Hazel and Holly — An Unwelcome Visit, Part One
Previous: Seamless Dreams
The inside of Zinnia’s home smelled just as the woman herself: like freshly turned earth and an overabundance of roses, lavender, and lilacs. It was both cloying and pleasant, unsettling as well as comforting. Hazel didn’t at all care for the contradictions and she wondered how Holly managed to talk her into such a foolish task.
“Please, have a seat,” Zinnia said after she had led Hazel through a labyrinth of shelves filled with odds and ends before coming to a long, polished dark walnut table. In place of three of the chairs stood three wooden statues nearly as tall as Hazel. One was carved into the shape of a bear, one a wolf, and the other a squirrel. Each wore a garland dried flowers upon its polished head. The bear clutched a cane in its wooden paws.
Zinnia, following Hazel’s gaze, said, “That’s Grandfather Bear. You can sit next to him, if you’d like. He’s the most even tempered out of the three. I’d stay clear of Sister Squirrel, though. She’s a bit of a trickster.”
“Is that so?” Hazel said, but Zinnia had already disappeared among the stacks of shelves.
Taking Zinnia’s advice, Hazel sat down next to the bear. The chair creaked under her weight, the cushion exuding an aroma of musty rose. Holly had been right, the place was like a museum. Stacks of shelves filled the room, all cluttered with bones and feathers, colored glass bottles and little jeweled boxes. There were tiny silver figurines shaped like men, birds, and fish. There were dusty books and yellowed scrolls; pearl-embroidered gloves and reams of cloth of various color and material.
The more Hazel looked, the more the tall shelves seemed to close in on her. The smell of dirt thickened, as did the cloying scent of flowers, the latter of which now held a hint of decay.
Something brushed against her hand, and Hazel cried out and jerked back. There on the table sat Chester, the pockets on his vest bulging.
“Is everything all right?” Zinnia said, poking her head around a corner.
Hazel put her hands over the mouse, gritting her teeth at the way his whiskers tickled her palm. “Yes, quite all right. Just saw a strange shadow, is all. Perhaps Sister Squirrel is playing her tricks on me.” Hazel forced a smile.
Zinnia lingered a moment, frowning at Hazel. Then she turned and disappeared among the shelves.
Hazel let out a breath as she removed her hands from the table. Then, wrinkling her nose, she fished out the goods from Chester’s pockets. There were two buttons, three tiny beads, and a polished crystal that looked to have once been set in a ring. Hazel put the items in her own pocket as Chester scampered off. Holly had told her to bring as much as she could carry, but, at this rate, she’d be here all night.
Zinnia returned with a tray bearing a steaming tea pot, two cups, and a plate of brown bread. “I trust you don’t take sugar or cream in you tea. I never do. It’s bad for the constitution.”
“Plain is fine.”
Zinnia poured the amber tea into to cups and handed one to Hazel. Hazel brought the tea to her nose. It smelled like dirt and flowers, just like the house. She put the cup back down. When Zinnia offered the plate of bread, Hazel took a slice. It was coarse and dense.
“Would you happen to have any butter or jam?” she said.
Zinnia frowned. “Butter and jam are the quickest path to an early grave, mark my words. You’d do well to go without.”
Zinnia’s hospitality was becoming increasingly thin. Hazel gave a tight smile. “Of course,” she said and nibbled on the dry bread.
They drank their tea in silence. Zinnia’s gaze kept darting to the wolf statue and back to Hazel, and then she’d narrow her eyes and sip her tea. It was terribly unsettling, though Hazel did her best to try and not let it show.
She waved to the surrounding shelves. “So where did you find all this… treasure?”
“Here and there,” Zinnia said.
They fell back into silence.
There was a scratching sound, and then Chester scampered across the floor and under the table. Hazel’s face grew hot, but Zinnia seemed not to have noticed the mouse. Her unwavering gaze remained fixed on Hazel.
“The bread is certainly wonderful. I wonder if I could get the recipe.”
Hazel blinked. Refusal to share a food recipe was considered rude. Given that all other recipes—be they for spells or potions—were closely guarded secrets, sharing recipes for meals was considered a show of good faith; a way to connect in an otherwise secretive world. “I beg your pardon?”
Zinnia narrowed her eyes. “You come to my home, telling me lies, and then expect me to share a recipe with you? I think not.”
Hazel swallowed. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Zinnia slammed her cup onto the table, spilling tea onto the polished wood. “You think I don’t see what goes on in here? Brother Wolf watches, he’s seen what you’ve done.” She got up from her chair. “Thief!”
Hazel also got up. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have come here.” She fished out the trinkets Chester had procured and put them on the table. “I shouldn’t have let Holly talk me into this foolish plan of hers. I apologize. Sincerely. I’ll fetch the mouse and never bother you again. You have my word.”
Zinnia took a step forward. “The mouse stays.”
Hazel frowned. “What would you want with that filthy creature?”
“Payment for your trespass.”
“I can pay you with something else. I have a few gold coins, or I can pay you in herbs or food. Last year’s mead turned out especially well. I can give you a crate.”
Zinnia shook her head. “No. The mouse is the thief; the mouse will be payment.”
“The mouse is not mine to give.”
Zinnia narrowed her eyes. “Then neither of you will leave.”
Hazel stiffened her back. “Do not threaten me.”
Zinnia smiled. It was the first time Hazel had ever seen her show any joviality. “You are in my home. I will do as I please.”
The shelves behind Hazel ground along the floorboards as they moved together and closed the path to the door.
Hazel ran her hands along her skirt, feeling her pockets but they were all empty. She was in another witch’s home. Without an item of her own to use as a foci, Hazel’s magic would not work here. She was trapped and powerless. She backed up until she bumped into one of the shelves.
Then, from the table, the bear statue moved. The grooves in his carved coat rippled until the wood shivered away and was replaced with bristly fur. Grandfather Bear—a real bear now—turned towards her and hoisted himself up on his hind legs with the help of his cane.
Zinnia peeked from around him and beamed. “I don’t think you realize what an honor this is. I could sic Brother Wolf on you, and trust me, you would not like that.”
Hazel pressed herself against a shelf as the bear shuffled towards her. She ran her hands along the dusty shelves as she looked for an item to defend herself. “What about the squirrel?” she said, struggling to keep her voice calm. “All things, considered, I think I’d rather you sic the squirrel on me.”
Zinnia frowned. “Sister Squirrel would take far too long. Has a short attention span, that one. She’s good for diversion, not apprehension.”
Hazel’s fingers brushed against a glass bottle and she tried to grab it, but it toppled over and fell to the floor, shattering in a splash of crimson shards.
Zinnia’s face twisted in anger. “Get her!” she shouted.
Grandfather Bear drew himself up taller—if such a thing were possible—and roared. He lunged at her, but Hazel darted out of the way. She tried to run across the room, but something caught her foot and she fell. Pain seared through her hands as glass cut her skin. She grabbed hold of a shard and jabbed it at the bear as he came towards her. She got him in the arm, but he seemed to not have noticed. He brought up a great black paw and struck her head against the floor, and all else faded into darkness.
I hope Chester will be all right.