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Authors: David Tysdale

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The Lost Witch

BOOK: The Lost Witch
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The Lost Witch

 

By
David Tysdale

 

 

Uncial Press
Aloha, Oregon
2010

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products of the author's imagination or
are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-60174-102-8

Copyright © 2010 by David Tysdale

Cover design Copyright © 2010 by Judith B. Glad

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical
or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press, an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

Dedication

To Dean and Rose. Multitaskers in their own fashion.

Prologue

The man trudged along the winding path, hunched as much against the steady downpour
as he was against the relentless aching of his arm. It had been over a year since the accident and
months that he'd been on the trail. Lost in thought, he missed the initial flash but looked up in
time to see a brilliant rainbow arc through the pelting rain. The light blasted into the ground mere
yards away, before shooting past faster than his eyes could follow.

"Ball lightning?" he wondered, moving forward to examine the steaming trench gouged
out by the fireball.

Near the centre of the crater, a large bundle detached itself from the mud, sat up and
blinked. "Fadder?"

"Well, I'll be. It's a child!"

"Fadder-not!" the toddler declared, starting to cry.

Reaching out with his good arm, the man scooped up the youngster and struggled to
wipe the muck from its teary face. "And what might your name be?"

Hazelnut colored eyes stared fiercely back. "Want my mudder!"

"I'm sure you do little one, I'm sure you do. The question is where, not to mention what,
your mother is?"

- 1 -

"Hey, pig girl!"

Carole stumbled over a bale of straw and, landing awkwardly, scraped her outstretched
hands across the rough stone floor. "Go, go, go!" she hissed, scrambling back to her feet. The
two animals darted into the nearest open stall.

A second later the man-door swung open and Beatrice stuck her puffy red face inside.
Squinting in the dusty light, Beatrice flicked her gaze hungrily about the interior. Carole saw a
grimace tug at her mouth. Everything was in order.

"What a stink!" Beatrice wrinkled her nose and leveled a hard stare at Carole.

Carole willed her now throbbing hands to remain relaxed at her sides, hoping Beatrice
wouldn't notice. Thankfully Beatrice never ventured far into the pig barn if she could help it, as
she had allergies to just about everything, and was equally afraid the barn smells would stick to
her skin like melted bubble gum.

"Father says the butcher's coming tomorrow to slaughter the pigs for ham and bacon, so
make sure you and your gimpy dad wash 'em up nice and clean. You might also try a little soap
on yourself, Carole. Not that I'd expect much, mind you, but miracles have been known to
happen. Oh, and while I'm here," she added in an casual way, "there was one more thing. Now
what was it?"

Carole tensed as if Beatrice was about to throw a punch.

"Oh yes, I remember. Father also says to get rid of that useless runt that keeps eating all
the feed-corn. Drown it or something."

A muffled squeal sounded nearby.

Beatrice scrunched her face into a wicked grin. "You know the one I mean. That
oversized rat who follows you around like a pet poodle. Really Carole, you're just too much. It's
bad enough I have to go to the same school as the hired help, but to be made a laughingstock
because of a scrawny pig? I simply won't allow it. So father says the runt's to go by
tomorrow."

She turned on her heel to walk away, but looked back and added, "I can't imagine what
my parents were thinking when they hired your father. I suppose it was the charitable thing to do,
what with that useless arm of his and the two of you wandering about penniless and all. Still,
that's no excuse to take advantage of our hosp--"

Three rapid-fire sneezes exploded from her nose. "Ohh!" She ran off to find a hankie as
the greenish ooze trickling from her nostrils made its way towards her mouth.

"Jerk!" Carole slammed the door shut. She examined her red streaked palms.
"Great."

Storming over to the water trough, she plunged both hands in, winced at the unexpected
sting and yanked them out again. Slowly lowering her hands into the water a second time, she
gingerly rubbed at the blood and dirt. Once her palms were reasonably clean, she sat against the
edge of the trough and dug at grit wedged under her fingernails. Next she scratched futilely at a
large stain on her skirt. The hand-me-down skirt used to be a pretty sky blue. Now it was mostly
battleship gray.

Carole sighed deeply. She couldn't help the way she looked; after all she did pretty much
live in the pig barn, spending more time amongst these straw-strewn stalls than in her own
bedroom. Besides her work overalls, she only had a couple of skirts to wear, no better than this
one, one pair of shoes which she never wore, and certainly none of the fancy perfumed soap
Beatrice got to use. So just how did Beatrice Murtz expect her to look or smell?

She sighed again. Not that it mattered, hardly at all anyway. She just wished Beatrice
and all of Beatrice's snooty friends would leave her alone. Given the choice, she would pick a pig
for a friend over priggy Beatrice Murtz, any day of the week.

At the sound of snuffling she glanced up to see a large gray hog, followed closely by a
pink runt of a pig, shamble over. Both animals looked extremely upset. "Ah, right." She bent
over to rub behind the tiny pig's ears, "We've a bit of a problem to solve, but don't you worry
about Beatrice's threat, Runt. I won't let Miss Fat and Nasty drown you. I need to give this some
thought."

The pigs waited patiently for her to continue.

"Now then," she said a little later, "Smoky first."

The gray hog perked up his ears expectantly.

"Smoke, we've talked it over many times and you knew that one day the butcher would
arrive. Unfortunately it seems tomorrow's the day. I know it doesn't give us a lot of time for
goodbyes, but you really are quite prepared."

The hog grunted hopefully.

"No, I don't think so. When it comes to her stomach, Beatrice never bluffs."

A large tear formed in Smoky's eye, rolled off the side of his snout and disappeared in a
puff of dust on the barn floor.

