Danny's Story

17. in which the crone stirs a kettle with questionable contents

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Stunned, Danny stared at the door. After a moment, she stepped forward and knocked. The door swung open of its own accord under the force of her fist.

Danny stood before the black threshold. Sounds of metal banging and the hiss of steam drifted out.

“Come in. Won’t bite,” said an old male voice, thick with a British accent.

Danny entered, and immediately the contents of the shack began to resolve themselves. It was one room, lit with gas lamps and a fire that roared against the far wall. For a moment, the room seemed empty. Then, a black mound before the fire moved, revealing the crone. There was no one else besides them that Danny could see.

The old woman did not notice Danny at first. She bustled about her kitchen-bedroom, poking at the huge black kettle that hung over the fire, sniffing something in a glass vile, pulling bunches of dried herbs from the rafters where they hung, drying.

Someone cleared their voice then, although it was not Danny, and it was not the crone. The old woman looked up at the sound and narrowed her eyes at Danny. “What’re you doing here? Told you to go away! No visitors!” At that, she began to bustled toward Danny. Danny leaped out of the way, hand instinctively going to her hip. She was just about to pull the bag of sleep sand open when the crone bustled right past her. Danny turned to see the crone pull a long wooden paddle from a pail near the door. The old thing rounded on Danny again, paddle in hand, and once again began that fast shuffle. This time, Danny was ready with the sleep sand. She began to gather some in her hand as she dodged away from the crone. She raised her hand, aiming to throw, when the crone whooshed straight past her. Danny felt the air of her passing.

The crone dipped the long paddle into the huge kettle over the fire. Her back was turned to Danny, as if she had completely forgotten that she was there.

“Still not cooked yet?” squawked the crone to the kettle.

A slender thing rose from the kettle. “No, marm. Not yet.”

“Tchah!” spat the crone. “Not yet!” She bustled back to the kitchen cabinet to rummage in the cupboards.

The slender thing turned. “A visitor,” it said.

It took Danny a moment, but then she realized that the thing was a snake. Its head was glistening white — a bare skull that had been boiled of flesh. Its body was thicker, was red and shining with musculature — skinned.

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Christie “Iamba” Bailey

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