The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Knock Wood, Lift the Latch
by Stacey Turner
Hilde approached the bed. Her aunt, Lottie, lay buried amidst the blankets, small, nearly lost in the pile. Her face appeared puckered and brown like the flesh of an apple someone had bitten, and then left out. But her eyes were as sharp as ever. Hilde had always harbored a secret fear of Lottie. One she couldn’t explain with some anecdote of meanness her aunt had ever displayed, or cruelty she’d visited upon anyone. It was just something about her eyes; they were cold, shark like eyes her smiles never seemed to reach.
Lottie reached for her hand, clutching it with a strength belying her condition. Someone in such a frail state of health should not be able to bruise flesh with her grip. Hilde tried not to flinch at her aunt’s talon, but instead plastered a smile on her face and sat beside the bed.
Drawing down her oxygen mask, her aunt rasped out a question. Hilde had to lean closer to catch the words, noticing the sight stench of Sulphur as she did.
“Did your mother ever tell you about Baba Yaga’s door?”
“No.” Hilde shook her head. She’d been called from work for fairy tales?
Her aunt’s eyes grew larger and one side of her mouth turned up in amusement. “Oh, Hilde. I do wish your mother were here with us. But, never fear, this is not your normal fairy tale. There are no ugly witches with warts on their noses to defeat. And beautiful princesses do not have happily ever afters.” She coughed then, a harsh rattling sound that stung Hilde’s ears.
After Lottie’s breath returned she continued. “When your mother and I were small, our mother, your Oma, would tell us tales of Baba Yaga to make us go to sleep, or finish our chores, or keep us out of the woods. She was as your Boogeyman, blamed for everything from kinder napping to murder. But, your mama and I found what we were sure was Baba Yaga’s house. We passed it on the way to and from school every day. All the children gave it a wide berth, but sometimes, when we felt especially brave, we played a game, ‘Knock Wood and Lift the Latch.’” She coughed again and Hilde offered her water from the glass beside the bed.
She swallowed and lay back. “The door was a work of art guarding who knew what treasures. Yes, the house was big, old, and spooky, but that door. Dilapidated as it was, you could tell it had been magnificent once. Made of golden oak, with a latch of burnished copper, in the shape of a heart. We would dare each other to run up, knock on the door once, and then lift the latch. We were scared, but we would do it, each to outshine the other. That was our other game-who was prettier, smarter, better? We were always in competition. And when your mama turned sixteen, well the question was answered. She was so lovely, just like the golden door guarding the witch’s house. And though I was older by a year, everyone wanted to be in your mother’s radius.” She snort coughed. “Even my boyfriend.”
“Are you okay, Aunt Lottie? You don’t have to finish your story,” Hilde said, rising from her seat. Again her aunt’s bony hand grabbed her.
“But I do. I do have to finish the story, dear Hilde. You will see in the end.” Hilde thought she heard her aunt cackle then, but it turned to a cough before she could be certain.
Lottie continued. “Yes, your mother glowed like that golden door. And I was angry and jealous and vengeful. And that, mien Liebling, is a bad combination. So I played the game by myself at midnight, hoping the other stories I’d heard might be true. And what do you know? The door opened. There was a dark hall, but I could see a flickering light coming from one of the rooms. So, I crept silently forward. Nearing the entrance, I could tell the light was a fire crackling in its grate. On a chair placed near the fire, reclined the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I asked was she Baba Yaga.” She chuckled at that point. “I know, it sounds silly now. I was just surprised that there was anyone in the house. Never before had our games had any resolution. The woman smiled and said, no, she was much better than that old hag. I giggled at that and it seemed to amuse her. She invited me to have some chocolate and I agreed. Over steaming mugs brought by a quiet maid, I poured out my heart. And she offered me a solution. I could choose a new body, any time I wanted. And I choose you. More beautiful than your mother, married to a rich handsome man, and young, so young. I’ve watched you grow and waited for this very moment.”
Hilde stared at her, confused, annoyed, and oddly furious with her aunt’s bewildering behavior.
Lottie knocked on the wood of her oaken bedstead, lifted a piece of metal hidden in the design and whispered, “Offen für mich.” She followed with a fit of the offensive coughing.
Hilde’s head swam, she started to sit, but curiously, she could feel something supporting her entire body and realized she was staring at the ceiling. A gruff, grating sound seemed to bellow from inside her as she struggled to take in a breath. Why did it feel like an elephant was sitting on her chest? She thought she must have fainted trying to breathe. But then a face came into view. Not just any face—HER face—her face, but with Aunt Lottie’s cold eyes. The face cocked to the side.
“It worked,” the face said in her voice. It shot her a pitying glance. “Good bye, dear Aunt Lottie.” The face swished from view.
Hilde turned her head from side to side, though she could see little, so many blankets in her way. She tried to think, but it was like trying to swim though cotton. What were they talking about? Witches? She didn’t believe in witches.
Fiction © Copyright Stacey Turner
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Stacey Turner:
Finding Fiona: A Pine Haven Novel
What happens when a witch has no idea she’s a witch?
Mayhem, that’s what. When Paranormal Bureau of Investigation (PBI) agents Kyle Gibson, Cian O’Malley, and Larry De Groot, travel to a small Midwestern town to neutralize a rogue paranormal, they don’t expect to find an untutored witch unaware of her legacy of power.
Fiona MacDougal has never felt like she belonged to her oh-so-perfect family. She’s a klutzy, curly-haired, mess who always seems to have the strangest accidents. But when she meets the members of the PBI and learns she’s a witch, she’ll have to decide between fitting in with the normal world or embracing the paranormal possibilities. Can she survive the danger and heartbreak her choices create?