The young girl shrugged into her backpack and buttoned up her sweater against the chill of the night that was already coming. Terry who was her constant companion was not next to her as she usually was on their journey home from school. Terry’s father had picked her up earlier in the day and that had left Kira to walk home alone. Alone past the house on the corner. All of a sudden Kira felt something that felt like spiders run up her back and she shivered. The young girl frowned and then smiled as she realized how silly she must seem. There was nothing to be afraid of. She had walked the same way alone many times and she was still alive to talk about it. The young girl trudged on kicking up a virtual whirlwind of leaves as she walked. She couldn’t help but admire the colorful display as she moved her shoe around. The noise her shoes created as she marched through the leaves made a strange noise in the quiet of the early evening. Suddenly the waning sun dipped behind a dark cloud and night began to settle in. Kira was only two blocks from home. Not far at all really, she thought. She wished at that moment that her mother had come to pick her up early from school also and that they might stop at McDonald’s and get a burger and some fries and laugh at the kind of funny jokes that her Mom sometimes tried to tell. Kira looked up as a shadow crossed her face. The house loomed over her. How had she come this close to it and not have even realized it?
The windows of the huge old house reminded her of some sad, quiet dog that sat waiting on it’s master. Most of the windows were cracked and none of them seemed to have curtains. They seemed dark as though all the life had gone from the place. Kira tried walking faster, but her legs felt as though they were embedded in something heavy and thick. She felt as though she were barely moving. All of the stories she had heard about the witch filled her thoughts and she wondered how much was true and if there was anyone at all living in the dreary, dead looking place. Kira stumbled and she felt her feet go out from under her. The weight of her backpack seemed to pull her down onto her back and terror filled her throat with it’s bitter taste. She was afraid. She was alone and she was after all only seven. A shadow moving off to one side caught her eye and as what it was came into focus she screamed. Skeleton hands clutched at her arm and she was pulled to her feet quickly. She stood before the witch. It must be the witch because Kira had never before seen someone who looked as scary as the old woman who leaned over her. The woman seemed so old that she looked as though she were made of the same material that the dried leaves that covered the ground were made of. Kira was sure that if she kicked out at the woman she would fall into pieces on the ground and a brisk wind might blow her away. The old woman’s raspy unused voice broke the empty silence and it almost seemed like the old woman cackled. Kira felt like peeing in her pants.
Kira was scooped up unceremoniously into the old woman’s scrawny arms and the woman headed for the house that seemed to contain no life. Kira felt as though she was riding on a wild ride at an amusement park. The old woman’s gate seemed terribly unsteady and Kira’s hat had fallen to the ground and her red curls were spilling down over her small shoulders. She wondered if she was about to be eaten? She wanted her Mother. Tears filled her huge brown eyes and spilled down over her cheeks. The woman struggled up the broken steps with the weight of the child in her arms and as Kira cried out, the old woman shushed her into silence. Kira felt sure she wouldn’t live to see the light of a new day. She wished she had been kinder to her little brother. She also wondered how she would taste to the old woman? She shivered and realized that her head was aching harshly. The old woman’s wobbling had ceased and she pushed open the door to the house. The door looked to Kira like an open mouth about to swallow anyone that entered. The old woman pushed the door closed behind them as they entered the dark confines of the house.
The old woman’s heart was in her throat. The first step of the process had started. It was happening. This would be the year that the miracle happened. The scrawny striped cat rubbed against the old woman’s legs. The woman used her foot to push the cat gently away. She whooshed out her breath and tried to bend over as she sat Kira down on the old dusty sofa that sat in one corner of the huge room. The stiffness of the old woman’s joints protested noisily and the woman reacted to the pain with a grimace. The old woman stood gazing down at the youngster. This would indeed be the one that would change things. This small girl of whom she had watched out the window day after day as the girl walked back and forth to and from school was to be her gift. Lips that had not smiled in years seemed as though they might crack as the old dry lips began to form a smile.
Kira had never truly believed in witches before today. The stories that she had heard from the kids at school said that witches ate little girls and boys. She thought about the story that her Father had read to her called “Hansel and Gretel”, about a little boy and a little girl who were captured by a witch as they sampled the outside of the witches house that was made from gingerbread and other good things. The children were kept captive in cages and fattened up to make a good meal for the witch to eat. Kira didn’t want to think about that story as she lay on the old threadbare sofa in a witch’s house. For the moment she was just glad that her life continued and she hadn’t been eaten.
The old woman began unbuttoning Kira’s sweater and as she did so the girl heard something rustle behind the sofa. Kira jumped and her heart already pounding almost burst through her chest in fear. The old woman’s eyes seemed to acknowledge Kira’s fear. Something strangely human flickered in the woman’s eyes. She not unkindly ordered the small girl to remain where she was and she headed out of the room. Kira couldn’t have moved if she had tried. The girl swallowed and awaited whatever fate awaited.
