The Witch in the Woods

Oct 13  |  Phillip Traum

Once upon a time, there was a traveler who lost his way in a thick forest. No sooner did night fall than he reach into his knapsack and find it empty. Cold and hungry, he decided to rest, and laid his head against the largest tree trunk nearby.

Before he closed his eyes, he spotted a fire in the distance. With the last of his strength, he crept through the dark towards his beacon. It sat upon a torch beside a hut that was stitched together with mud and sticks.

He gently knocked on its door. “Hail, dweller of this perilous forest!” he cried. “I beseech ye, take pity upon me and grant me shelter.”

A dusty voice croaked in return. “Tut-tut! A vagrant, at this hour! What plight hath befallen thee? Pray-thee enter.”

The door opened, and out peeked an old woman. The deep wrinkles across her face might have hidden a smile or a frown. With a wave of her bony hand, she bid him inside.

She sat him at the table and served him fresh tea. The traveler sipped and sighed, grateful for her hospitality.

“Thy visit is fortuitous,” she announced, “for a grand feast is forthcoming.” She idly plucked a spider from her ashen hair and crushed it in her fingers.

“A feast?” asked the traveler, bemused. “On the morrow?”

“Nay, little birdie!” the old woman tittered. She lit a gnarled candle, the color of cobwebs, and set it on its stick on the table. The traveler, a trifle perturbed, tried to shuffle his feet. He glanced underneath the table and beheld stumps at the ends of his legs.

“My feet! They have departed,” he exclaimed, wiggling his phantom toes.

“Aye, p’raps they up and walked away,” the old woman cackled. “All the better. Thou no longer need concern thyself with walking, dear vagrant.”

“Fine, indeed!” he grumbled, rapping the table with his fist. “I am a traveler, and without feet, am deprived of roaming the lands.”

“An observant one, thou art, but thy feet hath much better use in my stew.” Her sagging mouth cleaved into a grin, a lone yellow tooth poking out the corner. She set a plate at the opposite end of the table.

“Vile buzzard!” the traveler shouted, and tried to pound his fist again. A bolt of pain burst from its stump and snapped up his arm. Incredulous, he examined his forearms, which now terminated at the wrists.

“Vagrant hands are most exquisite, minced and baked in bread,” his hostess crooned in ghoulish delight.

“How am I to notch an arrow without hands?” the traveler argued.

“Half a moment, my prize.” With ceremonious care, she placed a knife and fork on each side of her plate. “Hold thy tongue.”

The traveler opened his mouth and discovered he no longer possessed a tongue to hold.

“Thy fresh silence is becoming,” she winked. “Pray, think thy evil thoughts. Thou shan’t vex me, for thy tongue be perfectly suited for a pie.”

The old woman gleefully rattled a dinner bell. When its din subsided, the traveler could not hear anything else, only undisturbed silence. Her lips wriggled like a tangle of worms, and he could still make out the words as they beat inside his head. Thy ears will pair quite nicely with the main course.

The traveler closed his eyes and shivered. When he re-opened them, he saw the witch peer down at him, where his head lay upon a tray. He watched helplessly as she placed the last piece of him into the oven.

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