Chapter 2: The Waltzing Witch

In light of the black-to-green situation, Tillie decided to forego breakfast and head directly to Uncle Quentin’s estate to seek his – and his oracular glass eye’s – advice.  As she walked along the meandering road, she examined every object that crossed her path, spotting two trees, four rocks, and half of a crow that were all the same suspicious shade of green as Ophelia and the elm tree.

Nearly an hour later, Tillie finally spotted the outskirts of Uncle Quentin’s estate in the distance.  His house – which people prone to exaggeration might call a mansion – was built of gray and black stone with over thirty chimneys sprouting from its red-tiled roof; oddly enough, Tillie could only recall three fireplaces in the entire house.  As Tillie stumbled the final few yards to the front gate, she wished for a cold glass of limeade and a nice, quiet lunch with Uncle Quentin.

Her wish was not destined to come true, however; as she reached out for the wrought-iron gate, she was greeted by the sounds of raucous laughter and off-key singing.

Uncle Quentin said that he was only inviting a small group of close friends for his glass eye’s birthday, Tillie thought.  But this racket could only come from a full-fledged party.  She pushed through the front gate, prepared for anything.

Or so she thought.

In fact, the scene before her was the one thing that she wasn’t prepared to see – Uncle Quentin hovering in mid-air waltzing with a witch.  A crowd of party guests formed a ring around the dancing couple, staring up at them as if transfixed.  One dappled centaur was even sitting back on his haunches – a very un-centaur-like thing to do – just to get a better look.

The witch was beautiful, Tillie had to admit, quite possibly the most beautiful person she had ever seen.  The witch’s porcelain skin seemed to glow, and her lips, which curled upward in a proud smile, shone with the purplish-red of a crushed plum.  She wore a ringlet of silver across her brow like a crown and a long white gown that periodically jumped as she danced, revealing a pair of elegant silver sandals.  A thick braid of black hair stretched from her neck to the middle of her back.  She was also exceptionally tall, which made her the perfect dancing partner for a large man like Uncle Quentin.

Aside from their matching heights, Uncle Quentin and the witch were a study in contrasts.  Where the witch was thin and aristocratic, Uncle Quentin was thick and coarse; where the witch had long hair on her head and a smooth face, Uncle Quentin had no hair on his head and a shaggy gray beard; where the witch’s dress seemed almost too formal for the occasion, Uncle Quentin’s natty sweater, worn trousers, and black eye patch seemed slapdash and casual.

The witch reached one boney hand up to meet one of Uncle Quentin’s stockier ones as she twirled, her ivory dress unfurling around her like an expanding rain cloud.  Just then, she tilted her eyes downward and saw Tillie.

“My dear girl, what are you wearing?” the witch asked.

Both dancers dropped abruptly to the ground, the spell broken.  Uncle Quentin fell onto his backside; the witch landed daintily on her feet.

“Uncle Quentin,” Tillie called, running to where he lay sprawled on the grass.  “Are you okay?”

“Right, right, right!” Uncle Quentin exclaimed.  (Which in this instance meant, “Yes, my dear, I am alright, and thank you for asking!”)  He laughed heartily and propped himself up on one elbow.

“Who’s this?” the witch asked.

“This is Tillie, my favorite niece!” Uncle Quentin answered, sitting upright and adjusting his eye patch, which had been knocked askew in the fall.  “I was hoping she’d stop by today for my glass eye’s birthday party.  How’s the hammock treating you, by the way?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Tillie said.

“Do you always dress like a cowgirl?” the witch asked.

Tillie’s face turned red.  She glanced around at the other party guests.  Everyone was clearly dressed to the nines while Tillie was, at best, dressed to the threes or fours.  Even a giantess whose foot was sticking around the corner of the house had managed to wear her best pair of crystal slippers.

Tillie knelt at her uncle’s side as the other members of the circle wandered off to join party games.

“I didn’t actually come for the party, Uncle Quentin,” Tillie said, taking one of his arms.

Uncle Quentin gave her a look like one you might give to a dog that’s just eaten your dinner.

“That is,” Tillie amended, “I didn’t come just for the party.”

Uncle Quentin smiled, looking like his usual, jovial self again.

“Well, you could have dressed appropriately, in either case,” the witch sneered.  She grabbed Uncle Quentin’s other arm and helped Tillie pull him to his feet.

“Tillie is welcome no matter what she’s wearing,” Uncle Quentin said, brushing the dirt from the back of his trousers.

“Of course she is,” the witch said, pulling a leaf from Uncle Quentin’s beard.  “I was just surprised to see a cowgirl standing on your front lawn.”

Tillie had heard enough.  “Who are you?” she asked, ignoring all polite rules of conversation.

“Right, right, right!” Uncle Quentin exclaimed.  (Which in this instance meant, “How terribly inconsiderate of me to not introduce this strange and rude woman to my self-described favorite niece.”)  “This is Eve,” he said.