The old lady peered into the cupboard and she reached her hand to the back and pulled something down and sat it on the cluttered counter. The cup had belonged to her son when he was small. She had not held on to much but she had saved the cup that the boy had loved so well. She poured the hot milk into it and stirred in the brown mix. She sniffed the aroma appreciatively. It would be good. She carried the treasured cup with the hot brown liquid out to where the girl sat waiting.
The woman wobbled back and forth as she walked in a strange kind of almost musical gate. Kira watched her as she came carrying a cup in her bony old hand. The old woman tried in vain not to spill anything out of the cup. She was not successful and some of the brown liquid spilled over the edge of the cup and down onto the carpeted floor. The carpet seemed so dirty that Kira couldn’t even tell where the drops had landed. The cup was sat down on the table beside the girl. The old woman instructed the girl to drink. Kira felt that as soon as she absorbed the liquid into her body the spell would probably turn her into a toad or other such creature. She hoped it would not hurt. The old woman watched her with watery blue eyes and waited for the girl to drink. Kira held the cup to her lips and sipped the liquid cautiously. It was sweet and hot and she recognized the taste almost immediately. It wasn’t something to turn her into a toad at all. It was only hot chocolate. She moved her finger over the cup and noticed all of the little drawings of zoo animals that covered it. The cup looked old, , maybe almost as old as the woman, the little girl decided. She looked up at the old woman who had just stood there watching her drink. The old woman’s voice crackled once again and Kira jumped.
The woman was ecstatic. The girl was here and she was drinking from the cup that had belonged to her son. Maybe the miracle would happen this very night? The girl drained the cup and she raised her eyes to the old woman’s wrinkled face. “So are you going to eat me after all,” the girl queried? “Are you really and truly a witch like in “Hansel and Gretel”? The girl’s eyes were round with fear and uncertainty. Her freckles stood out like brown stars across the white Milky Way of her face.
The old woman looked at the girl and realization crossed her old face. She looked down at the small girl and shook her head slowly. Witch? The girl thought she was a witch and that she was going to be her dinner. She knew that stories spread and that people loved to tell tales especially at this time of the year. but her, a witch? She shook her head and laughter began to spill from her lips, escaping into a huge noise that sounded very much like a cackle to the little girl. “I am an old woman, a lonely old woman, most certainly not a witch”, the old woman’s words echoed out of her tired old body. The old woman’s words continued, slowly and the little girl her fear subsiding, listened. “I have lived her many years. Once upon a time my son was a little boy here and he lived with my husband and I in this house. The cup you are drinking from was his. My husband died and my son had grown up and moved away and I grew very depressed and found no reason to continue my life. You are the miracle I have been waiting for.” The old woman sat down beside Kira with the plop of an empty bag of nothing. The old woman wasn’t much bigger than Kira herself, the girl observed.
Kira steadied her voice and asked, “Why do you stay here alone in this big house and sit in the dark? Why don’t you have any friends?” The girl’s brown eyes remained puzzled. She sat the cup down gently on the table at her side and as she did so she noticed the black and white photo in the gilded frame. The picture was of a pretty young woman holding a small boy leaning against a tall handsome man. They were all smiling and looked very happy to Kira. The old woman followed Kira’s gaze and her lips began to tremble.
The word’s formed and spilled from the old woman’s mouth, “Yes, that is my family. I didn’t always look like this. I once knew great love and happiness. Almost as much happiness as a person’s heart can hold. Then my son grew up and my husband died and I was alone and people loved to talk, especially at this time of the year.” I am old and wrinkled and tired and I am sure that I do look like a witch to a little girl like you but I am only a lonely old woman who has waited a very long time for a reason to get up in the morning. Now that you are here I have received my chance. I am looking for a friend. Someone who will look past my old house, the dust and cobwebs in the corners, and my wrinkles, and my age, and see the love I have to give in my heart”. I would only want to be your friend. Maybe we could sit a time or two once in awhile and share our thoughts and I will listen and you will listen and we will not judge each other, but will be friends”.
Kira suddenly felt better and she knew that she would live another day. She would not become dinner for a hungry witch. She had known all along that witches are not really real. Not even at Halloween-time. This old lady was just like her Grandma Sara. Grandma Sara loved to have Kira and her brother spend time with her. She claimed it made her feel young again. The kids at school had been wrong, there was no witch here, just a lonely old woman who had lost her family because of changing times. She smiled at the woman and touched the bony, age marked, hand gently. “I will be happy to be your friend and maybe sometime you can come over to our house and meet my family”.
The old woman’s eyes filled with tears , but this time they were not tears of sadness but of happiness. It had come true. Her wish had been fulfilled. She now had a reason to get her weary old bones out of her bed in the morning. Her new friend might come to visit and she wanted to be ready when it happened. She thanked the powers that be, for the Halloween miracle that she had been so long praying for. She walked the little girl to the door helping her button up her sweater and to secure her backpack as she did so. The little girl reached up her arms and she gently hugged the woman’s bird like body. The old woman would not be alone anymore. The girl would be back and after all Halloween was only a couple of days away.