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art by Melissa Mead

How Hagatha One-Eye Fell Off the Wagon

From a young age, Matt wanted to be a writer. He settled for the glamorous life of an engineer instead. The writing bug kept biting however, and so he turned his attention to writing short fiction. This is Matt's first published story, and he has recently started a writing blog at coteponders.wordpress.com.

As far back as anyone in the sleepy mountain town could remember, Old Hagatha One-Eye had lived alone on a dusty track in the woods. If you followed the paved road into what passed for Main Street in this valley, kept the dam on your left when you crossed the river, and continued on through the woods, you would find her. How not, with all the signs guarding her property? No Trespassing; No Soliciting; Private Property; Keep Out!
The town had grown over the years, as towns are wont to do, but Hagatha's house stood alone. Nobody knew how old she was, or when she first arrived. She was the one grandmothers told stories about to frighten naughty children. She had always been part of the town. It seemed like she always would be.
Hagatha wasn't her real name of course, but she'd carried it for a long, long time. At first, the townsfolk whispered it behind her back, but soon enough said it to her face. Over the years, she even came to think of herself as Hagatha. It was a fitting sobriquet, not something to be bothered by.
What bothered her were her knees, and her ankles, and the joints in all the fingers of her left hand, and her eye most of all. That one hand was almost a claw now, and served little purpose, while the other was dexterous as ever; her good eye was a sharp crystalline blue, the other a chalky white. Despite the worries of old age, she sat on her porch, puffed her pipe and enjoyed the warm summer sun. A polished silver coin danced over her painless fingers, the number 200 stamped upon it. It was a special reminder and Hagatha's thoughts turned to it.
Or would have, had the scent not reached her.
The old woman's nostrils twitched, sniffed the air in quick breaths. Age had not dulled her good eye, or her ears, but her nose had always been sharpest. There was a child about, and if there was anything that caused Hagatha concern, it was children. She and her sisters had been wary of the beasts ever since that unfortunate incident in Germany--and for good reason!
Her coin stopped dancing as soon as the boy came into view.
He was sixteen years old if he was a day, short and plump with sandy hair and a belly that protruded a bit too far over his belt. And he looked, if Hagatha was any judge--and she counted herself amongst the very best critics on the matter - delicious! The boy's eyes widened when he saw her, and he shoved one hand behind his back. Too late! Hagatha saw he clutched one of her cherished figurines in his dirty mitt. A thief, and he had gotten into and out of the house without her knowing.
"Didn't you see the sign?" she asked around the stem of her pipe, looking away unconcerned.
The boy stammered, panicked. Blood tinged his cheeks pink. "I didn't think anyone lived here," he said.
Hagatha could feel the little hairs on her mole stand up, she could taste the iron saltiness of his blood on her lips, feel the crunch of his bones as she worked for the marrow. Such sweet succulence! A shiver went down her spine: of pleasure, or fear, or both. When she opened her eyes again, the sunlight caught her coin. Two hundred years on the wagon was too long to just throw away, wasn't it?
The boy saw the coin as well, shifted from foot to foot in the uncomfortable silence that had fallen. "My dad's got a coin like that. Are you working the program?" he asked, shuffling backwards a few steps.
"In a way," Hagatha said, rocking in her chair. "Come closer, child, that I might see you better. I've candy in the house." It was an ancient trick. This boy was a bit old for it and Hagatha was out of practice, but it might work; he might come closer. Just a sniff would be enough to tide her over. She smiled her most charming, toothy smile.
He didn't seem charmed.
The boy drew his hand from behind his back, a white bird in flight clutched tightly between his fingers. "I don't want candy, you nasty, old, witch!" he shouted, and threw the figurine at her. It spun end over end as he turned to run.
A wave of her hand put an end to both the boy's flight and the bird's as well. A murmured word, and Hagatha levitated from her seat. "Rude little thief," she said. "But you'll learn your lesson." The boy struggled against his invisible bonds, gags of air muffling his calls for help. Hagatha smiled again. The trussed up wretch did look delicious.
What was one morsel after two centuries without? She could always climb back on the wagon tomorrow. She could stop whenever she wanted to.
A young boy's disappearance in a small town isn't soon forgotten. Couple that with the disappearance of the resident boogie-woman, and you have a scandal on your hands. But the town endured, as small towns do, and time passed. It was five years before anyone mentioned old Hagatha One-Eye again. Five years before a woman came to town with the deed to Hagatha's decrepit hovel in hand.
Her name was Evelyn, her Bavarian accent slight. She claimed to hold the deed to her great-grandmother's house, and there might be a resemblance if you could look past the differences. Where Hagatha was old, ugly, and wrinkled, Evelyn was young, vibrant, and beautiful. Her two eyes were the same crystalline blue as Hagatha's one; she could make a coin, this stamped with a 5, dance across her fingers as well as the old woman ever could. Evelyn seemed a pleasant enough sort for a pleasant town.
No doubt she would make it her home for years to come.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 30th, 2013

Author Comments

On a recent flight, they showed the new "Wizard of Oz" movie. My headphone jack wasn't working, so I didn't watch, but it made me want to write a story about a witch. I thought it'd be fun to try and give the story a folkloric feel, like it could be something out of a fairy tale. I decided to use the old trope of witches eating children, but gave it the spin that child eating could result in an addiction. This story came together pretty quickly; I wrote it in about two hours and my beta readers had very few critiques to throw my way. (Thanks, guys!)

- Matthew Cote
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