The witch stroked the four hairs growing from a mole on her chin, and went over the ingredients one more time.
“Fifteen pair of mosquito wings to deliver evil things. Check. Three hooves of goat to step on their throat. Check. Seven apple cores to make them sore. Check. Ten earthworms to creep and squirm. Check. Two lily livers to make them shiver. Check.”
Her crooked finger traveled down the list. She had everything she needed for her concoction, except the last ingredient, an ounce of tears from a fearful child.
“Hey boy,” she cackled, “Did you get those tears like I said?”
A grimy boy, skin black with years of making fires and carrying coal, came into her workshop. The knees of his pants had worn through from scrubbing the cobblestone floor. His skin pickled with cold.
“They was out,” he said, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
“That’s disgusting, use a hanky,” the witch said. “And what do you mean they were out? I called and made the order last week.”
“She said you ain’t paid your bill, so she didn’t order them.”
The witch snarled and cursed the storekeeper and her bloody memory. She ran her bony fingers through her knotted hair. Her hand got stuck and she pulled and yanked a chunk of hair from her head. She scowled from the pain. Her fingers probed the fresh bald spot.
“Going to have to do this the old-fashioned way then,” she said. “Go warm up my broom, we’re going out.”
The witch and the dirty boy flew from their forest hut towards the nearest village. They circled and swooped and surveyed the houses from above. The boy tugged at her black dress and pointed to a yard littered with toys. The witch patted him on the hand and winked in approval. They landed in the woods behind the house and crept up slowly. They peered through the rear window and saw a young girl with pigtails being tucked in and kissed on the forehead.
“Perfect,” the witch whispered.
They waited for the girl’s parents to leave the room, and for her to drift off to sleep. When they heard her sweet snores, they opened the window and crept in. The witch cast a spell of silence on the room. A purple barricade covered the walls and floor.
“Make sure you have that bottle ready,” the witch said. She rolled up her sleeves past her elbows and crept to the foot of the bed. The boy knelt at the head, the bottle held close to the sleeping girl’s cheek.
From her breast pocket, the witch pulled a twitching tarantula tongue. She lifted the edge of the blanket between two crooked fingers and her thumb. The tongue twisted in her hand as she moved it closer to the sole of the sleeping girl’s foot. The tongue jumped from her hand and coiled itself around the chubby toes, slithering along them like’s a gambler’s chip.
The witch jumped and balanced on the foot board, leaning in closely to the girl. She twisted her face into its most frightening form.
The sleeping girl groaned and kicked the blankets off her feet. Without the blankets weighing them down, there was little resistance. Her sleeping foot shot up and kicked the witch in the shin.
The witch cursed from lips tucked under her teeth and fell forward. Her arms shot out and caught the headboard. She hung there, a fun house mirror image of the sleeping girl.
The spider tongue coiled around the girl’s big toe. She kicked her foot again, trying to shake it loose. She caught the witch in the shin again. Harder this time. The witch yelped and tears welled up in her eyes. The noise flung the girl’s eyes open and she stared up and the witch.
The girl’s mouth formed to scream but no words came. Her mouth looked like the hollow of an oak tree. A rivulet of tears ran down her cheek and into the bottle held by the dirty boy.
The witch blinked back the tears in her eyes, but two escaped. She did not see them fall directly into the bottle. But the boy did.
The boy corked the now filled flask, and nodded at the witch. She waved her fingers at the girl, commanding her asleep. He pocketed the bottle quickly and stood as a stool for the witch.
He almost toppled as she stepped on his shoulders.
“Watch your tongue,” she warned. The boy untwisted the tarantula tongue from the sleeping girl’s toes and followed the witch out the window.
The witch warmed her vat over the fire the boy was building. He pumped the bellow and the flames grew and licked the bottom of the cast-iron cauldron. The witch added the ingredients, saying them out loud as she did.
“Fifteen pair of mosquito wings to deliver evil things. Check. Three hooves of goat to step on their throat. Check. Seven apple cores to make them sore. Check. Ten earthworms to creep and squirm. Check. Two lily livers to make them shiver. Check. A bottle of tears cried from fears.”
The boy handed her the vial. She pulled the cork free with her teeth and poured it in. She stirred in long slow circles. She mocked the girl, imitating her shocked face.
“We still got it, my boy,” she said.
The boy moved back slowly, noticing the green smoke rising from the cauldron. The witch did not notice, blinded by the pride of her nocturnal fortune.
The brew fizzed and popped. But the witch couldn’t hear it above her cackles.
Flames shot up from the concoction, licking the ceiling. Surprised, the witch stepped back. But not far enough. The cauldron exploded. Shrapnel and steaming stew erupted out. The pressure blew out the windows. The shards of the vat ripped through the witch and the walls.
The boy lifted the lid of the lead barrel he had hidden in. The smoke cleared. He stepped out of the barrel. The witch had melted into a puddle of green goo.
The boy rubbed his eyes, and looked around the room. He kicked at a now-vacant shoe to make sure the witch wasn’t deceiving him. His mouth moved into a rough smile, forcing against the never before used muscles. He laid his hanky down and filled it with bread and cheese from the pantry. He tied the four corners. He saw the broomstick had been snapped in half during the explosion. He took one end and looped his bindle over it.He tied his knife to his belt and remembered something.
He went to the witch’s bedroom, and pushed her wardrobe from the wall. The heavy wooden dresser screeched like a hawk as he pushed. The boy stopped and listened for the witch. He reached his arm into the hole in the wall and felt around. The smooth leather purse almost jumped to his fingers. He pulled the drawstring loose and examined the gems and gold held within.
The boy smiled, easily this time, and tucked the purse in his pocket. He set his broken broomstick on his shoulder and stepped out through the crumbling wall.