A Mystical Encounter
How it was that Root came to live with the Aunts
By Kamilla Reid
The truth of the matter of Root’s family was never explained to Root. And the truth was this:
Octavia and Carblotta were of no blood relation. Indeed, many years earlier, Root had been found alone, deep in the middle of Forest Forest (this brilliant title resulting from a Shade Howl town vote).
The sisters had been on a return trip from the market, having spent a prosperous day selling fresh turnips stolen from their neighbour’s garden. They trudged the worn and mossy forest path, cackling joyously over their profits and stopping often to count the coins. But they had dawdled too long. The sun seemed to suddenly hotfoot it behind the trees and before long, they could barely see at all.
They staggered along the ground where light strained from a cloud-covered full moon, blaming each other for being late.
In the midst of their curses, they hardly noticed the sudden stillness of the forest and the peculiar purple fog settling in about their feet. It was only when it was so thick as to clog nostrils that they paused to take notice. Now normally, the Aunts, with a solid fear of nothing, would have tried to beat the annoying purple fog into
submission, but a sound cracked their ears so violently that they instead clutched each other in terror.
Without a moment’s hesitation, they were in the first hiding spot offered, in this case, the deep hollow of a cedar trunk, and peering out into the purple. Something was approaching.
The fog swiftly mingled with and illuminated the night air forming a haze in which the Aunts could make out blurred movement. Eventually their eyes adjusted and saw what looked like a woman. She was in front of them and yet not in their world at all, like a ghost trapped outside a window. She had something in her arms and was running.
A short distance behind her, two terrifying creatures with enormous heads and claws followed. On their backs were figures of men, bulked and leather clad.
The woman cried out mysterious, unrecognizable words and immediately, the fog ignited with a shower of iridescent sparks. When it cleared, the Aunts could see the young woman concretely now. She was a mere three feet away, standing on the forest floor with desperate eyes and a long blue streak in her otherwise ebony-coloured hair.
She looked around despairingly as the Aunts pulled themselves further into the tree. Following a frantic search, the woman quickly placed her bundle down and after another brief incantation with more responding sparks, she returned into the thick swarming otherworld, becoming a part of it again.
The creatures then saw and came upon the woman. One of the riders dismounted and approached her as she cowered at his feet. He lifted a long, crude weapon high into the air. As he brought it down, her voice, a horrifying shriek of terror, yanked the breath out of the Aunts. In that same moment, the purple fog exploded with a blinding white light. They shrank back, eyes squeezed shut.
After some time, once the impact of the explosion had subsided and it was clear they were still alive, they opened their eyes.
In front of them, the collision of worlds had left no footprints. They saw nothing but a timid remainder of lights popping like tiny firecrackers and gently gilding the leaves and branches. When the radiance gradually faded and safety seemed reasonable, the Aunts inched out of the tree’s cavity eager to find the comforts of their home.
The moon was still steeped in clouds and offered no antidote to the darkness. Each step was taken with caution as they searched for the path.
Blindly feeling her way about, Carblotta stepped on Octavia’s foot. It was an accident, of course, but nevertheless, Octavia let out a yelp and stomped on Carblotta’s foot. Carblotta freed her own pained howl and proceeded to kick her sister.
Before long, they were reaching for each other’s throats in the darkness, planning to strangle, yank or at least poke out a few beady eyeballs.
“Where are you, you little rotting wart?” screeched Octavia.
“The question is, where are you you Heaping Snot Lick?” replied her sister.
Having now given their whereabouts away, they were immediately en route for battle. Larger than usual and halfway between them, a tree root quickly put an end to the joust. Both tripped on it at the same time and before the usual curses could escape, they were wailing like cows. Worse even. Like starving cows. Like starving cows in heat.
Then came the curses. Eventually these exhausted themselves, leaving the sisters pathetically wounded and trying to regain their bearings.
Just as another vile dance of shin kicking was imminent, the moon at last emerged and sent an astonishing beam upon them. At first they cringed, for they were not used to this kind of light (indeed all curtains were put to full use in the Halfhouse). It landed, a strip of living gold, and browsed about, eventually settling and sprawling itself across the gigantic root that had tripped the Aunts and now lay between them.
There, in a small cleft underneath, lay a sleeping baby girl with a sweet tuft of gingery hair.
“Will ya look at that! It looks t’me like a baby! But there ain’t no mama to it!” whispered Carblotta, looking around.
Octavia crawled forward. “Wait a minute. It’s got a note.” She wrapped her stubby fingers around the paper and, with Carblotta lurking over her shoulder, read the hastened scrawl:
Please help me. Take the child to the Robin’s Wing Nest.
“Hmm. Musta been that there strange mistress’s kid, uh?”
“It’s mine. I saw it first!” Carblotta hunched over the child.
“And what do you s’pose t’do with it, then?” Octavia sneered.
“Are you kiddin’? This is an omen, it is. Tellin’ me I been workin’ too hard. Why, I’m gonna raise this here baby as my very own maid!” Carblotta looked like an animal over its prey.
Instantly, Octavia’s face reddened with envy. But she was slightly more clever than Carblotta. “Fine.” She smiled and lumbered away.
This, of course, was no good by Carblotta who knew her sister was up to something. “Whadya mean fine? You’re telling me you don’t want a maid fer yerself?”
“If anyone’s gonna be a maid, it’s gonna be you, sister.”
“Well, that there baby’s not even walkin’ yet. And I don’t s’pect she’ll be even crawlin’ anytime soon. Somebody’s gotta look after ‘er and feed ‘er and keep ‘er clean. Now who’s the maid?” Octavia kept walking.
Carblotta’s face tightened so hard it looked like ten minutes too long in a boiler She thought on her sister’s words all the while still perched over the baby like a vulture. The further Octavia got, the more Carblotta’s lips trembled from the tightened strain. She ground her teeth.
“Alright!” she spat. “I’ll let ya share her when she’s maid-ready, but then you have t’ help in the raisin’ of it.”
Octavia swung around and waddled back. “You got yerself a deal, sister.”
They hoarked into their palms and shook hands to seal the agreement. An hour or so later, a cradle of chicken feathers and branches was set up in the top room of the Jobbery. The Aunts managed to overlook the hole in the roof, calling it a splendid view, and stressing how lucky she was to even have her own room. Spoiled, in fact.
And so the town of Shade Howl woke to the shocking news of a baby in the Halfhouse. A baby of all things! Poor creature!