XII: Poor Valley Witch. Landon’s Path.

Welcome to the twelfth installment of Poor Valley Witch! This is a serial short story I’m writing as I go along, with minimal editing. I have to admit, it’s gotten a little creepier than I had expected. If you’re just tuning in, click here to go back to the beginning. Feel free to leave your comments below!

Read on, reader!

***

Landon and his mother trudged down the faded, cracked, asphalt road to hell. They passed the house trailer where Landon had run over the corpse of a dog, and two boys (heathens. minions. lost boys.) had drug it out from under the car by its leg. The old woman stood near the canted cement steps to her front door, watching silently as they went past.

Out of some sense of ironic fatalism, Landon raised a hand in greeting. She shook her head and he thought that was all she’d do, but she hesitated and then waved in return before turning and walking around the back of the trailer house. The boys were nowhere to be seen.

“Friend of yours?” his mother asked.

“Yeah,” he answered. “We go way back. I ran over her dog.” She looked over at him, perplexed by his glibness.

“It was already dead,” he said, as though this explained the whole story. They walked along a few more steps, heading into the woods. The light dimmed immediately, as though they’d crossed a substantial border. It felt nice under the trees, though; the morning sun was starting to get hot back there, baking up at them from the old blacktop.

Landon was about to open his mouth to say so, when a resounding CRACK sounded in the air, causing his heart to jump into his throat. This time it was he who put the “Mom-belt” in front of his mother, pushing her back in time to miss being hit by a falling tree by mere inches. They both fell back on their asses, breathing hard, studying the slim oak over the road in front of them. Slim by tree standards, but still substantial enough to have knocked them out, or worse.

“She’s trying to kill us!” Landon’s words came out in a high-pitched wheeze.

“No,” said his mom, struggling to get up. Shaking with adrenaline, Landon pushed himself up off the road and extended a hand to help her out. “No, if she wanted us dead, we’d be dead. Trust me. It’s cat and mouse.”

“Nice,” he answered. They flinched as more trees fell over the road beyond, one after the other like dominoes, except out of sequence. Their road had become vastly more difficult. The woods echoed with crackling limbs and the ground shivered beneath their feet with each impact.

“Nice,” said his mother, wryly. They looked at each other, still breathing heavily, then broke out into matching grins.

“So,” said Landon. “Are we being blocked, or herded?” The last trip he’d taken down this way—what, two days ago?—he had lost memory of this part of things. He’d ended up just outside the witch’s house, about to open the makeshift plywood door. But he’d chickened out, and she’d made fun of him, and he’d been spit out by the valley back in town, at the old gas station. So what was she doing with them now? More cat and mouse, but he had a gut feeling that she didn’t want to drive them away, just freak them out on their way to her.

Landon took his mother’s hand and started back the way they’d come, back toward the trailer house, toward the sunny part of the road.

“What are you doing?” she asked. She didn’t resist him, though; she sensed he was working an angle. She was just genuinely curious about his motive.

“Not sure yet. Trying to flush it out.”

“Flush what out?”

“That.” Landon stopped and nodded his head toward the two boys he’d seen at the trailer house a couple days earlier. They were around, after all, and they were peering out at them from up in a couple trees, just up the bank from where Landon and his mother stood on the road. “Them. I think we just found our guides to the path we’re supposed to take.”

The two travelers scrambled to climb the bank even as the two boys jumped down from their perches in the trees. They were shirtless, and dirty in the way that boys who play in the woods always are. They didn’t say anything, just turned and started walking away from the asphalt, up a path that wouldn’t have been visible from any vehicle down below.

Landon and his mother followed.

They hadn’t gone far when Landon realized he was alone with the boys. He stopped short, looking around wildly for his mother. She was gone. Gone. Disappeared, with no word, no sigh, no rustle of undergrowth. He opened his mouth to call out for her when one of the boys was suddenly by his side, taking his hand. Landon looked down, bewildered, and the boy shook his head, bringing one finger to his lips. Landon looked around again, hoping that his mom had only stepped off the path to pee, or something, but the boy tugged his hand insistently. He scooped air with his free hand toward the path, in the universal sign that meant “Come on! Get going!”

