My name is–well, I don’t suppose it matters what my name is. You are here for a story, and I am the Storyteller and that is all that matters.
Before I begin my story there are three important things to remember.
One: It is a very foolish person who does not listen carefully to the warnings of children’s stories
Two: One should never steal from a known witch
And Three: If you do, you may not live to regret it.
And so begins my story.
It was a beautiful sunny day in mid July (what, you thought it’d be a dark and stormy night?) and the flowers that Elizabeth Wardly had planted at the beginning of the summer were finally in full bloom.
Now, Elizabeth was known far and wide for her beautiful flowers. Looking across the wide expanse of her garden, it seemed as though a rainbow flowed like a river across the parched land. You see, for years, the land Elizabeth so lovingly tended had been dry as desert, but somehow, she made her flowers grow. They would bloom in July and remain in full bloom until the first frost in November, when they would disappear. Every year, it was like clockwork.
Some claimed it was luck, some claimed it was talent, and still others claimed it was witchcraft.
They were correct.
Elizabeth Wardly was no mere gardener. She was a powerful witch, and for years she had used her talents for the benefit of the town, producing masses of beautiful flowers for all to enjoy. She lived a simple life, casting spells and growing flowers, but she lived in peace and found herself quite happy. (That is, as happy as witches can be).
That is, until one dark and stormy night in late October. (Better?)
It was on this night that a group of young and foolhardy ruffians from the steel mill across town began cooking up a scheme. Owen Bates, the leader of this gang, bought yet another round for his mates in the pub and they began talking of far off places and the women they’d find there.
“I want myself a bride”, Owen said.
“You should marry that witch, Elizabeth”, said one of his friends.
“Fie on your life”, retorted Owen.
“I doubt you’ve enough courage to cross paths with her, let alone marry the woman” cried another.
Owen choked on his beer–“I lack no courage, nor strength of heart”
“Prove it! Prove it!” his friends began chanting and pounding their mugs on the rough wooden tables.
“I shall, and all of you will be proven the lesser men for it!”. Owen tipped back his mug and finished his drink. He rose and stormed out of the door into the raging storm.
A few miles down the road, Owen began regretting his decision. He had no quarrel with the witch–ah, but she wasn’t truly a witch. There were no such things, merely fairy stories told to children to get them to behave. She was just a crazy old woman. He shrugged his cloak more firmly around his shoulders and continued down the dark path until he reached Elizabeth’s famous garden.
The flowers whipped to and fro in the storm, lit only by lighting that flashed after each gigantic thunderbust. Owen reached casually through the fence for the closest flower–he would prove that he was man enough for all of his friends, but something stopped him. There, in the middle of the garden, was the most beautiful flower he had ever seen. Owen stopped and waited patiently in the downpour for the next lighting burst. Yes, there it was again. A beautiful bloom, the color of peach, with petals like satin. The rain pearled off of its petals like tears and something in Owen cried out “I must have that flower!”
So, over the sturdy wooden fence crept Owen, against every fairy story he’d ever heard. he slipped and slid his way across the muddy garden, trampling many blooms to get to the center where the flower grew. If the flower trembled at all under his rough grip before he plucked it from the ground, he didn’t notice. With a sharp tug, he ripped it from the earth and shoved it under his coat. It was done. He pulled up the hood of his cloak and began the long walk home.
The next morning, Owen triumphantly showed the rest of his friends the flower. They all ooo’hed and ahh’d, but it bothered Owen that no one appreciated the flower like he did. News spread of his foolhardy act, and he showed the flower all over town to anyone who would hear his tale (however, it must be confessed that he committed several more acts of daring per repetition of the story). Owen found himself repeating the tale again in the General Store when the bell about the door softly tinkled, and in walked the most beautiful girl Owen had ever seen. She had hair the color of peach, deep green eyes and skin like satin.
Owen smiled weakly. “Hello…”
“Poppy. My name is Poppy”.
“I’ve heard your story second hand all over town, but I simply must hear it for myself. Will you walk with me?”
“I’d be delighted”, Owen managed to say.
Poppy walked towards him with the grace of an angel. She put her arm on his and he escorted her into the lane outside. As they walked, he regaled her of his adventure, perhaps only embellishing when absolutely necessary in order to impress her. Owen vaguely realized that they were headed in the direction of the scene of his crime, but Poppy had a firm grip on his arm, and she smelled so sweet—he didn’t mind.
As he finished his tale, Owen managed to glance away from Poppy’s eyes and found himself directly in front of the witches garden.
“So you did all of this, then?” asked Poppy. “All for a flower?”
