What lies on the other side of the valley, where the mists aren’t quite what they seem?
Bubble Bubble Toil & Trouble
By Madeline Pettet
For The ‘Others’ Award
When I was little we lived in a house on the ridge. Our driveway was dirt and stones – my friends’ parents would always complain about the dust it left on their gleaming cars. I thought it gave the cars character, like our rusting station wagon with the sagging roof, broken radio, and one window that would never quite wind all the way back up. Besides, living on the ridge made me feel like we were the only ones in the world.
Everyday I’d get up early with my mother. She’d weed the garden and turn over the leaves of her plants, looking for the first spots of disease. Our garden overlooked a tree-filled valley. One day I asked her why the valley was blanketed in mist each morning without fail.
“Oh,” she said, straightening up from a tomato plant, “do you really want to know?” I nodded. With a sly smile she told me, “That’s not really fog, my dear. It’s smoke and steam from the cauldrons of the witches who live down there. You should never go down there at night – they’d steal you away.” I shivered.
The sun curved across the sky, burning the fog with the same rays that frizzled my mother’s garden in the midst of summer. My mother finished her weeding and, arms loaded with a fresh harvest, she went inside. I stayed where I was, looking out over the valley. She did say they only came out at night… Not bothering to change out of my pyjamas, I pulled on my sneakers and shut the haphazard wooden gate behind me.
I slipped and slid down steep slopes, my hair was knotted with prickles and twigs, and my shirt speckled with spiders’ threads. All the while though, I read my surrounds as my mother had taught me. The worn trail I followed could only have been carved out by kangaroos. The scratches on the surrounding trees told me somewhere higher in the canopy there were possums curled in a hollow. But there were no signs of witches: no human footprints, no black cats, not even a stray pointed hat.
When I reached a shallow creek, my feet were aching. My enthusiasm hadn’t stopped blisters from forming on my soft skin. Timidly, I dipped my toes in the water. The icy blast felt good and I shoved them all the way in. I gasped and it was swallowed by the trees. Somewhere a bird called but I couldn’t tell from which direction it came. Off to my left I heard a rustling in the scrub. I looked around, squinting my eyes slightly as if I could somehow see through the thick leaves if I only I tried harder. A squeak got me to my feet. Forgetting warnings about snakes and spiders, I pushed my hands deep into the mess of leaves.
My hands closed around something furry and soft. I pulled, feeling resistance working against me. A throaty growl made me let go, my hands snapping back. They were covered in blood. I jumped to my feet, rubbing my palms against my pants.
“Jericho doesn’t like anyone stealing his food,” said a voice behind me. I spun around and was confronted by a woman in her mid-twenties. A black cat coiled around her legs, his chin dripping blood.
I wanted to run but my legs stayed still. The woman smiled at me, hand outstretched. Before I knew it, I’d taken it.