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Landon followed, his spirits plummeting. They’d said he’d have to sacrifice himself. Mamaw had mentioned it, first, and then his mom had said it outright. She’d said he’d have to give himself to the witch. It was the only way, she’d said. He had hoped, up until this moment, that she had a plan, some master, secret way to defeat the witch in the valley. He kept waiting for her to reveal it to him, on their walk. But she’d turned tail and run. Left him. That was it, after all.

The boys led him around the bend in the path. It was totally silent in the woods. Not even a bird trilled, or frog croaked. Nothing made noise except him, walking along the path. There was a building of some kind up ahead. An old outhouse, maybe, or a hunting shack. The boys trooped up to it and stopped, turning around and crossing their arms, standing sentry at either side of the doorway. He was supposed to go in.

Sighing, feeling strangely like he was on a conveyor belt—he certainly wasn’t directing his own feet, anymore—Landon went to the shack and peered into the deep gloom. There, on the floor, was a gleaming, white mint tin. The very one that held the nubbins. Landon instinctively felt the ring on his finger, making sure it was still there, that it hadn’t disappeared like his mother had. He shuffled through the doorway and bent to pick up the tin, but before he could get a grip on it he fell—and kept falling.

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“Here, hold this,” his mother’s voice whispered in his ear. “No, don’t look around, you won’t see me. But hold this, it helps with the vertigo.” Landon groped around until he found a stick and gripped it, hard. True to his mother’s words, his sensation of falling eased and he felt the solid dirt beneath his back. He couldn’t see a thing, not one photon of light. His eyes kept trying, kept sending little phantom shapes to his brain. He’d read that that happens, when people go into deep caves where there is no light at all. Their brains kept trying to create things to see.

“This is a safe place,” his mother said. “We made it safe from the witch. She controls all the roads in the valley, but other creatures have laid claim to the old paths in the woods. And this place, this old shack, is a very special place indeed.”

“Who … who’s we?” Now that Landon no longer felt like he was falling, he felt a bit nauseated. Carsick.

“I’m here, too, son,” his father’s voice spoke in the blackness. “I had to wait on the sidelines. Your mother and I, we’ve found the way to beat the witch. At least, we think so. But it’s all you. We tried. We looked for every solution, read every book, spoke to any weirdo who might have a better answer, but this is the only way.”

The relief and pleasure Landon felt at the sound of his dad’s voice ran out of him. “I have to sacrifice myself.” His parents’ silence was answer enough.

“And you have to …” his father began, but Landon had the distinct feeling his mother had shushed him up. She put the mint tin firmly into the hand Landon wasn’t using to clutch the stick.

“Take the nubbins,” she said. “Go to the witch. You’re almost there. Tell her you’re ready to give yourself up. Landon—and this is very important—you must hide the nubbins. Put them down in your underpants, if you have to. And go in to the house. You have to go in. All the way in.”

“I love you, son,” said his father’s voice in the dark. And with that, Landon was alone.

***

Poor Valley Witch XI: Walk Into the Fray

Welcome to the eleventh installment of Poor Valley Witch! If you are just tuning in, go here for the first story post.

***

I have to sacrifice myself. It’s what his mother had said. Landon sat on the front stoop of his grandmother’s house, staring out at the tops of the tall pines that marked the highway, way out beyond Cherry Street. And, beyond the highway: Poor Valley. Fireflies were starting to come out, blinking their codes for all to see, if only they could understand it.

Landon felt like he was stuck in that firefly language. He was here, with his family, but he didn’t recognize anything about his life. Everything he’d thought he understood about his family, his history, was upside down. It was sideways. Hell, it wasn’t anything that resembled sense.

He’d thought all the bustle, all the business with the vultures in the attic, and his grandmother’s hoarding the nubbins for the ring, his mother flying up so suddenly from Florida … he’d thought all that had been to save his life, because the witch had put her eye on him. But no, he was supposed to fall on the sword. You’re going to have to sacrifice yourself. It’s what his mother had said. And where the hell was his father? Landon had no idea, hadn’t heard back from the man after texting him earlier.

His mom was asleep in the house, now. Mamaw had made fried bologna sandwiches for them all and tucked his mother into bed in the small guest room, before going to bed herself. Landon had camped out on the couch, but he couldn’t seem to settle his mind, so he came out into the humid night. The summer air humming with cicadas always seemed to soothe him. It made him think of nights, so long ago the memories seemed made-up, he and his family had gone camping.

