Seated at a bare scrubbed square wooden table, upon a mismatched, much worn and splintering kitchen chair; resplendent in her still dripping bloody red cape, she looked around the small conical and poorly thatched, single room stone cottage. Gentle Annis took in the the haphazardly constructed bare wooden shelves that covered roughly half of the wall space. Earthenware pots, flasks and blob like anomalies, all varying in discolouration and size filled the majority of them. Things, green and leafy, weed like, drooped and dry, or completely empty on a glance sprung from them. Others sported knitting needles, scissors, numerous coloured feathers both large and small, paint brushes, and dribbly homemade beeswax candles. A veritable horde of much loved, lifetime attained, odds and ends proved to be useful bookends to all manner of hard backed, seem strained and split books; the majority overflowing with scraps of neatly written upon paper, parchment, and bark, indiscriminately shoved in amongst the dog eared pages.
Facing north, an entirely overly grand and equally out of place floor to ceiling bare window, obviously scrounged, had been wedged, shoved and beaten into a space in the wall of the bothy. The circular nature of the wall it filled making it an inexact fit, its gilded wooden frame, warped with time and moisture stretching almost a metre and a half in length, and nearly a metre in height, dominating the otherwise mundane room. The single piece of glass held within shimmered spotlessly clean, allowing for a view over an excited kitchen garden, across to the edge of the forest half a mile away, and the narrow dirt path Gentle Annis had recently wandered down. An empty, although recently used, heavy stone basin stood beside it at waist level, droplets of water still visible even across the room on its cold dark stone rim, reflecting flashes of fire from the hearth in the centre of the stone floored room. the same stone in evidence as a chimney, poking up through the thatch, and out into the world beyond. A narrow rag end quilt covered bed stood on the opposite wall from the table Gentle Annis and, now, the octogenarian sat at, adding an array of colour to the drab coloured room.
“Thank you ever so much for letting me into your beautiful cottage,” gushed Gentle Annis. “You must spend day and night attending to it to keep it so lovely.”
“You are far too kind my dear,” smiled the lovely old lass. “However, as much as I would like to lay claim to the upkeep of my wee bothy, ‘tis not I that does the work. I have two lasses from the local Girl Scouts come in daily, ‘tis them that keep my little home sparkling as it does. Tea dear?”
Gently smiling, Gentle Annis nodded in affirmation as the wizened and time worn old lady slowly rose from her bottom battered seat, and moved toward the hearth, lowering an enormous soot blackened kettle on a chain nearer the fire.
“Sorry, no milk I’m afraid. I couldn’t take a chance on the goat coming down poorly about a month ago, so I ate it before it did!” Chuckled the old girl, turning a beady eye, then her head toward her guest.”That is a rather singular cape you have on there girl. There is a peg behind the door, you can hang it from that if you would like.”
“Thank you old mother,” crooned Gentle Annis, “but I got wet earlier, and wearing it is the best way to get it dry again. Warming it from the inside out I guess, sadly I think some of the colour has run somewhat, but with me within, and the fire without, it should be dry in no time.”
“As you wish my dear. Oh, and do call me ‘Granny’ liefling”
Turning once more from Gentle Annis, the positively beautiful, spectacularly white haired old lady; a five foot tall, whip thin epitome of sweetness and light in a well worn heavy green woolen dress and cardigan. Accompanying all she wore, were what could be best described as rabbit skin slippers on her feet, and the old girl stooped to blow upon the embers beneath the gargantuan kettle. Breathing life into them through a flurry of sparks and chestnut scented smoke.
Watching ‘Granny’ over the fire, she regarded the convex lumps of vertebrae standing proud from her neck, and the exposed gap at the base of her skull. Glancing back onto the table, the bread knife Granny had placed there when she entered had not been shifted, lying no more than an arm’s length from Gentle Annis’s seated form.
She had not realise she had moved. Touch, not movement nor sound alerting her to it; fourteen inches of bread knife magically filled her hand, taking control of its own movement alone, leaving Gentle Annis somewhat out of the picture as it did so. She watched the elderly lady lean further forward deliciously exposing even more of her neck, and her spine…………
The thunderous rapport of ‘Shave and a haircut, two bit’s!’ exploded from the door beside her, causing her to jump in fright, her attention broken, her hand relinquishing control of the bread knife back to her, turning her attentions toward the source of the noise to hear the same rapping, equally as heartily as the first time on the tired old wooden front door to the cottage.
