The Witch in the Woods

 I woke in the middle of the night, and sat straight up in my bed. My eyes were bleary, blurred with sleep, but it soon became clear what it was that had woken me.

    A tapping at the window.

    And not a stray branch or a nocturnal squirrel. A fairy.

    Wide eyed, I went to open the window, but the fairy beckoned me to come outside.

    I wrapped myself in my mother's thick coat, and plunged my feet into my own rain boots and ran out the front door.

    'There's someone who wants to see you,' the fairy whispered in my ear.

    'Who is it?' I whispered back.

    'The witch who lives in the woods,' he said.

    I hesitated. I knew the forest outside my house like the lines on the palm of my hand. I had traced them, exploring every path as I waited for my mother to come home after school. There was no witch who lived in the woods, I thought. But what did I know? 

    I followed the fairy, and as I did the woods came alive with light, glowing with all kinds of magical thins.

    All the sudden I believed very much that there was a witch who lived in the woods.

    And that was when I saw a small wooden cabin with smoke quietly rising from the chimney.

    'She's waiting for you,' the fairy said, then he darted off.

    I lifted a trembling hand to the door, but before I could knock, the door swung open.

    'Ah, how lovely. Just the person I hoped to see,' said an old woman with apple pink cheeks and twinkling eyes.

    She brought me into a cozy room with two squishy chairs set before a fire that flickered. Next to one chair was a cup of hot chocolate topped with sugared cream and a plate of gingerbread biscuits. The old woman gestured that I should help myself.

    'Now, what is this I see on your face?' she asked gently.

    I looked up, my mouth full of gingerbread and chocolate and cream. The day before came back into my mind and I flushed.

    'It's nothing,' I said.

    'Ah,' said the old woman knowingly. ''Nothing.' I know a little about 'nothing.' It's always something, isn't it? After all, to call something 'nothing' means it was something after all.'

    I didn't know what to say to that.

    'I hit someone,' I mumbled instead. There was no need to add that they had hit me back. There was no need to say I was sorry; my cheeks were red enough, and somehow I knew the old woman would understand.

    She didn't say anything, just gazed in a cheerful way that seemed to tell me all would be well.

    I looked down.

    'Did you feel brave?' she asked after awhile.

    I shook my head. It had seemed a tough thing to do at the time, but now it didn't feel strong or good or brave at all.

    'Best only to do brave things,' she said musingly, as though it were just to herself.

    But I knew it was for me.

    'What are brave things?' I asked.

    'To love,' she said with a smile.

    I blinked, and suddenly found myself back in my bed, chocolate on my lips.

    And all I can say is that it was the strangest thing that had ever happened to me, and that the next day was very different.

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