They gathered at the clearing edge, in the shadow of the forest, under its sheltering leaves, the ripples of a far away sea.
At its center a house of the forest, ivy vine, grown in the way of a witch's lair.
A spoon, a bowl and some herb jars were the only things not from there - brought from beyond the forest, beyond time - recalled by neither mice, fox, nor even the owl - none knew a time before the witch, none had seen the witch young; it was as though she'd always been there, like the oak or the stream, or the ancient path by which she'd come, known but forgotten, like a baby's dream.
To this witch, every morning, the wood brought tribute - and otherwise none dared approach her door; inside she stayed, every day, and every day a new spell was made; in winter the forest was fed and in summer strange flowers came and went, like the rainbow showers the blind sky sent; in this way, the days went to years, while by night, as the owl watched, the witch wandered the wood, light as mist on sleeping fears.
They waited, at the clearings edge, and knew she would need no more - no more mushrooms and hazels, no more strawberries dressed in dew - as she stepped out, folded and fading with each step, briefly through the day of golden light, trailing silver, in the forest night, while leaf and blade her house withdrew, back again to the forest jade, to leave a curious place - under the deep green sea - an empty space.
..Save for a spoon, a bowl and a dozen jars - to be found one day, perhaps, many hence.
A sparrow, without fear, looked in the darkening eye, wondering from where came the single tear; the eye light fading, to the heart of an ember - the mother of flame, in the fading of another; in the feathers of a bird, away it flew.
Above the trees, high above and far away - on and on the whole day through, and then the next, and the next - till it fell, among the blades of a still stranger day.
They told her that birds don't really die; they said they fly to heaven, one day...
She didn't believe it.
Still, she never imagined that they simply dropped like stones - birds falling dead - from a clear blue sky.
She picked up the sparrow and was surprised - since it wasn't yet dead; but there, in her hand, it did fade and did die.
She buried it at home, at the foot of the yard - careful not to be seen - not to be seen from the window, as she buried her only orphan.
And then, after a while, something there began to grow; in the garden, over the secret grave, strange flowers grew, weeds that returned the day after cut.
Time went the same way; strange colors seen from a door; and then later, while wandering the ocean shore, she found something else - a path not seen before.
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