Landon was afraid. He didn’t know what the witch wanted with him, and his mother hadn’t given him any clarity at all. Did she want a slave? Did she want to marry him as a proxy to his father, who’d left her behind? Did she want to kill him? The tall, black pines swayed against the starry sky. Landon shivered in the warmth.

***

“It’s time to go,” Mom said. Mamaw stood at the kitchen sink, washing the breakfast dishes. Once, when Landon was a kid, the family had gotten together for a great-uncle’s funeral. They had stayed together at Mamaw’s house, had breakfast together. They’d gotten dressed up in their Sunday best and it had felt almost like a vacation, like a reunion, except that between jokes and conversation came waves of tears from Mamaw and even Landon’s dad. He felt like that today, like the warmth and comfort of being with family in the familiar kitchen was a blanket that only hid the sadness that came through like a sharp knife, ripping holes in the illusion.

Landon and his mother stood and walked out of the kitchen. He looked back at Mamaw, once, wondering if she’d come with them. She stood resolutely at the sink, gazing out the window, tears coursing down her cheeks. Silent. Landon turned away and went out, walking to the car, opening the driver’s door. He looked around for his mother and saw that she had already made it to the end of the small gravel drive on foot. He closed the door again and hurried after her. CDs twinkled on their strings in the morning light, tied to the patio chairs and low branches. No vultures were in sight, though. Not this morning.

“We’re going on foot?” Landon caught up to Mom. She nodded and reached out her hand to take his. They set off on Cherry Street, headed toward the highway. To cross it. To get to Poor Valley.

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“When you were born,” said Mom, startling Landon into missing a beat and almost stumbling, “We thought it would be alright, your father and I. Cecilia seemed to forgive us, seemed to wish us well. She even gave you a present!” She shook the mint tin gently in her free hand.

“The ring,” said Landon. He wore it today, on his right pinkie finger.

“The ring.” Mom nodded. “But you got sick the day she gave it to you. You almost died.” She sighed, like telling the story made her tired. “And we knew she’d done something. She’d cast a spell on the ring. So, I took it to a professor. I was still in college when you were born, you know.” He nodded. They walked quietly for a few steps. They were almost to the highway, now. Almost ready to cross over.

“My professor, she thought I was doing research for old Appalachian lore and customs,” his mother continued. “And she found me some books to research, full of stories like what people used to do with placentas, or how the old herb doctors would treat pain. Stuff like that.” She barked a short laugh. “Made me glad I’d had you in the hospital, where they dispose of placentas like they are a biohazard. Probably put it in the incinerator, for all I know.” Landon had no idea what she meant by that, but he decided to let it lie. She seemed to need to talk, so he let her.

“Anyway, I found the information I needed, and I put our blood in a new ring. I remade it in the shop at the community college. I had to carve a mold out of wax, and put it in this clutch of clay, and fire it so the wax dripped out.” They stopped at the edge of the highway, now. A semi truck went by, blowing hot air and tiny bits of road debris into their faces. They turned away, squinting to keep grit out of their eyes. When the coast was clear, mother and son crossed the highway and started up the gentle swell of road on the other side. They passed the little cemetery on the right hand side.

They were going to Poor Valley.

“After the wax dripped out, and the clay cooled, I used the centrifuge to spin the metal, and our blood, into the mold,” his mother continued. She sounded a little strained. He looked at her face, now below his. It gave him a pang to realize that; he was taller than his mother. He’d been taller than her for years, now, but she’d been so distant that he tried not to remember when she had been the one towering over him, bending down to hand him a cookie with a kiss in the soft light of their kitchen. Now, she seemed to be walking against a stiff wind, though Landon could not feel it. She saw him noticing and shook her head, warding off questions. They walked on. Under the boughs of a huge oak tree, now, its roots so old and powerful they pushed up the side of the asphalt road.

“I gave you the ring and kept the nubbins,” she rattled the tin again, “Until Cecilia realized she couldn’t just outright kill us all, anymore. The ring is a powerful charm. But she could hurt us, and she did.”

