Lucas stepped through the undergrowth, nervous. Not many had ever ventured this deep into the forest. He held his breath in anticipation as he emerged through the opening and into the sunlight. What he found on the other side was not quite what he’d expected. The dark passageway opened up to an enormous clearing with a beautiful waterfall, fluttering butterflies, and exotic-looking flowers and plants all over.
Woah… He looked around in amazement, taking it all in as he approached a huge circular garden in the center of the clearing. Lucas thought back to the tiny vegetable garden he’d planted with his mother last summer. She’d love this.
Distracted by his unusual surroundings, Lucas was caught off-guard as a cheery whistling reached his ears. He jumped and looked around wildly for a few moments before his eyes fell on a figure on the opposite side of the garden.
It was an elderly woman with long flowing hair, tattered old clothing, and dirty bare feet. How had he not noticed her before? She whistled a tune to herself as she tended to her plants, seemingly oblivious to Lucas’ presence.
He thought back to all the old stories about this forest. Could this be her? He wondered. The witch? She certainly was not what he’d imagined a witch to look like. Though, come to think of it, Evelyn was not what he’d imagined a ghost to be like either…
Evelyn! The idea struck him like a slap in the face. If the rumors were true, if this woman was really what they said she was, maybe she knew a way he could help Evelyn! His nightly research on resurrection had mentioned everything from potions and spells to rituals and sacrifice, but he’d never found anything that actually got him anywhere. But maybe now…
He was about to call out, but hesitated. How do I even know she’s friendly? For a moment, he felt like a child again, nervous about speaking to strangers. Lucas did his best to chase the doubt from his mind. He’d made it this far, he reminded himself. He had to try.
With all the courage he could muster, Lucas stepped forward. “Um… excuse me?” He called out. “Hello!”
The woman lowered her watering can and peered at him curiously. “Hello there, young man.” She replied as he got closer. “Forgive my confusion… It’s not very often that I get visitors around here.”
He waved nervously, trying his best to smile. “N-nice to meet you… I’m Lucas.”
The old woman nodded in greeting. “A pleasure.” She said kindly. “What can I do for you, dear?”
“Oh come now… I’ve been around long enough to know that no one ever comes to see me unless they’re looking for something.”
“Well, I’m not exactly looking…” Lucas mumbled. “But is it true… That you can… do things?” He glanced at her uncertainly, embarrassed by what he was trying to imply.
She laughed heartily. “We can all ‘do’ things, child.” She paused, her laughter subsiding. “Though I do grow some plants here with what you might call ‘special properties’, if that’s what you mean…” The woman gestured to the garden around them. “What is it you seek?” She peered at him thoughtfully for a few moments, her lip curling into a smile.
The way the woman looked at him both frightened and thrilled him, but Lucas could not explain why. “I have a friend.” He tried to explain, choosing his words carefully. “She’s got this… ‘problem’… And I’d like to help her… But I need something for, uh…” Lucas hesitated. “Youth? Long life? Preventing death?” He looked at her hopefully as he continued to dance around the issue. “Do you have anything like that?”
The old woman’s smile widened as her gaze bored into his. “I think I know what it is you want, my dear. But alas, I cannot give it to you.”
Lucas’ face fell.
“I do, however, have a few things that may help.” She continued. “There are rumors of ancient and powerful plants that even I have never grown. But I have a few unique specimens in my garden that may be good place to start…”
The woman nodded toward the tiny cabin that sat atop a nearby hill. “Behind my cottage, dear.” She continued. “Take a few cuttings home with you.”
Her eyes looked him up and down for a moment, and a curious chill went down Lucas’ spine as she did so. “I sense it will not be easy… But I feel you will one day find what you seek.” The woman smiled kindly. “Best of luck to you, lad. Better get a move on.” She nodded her head toward the cabin.
Lucas was dumbfounded, trying to take it all in. “T-thanks.” He managed to sputter before bounding up the hill. On a tiny wooden table, he found a pair of rusted metal clippers. Uncertainly, he approached the plants the woman had indicated. Lucas looked for the healthiest shoots he could find, and took a snip from each one.
Cradling the mysterious cuttings in his arms, he returned the gardening shears to where he’d found them, and headed back down the hill.
“Thank you so much.” He called happily. “I don’t know if this will work, but I really appreciate –” Lucas furrowed his brow, looking around. The garden was empty. Where did she go? He glanced around the clearing for a few moments, but there was no sign of the strange old woman anywhere. She was gone.
If it had happened to anyone else, perhaps they would have reacted with fear or unease. But Lucas simply shook his head, amazed. The world just gets stranger and stranger…
Taking one last look at the beautiful clearing around him, he gave a small shrug, walked to the edge of the glade, and headed back through the brambles the way he had come.