Eve stretched one slender arm toward Tillie.  “A pleasure, my dear.  Your uncle speaks very highly of you.”

Tillie didn’t know if Eve expected her to shake or kiss her hand, so she opted for the shake.  “It’s nice to meet you, too,” she said, although she didn’t really mean it.

“If you didn’t come solely for Quentin’s party – which is absolutely marvelous, by the way – why did you come?” Eve asked. 

Tillie wasn’t sure she wanted to answer any question asked by a witch.  “How do you know my Uncle Quentin?  I’ve never seen you around the valley before.”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” Uncle Quentin answered.  “Eve has just moved here from the Unnamed City.  She bought Old Mary Ann’s gingerbread cottage in the Stranger Forest.”

“I decided it was time to see what life in the country amongst the rustics would be like,” Eve explained.  “City life does get so tiresome after a while.  All that hustle and bustle can drive a person mad.”  She placed the back of one thin hand against her forehead and leaned back as if weak from the memory.  “Unfortunately, Old Mary Ann’s gingerbread cottage was in a horrible state of disrepair!  So, your Uncle has agreed to fix it up for me.  I’m having the roof completely re-iced, of course.”

Tillie stared at Eve for a moment.  “You know,” she said, “you really don’t look much like a witch.”

“So you expect all witches to conform to the stereotype?” Eve asked.  “Is that it?”

“I don’t know…” Tillie said.  “You could at least have a black cat." 

“I’m allergic.”

“Tall pointy hat?”

“They mash down my hair.”

“Wart on your nose?”

“Mother and father had it removed as a sweet sixteen present.”

Uncle Quentin stepped between Tillie and Eve and offered each of them one of his arms.  “Come, ladies,” he said, “I think it’s time we head to the backyard to see what’s going on with the rest of the party.  Tillie can tell us why she came over today while we walk, and then wish happy birthday to my glass eye.  That should satisfy everyone.” 

“Actually,” Tillie said after a few steps, “I did come to see your glass eye.  I need to ask him a few questions.”

“Oh, Tillie,” Uncle Quentin said, shaking his head.  “You’re not going to make him work on his birthday, are you?  I promised him the day off.  I’m even wearing my eye patch, see.”

“I hate to ruin his birthday, but this is really important” Tillie said.  “I think if I explain it to him, he’ll understand.”

“What do you want to ask him?” Uncle Quentin asked.

“Yes, dear child,” Eve added, “Don’t keep us in suspense any longer.”

“It sounds kind of silly,” Tillie started, “But something odd is happening, so...”

“Go on,” said Uncle Quentin, giving her a quick squeeze with his big arm.  “Whatever it is, I’m sure we’ll figure it out together.”

“Well, this morning, a ladybug came to me and....”

“Never trust a ladybug,” Eve interrupted.

“Excuse me?” Tillie asked, annoyed.

“Never trust a ladybug,” the witch repeated.  “It’s an old saying.”

“That’s nice,” Tillie said, not thinking that it was nice at all.  “So, this morning a ladybug came to me for help because her spots had turned from black to green.”

Eve smirked.  “Do you often help bugs with their fashion problems?”

“The problem is bigger than just this one ladybug.  Lots of black objects are turning green.  Uncle Quentin’s black elm tree in my garden is now a green elm tree.”

“I planted that tree nearly 40 years ago,” Uncle Quentin said, removing his pipe from his pocket and lighting it.  “It’s never been green before.”

“I know,” Tillie said.  “And on the way over here I counted several green rocks, too.”

“That’s it?” Eve asked.  She laughed loudly as they entered the backyard.  “An insignificant insect, a tree, and some rocks have turned green?  My dear, I certainly hope that’s the most perplexing problem you ever have to face!”  Party guests of all shapes, sizes, and species turned to look as Eve shook with thin, hollow laughter.  Tillie had the feeling that Eve was putting on a show.

A faun, who was standing beside the reflecting pool sipping punch, set his half-empty glass on a nearby table.  Tillie recognized the faun as Elias Qsmith, a very well-to-do figure in the local faun community who prided himself on his carefully brushed goat legs and perfectly clipped horns.  (By the way, although the “Q” in Elias’s last name is silent, he takes it very personally if you forget to include it when you write it out.)

“I say, Eve,” Elias began as he approached the still-laughing witch, “Do tell us all what has struck you as so deucedly funny?”  Elias always loved to share in jokes, especially when they were at someone else’s expense.

Eve quickly composed herself and wiped a non-existent tear from her cheek.  “Oh, Elias, I’m not sure that everyone else at the party would be interested.”

“Don’t be daft!” Elias exclaimed, hoping that Eve would once again regale them with an exciting tale of “big city life.”  He considered himself a very uptown kind of faun.

