I sighed the sigh of a young woman who had known too much fear and jealousy over something she herself didn’t fully understand, the power she held in her hands to regenerate a plant’s root system, to bring life into the sickliest of herbs, to flourish a garden. It didn’t seem fitting. She wasn’t a bad witch; she didn’t follow the Darkness; she just simply wanted to live her own life.
She couldn’t, however, live her own life the way she wanted to. Instead of making herbal recipes and ointments to treat a variety of conditions that afflict the common man, which is what she really wanted to do, she was forced to make cleaning supplies. It seemed people were willing to accept an old wives’ tale about using lemons to clean tables, but using lemons with oil and calling it an anti-aging serum was too far for the conservative society. Reduced aging, as they saw it, was a work of witchcraft. Wrinkles were earned by doing God’s work, not erased by God’s plants. Rosemary is a popular seasoning, but a concentrated oil for hair loss can earn the hangman’s noose.
“But couldn’t I open a stall at the Farmer’s Market? Nobody knows us here, nobody has found us in —“
She stopped me with a press of her finger gently to my lips.
“Nobody knows us,” she signed, “because we are Nobodies. D-U-I-N-E-S.”
A cold sadness drained over me as if putting out my internal flame.
“So we just let the Darkness take over? It’s already here. It’s at our doorstep. Hovering over our garden, pushing at our fence, bombing us with fear and horrible, horrible images.”
“What? What are you saying? What Darkness is here?” Her green eyes searched mine for answers, but the only answer I had was that she didn’t, in fact, have the same sightings as I, which only gave me more questions, similar questions to her own. She pulled me by the hand inside the little house and closed the door behind us before leading me to the round, wooden kitchen table. I sat adjacent from her.The table was small enough to hold hands in the middle, and she squeezed mine before letting go.
“Has someone been here?” she asked me.
“Not ‘someone’, no, but some 'thing’ has been lurking around. I thought you saw it, too. It’s not a person or animal; it’s like a shadow most of the time, but it’s blacker and darker than my shadow or yours. I saw it between the pickets - like a flash of light except it was like seeing a flash of pitch black where there should have been shadow. Then, today, it crept up the tree and across the branch and dropped down on me and it wasn’t black anymore. It was…you.”
I cleared my throat and flexed my toes, a feeble attempt at distraction from my sudden, overwhelming urge to cry.
Always perceptive, she gave me the pause I needed to continue, and placed her hand back on mine. I knew I needed to go on, to tell her what I saw in such detail that she would see it, too. I knew this was the only way to go on. Keeping her in the dark only put us in danger again, and while I didn’t love being a Nobody, it was better than being The Accused.
“What you describe,” she signed, “doesn’t sound like the evil of man. You’re sure you heard no footsteps and saw no one, right?”
“Someone knows we’re here, but you’re not going to like who I think it is. There’s something I haven’t told you. The reason your father didn’t stay here after his mother passed is because she always had an enemy here, but I can’t imagine how…how she could still be here. She was older than your grandmother if I remember correctly.”
“She who?” I asked.
“A witch, but not like us. She was attracted to the Darkness, lured in by its power. If I remember correctly, your father said it’s what drove them apart, your grandmother and her sister.”
“Wait. Her sister? I didn’t know she had a sister. How did I not know that?”
“Your father thought it best if we separated ourselves completely from her, from the magic, from the woods. He thought if we left we would be safe, and he was right for a while. And then you were born, and he hoped you would be non-magical if we pretended we were non-magical, but as soon as you could crawl, you were drawn to the garden, digging and pushing the dirt around with your chubby knees, growing dandelions in your wake. Before you were school age, you broke a tomato plant but were afraid to tell us, so you wrapped your hand around it, healed it, and then told us, bragging, breaking sprouts and stalks and then healing them again.” She smiled at the memory, but then let it fade. “Your father believed his aunt eventually overpowered his mother in such a way that she could never leave this house, and eventually, she gave up fighting, walked outside the gate, and she let her sister win.”
“That’s horrible,” I said. “But you haven’t seen anything? No Darkness? Nothing strange?”
She shook her head, but said nothing. Instead, we looked out of the double window that overlooked the garden. The verdant lemon trees were weighed down by their vibrant yellow fruits, the offspring of a lemon I purchased at the local market the day we arrived. My herbs stood tall in the light, some of which I planted and some of which I brought back to life after years of dormancy and neglect since my grandmother passed and before we came to live here. Sage was drying by the garden gate, wrapped in twine and hung upside down. Mint was overflowing its clay pot.
And so we sat together in silence, thinking and looking. I let my eyes wander around, from flower to fruit to herb, all the while watching for a glimpse of Darkness anywhere I might see it, along the fence’s pointed tops, scanning for change in light between the skinny, often warped planks of wood, even along the bottom where just the smallest amount of light can be seen between the blades of grass and under the blunt edge of the fence line.
“My garden,” I said.
“Yes, it’s stunning,” replied my mother.
“No, my garden. It’s what alerted her that we are here. Oh, how could I be so stupid? Here we are trying to avoid capture from men and I’m attracting a different kind of evil! Ugh!”