The witch strode down her street with her hands in the pockets of her charcoal grey cardigan, black skirt swirling in the wind, pointed black boots clicking against the pavement like the snap of impatient fingers. Her face could belong to any age between twenty and forty, her hair a tangled mass of black shot with bright silver at the temples as if it had been bleached by moonlight. Leaves danced wildly in her wake.
It was not widely known in the quiet suburban street where she had chosen to settle that she was a witch. She could have been obvious if she liked, as others of her profession chose to be with their garage fortune telling and dubious herbal concoctions, but she enjoyed anonymity, away from the raucous covens of the farming country where she’d grown up, away from the city’s elitist sorcery societies, away from that alchemist. Helisma Crescent suited her well enough.
Her house was tucked into the curve of the street, at the end of a long slate-paved drive; it stood between a towering Japanese maple, shedding red and gold stars to the capricious wind, and the sharp slope of a stormwater drain. The concrete stream bed was a marsh of stagnant water, overgrown by thick drifts of reeds and weedy saplings, a green wasteland with ambitions at becoming a forest. An abandoned trolley was half buried, entangled in the leonine blooms of Singapore daisy. Some days a water dragon would dance across the witch’s path in the early morning light, disappearing into the wilderness, where she knew better than to follow. Any dragon, regardless of size, must be treated with caution, and their territory is always jealously guarded.
She paused at her letterbox, bending double to look through the slit – her habitual precaution – before withdrawing a key from her pocket to unlock it and withdraw the day’s mail. It had rained earlier in the day and the envelopes were clammy with evening chill in her hand. She opened them one at a time, standing there by the letterbox, her sharp vermilion thumbnail slitting through damp paper with stiletto efficiency.
There were two bills, a sheet of political advertising thinly disguised as a newsletter, and a slim cream parcel with her name on the front but no return address. The witch pocketed the bills, quietly incinerated the newsletter and absentmindedly stamped it to ashes on the drive while she turned the parcel over between her hands, torn between curiosity and caution. She toyed with the flap, prying it loose enough to catch a glimpse of what lay inside. A book. Shabby peeling spine, tiny clawmarks scorched into dull red leather. The Book.
Heart suddenly pounding, she unfolded the parcel carefully, letting the wrappings fall away. She had never expected It would come to her. Her head reeled with implications, but the magnetic attraction of the Book temporarily overrode her alarm. Gently, reverentially, she lifted the thick red cover. She had spent so long imagining how that would feel, it felt strange to finally be doing it.
A breath of wind gusted over her shoulder, dropping a golden star from the maple overhead onto the page. It sank with a soft ripple of crimson print and was gone.
The witch slammed the book closed and hurried into the house to make urgent phone calls to people she did not trust. Behind her, at the top of the slope down to the stormwater drain where bleeding heart vines grew wild along the fence, the water dragons were watching.
© Faith Mudge 2013