The air was suddenly empty and cold, like all the color of Summer had dropped from the canvas. It mirrored the clouds that crept into the sky, thick and purple as a welling bruise. The storm was coming, but wasn't there yet.
Helen stood at the open window. It's not as if the rain would hurt anything, ultimately. Everyone in town knew how to drive through it, unless it was really that bad. If it was, she would have heard something beforehand.
She looked across the field to the darkening sky, and set the clean dish on the rack. They would have tea, with the best teacups. Everything would be all right. Storms, especially beforehand, made her take stock of the day, and how to prepare for what was coming.
At worst, they would light a fire once the Reverend arrived. The ends of her fingers were cold, so she might anyway. Her toes were cold, too. Oddly cold.
Her long hair and pale dress tossed in the gathering breeze, but she continued washing. She thought about the faint traces of the dream, and could almost remember. It was all there, almost ready to break through.
The old, wood-floor house creaked in the changing pressure, and the tall woman continued scrubbing her teacup. Slowly. Carefully. Her young, already worn hands set it down to the left.
The Reverend asked to talk to John and her, and they finally agreed. But mainly her. It was time. She had set it aside too long, like repeatedly complimenting a host on bad cooking.
She reached forward and grasped the latch of the window. Thunder rolled in the distance, and she hesitated. That dream tickled at the back of her mind, an unsettling whisper in the background.
Helen closed the window, and latched it tightly. The storm was coming quicker than she thought.
She turned and padded barefoot down the dim hallway. Stacks of books, many with flowers pressed between pages, were piled on chairs and benches. Photos of every kind, old and new, covered the walls. Bundles of herbs and more flowers hung in the dark spaces the light didn't reach.
She quietly passed the living room and cast a glance to the fireplace with the missing poker before she moved on. It was a clean, cluttered house, full of memories and strange things. Some where even dangerous, in the wrong hands. That's why she liked to learn so much – to keep those things in the right place.
Helen stepped back into the room.
Two teacups and saucers sat on the coffee table, one mostly full, with two teaspoons cast carelessly down next to them. How did she miss them?
Thunder rumbled, this time closer. She walked away faster. The walk turned into a run, and she caught herself on the frame of the back door with both hands and leaned out.
“John?” she called into the wind. The rosemary at the gate quaked, scraping weakly at the wood as if to escape.
Outside the fence, the hill rolled down almost out of sight. The long grass rippled in the air. The wind mounted, and she couldn't help but feel pushed back. There was something out there, telling her no.
She didn't accept such things easily.
Helen leaped off the stairs and pounded across the stepping stones. She lunged through the gate and bolted down the hill. She slipped, then steadied herself, arms windmilling.
The hill steepened, down into the ravine, and old, tangled trees gathered at the bottom in a canopy of branches. She rushed forward, safety an afterthought, if at all.
There would be no explaining her panic. There would be no rationalizing it to him – but he would understand. He always did, even when he didn't.
Helen tripped. She fell. She rolled.
She picked herself up, dirty green gash in her dress hem notwithstanding.
But then she stood there a moment, under the rumbling sky. Someone was digging.
She slowly walked into the trees, finding an old man there, replacing dirt into a deep hole. He paused, back toward her in the gray light, both hands on a short shovel. He then turned to face her.
His eyes were light blue, but ringed in red. The tears were try, but still below the surface. They threatened to return, the longer he stared at her in silence.
“Helen, go back in the house,” he said.
She froze, hearing sounds but not words.
She took a step backward, then bolted back up the hill.
The dream was coming back. She wasn't sure she wanted it to, anymore.
Helen, I know you think you mean well, but we can't accept a w-
She sat back down, among the plants and books, rain clattering on the roof – in front of the teacups she'd seen before, and across from the old woman in the rocking chair. She had long, white hair, a long, faded dress, and was cold as expected. Her hands were worn but young, her lips purplish.
We can't accept a witch in our god-fearing town. You're kind people, but this isn't acceptable. I've learned some things on my own, you know.
The floor creaked and John, the old man, stood there. He held the short shovel in both hands, shirt flecked in dark red, eyes no longer dry.
Helen stared at herself for a long while. He cleared his throat, and she turned.
“I was--” he started. “I was thinking of making some more tea. That kind the Reverend brought for us.”
Honorable Mention in the Spring 2019 24 Hour Short Story Contest,
hosted by BookLocker.com
April 13, 2019