my quill onto it to see if the house would quiver. And oh, did it quiver before lifting up onto one large leg and scratching at itself. I only know because I nearly got stamped into the deadening leaves and mushy Earth underfoot when it tried to twist away from my feather as I tried to inspect the bottom of its feet.
Bumblefoot, I would have expected like those of the chicken farmer, but far from it.
Hardly dusty, just a little dirty, but shapely to the point they looked deliciously tasty if chicken feet were served in my village.
I only wondered if there was meat on the-
I would have marveled over my near-death experience a little more if the witch hadn't descended from the house in a rage, screaming over her tipped brew. I thought I could hide away, but she had a keen nose for anything living and sussed me out easier than I thought. That was more terrifying than the house when I shriveled up under her gnarled hands that had the strength of three full grown men.
In the craze of it all, I hadn't just stood there gaping at her like an idiot. No, I attempted to tear away, hoping my clothes would give, but she snatched me up from the floor at our feet to heft me over the height of her crippled form to stare up at me before saying 'I'd do well enough' and then dragged me back inside.
Into her dark lair, a place where men and children never come from.
But what of women? Well, women rarely come here. They are home with their babes... and so only fools dense enough like myself are privy to their eyes to be caught wandering their woods.
There, I had laid there, closer than probably any other writer ought to have got... Well, before their untimely demise, as I watched her reassemble her house's tidiness with a flick of her finger and twist of her wrist.
Chanting. More chanting. I could nearly hear the house light up to life inside.
Things skittering, glass scraping.
Bottles unshattered, climbed back up onto shelves, and liquid spilt steamed up off the floor. Some of it arched like lightning in the air, crackling and popping while the brew in the center of the house howled and screamed when she scraped that away. I shudder to imagine what those things were to make them do as they had, but I knew I should have been noting my escape rather than taking notes on her house interior.
"Ruin. Ruin... Ruin to run," she whispered, mumbling some other weird incantations to herself as she busily cleaned up the mess I had caused. A part of me wondered if I had foiled her latest brew to steal the life of the local children, but then I wondered if children were the only things these yagas stole the life from.
"A man of great youth, mine to find."
My eyes flicked up to meet her, surprised by her sudden appearance to my left. I hung upside down nearly, my back across the cradled bird's house.
I wanted to gasp, to ask what she'd do to me, but she only smiled.
"Nicholas, Nicholas. All the blame. Curious man, born with shame."
The evil hag knew my name. Knew of me. Knew I was not one in the same. I didn't know they turned young men to witches rather than dine.
The witch in the woods is lonely
In her cosy cottage alone
She brews her potions day and night
Using lizards tongue and frog bone
The witch in the woods is puzzled
When a woman knocks on her door
She wants a potion to gain a lover
So she won't be lonely anymore
The witch in the woods makes an elixir
For the woman so she gets love
The woman hugs and the witch and goes on her way
The witch hopes she finds her dove
we sprint along thick
wooded air looking
for an escape from the lost
spells of unknown origin
brew in a distant light
the wind howls fiercely
at Summer‘s end
as brightly colored leaves crunch beneath us
our hallowed ground beckons
and we follow, compelled once
again to the strange scent of what can
only be described as children’s
or something much worse
cauldrons filled with roiling soup
meat, fork tender as love, freely
the wave of screams suddenly
turn into chanting
and in the brief half-light
you can see the cauldron
steaming, the dark green skin
the current air of silent
watchfulness, the air filled
with the smell of boiling flesh
Let’s call a spade a spade
The first time they called her,
witch of the woods
she fell back as if she’d been struck;
what had she ever done to deserve such a word,
to be with such a moniker stuck?
was it not they who asked,
who begged and beseeched her,
to grant them their deepest desires;
when they crept along to her home in the woods
through wild roses, shrubs and sweetbriars?
was it not obvious to them,
that she wasn’t a fan
of man, woman or child?
hence she lived by herself, isolated, alone
in the peaceful, nonjudgmental wild.
she granted their wishes,
just to see them depart
as speedily as they had come;
what was it to her if the wishes they wished for
were incredibly hateful or dumb?
what cared she for the baker
who loved Annie Mae
but was adored by the foul Fanny Sue;
was it her fault she was skilled with potions and spells,
so what the sod married a shrew?
or that Annie Mae Jenkins
met too soon her maker
at night ’neath the full harvest moon?
nay! the villain’s Fanny Sue and those of her ilk
who appeal to the witch for a boon.
it’s not she who has sought
to control or corrupt
the sands of destiny, fate;
she just lends a hand to woman or man
then sends them swiftly home to wait,
for the powers to work
subsume or subvert
that which is or perhaps what should be,
while she sits happy at home, at peace and alone,
untouched by their vain idiocy.
she has the power
the evil is theirs
let’s call a spade a spade,
they dub her witch, she says it’s projection
or, in the vernacular, shade.
Little Old Witch
Into the woods they rolled and rolled,
Down the slippery slope; covered in the morning’s tears,
Giggling laughter of two like souls,
Cut off by the freezing cold of the river at the bottom,
But the darkness was soon swept away by the little old witch; pulling them out,
With a cackle she swept them away; off on her broom,
Swerving through trees and trees and trees and trees,
Until they reached a cozy little cottage; a pot of green liquid sitting in the yard,
And it was the liquid that they were fed by the little old witch,
That made them nice and warm,
But before they knew it they were back in their beds,
A little stuffed witch with a big old grin on her face,
Laying on the pillows with a cup of green stew in hand.
Wriggling and panicked
They know their fate. Green, blue, violet –
Their redness matters most to you.
They dance with the breeze.
It’s all there –
You’re getting closer.
Mint, dirt and lavender overwhelm.
Beams of moonlight pick their spots.
Eyes peer around – Fragments of their lives crushed away.
It’s smooth but chunks resist – The brown, it stains and fills you.
The trees gossip carries, They’re not as quiet as they think.
The clouds push the moon away, Your smile flickers and widens.
Redness spills on the ground,
Shapes muddled together -
The murkiness flirts with you,
Your body is needed.
You let it in,
You’ve done well.