“She made you leave,” said Landon, his heart pounding. He swallowed down a sob. Walking, and sweating, and dredging up sad memories almost undid him. Mom put an arm out in front of him, like she’d done when she’d taken him places in the car as a kid. She’d called it the Mom-belt. She put her hand holding the mint tin, nubbins inside, out in front like a talisman, then walked forward, pulling him along. They passed through something invisible, and Landon felt a weight he’d only barely been aware of lift away. He could breathe better, and as they kept going, he saw that his mother no longer fought an invisible gale.

“She’s putting up barriers,” said his mother, when he looked at her questioningly. They held hands again. The old trailer house was next, the one where he’d run over the dead dog.

The witch was putting up barriers, and Landon wished with all his heart they weren’t pushing through them. He wanted to turn around with his mother and fly back to Florida with her. He wanted to leave this podunk town and never return.

Landon did not want to see the witch.

***

 

 

 

Poor Valley Witch X: Beginning of the End

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.

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“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.

“What?”

“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.

***

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Poor Valley Witch IX: Jilted

Good Tuesday, readers! I hope this last day of February is treating you well. Here’s the next installment of my short, serial story: Poor Valley Witch. To start from the beginning, click here. Thanks for reading!

***

Landon went back into Mamaw’s house. I need answers, he thought. His grandmother knew what was happening. It was time she let him in on whatever this family secret was.

She sat at the battered kitchen table, staring at the jam jars he’d gotten out for their tea, before he’d seen the vultures in the attic. Before they’d been the subject of a, what? A Baptist protest? Landon shook his head. Sweet tea with his grandmother seemed like something that had happened about a million years ago.

“Tell me,” he said, sliding into the chair across from her. She shook her head, like a petulant child.

“Tell me what the hell is happening, Mamaw! What is this? Why is some witch,” he stabbed his finger toward the window, and Poor Valley, beyond the tall pines. “Some witch sending her vultures to get my things? What does that mean?” Mamaw stared at him with wide, wet eyes. Her mouth quivered. He’d never seen her so vulnerable as she was today. It made him feel bad, like he was staring at her naked.

“I … made a mistake,” she whispered. She sat, clutching the jam jar with its skim of tea at the bottom, her wrinkled hands white with effort. Landon opened his mouth, then shut it again. He let the silence lay heavy. Finally, she took a deep breath and looked up at him.

“When your father brought your mother home and said they’d gotten married, I tried. I tried to find a way to make it ok.”

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Landon sat back in the chair. “Mamaw, are you seriously losing it? What the hell does my mother marrying Dad have to do with any of this?” He’d always had the impression that his grandmother didn’t like his mother, that her constant disapproval had driven a wedge between his parents. And his parents’ commitment hadn’t been strong enough for them to stay together. His mother’s love for him hadn’t been strong enough to make her stay.

“Your father was promised to the Poor Valley Witch.” Mamaw let out a shaky breath, releasing the jam jar where it sat on the table, her hands small and quiet in her lap.

“He was promised to her? Like in Rumplestiltskin, he was supposed to belong to her, or something? I’m not getting this, Mamaw.” Landon rubbed at his face. He was tired.

She laughed, some of her old spunk in the sound. He looked up at her, surprised by that.

“No, he was promised to her as in he proposed marriage to her. He told her he would marry her, would have babies with her, would live up in Poor Valley for the rest of their … well, the rest of his life.” Bitterness crept into her voice.

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“And then, what? He ran off and met Mom on spring break in … in, Florida? And they got married?” It was a reach, the most ludicrous thing he could think of, but as soon as the words were out his grandmother was nodding.

“That’s pretty much what happened, babe. Your father was faithless, as we used to say. And you just don’t jilt a witch.” Mamaw stood up and took the jam jars over to the sink, pouring the sugary brown tea down the drain. She looked frail, silhouetted against the window.

“So Mom left. Is that why? She finally couldn’t take the pressure? Did the witch curse her, or something?”

“Not exactly,” said Mamaw. “The witch tried to kill your father, first. She was unsuccessful. And then–” Landon’s cell phone chimed. His mother had texted; her plane was about to take off in Tampa.

“Mom’s on her way here,” he said. “She said she’ll rent a car in Knoxville.” Mamaw nodded.

“I’m so tired, babe,” she said. “Let me lay down a bit.” Landon got up to put his arm around her, help her to her bedroom. Something in her manner made him think she needed help, needed to lean on someone else. Put down her burdens for a while.

