A Wondering Witch
written by: Debbie Aruta
Ella was heard throughout the woods yelling her daughter’s name, Mirabel Mirabel, over and over. The whole town came out to comb the woods. Soon an echo of others calling, Mirabel, could be heard through the entire forest. The last time Mirabel was seen was this morning. A peasant on the edge of the town said he saw her as he was setting up his vegetable stall at sunrise. She stepped into the woods and vanished. Everyone knew the young girl had to be somewhere, people do not just vanish, so they dropped everything when Ella started shouting a high-pitched panicked scream calling her daughter’s name.
Ella rose later than usual this day and she presumed Mirabel went to get the morning bread. Mirabel was only eight years old but acted so much older. Ella struggled with setting age-appropriate boundaries for her daughter. Today, after yelling for hours for her baby in the woods, she felt like a failure as a mom. Ella fell to her knees praying for her child’s safe return. Some neighbors picked her up and took her back to the edge of the forest. She sat wringing her hands and rocking back and forth saying her daughter’s name over and over. No one could console her.
The sun started dipping behind the mountain tops. The temperature started dipping down. Ella worried that Mirabel would freeze to death in the woods. She also worried something horrible had happened to her child. She knew monsters lurked in the woods. She always saw shadows lurking around its edges. They were lost, souls. They could not venture into the sun, nor could they find peace in the woods.
Once in her home alone, Ella fell to her knees. She prayed for her baby. She knew the dark forces were going to snatch her baby from her forever. As the darkness filled her small home, a tiny knock came at the door. It was a small child, no older than three, a little girl with gold ringlet curls. Ella got down to her level and the little girl wiped Ella’s tears away. She told her that she knew where her daughter was, but she could not take her to her. She said her daughter was going to be ok because she herself was once taken by the shadows and they did not harm her. Ella breathed out for what felt like the first time today. The little girl smiled and handed her the bread Mirabel purchased that day. Ella just looked at the bread and cried again, she turned to thank the little girl but she vanished as quickly as she appeared. On the outside steps of the house lay Mirabel’s bright red scarf. She wore it every day to the market. Ella fell to her knees, then tumbled down the stairs and out into the cobblestones crying so loud that all the townsfolk came out to try and help her.
One person said they saw Mirabel early in the morning walking near the edge of the woods. The kids always dared each other to dip into the shadowy woods and back out again. They knew the shadows were waiting to snatch them away. One time Mirabel and her friends made it in a few feet and then darted out as they saw the shadows reaching for them. They were scared, but did it anyway and laughed at the shadows. They should not have laughed at the shadows.
Each day passes just like the next, unmemorable. Ella barely eats, she barely sleeps, and her heart breaks wide open into a million pieces. Soon she passes out onto the floor and has delusions of her daughter dancing around her. She hears her laughter, sees her feet moving swiftly. Ella strains to hear it. She sits bolt upright, jumps up off the floor, and races out the door. She has seen the place her daughter was dancing in before. It is deep in the woods. It is a secluded area surrounded by large boulders. Within the boulders is a tiny stage and seats are carved into the rock. Every seat has a great advantage point to see the dancers clearly. It is a meat market. Someone will bid for the child and then take them to teach them unmentionable things. The shadows are the devil’s work and the children, if they come out of the woods, are spiritless and just a husk of who they used to be.
Ella tried to eat but had no appetite. She tried to sleep but was listless. She attempted to put her daughter’s belongings away but fell to pieces on the floor again. She was giving up hope. It had been three months since her daughter disappeared. People in the town said they saw her shadow once or twice, but nothing ever became of that. Finally, Ella ventured out of her home. The entire town had been leaving her food until she was well enough to come out of her house. Some of them had lost children to the shadows as well.
One of Ella’s neighbors grabbed her by the arm and walked her to the market. Ella leaned on her hard when they passed the bread stall. The kind gentleman smiled at her and knew she was in pain. He handed her a loaf of bread on the house. Ella smiled. It was the first time in months that she smiled. She walked through the town with her neighbor buying food to cook, which she knew would just go to the rats, and when she saw a shadow looking at her out of the edge of the woods, Ella dropped everything and ran screaming Mirabel’s name.