“Are you there Mum…..oowwwwww!” he started cheerily, poking his head around the door, only to have the kettle lid hit him squarely in the left eye, powerfully thrown from hip height by a now scowling Granny; leaving Gentle Annis in awe at the strength of the blow when considering its source. She gently placed the knife back on to the table off to her left, yet still within her reach.
“Mum! What did you do……….”
“If I had of been wearing knickers, they would have had wee in them by now!” Snarled Granny, now facing a man easily seven feet tall with shoulders and chest broader than the doorframe he stooped within. “Scare an old woman, and her guest like that! I ought to put you over my knee boy! Now what the hell do you want, you’ve run out again haven’t you, you useless lump?”
Standing, turning, bobbing in an attempt at a curtsy, the smile of the wolf spreading across her face in the manner of bar room sharks the world over, “hello sir, I am Gentle Annis. It is a pleasure to meet you.” She purred, taking in his yellow eyes staring at her chest without meeting her own.
“Ha ha! Well met.” He said through an embarrassed expression of discomfort, to be replaced by a quizzical look, tilting his head ever so slightly to one side. “Oh, you’d be the lass I passed earlier talking to the Girl Scouts near the Big Oak on the forest path earlier. Nice lasses aren’t they?!”
“Hmmmmmmmmm…………………” rolled deep from within her chest.
“They do prattle on and on though. I’m surprised you made it here at all!” Granny’s rebuke now all but forgotten.
“Indeed.” she drawled, noting his yellowed eyes finally meeting her own.
“Don’t be fooled my dear. This cesspit of a boy is my very own useless son.” Spat Granny, “he may cut wood, but the only reason he is here has nothing to do with visiting the woman that gave him life, nor has it to do with a nice cup of tea, but Albion to a brick, he has run out of what my poppies give me!”
“Go easy Mum,” the woodcutter stammered uncomfortably through an obviously forced smile. “I just happened to be passing and I thought to myself, ‘self, you haven’t dropped in on your dear old Mum lately. Best you be a good son and drop in now.’ So that exactly what I’m doing now; coincidentally, and just as it happens, I am running quite, well really very low, almost out of your magical poppy stuff that I only use for medicinal purposes when I am feeling extremely poorly. Really Mum……honest”
“Poorly?! My wrinkled bum ‘poorly’!” Granny squawked. “That stuff will be the death of you my lad, and soon Gods willing. ‘Poorly’?! Piffle and tosh!”
Black teeth appeared through a cadaverous smile that did not reach his lips, his sole focus now exclusively on his mother.
‘Opium! Here?’ thought Gentle Annis with exquisite delight. ‘Oh my oh my, the fun we’ll have, and the places we will go!’ Smiling, sharp and nasty; pupils dilating and nostrils flaring. ‘Opium, and by the state of him, he will move heaven and earth to get it. Poor Mr. Woodsman, we have business I believe!’
Springing to her feet, her chair skidded across the floor of the tiny cottage, crashing into the small bed, toppling onto its side. Pivoting in the same movement, Gentle Annis balled her small fist, and with all of the power of the bloody red cloak behind her, she punched the stooped woodsman on the point of the chin; a sharp crack, followed by a thud as his jaw shattered and his knees gave out, leaving him landing on his face inside the lovely old womans door.
Turning still with the built up force from the blow driving her, Gentle Annis twirled with the speed and agility of an angered ferret; snapping the old girl’s head back with a blow equally as hard as the one she delivered to the son.
Neither moved. She drained him of his blood almost immediately; her cloak dripping bright red and grotesque. So much so did his blood match her need, she left the old lady in her unconsciousness.
Gentle Annis’s opium hunt began in earnest.
Click the pic. My favourite version of Old Nick’s most fantastic tune lurks beyond the here and now, waiting, concealed, stalking, breathing, living in wait……………….for you.
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