What's The Matter, Dearie?
On a normal day far away beyond the dour city of greys and browns and high chimneys of smoke, a shrouded pine forest submerged in golden sunlight, a gorgeous maiden frolicked in the woods, her soot-black locks swaying in rhythm.
With a surreal hymn from her childhood, she twirled and sang with the brightest smile and rosy cheeks. Her sweet singing lured speckled fawns to the edge of the clearing, birds of vibrant pigments flew in gracefully, perching on high and low branches while tweeting to the gentle melody.
Underneath the brush a red vixen emerged, its paws painted white, kissing the moist earth and fallen spring leaves. The fox maneuvered silently under the treetops and stopped before the maiden hesitantly, its’ nose sniffing the air as it peeked up at merry maiden.
She had observed the fox and its wariness, she stilled and dropped to her knees with open palms as the fox steadily came forward. The fox lingered near her delicate, steady fingers before giving them a quick inhale and gentle lick, the maiden giggled and slowly patted the fox’s ears as it nudged further into her hand.
The sweet maiden continued humming her tune, this one more beautiful than the last as the fox purred with every pat, stroke, and scratch before nestling into her lap.
Minutes passed before the abrupt caws of crows and the hurried chirps of frightened pheasants alerting the girl. The fawns sprinted away immediately followed by the colorful birdies and the fox darts away into the underbrush and back to its’ deen.
The beautiful child stands on wobbly knees, her eyes scanning the thick, luscious pines around her. “Who’s there?” The maiden calls out,” I know someone is there!”
Behind a tall withering pine choked by ivy and some budding bushes, a frail old woman shuffles with great effort, her back hunched and her clothes were little more than dirty pauper sacks. The woman wore no shoes; her pale, calloused feet were covered in dirt, her toenails were unkept and yellow.
The maiden’s face contorted into pure disgust at the sight of the hag and all her filth, she placed a hand over her mouth to stop the scream that was sure to rip through her throat at the hideous sight.
The crone waved one of her skeleton hands,” Oh! Sorry to frighten you, my lovely dear!”
With a sigh the maiden placed a dainty hand over her small, rounded breast,” I am the one who must apologize, I’m not used to company and was dreadfully rude.”
The old lady hobbled closer, her breathing labored, "Ah, worry not, pretty dove. I know I am quite a horrendous sight to behold. Oh, but I must rest my old bones," she grunted with pain as she delicately lowered herself on top of a round, flat stump covered in moss.
The maiden, however, did not join her.
“What’s the matter, dearie,” the haggard old woman cooed with an almost toothless grin while patting the spot next to her,” don’t be shy. I’ll only bite a little.”
Hesitantly, the maiden stepped closer.
“Come closer, pretty, I would speak with you for I am but a lonely widow,” the crone urged,” My husband passed away many moons ago and I have no children of my own.”
After hearing the old woman’s plight the maiden’s tender heart stung with pity. She had heard of widows whose spouse had died left them all alone. It was a terrible fate to left in the world all alone.
The girl then fully closed the distance and sat beside the lonely widow and placed one of her perfect hands over the old widow’s.
Silence passed between the two as they watched the scenery go from morning to midday and the returning wildlife. The sun was high in the sky and pierced through thick pines in some areas, the wind had picked up making the branches sway and the sunlight dance over the forest floor.
The old lady then heaved and cackled with jolly,” I was your age once, girl. I used to visit these woods at night despite my father’s stern warnings.”
With newfound interest, the maiden intently waited for the older woman to continue.
“Oh! I used to be a wild one,” the old woman said, her voice was rough with wrinkles and warts on her leathery skin, she spoke with unseen wisdom,” and I was the fairest too, believe it or not.”
The crone’s hand disappeared into her ragged bag and pulled out a luscious green apple and polished it the best she could with her rag of a gown. The young girl’s mouth began to water as she watched the hag clean the fruit until their eyes met. Green orbs swirled with unknown intent as they locked on to the maiden’s black innocent ones.
“Are you hungry, dearie?”
No words were needed as the maiden nodded and licked her lips. Her eyes darted between the widow and the beautiful fruit she held in her ugly hand.
The crone gave a rotted, toothy smile,” I think I have another one, my dear. If you would like to have it.”
Then the older woman pulled out another apple, this one a deep red,” Here, just for you,” she said handing it to the maiden whose hands were as soft cotton.
The maiden’s eyes danced over the apple, taking in its curves and shine. Without another thought, she brought the apple up to her mouth to take a bite but hag laughed bringing her back to the present.
“Us girls, we have to stick together,” the old woman smiled,” Now go on, eat.”
Watching intently at the maiden, the crone continued to cackle as the girl took a large bite of the lovely crimson apple. The maiden chewed and swallowed but before she could thank the kind woman who had shared one of her apples she found she couldn’t speak. Her tongue felt numb and swollen.
“What’s the matter, dearie?” The crone suggested wickedly,” Cat got your tongue?”
The realization hit the maiden. The hag poisoned her! She tried to stand up but her entire body was paralyzed as she fell down to the moist earth. The crone stood and used her foot to push the girl on her back.
The maiden watched mouth agape in utter terror as the crone cackled evilly and straddled her. The woman’s leathery, dirty hands caressed her face and her nails scratched the maiden smooth skin.
“Lips red as the rose,” the old woman said tracing the maiden’s lips slowly and deliberately,” hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.”
The young girl desperately tried to fight back but her body wouldn’t move, her muscles felt heavy as she laid there gazing into the old woman’s fiery green eyes with confusion and fright.
The hag chuckled viscously,” Give us a kiss, dearie.”
The old woman’s lips were cracked and dry as she pressed them against the maiden’s forcefully before delving her wicked tongue inside.
She wanted to scream more than anything as the crone continued her assault with her tongue and licking the girl’s full lips.
“Why don’t you come home with me,” the older woman said with mischief glinting in her fiery orbs,” we can get to know each other better.”
With a cackle, the old woman held lifted the maiden’s limp body up and into her frail arms as the wind began to whip around violently. The world became shrouded in shadow as the black of crows amassed in the sky with thundering grey clouds.
The maiden heart pounded, her heartbeat drummed inside her ears as black spots formed in her vision. Right before her eyes closed she witnessed a funnel cloud racing down towards her with furious lightning striking the all around.
Then it was all black.