The witch dismissed Elias with a wave of her hand.  “I don’t like being the center of attention.”

Ignoring her protests, Elias clapped his hands and cleared his throat.  “Attention! Attention, all you blighters!  Eve has an amusing anecdote to share with us!”

Before Tillie could blink, Eve was standing on a lawn chair addressing a crowd of expectant humans, fauns, centaurs, the occasional giant, more than a few talking animals, and one demigod.  “I’m sure you all know Quentin’s niece, Tillie,” the witch said, gesturing to Tillie with one long arm.  The partygoers nodded.  Mrs. Goodfelter, an old woman who had known Tillie since she was a baby, waved.  Tillie waved back.

“Tillie is very concerned for the welfare of all of us because, well, a frightened ladybug told her she should be.”  Most of the people in the audience smiled and several of them snickered outright.

“Never trust a ladybug,” Elias Qsmith said, shaking his head.

“Indeed,” Eve agreed.  “This particular ladybug said….”

Suddenly, Mrs. Goodfelter squealed.

Eve glared at her.  “As I was saying,” she began again.  This time, however, she was stopped by a whole wave of shocked expressions, several murmurs, and one scream. 

“What’s the matter with you people?” Eve demanded.

“Y-y-your hair…” Mrs. Goodfelter stammered, clutching her husband’s arm.  “G-g-green….”

The smile on Eve’s face reversed itself quicker than Elias Qsmith could start laughing, which was pretty quick.

“I say, Eve, capitol party trick!” Elias laughed.

The other party guests remained silent.

Eve rushed to the reflecting pool.  When she saw herself, she let out a screech like a wounded bird.  She lowered herself onto the pool’s ledge, fingering her newly emerald locks.

“What’s the matter?” Elias asked.  “You are playing a joke on all of us bounders with one of your confounded spells, wot?”

Eve lifted her head, anger twisting her once beautiful features into a snarl.  In one swift movement, she stood and shoved Elias backwards into a shrub.  “No, I’m not pulling a joke on you, idiot!” she bellowed.

“Dashed bad show!” came Elias’s voice, muffled by the shrub.

Eve turned on her heels and marched straight at Tillie, one slender, accusing finger parting the crowd of shocked on-lookers.  The rage in Eve’s face and the deliberateness of her stride made Tillie take a few paces backwards.

Uncle Quentin stepped from behind Tillie and placed his broad body in Eve’s path, stopping the witch in her tracks.

Eve looked surprised by Uncle Quentin’s gesture.  Nevertheless, she leaned around him and pointed at Tillie and demanded, “You!  What do you know about all this?”

“All I know is what I’ve already told you.  This morning, an upset ladybug appeared at my window with green spots.  I agreed to help her find out why her spots had turned green and so I came to ask Uncle Quentin’s glass eye if he had any information and, well, here we are.”  She paused and then added, “And my name is Tillie.  Please try to remember it.”

Eve smiled.  “Oh, believe me, dear, I will.”

Uncle Quentin took a deep puff of his pipe.  “I think, Eve,” he said slowly, “you would do well to remember that Tillie is only trying to help.”

“Of course you’re right,” Eve said, smiling sweetly.  She turned to Elias, who had just extracted himself from the shrub and was now busy pulling twigs from the hair on his goat legs.  “I truly am sorry that I ran into you, Elias,” Eve said.  “I was just a little startled is all.”

“Ran into me, my hoof…” Elias muttered.

Ignoring his remark, Eve addressed the crowd of partygoers with uncharacteristic cheerfulness.  “Don’t worry everyone!  Despite the fact that I’ve obviously fallen under some sort of curse, I’m sure I’ll be fine.  I’ve been cursed before, you know.  In fact, I may know just the spell that can return my hair to its original shade.”  She paused.  “No one happens to have the second horn of a tricorn lying around, do they?”

All of the guests shook their heads no.

“Well, it was worth a shot,” Eve mumbled.

Uncle Quentin cleared his throat to quiet the restless crowd.  “Excuse me, everyone, but last I remember hearing, this was a party.  So have some fun, already!  We’ll get all this mess sorted out later.  Right now, there’s punch and cake aplenty and a glass eye in the formal garden who’s waiting to hear your birthday wishes.”

“I say, the old boy’s got his ducks in a row!”  Elias said, picking up his half-full glass.  “Three cheers!  Huzzah!  Huzzah!  Huzzah!”  With that, the faun downed the rest of the punch.

“I could do with some more punch myself,” Mrs. Goodfelter added, pulling her husband behind her.

The party soon swung back into full gear.  People began laughing and talking again and one young tree nymph even broke out her accordion.

Uncle Quentin turned to Eve and Tillie and whispered, “I think Tillie’s right.  We’d better go see what my glass eye has to say about this problem.”

“I was just about to suggest that, Quentin dear,” Eve said.

Tillie rolled her eyes.

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