Welcome to the next installment of “The Witch,” a story about an isolated witch and the French girl that needs to find her. If you haven’t read the last installment of my story, I recommend checking out Part 1 first!
Last time, on “The Witch,” a girl named Manon Chevalier took a dangerous trek through the woods to find a witch, hoping that the woman would give her the magic necessary to save her starving village. Upon finding the witch, Manon realizes that the woman is not exactly like the stories told in her village, and upon much deliberation, strikes a deal with the woman. Manon must work seven days under the witch’s service in exchange for magic. The witch, known as Madame Renoir, unfortunately holds a grudge against Manon’s village and does not want to help, so she gives Manon impossible tasks to complete. Otherwise, she threatens to eat Manon, although she is exaggerating a bit with her threats. Before beginning the biggest challenge of her life, however, Manon must repose. After all, the marks of her labors are already beginning to show…
I have only known the witch, Madame Renoir, for less than an hour, but I already hate her. She is cruel, giving me hope of saving my village only to snatch it away. I can’t do all of that in time. The witch may be far more beautiful than I imagined, but she is also far more wicked, lulling her victims into a false sense of security before tricking them into doing her bidding.
The house is nice though.
The two-story cottage smelled like cloves and bergamot, warm and inviting. It was smattered with colors of every sort, colors I had not seen in a very long time. She had draperies of violet and orange, brightening every corner of her magical home.
It, however, was also desperately messy, with pots and pans strewn everywhere and spatters of unknown liquids coating the walls, yet somehow the mess gave the home a comforting feel. It was gross, but beautiful regardless.
Then, I remembered that I was the one that had to clean it all up. I scowled, stomping up the witch’s stairs to get to her shower. As much as I hated the woman, she was right that I looked nasty. I had no idea how I looked, but I could feel the dirt under my nails and every so often felt the cold brush of my muddy hem on my ankles. It was disgusting and I was ready to wash it all off.
When I got to the bathroom, I gasped. I’m dead. This place, for I could hardly call it a bathroom, was revolting. I could hardly believe the witch lived like this. There was no possible way for me to describe the mess coating every inch of that bathroom, only that I would not step foot out of my shoes when I stepped into the shower. The muck almost seemed like a permanent staple in the room, eternally clinging to every bit of furniture and staining the walls with a permanent mesh of unknown colors. At that moment, I truly wanted to yell at the witch, call her out for her disastrous mess and the impossible tasks she gave me, but I would really rather not be eaten, or worse.
Regardless of the mess, the shower was heavenly. Somehow, when I ran the tap, the witch had hot running water, something my village was desperately lacking. I worked to get every inch of dirt off of me, reveling in the warm water and its contrast with the autumn chill of the outdoors. When I finished, I toweled myself off with the cleanest towel I could find— which was debatably clean— and turned to the spot where I left my clothes, only to see that they were gone.
I looked around everywhere, my panic growing with every second until I knew for certain that my dress was irrevocably missing. I stood in the filthy bathroom for at least a minute, just shivering and considering what to do. For a moment, I genuinely considered stomping down to demand my clothes were returned to me, but the thought of exposing myself like that to the witch seemed unthinkable and made me insanely uncomfortable.
I felt a whisper in my ear.
“…go to the bedroom across the hall. you will find all you need…”
I looked behind me but did not find the speaker. I shivered, but the voice was the only clue I had, so I gingerly wrapped the nasty towel around me and tip-toed to the room across the hall, the one with the bright azure door. I opened the door to find a room unlike the rest of the house.
The bedroom was small, maybe the size of a large closet. It was barren but for a bed, a small chest, and a large mirror. It was all browns and grays, a stark contrast to the brilliant colors of the rest of the house.
At least it’s clean.
On top of the bed was a neatly folded stack of clothes. I pulled up the first piece and it was a pale violet dress with a white collar. It cinched at the waist and billowed out. It was pretty, much prettier than my last gown, but I was shocked that the witch already had this, especially in what looked like my measurements. Still, I did not want to spend another second in the filthy towel, so I quickly changed into the simple, violet dress, slipping on the black slippers that went with it.