***

 

Poor Valley Witch VIII: Nubbins

Happy Friday, weekend warriors! I had a thought about Poor Valley Witch, so I thought I’d continue that narrative a bit today. Please read on.

If you’d like to read the previous installment, click here.

***

Landon sat in his car, cell phone in hand. His head was reeling. His thoughts were buzzing, full of white noise. He was an impulsive person naturally, and trusted his gut to guide him. It’s one of the things his father had always criticized.

“You need to slow down,” he’d say. “You need a plan. You keep flying by the seat of your pants, you’ll crash and burn.” Landon’s dad was right about that, usually, but Landon was naturally ornery as well as impulsive, so he pushed away the advice.

Now, it wasn’t his father’s advice he needed. It was his mother’s. She’d made the lost wax ring. In college, according to Mamaw. And here it was, on his pinky finger, plucked from a nest full of lost memories from his life, curated by vultures. Landon shivered, even though the day was warm. He thought he could smell their sickly-sweet stench, memory of their shuffling, rustling, black-feathered bodies evoking the sensation.

He looked down at the cell phone, thumb caressing the circular “unlock” button. He needed to go back to the Poor Valley witch, he was pretty sure of that. But he had absolutely no idea why. Why was she targeting him, sending her carrion-eaters to show him a cache of things hidden in his grandmother’s attic? He was starting to question Mamaw’s sanity, too. She’d said something about him being sacrificed. It was chilling, coming from her wrinkled lips, in her quavering, old-woman voice. But … was she all there? Was she lucid, or just spouting some creepy shit her dementia-addled brain had dredged up from a memory of some horror story she’d read as a kid? And which thing was more terrifying: his strong-willed grandmother going nuts, or her talking about his sacrifice while in her right mind?

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“I’m stalling,” Landon muttered, pressing down with his thumb to bring up his phone’s home screen. He tapped his mother’s name and lifted the phone to his ear.

“Hey, baby!” she answered on the first ring. “How’s my boy?” Her cheery voice grated in his ear. She’d been drinking, probably. It was there, under the cherry-sweet tone.

“Hi Mom,” he said. “Listen, I need you.” It was a bald confession. He would never have said those words in any normal circumstance; his mother had abandoned him and his dad, and he’d never forgiven her for that.

She picked up his tone immediately. “What’s wrong?” Not too drunk, then, he thought.

“I…have this ring,” he said, unsure of where to start his tale, or what he even needed her for. I’m grasping at straws, here, he thought. A gasp came through the phone.

“You need the nubbins,” she said. The cherry sweetness was gone completely.

“I have those, too,” he said, taken aback. They were in the mint tin, on the dash.

“Oh, thank god!” she said. “I’ll be there tonight. Tomorrow, if I can’t get a flight. I’ll come in to Knoxville. Stay with your grandmother. I’ll rent a car.”

“Ok,” he said, now completely flustered.

“Landon?”

“Yeah.”

“Stay at Mamaw’s. That’s important. Keep the ring and the nubbins close, and stay there.”

“Ok, Mom.” The connection dropped. What the hell was happening?

 

Poor Valley Part VII: Lost Wax Ring

Here is Part VII of Poor Valley Witch, the short story I’m writing, warts and all, on this blog. I’m editing as I go and making lots of mistakes! But, hey, it’s a writing experiment. Go here to start at Part I. Here’s Part VI.

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“Sacrificed? What the hell does that mean, sacrificed?” Landon gripped Mamaw’s shoulders. She shook her head.

“Nothing. Let me see the ring,” she said, holding out her hand. He gazed at her a moment more, then sat down on the bed next to her and took the ring off. She took it from him and squinted at it, teeth bared in the shrewish expression he remembered from his childhood. It was her concentrating expression, reserved for tricky bits of sewing or the contemplation of broken things. It had always scared him a little bit; the exposed teeth made her look feral.

“There’s the engraving, but that’s not what I’m looking for … See here,” she muttered, turning the ring to look inside. “See the little bump in there? The circle.”

Landon leaned close to see. “Yes.”

“This is the lost wax ring.” The lost wax ring? What the hell did that mean? Was the ring lost, or somehow made of wax? It looked like gold to him.

“I don’t understand, Mamaw.”

