Welcome to part X of Poor Valley Witch, my little Appalachian gothic yarn. I’m experimenting with writing this short story as I go, leaving (mostly) warts and all, installing it on my blog on the fly. To start at the beginning, go here. I hope you enjoy!
Landon stood looking at his mother through his grandmother’s screen door. It was very late in the day, and the gloom plus the screen made his mother’s face shrouded. Like a bride. Like a widow. He shivered.
“You going to let me in?” she asked. She reached for the door handle with the hand not holding her overnight bag. He stepped back. It had been months since he’d last seen her, and with all that had happened, he felt like he’d never even met her.
They stood in the kitchen together, regarding each other like strange cats.
“You have the ring? The nubbins?” she reached out her hand. Landon put his hand in his pocket, curling his fingers around the mint tin. Something in her face made him hesitate; he didn’t want to hand it over. There was a hardness to his mother’s eyes he’d never seen before. Usually, when he visited her at her condo in Florida, she looked vapid, spacey. Not anywhere near this aware. She curled her fingers in a “come on” motion. He sighed, pulled out the mint tin and put it in her hand.
Opening the rusty lid, she greedily looked inside, counting under her breath before letting out a sigh of relief.
“They’re all there,” she said. “All the nubbins accounted for.”
“Why are they so important?” Landon asked. He followed her to the kitchen table, where they both sat in Mamaw’s old chairs.
“I was still in college when I was pregnant with you,” she said, tapping the metal lid. “I made this ring in class one day. Cecilia had tricked us, your father and I, made us think we’d found a way to protect our little family from her. So, I put some of my blood into the metal before I spun it into the mold. It was the blood we shared, you and I.” She reached out to cover Landon’s hand with her own, caressing the tiny ring on his pinkie finger.
“Cecilia? That’s her name? The Poor Valley Witch,” he said. His mother nodded. She opened the tin on the table and took out one of the little metal chunks inside.
“If she had the ring, or any part of the metal, she owned us,” she said, softly. “That’s what the spell really did. I got the nubbins back, after I realized how we’d been tricked, but there was a price.” She looked into Landon’s eyes and all her careful barriers dropped. There was no spacey look, no hardness. Only his mother, the way he remembered her from when he was a boy.
“You had to leave,” Landon said. She nodded. “But, she had the ring,” he said, remembering the vultures’ nest up in the attic. “She had all kinds of things of mine.”
“Tell me about it,” his mother said. “Did she give it to you? Or did the vultures have it?” Landon told her everything, about visiting the Valley, about the Baptists singing in the front yard–she laughed aloud at the thought of them being bombarded by streams of vulture crap–and about the quiet, hulking vultures ushering him in to see the nest.
“They gave you back the things?” she said. “Usually the witch keeps … collections, I guess you’d call them, to herself. Sentimental things give her power. But where was the ring?”
“It must have been in the pocket of my old sweatshirt,” he said.
She nodded. “Yes, your father told me you’d lost it years ago,” she said. “You used to wear it, for protection.”
“I used to wear the ring that connected me to the witch?” he asked, incredulous. “That doesn’t make sense!”
She shrugged. “Catch a tiger by its toe.”
“What does that even mean?”
“If you hold your enemy close, they can’t strike against you,” she said. “I’ve spent years researching how to beat her. Your father has too, though we couldn’t be in contact often; she would have known.” Landon’s mother stood and walked to the kitchen sink, gazing out the window into the darkening twilight. “I think I have found a way to stop her,” she said. “Finally.”
“You have to be willing to go to her,” she said, turning to face him.
“You have to sacrifice yourself.” A single tear spilled out of her eye, but her face was stony.
“You’re here! I wondered when you’d show up.” Mamaw bustled into the kitchen, startling Landon and looking much better after her nap. She shocked him further when she wrapped her arms around his mother, squeezing her tight.
“Welcome home, dear,” she said.