Hazel and Holly — Zinnia’s Return
Previous: Teatime Tribulation
A few bees crawled on the veil hanging over Hazel’s broad-brimmed hat. She brushed them away with a gloved hand and continued her inspection of the hive nestled in a corner of her garden. The honey was coming along nicely, and there were no signs of mites. Should be a good harvest this season, given another month or so.
“How’s it look?” Tum said, chewing on a strand of grass.
Hazel glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “You know, for a cellar gnome, you spend an awful lot of time outdoors.”
Tum shrugged. “It’s dark down there. Too much darkness is bad for the complexion.” He smiled and smoothed his shirt. “Need to look good for the ladies, you know.”
Hazel wrinkled her nose and returned her attention to the hive. She lifted the final frame and inspected the wax-capped comb.
“Uh oh,” Tum said and scooted out of sight.
“What?” Hazel said and then she saw Zinnia. Hazel returned the frame to the hive and straightened.
Zinnia ran her fingers along the lavender blossoms as she walked up to Hazel. “You and your bees. You’ve always thought they’re so special. They’re nuisances, that’s what.”
“That’s funny,” said Hazel. “I don’t recall you protesting when they pollenate the flowers in your garden.”
Zinnia narrowed her eyes. “You keep them away from my garden.”
“What do you want, Zinnia?”
“You stole my property.”
“You locked me in your cellar.”
“Because you stole my property.”
“I tried to give it back. You were being unreasonable.”
Zinnia chuckled, a low, mirthless sound that made Hazel uncomfortable.
“Tell me why you’re here and then leave,” Hazel said.
“You owe me, and I don’t like being owed.”
“And I don’t like being accosted in my garden by truculent, withered old witches. Life is unfair like that.”
Zinnia’s mouth tightened with a strained smile. She pointed at Hazel, then she turned and left.
Hazel watched her until she turned out of sight. Hazel then returned the lid to the hive and, pulling off her gloves, marched into the cottage.
Holly had her face pressed to a window. “What was Zinnia doing here?”
“I don’t know. That woman is crazy.”
“Juniper said Zinnia stole her underwear once and ground it up and made it into cookies.”
Hazel opened her mouth and then snapped it shut again. She shook her head. “You really should stop talking to Juniper. She’s crazier than Zinnia.”
“She is not! You just don’t understand her is all.”
“The girl eats her own scabs. She’s creepy.”
Holly scratched her head. “Yeah that is kind of gross. So what are you going to do about Zinnia?”
Hazel shrugged. “Let her spout her nonsense and then send her on her way?”
“What kind of plan is that?”
“Why do I need a plan? It’s Zinnia. She’s crazy, remember?”
“Even more reason for a plan. The crazy are unpredictable. You never know when one might bite you or steal your knickers. You need to be prepared.”
“Are you saying I need to stop wearing knickers?”
“No, that’s just stooping to her level. We need something clever. Crafty.” She studied Hazel, looking her up and down. “That dress of yours looks sturdy.”
“Of course it’s sturdy, it’s my beekeeping dress.”
“Do you need it?”
Hazel raised a hand. “If you want to come up with some backwards plan for Zinnia, fine, but leave my clothes out of it.”
“What about the veil?”
“I’m going to the market. Do you need anything?”
Holly pursed her lips. “The gloves, then?”
Shaking her head, Hazel left the cottage. Once she was out of sight, she stashed her hat and long gauzy veil in a tree. Who knew what Holly wanted to do with them, and Hazel would rather not find out.
She hurried down the dusty road. The summer had been dry so far; they could use a good rain to give the world a healthy cleaning. Hazel kept her breath quick and shallow, so as not to breathe in all the dust she kicked up. In between the beating of her heart and the fall of her steps, another sound caught her attention. She stopped and turned, but no one was there. So she hurried on.
It was late in the day and the market was calm. Good for navigating, but bad for finding what she needed. All the best items were quick to sell. Even the merchants seemed spent, either sitting slumped on stools or leaning against their stall posts. Hazel walked up to the cheese monger’s booth.
“You have anything left, Betsy?”
Betsy straightened her apron and waved a hand at the sparsely filled table. “Only some day-old tarts and a wheel of the stinky blue.”
Hazel wrinkled her nose. “When will you have more of the aged cloverleaf?”
“Probably not until next month.”
Hazel nodded. She glanced over at the butcher’s table. “Is it even worth visiting Clyde today?”
“I don’t think so. He had quite the crowd. Probably only has pig’s feet and tongue left.”
“Well, that should make supper interesting.”
Hazel bought what remnants she could find: two pig’s feet, a small sack of barley and a loaf of day-old bread. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the pig’s feet. Boil them to oblivion, probably. You boil something long enough, and it’s bound to get palatable sooner or later. Maybe she should boil all of it—make some kind of pig’s feet and barley sludge that she could then slather on the day-old bread. As disgusting as that sounded, she couldn’t help but wonder what it might taste like. Maybe if she added rosemary… most food tasted better with rosemary.
She had just returned home when, down the road that led to her mother’s ruined cottage, a wolf walked out of the woods. It stopped and fixed her in a yellowed gaze, then lowered its head and emitted a low, rumbling growl.
Hazel froze and tightened her grip on the parcels. Should she try to scare it off? Right now it was just standing there; what if she failed and made it angrier? Shifting her parcels to one arm she waved a hand with the other. “Go on with you, now. Shoo.”
The wolf growled again just as Holly walked out of the cottage and up to Hazel.
“What’s going on? Why are you standing out here?” She followed Hazel’s gaze and said, “Oh.” Holly waved her arms as she walked down the road towards the wolf. “You run along, Brother Wolf. This isn’t your house, and I’ll not have you chewing up furniture and digging holes. Run along before things get ugly. You don’t want to see me when I get ugly.”
Brother Wolf stopped growling and lifted his head at Holly’s approach. He turned in a tight circle, watched Holly some more, and then padded off into the woods.
Hazel let out a heavy breath as Holly returned.
“Told you Zinnia was crazy,” Holly said. “Didn’t think she’d send her wolf over to do the biting, though.” She thrust a finger at Hazel. “And that’s why we need a plan.” Then she returned to the cottage.
Hazel stared at where the wolf had been. Was it just coincidence that he showed up on the road that led to her mother’s cottage? Hazel wasn’t sure she believed in coincidences. Her stomach felt tight, and the air in the woods suddenly seemed thin. Setting her parcels on the ground, Hazel followed the winding road she usually only walked with every new moon.
Why was she so nervous? What was she afraid of? Her mother was already dead, nothing more could be done to make matters worse, could it? Maybe it was the guilt. She had missed last month’s visit. It had all felt so pointless going to see Willow, but now she regretted it. What if something had happened? What if she was unable to see her mother again? Hazel had been so harsh before. Why was she always so harsh with those she loved? Why couldn’t she ever say how she felt without the anger and bile?
Hazel came to the old iron gate, but she hadn’t brought the key. She grabbed hold of the bars and pulled, but the door rattled in its lock and wouldn’t open. She walked around the crumbling stone wall, wondering if she should try and climb over it, but decided against it. If she couldn’t get in, then the wolf probably hadn’t either. She tried to take comfort in the thought, but comfort remained as distant as the few clouds in the deep blue sky.
Next: Willowed Remorse