“It’s a way to make jewelry. You carve what you want to make out of wax and press it into clay, then bake it to melt out the wax and make a mold. See, you have to leave a little nubbin that sticks out of the clay so it all drains out. And you have to leave little nubbins inside to hold it together while you’re carving the thing.”

“Lost wax,” said Landon, bemused. He didn’t understand what this had to do with anything, but Mamaw seemed calmer talking about it. She seemed more like herself. He wanted to keep that going. “Then what?”

“Yes. Then you melt the gold and push it into the clay mold. With centrifuge.” Her words became a whisper. “Little gold nubbins are left on the ring. From the mold. You have to cut those off.” She caressed the slight bump on the ring with one finger.

“Your mother made this ring,” she said with a finality that startled him. “In college.” Landon’s mother. Mamaw didn’t usually like to speak of her. She lived in Florida now, had gone south for a vacation when he was a kid and never come home again.

“Come with me,” said Mamaw, swinging her legs around to get off the bed.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Landon put one hand on her arm. “You just fainted!”

She took his hand in hers and patted it with a wan smile, then stood up and walked out of the room. He looked down at his hand. She’d tucked the ring into it. He ran out after her. She was already out the back door, headed to the garden shed. She pulled open the door with a jerk and marched into the gloom. Landon barely made it to the shed before she marched back out, almost colliding with him.

She held a rusted mint tin. “Here.”

“What’s this?” He took the tin from her, still holding the ring in one hand.

“It’s the nubbins,” she said. He opened the rusted lid and looked inside. There were three tiny, misshapen cylinders of gold and a desiccated dead beetle. She closed the lid again and closed his hands around the ring and the mint tin.

“Keep these safe,” she said. “They are more important than you know.”

 

 

Poor Valley Witch: Gold Ring

It’s time for Part VI of Poor Valley Witch! For Part V, click here. To start at the beginning, click here. For Part VII, click here.

Landon gazed at the collection of things, of childhood memories, in the nest below him. He was alone, now, in the dry attic, with nothing but a whisper of carrion-scent to remind him who his latest companions were. He hesitated, unsure of what to do, when his grandmother called up from the bottom of the stairs.

stairs

“Landon?” She sounded frightened. He spread out the old sweatshirt and piled his things inside, folding it up to make a bundle before scooting away from the nest and struggling to stand. As he did, a small tink-tink-tink sounded at his feet. He shifted his armload to the side and peered down, hunched under the sloped roof. Something small glinted on the floor, dangerously close to a crack between dusty boards. He picked it up and squinted at it: a small, gold ring, engraved crudely–scratched, more like. It must have fallen out of the sweatshirt pocket, he thought. He absently put it on his finger so he would not lose it.

“Where are the birds? Are they gone?” Mamaw asked when he came down the steps. He nodded and held out the things that had been in the nest.

“They showed me these things,” he said. “They were in a nest.” He was at a loss, then, and shrugged his shoulders: Why?

She passed her hand over her forehead in the same gesture she’d made earlier, in the kitchen. “It’s your things,” she said. “Your things.” And she slumped to the floor in a faint.

***

She came to a few minutes later, when Landon laid her on her bed. She surprised him by bursting into tears.

“I thought it was for me, all this time,” she choked. “I saw the first one weeks ago, circling around and around above the house. I knew what it meant, even before it came back with its…friends. I threw away all my things. All my clothes. I’ve been buying them down at the Dollar General. I wear them until they smell bad, and then I burn them…I even gave all my valuables to your father to keep!” She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.

Landon tried to keep up with her. “You…didn’t want the vultures to take your things?” She shook her head, still covering her eyes with her hands. “So that’s why the attic was empty,” he muttered.

“They are ambassadors of the witch,” she said, finally. “The vultures. And when they take your things, she…she comes for you.”

“So, what? She’s coming for me, now?” He was too bewildered to be worried. Mamaw took her hands away from her face and looked blearily up at her grandson. She started to turn away, shuddering, when her eye caught on the gold ring on his finger. Her hand snaked out before he knew what she was doing and caught his with a grip like a manacle.

“Where did you find that ring?” she demanded.

“It fell out of my sweatshirt,” he said. “I’ve never seen it before today.”

She bared her teeth in a predator’s grin. “Maybe we have an ally.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means…you might not have to be sacrificed, after all.”

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