She jumped up and gave the hog a huge hug. "I'm going to miss you too, Smoky, but
you've learned well. You know what to do and you're perfectly capable." She tugged the animal
to his feet. "So tonight at midnight, I'll take you to the trail at the edge of the farm. It's simple.
You just follow it through the forest and continue east. Eat and sleep when you must, but
otherwise keep going."

Smoky posed a question.

"No, I honestly don't. I don't even know how long it'll take, only that you must keep to
the trail. There's a safe haven at the end, I'm certain of it, but you have to reach the end. If you
get lost, remember to use the sun as your guide. It travels east-to-west so you just follow it in the
morning and your shadow during the afternoon. And what must you avoid, at all costs?"

Smoky grunted and snuffled until Carole was satisfied with his answer.

"Good, but don't forget about people. Some can be even worse, especially if they're
anything like the Murtzes. Just play it safe and avoid them all together. You might go hungry for
a time, but better that than becoming someone's dinner."

The large hog began to fidget.

"You'll be fine," Carole reassured him. "Remember, you're not the first."

"Wroot wraught?"

"No, I've not seen any since, but I know they made it. They were all brainy pigs like you
and Runt, not like your dumber cousins," Carole angled her chin towards the rest of the herd.
"Poor beasts. They'll be led to slaughter none the wiser, but I'm afraid there's nothing we can do
to help."

"Wrot wroot."

Carole shook her head. "Even if we tried, they'd only panic in the woods and come
running back to the barn and the butcher's cleaver. And wouldn't Beatrice enjoy getting me in
trouble for that. No, I'm afraid it's got to be just the two of you, Smoky."

"Wreeeeet!" The pink runt jumped up and down, bouncing into Smoky's belly and
pushing the larger hog out of the way.

"Yes Runt," Carole giggled, "you're going too."

"Reet rit ret?"

"Certainly not, but it's obvious you're no longer safe here, either. Somehow Beatrice
spotted you." Carole thought for a moment before snapping her fingers. "That telescope she
weaseled out of her dad. How could I've been so stupid? 'I want to study the heavens; to learn
astronomy.' What a load of manure, Beatrice studying. I betcha she's been spying on us all this
time. Anyway, it's too late now. She knows, and she'll hound her dad until she gets you dead and
eaten. She might even convince the butcher to lend a hand tomorrow, if she hasn't already made
the arrangements."

Both pigs snorted in disgust.

"Traveling will be tougher because of your size, Runt, but you've got more brains than
any pig I've ever known and I'm sure Smoky would welcome the company."

"Rit!" Runt smiled, standing proud at the compliment, while Smoky nodded his head in
complete agreement, as if very relieved he wouldn't have to tackle the forest by himself.

"Okay you two, we leave at midnight." She poured a bucket of corn into a feed trough.
"Here, it might be awhile before you get a chance to eat this well again."

Leaving Runt and Smoky to their food, she wandered through the rest of the barn, a
mass of emotions filling her chest. She stopped beside a group of hogs snoozing peacefully in the
afternoon heat and watched them for a time, before suddenly slapping at a thick beam. "I hate
this place!"

Blood began to ooze from her palm.

- 2 -

Hal turned his attention from carrots soaking in the kitchen sink to Carole, who slumped
on a kitchen chair. "Finally got that sapling planted," he said as he noticed her tear-streaked face.
"Should take root, nicely."

"Don't know why you bother," she muttered. "Murtz doesn't care a fig about the orchard,
and one tree stuck way back at the edge of the woods isn't going to do a whole lot. Besides, it'll
be years before that tree can even make apples and you probably won't even..." She inspected a
freckle on the back of her hand.

"Be around to eat them?"

Carole's cheeks flared pink. "That's not what I meant. I just..."

"True enough daughter-not. One way or another, I likely won't be here to enjoy a juicy
homegrown, but then again do you remember when we first arrived?"

Carole threw him a quizzical look.

"Before Marvin saw fit to hire me and my nonconformity..." Hal held up his shriveled
and barely functional left arm. "...and my uniquely talented but equally demanding little girl?"
He grinned down at Carole. "Marvin required that I prove my worth to him."

"Working as slave labor," she growled.

"True, that first paycheck took its time in coming."

"He nearly starved us to death."

"But we didn't starve. In fact we ate rather well that autumn; on apple fritters, apple
dumplings, apple pie, apple crisp, apple crumble..."

"The old apple tree! I'd nearly forgotten."

"Yes indeed." Hal chuckled. "That old tree provided us with plenty of food and plenty of
fun. You'd have even slept in it if I'd'a let you. If my memory serves me right, you actually tried
once or twice."

Carole smirked. "I think I still have the bumps on my forehead."

"I like to believe that somewhere back in time, someone had an inkling of just how
much help that tree was going to be to us, and so I'm--"

"Returning the favor. I'm sorry, Hal. I didn't mean to sound so angry, it's just that--"

"It's just that you are angry, I know, Carole. Butcher day's tomorrow. Marvin told me
this morning."

"I don't know why we stay here."

"Yes you do."

"There must be other farms who'd hire us. Vegetable farms, fruit farms. We wouldn't
have to go too far, just away from this horrid place."

"Daughter-not, we've been through this before, many many times. I agree, the Murtzes
aren't the most pleasant of folks, but they keep to themselves and they don't ask a whole lot of
questions."

"As if they need to, the way everyone else gossips in this valley."

"Well then, let's just say Marvin manages to overlook the gossip, the same way that I
overlook the occasional thin paycheck."

BOOK: The Lost Witch
8.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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