The patrons at the market looked up and stunned they saw the shadow as well. As Ella came closer she calmed her heart rate, gently approached, and said, “Mirabel”.
Mirabel immerged out of the woods and vanished in the bright sunlight. She was a shadow one minute and a ghost the next. Ella called to her repeatedly, pleading to see her, to hold her, for her to come home. Mirabel’s shadow vanished and Ella’s heart broke all over again.
Ella could not sleep again because she knew her daughter was in those woods. She packed on layers of clothes and quietly shut her front door and crept off to the edge of the woods. She silently said a prayer and then stepped into the pitch-black woods. Ella tumbled and tumbled. She fell like she was spinning out of control into a big black hole at the bottom of a well. She finally landed and was surprised she still appeared to be at the edge of the forest floor. She stood up and instantly felt woozy. She stood steadying herself and tried to step again. This time as she stood someone or something dragged her into the woods. Her heart was racing.
Whatever had a hold on her was not letting go. It was now dragging her as if she weighed an ounce and not her real weight. At some point, she passed out, and right before she did, she prayed to the Goddess to keep her safe.
When Ella woke up there were little devils dancing around her. Her eyes struggled to see them. She knew her daughter was somewhere close. The tiny devils had short stubby horns and long curvey tails. They reeked of sulfur. They had come up from the underworld to torture her. Each one stepped forward and sniffed her. Then they all went off to the side behind the large stones and were discussing something. It was not a language Ella knew, but it sounded to her as they were deciding who would kill her.
A fire was started around her. A ring of sulfur ignited. Through the fire, she could make out a figure in a burning cloak walking towards her. It was Satan himself. His pitchfork burning and ready to slice her in two. As he approached a voice came out of the rock behind her. It was Mirabel’s face distorted on the rock and then she stepped out of a giant solid rock. Ella felt so relieved to see her daughter. She called out to her. Mirabel did not even turn toward her mother. She, instead, turned toward Satan and placed her hand in his.
Ella could not believe her eyes. This was not her sweet baby girl. This was Mirabel consumed and taken over by something evil. Ella tried to remind her of all the good times they had together. She talked about walks together, picnics, anything positive she could think of. She throws everything good in the air and Mirabel shoots it down with fire from her eyes. This is NOT her daughter. As Satan approaches Ella to cut her down, Mirabel yells no. Ella feels like perhaps she has reached her daughter, but her daughter grabs Satan’s pitchfork and cuts her mother in half. Mirabel and Satan laugh so long and hard that by the time it carries to the forest edge it sounds like wild horses thundering.
The entire town rushes to close their shutters uptight and turns off all their lights as quickly as possible. They do not want whatever made that sound to be coming for them next. They hide, locked down until the morning sun comes up, but when they see the morning sun, its color red and it appears to be dripping blood. Each person shudders and does not want to step out of their homes, but one by one they feel pushed out of their houses and feel someone shoving them down on their knees. No one sees anyone.
Soon a menacing laugh is heard. Mirabel appears. She is changed. She has bright blood colored-red hair. It appears to be dripping blood with each step she takes. One drop drips in front of each town’s folk. She gets to the end of the town and Satan joins her. They raise the pitchfork together laughing, looking over each pitiful town’s fold. With a thundering boom the pitchfork comes down and all the town’s people are killed by the drop of blood in front of them. Entire families are obliterated instantly. Mirabel and Satan are pleased with themselves. Everyone is dead, they can rule the underworld in peace and bring their minions up from the underworld.
As soon as Mirabel and Satan turn to go back into the woods Ella appears. She is a shadow now. They pay her no heed, but Ella’s gentle kindness has allowed her to get the animals of the woods to help her set a trap. She follows them, but they barely notice her and soon they are where the trap is set. Ella nods and a cage is pulled up around Mirabel and Satan. It is enforced with a spell Ella conjured. Mirabel did not know her mom was a witch. She tries to say something to her mom, but Ella cuts her off. The animals seal the top of the cage. Ella starts chanting. Soon all the ghost town’s people do as well. Only Ella can hear them, but she channels them and sends the cage to its fiery death below. The Minions welcome their master back, but once they notice he is encased in a cage for the rest of his dark days, they run to the upper level and start their own world. After all, all the people are dead. Why not start anew with evil minions?
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