Owen looked over the garden, and saw how flowers lay crushed and broken from his heavy boots, muddy footprints obscured the neat rows so carefully planted, how injured stems and leaves lay ripped from vines and he gulped.
Poppy’s eyes grew hard. “All of this, for a flower that wasn’t yours?”
Suddenly, Poppy began to cry. “They were innocent. You killed my friends”
“Please don’t cry—” Owen stopped. “Your…friends?”
Poppy looked up at him. A single tear ran down her cheek. Owen absentmindedly brushed it from her face and looked down, confused. His finger wasn’t wet, it was smeared with a dusty orange substance. “Thats funny”, thought Owen. “I must have gotten some pollen on my–” A sudden wild thought raced through Owen’s mind, but he brushed it aside as impossible.
No sooner had he done this did Poppy begin to lead him down a winding path that ran from the road and past the garden. “I really don’t think we should–” Owen tried to remove his arm from Poppy’s grasp, but her grip was firm. Further down the path, he saw a tiny, weatherbeaten shack at the end of the road. Something about the house filled him with dread, so he tried again. “Perhaps we should turn back–“. Still Poppy did not waver.
A few moments later he found himself inside the home. A fire burned in the small fireplace and a large workbench covered with all sorts of gardening tools stretched across the back wall. Dried flowers hung everywhere from the rafters, mixed with strange herbs and vegetables that Owen had never seen before. “I don’t think we should be in here, Poppy”.
Poppy whirled around and crossed towards him. “Oh, does this bother you, Owen? I didn’t think you had any trouble being where you don’t belong. Especially in MY GARDEN!”
With that, there was a flash of light and the smell of rot, and suddenly Poppy collapsed. Owen rushed towards her. “Poppy!”
He reached down to help her up, and Poppy reached up and grabbed his hand. Only this time, it’s wasn’t Poppy’s beautiful silken skin. The hand that grabbed Owens was rough and calloused and covered with spots, with twisted knuckles and long clawlike fingernails. Owen tried desperately to shake off the grasp, but it was too strong .
Owen gasped as he saw the transformation that Poppy had undergone. Her hair was stringy and matted and missing in places, her beautiful face twisted and scarred and her body was bent like that of an old crone. He screamed in terror and tried to get away, but the witch threw him into a corner and began rummaging around her work bench.
“Now, let me see, yes…yes, this will do nicely”.
She shuffled towards him and Owen cowered in terror, thinking the worst. She reached out one claw-like hand and grabbed his wrist. In the other hand she held a black rose with angry looking thorns, which she used to prick his finger. Once finished, she shuffled back towards the bench. Owen feigned bravery as he bit his injured finger. “Crazy old woman, are you going to thorn me to death for stealing nothing more than a flower? I demand you let me go”.
The witch whirled and crossed towards him more quickly now “Boy, I have done worse to those who have done less. Would you like a giant thornbush to perhaps crush you to death, or a vine to enter you at one end and come out the other? Or perhaps you’d like to have your bones turned to wood and be burned for kindling?”
Owen thought it best to be quiet.
He watched nervously as the witch pulled out an ancient wooden box, covered in strange symbols and runes. She opened it and pulled out a single white flower. She then tilted the black rose and lifted a tiny vial to its thorn and collected a drop of Owen’s blood .She then tilted it onto the white flower and whispered an incantation. Owen’s eyes were huge as he watched it turn from red, to purple to green and then finally blue.
“Now”, crooned the witch. “What becomes of a thief? Ah, I know. We teach them a lesson about keeping their fingers to themselves”.
Slowly, one by one, the witch pulled out 10 petals from the blue flower. Owen laughed and taunted the witch. “What, do you expect me to be scared?”. It was only when he felt the first twinge of pain that he looked down at his hands and watched as each one of his fingers fell off. Owen screamed in terror as the witch laughed. “Who’s sorry now, boy?” she cried.
As Owen clutched the bloody stumps of his hands to his chest, he searched around the room for an exit, but there was none to be found. He tried desperately to get away, backing up against the wall, praying that he might discover any sort of door to make his escape. As he did, the witch merely looked on in amusement from her workbench. After a time, she grew tired of this game and began to reach for something. Owen lurched towards her, but it was too late. She had chosen a long and deadly pair of silver clippers.
The witch carefully positioned the blades underneath the bloom of the blue flower, directly around the delicate stem. She looked at Owen. Owen gulped.
That spring, there was an unusually large crop of blue flowers in Elizabeth Wardly’s garden. She presented some of them to the good Mrs. Bates, who was still mourning the strange disappearance of her son. Mrs. Bates dried them near the fire and sat them on her bedstead, and would often look over and smile at the kindness of the old woman who grew such beautiful flowers.