The Witch’s Cottage gets a Frankentree
For years the denizens of the Wildwood had known caution was required when visiting the Witch’s cottage. Not because of the Witch herself. She was their reason for visiting, with her healing salves and potions, her delicious food, and – whilst she didn’t suffer fools – her willingness to find time for anyone who needed to talk. Rather it was her garden, filling the clearing around the cottage, that required care. Keep to the path and you might just be okay but the heady scents of the herbs and flowers, which bloomed and thrived no matter what the weather was doing, could turn even the most focused of minds to dreaming. Many had found themselves sat by various borders, hours after they’d arrived, unable to say what they’d been doing there.
But none of them had ever been attacked by any of the plants before.
It was late October when Fox, having checked the wind direction and chosen his path through the garden accordingly, trotted towards the back door with a basket full of the last of the pear harvest from the western orchards. The pears were not, in any way, payment for the help the Witch had been when the youngest cub broke her paw, merely a neighbour sharing his good fortune. He’d been planning to simply pop the basket on the doorstep and slink away without a sound, so as not to take up any of the Witch’s valuable time.
It was a good plan and one he’d have executed perfectly had he not rounded the cottage corner to meet a thing of unwieldy proportions. Neither oak, nor ash, nor thorn, but some sort of horrific hybrid of all three blocked the path. Straight branches, twisted branches, some smooth, some thorn covered, some with silver bark, some with black and all of them patchworked with green leaves, golden leaves, berries, and blossoms. Worse, it moved; trunk and roots groaning as it lurched, grasping for him with spindly hand-shaped twigs.
Later he would claim he gave only the smallest of yelps as it came toward him; that he’d immediately realised the Witch wouldn’t let him come to harm on her land. And the Witch was kind enough to say nothing to the contrary since it was, after all, her new interest in grafting that had resulted in the tree creature, whom she’d named Victor.
If pressed she might have conceded that mixing magic with her first attempt at propagation had been ambitious but, as she pointed out to anyone who asked, once she’d trained Victor not to attack her visitors, he was incredibly handy. Especially on wash day since he could move around the cottage with the sun.
Fox was more circumspect in his judgement of Victor but the pear pastries the Witch had whipped up whilst he gathered his wits over a cup of her special herb tea had gone a long way to sweetening his views on what he had privately dubbed the Frankentree.
This story is the first of a twelve part series that was written at the start of December 2022 in response to daily prompt emails from Writer’s HQ for their 12 Days of Flashmas challenge. It is presented here pretty much just as it was originally written on the first day of the challenge. If you’d like to know more my explanatory post can be found here.