I stepped towards the large mirror at the edge of the room, the one rimmed with a simple yet beautiful frame of gold. I may have been clean, but I looked like a mess. The dress fit perfectly, but I could see the hollows in my cheeks, the drained color of my messy, wet hair. It reminded me of what I was fighting for, who I was fighting for. At that moment, I vowed to save my village, no matter what it cost me.
I was standing at the kitchen counter eating some of the dinner I made— pork with a raspberry sauce— when the girl, Manon, came back downstairs. I heard her before I saw her, stomping her way down to me with just as much rage in her heart as when she left to shower. I understood her rage. I’d be pretty pissed too if I were her. Just before she stepped off the final stair, an apparition appeared before me, one of my sentries.
“How many this time?” I asked the shadowy, cloaked phantasm.
“…twenty-seven from all the nearby villages. less than yesterday, but…”
I laughed, my shoulders dropping with an oppressive weight. “It’s going to be a long night.”
“Alright. I’ll get things settled with the peasant girl before I go. You are excused.”
The sentry bowed its cloaked head and vanished as quickly as it came. I let out a shuddering sigh. I was already tired, but I knew I would be drained by morning.
Manon stepped into the kitchen, wearing the dress and shoes I gave her. She looked beautiful in them. I was afraid she would refuse out of spite. The dress flowed perfectly off her trim frame, hugging her albeit few curves. Her hair, still drying, was beginning to curl, puffing out like a halo around her face. The shoes were cute too; she almost looked like she could be my apprentice, a witch to follow in my footsteps.
Ha. I thought. Imagine that.
She did not have her apron on. Then again, she didn’t start working until tomorrow.
“Hello, Madame Renoir. You said you’d have dinner ready.” Manon’s face was one tight line, stubborn yet betraying every emotion. She was scared but driven, and a little bit… angry. Interesting. I knew she was mad, but this young lady, the meek one standing outside my fence, was furious. Oh, this will be very, very interesting.
I waved towards the oven. “Serve yourself.”
Manon marched to the oven and found the pork tenderloin left for her along with a small pitcher of my homemade raspberry sauce. I heard her stomach rumble and felt her soul squeeze. The girl’s eyes looked desperate, hungry, but before she reached for the pork, she turned to me and asked, “What is that?”
“If you think it’s human, you’re wrong, though some say pork tastes scarily similar.”
The girl snorted, mumbling, “You would know all about that, wouldn’t you?”
I bit back a strongly worded retort, remembering that this girl is under the impression that I ate human flesh, and instead growled, “You are not as quiet as you think you are mon ami.”
“Well then I will be loud and clear,” Manon grimaced, standing up, rage flashing in her eyes and soul flushing red. “I am not your friend, witch.”
“You have a sharp tongue for someone as desperate as you are. Mind your tone, or you can kiss my help and your life goodbye.” I was mad. This… this girl could not say anything to me. I had clawed out my place in the world, however isolated or twisted it may be. She would not patronize me, spitting out my title like a curse.
Manon was silent, her hands clenching into fists as she considered her options. Her soul beat like a heart in her chest, begging for violence, but I saw her rear back and calm her features. She would not pick a fight today. The girl whispered, her voice careful, “Do not call me your friend.”
I whispered back, my voice dropping to a low but deafening whisper, “Take your dinner upstairs and get out of my sight. I look forward to finding you working tomorrow at dawn.”
Manon let out a dramatic, frustrated exhale, clutching her plate and her pitcher and storming upstairs, her rage and pain leaving a trail behind her.
I spoke out loud once more when I knew the girl could not hear me, when I felt her soul vanish into one of the rooms of my house.
“I fear I have made a mistake letting her in here.”
The sentry did not appear, but I heard it just the same. “…it is far too late for fear, Anaïs…”
I did not know where to turn back at the voice and only scowled, “No shit, asshole. Well, the night has only just begun. We have work to do.”
I stepped away from the kitchen, placing my dish atop one of the piles in the sink. Then, I grabbed my scarlet cloak from the chair it laid upon and swept it around me, opening my door and disappearing into the night.
Follow the next chapter of Manon’s adventure in Part 3!