Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Witch (Short Short Story)

ONCE UPON A TIME, in a moss-encrusted cabin in the woods, there lived a witch. Nobody remembered what her real name was, but the children of the town had always called her Medea. She was very old and leathery, with skin as red as the hills and hair as black as a clear winter’s night, though streaked with white like lightning, and about her body hung filthy rags and strange pendants. It was said that she had once been a beautiful woman, but her deceitful, treacherous ways had bent her body and twisted her soul. The Witch was also said to eat small children, and had even eaten her own two sons.

Occasionally the Witch would come ranting, raving and cursing to town to buy food from the market. When the children of the town saw her bent figure approaching, they taunted her with a song:

            O Medea, stay away!
            O Medea, with skin of red clay - 
            You have your side of Old Black -
            Cast your spells over there.

One autumn day the old Witch ambled into town with her basket to purchase food and ingredients for her curses and wicked spells. Pouring out of the schoolhouse for recess, the children began to chant the familiar playground tune. Some hurled rocks at her; others spat. But the old crone rejoined them in her barbaric, indecipherable speech: “¡Ay, niƱos! ¿Porque siempre cantan este cancion feo? Soy dama buena. ¡No soy bruja!

At that moment, the town’s Sheriff appeared. “Witch!” he cried. “You know good and well that you are not to frighten the children. Now leave here and return from whence ye came.” But the Witch only turned her hideous invocations on the Sheriff, kneeling and clutching his knees and chanting “¡No soy bruja! ¡No soy bruja! ¡No soy bruja!” until he shook her off his legs.

By this time much of the town had gathered around the schoolyard to see the altercation. Everyone was shocked that the Witch would dare to curse the Sheriff openly in public. But nobody hindered her progress as she hobbled away from the crowd back in the direction of the woods, wailing and shrieking as she went.

The next day, the Sheriff’s lovely, golden-haired daughter Gwendoline went into the forest to collect berries. As this was a regular habit of the girl, no one suspected anything was amiss when she was not present at the dinner table. But by the next morning when she still had not returned her worried father, a red-haired Preacher and a white-haired Preacher formed a search party with the men of the town and all their best hounds. They searched the woods for her, even the far side of the River. But not a trace of sweet Gwendoline was to be found.

Several days and nights passed, and still the girl was not found. Finally on the edge of despair, the Sheriff sat down by the river, unburdening himself of his pack. To his astonishment and horror he saw the severed head of his daughter floating by the riverbank. At that moment, he knew that the evil Witch was responsible, and led all of his men to her cabin on the far side of the River.

By the time the Sheriff and his men arrived at the Witch’s dwelling, night had fallen and they were all carrying torches to light their way. The Sheriff called out to her. “Witch! Come out of your home! You are under arrest for murder!” But the old crone would not come out. Instead she taunted them from her window with more of her curses. “Por favor, estoy inocente. ¡Tengo miedo!

Then the two Preachers told the men to bow their heads in prayer, asking the Lord for protection from this great evil. After the prayer, the men threw their torches onto the Witch’s cabin, which burst into flame. Her shrieks and wails rang out through the woods, echoing back and forth off the trees as she burned. The Witch was neither seen nor heard from again, although it is said that to this day her crying voice can be heard on the wind in that part of the forest.