The Thin Line Between
‘He doesn’t love me, Auntie, he never will,’ said the pretty girl to the good witch, and the good witch sighed and cleared away the dinner plates.
The good witch looked out of the small kitchen window while she washed the dishes and her gaze fell upon the house and garden next door. They belonged to the bad witch. The good witch’s niece was in love with the bad witch’s nephew, but he was as evil as his auntie; he wasn’t capable of being in love with anyone.
The good witch sighed again. She was very unhappy because her niece was unhappy. The pretty girl spent the days hiding her face with her long blonde hair and weeping quietly whilst pretending to read a book.
Next door’s garden was very dark and overgrown and great black clouds hung above it so there was never much daylight to dispel the heavy gloom. The good witch looked at the crooked trees and the tangled overgrowth, and suddenly she spotted the bad witch’s skinny goat emerging from a bush.
‘Oooh!’ she exclaimed, ‘I’ve got some left over lettuce leaves. I think I’ll give them to the poor goat.’ The good witch smiled to herself, unlatched the gate and, grasping the generous handful of salad, she carefully stepped into the bad witch’s garden. She shivered, partly because of the cold and partly because she could always sense the evil that seemed to seep out of the air itself and into her skin.
The goat heard the cracking of twigs underfoot and looked up from the black bubbling river from which he was drinking. He stared as the woman in white approached him, her outstretched hand offering food. He knew he shouldn’t be tempted by the goodness of this witch, but his nose began to twitch and he could not resist nibbling a few lettuce leaves. After all, they were free, and the bad witch hadn’t given him half as much to eat as he’d wanted.
When he had finished eating from her hand, the woman in white walked away, pushing through the trailing spiky fingers of the overgrown plants that almost hid the stony path from view. The goat was still hungry, and he could sense that on the woman’s dress there were remnants of food clinging to the material, and so he trotted after her, the whiteness glowing in the dark to guide him.
However, when he reached the fence that divided the gardens he began to feel very uneasy. He began scraping the earth with his hooves. The witch had walked into her garden that shone with radiance in the moonlight. He blinked, and continued to follow the smell of food.
The good witch was so pleased that she had enticed the starving animal to a place of happiness and plenty, and the pretty girl was delighted to have a pet. It was some time before the evil had completely drained out of the goat. For the first few days, his eyes had glowed red and smoke billowed from his flared nostrils as he paced the length and breadth of the garden. Eventually, the pull of goodness was too strong against the evil that he had breathed in for so long. Now he could see the darkness that hung over the other garden and was grateful that he had left it behind.
One morning, as the sunlight sprayed the beautiful garden and made the dew drops sparkle like glitter, the goat awoke and felt perfect peace. He was happy, and he was good. The pretty girl was able to feed him and pet his soft head.
Unfortunately, things had been dramatically changing next door. The bad witch’s nephew had seen the good witch stealing their goat and he had told the bad witch, who was furious. She planned her revenge over many weeks and eventually decided she would put her plan in action.
She wanted to steal the most prized possession of the good witch: her pretty niece. The bad witch’s nephew was going to be the bait. She knew how much the silly girl was in love with him, as she used her crystal ball a lot. Her nephew thought the whole thing very amusing and heartily agreed to tempt the girl into their blackened evil garden.
On the fateful evening, they laughed over their meagre meal and then the boy was ready to go. He did feel slightly uneasy about being too near the pure, good garden, but his auntie was persistent and dangerous so he didn’t want to disobey her. Besides, he couldn’t wait until the girl was as evil as he was.
At 7.30 every night, they had observed, the good witch would leave the house through the back door to feed the goat some left over scraps. At 8.30 every night, the good witch’s niece would creep out of the back door to feed the goat some more food she had saved from her meal. It was at this time the bad witch’s nephew would go to her.
‘Pssst!’ he said, quietly, from the top of the fence. She thought it was the breeze rustling in the trees.
‘Pssst!’ he said, louder this time. She thought it was the insects starting their music for the night.
‘PSSST!’ he insisted, very loud this time because his auntie was standing below him poiking him with her staff.
The young girl stifled a scream when she saw the overbearing figure leaning uncomfortably over the fence and grinning wildly. When she realised that it was her Love, a smile began to grow on her lips and her heart skipped a beat. She was thinking that finally he had come for her, that he was at last in love with her.
The boy held out one hand and balanced himself with the other.
‘Come,’ he said, softly and quietly so as not to alert the good witch as to what was happening. But the good witch’s niece was rooted to the spot. The sound of his hushed voice washed over her like warm honey and the fluttering of her heart made her chest ache in longing for him. She half closed her eyes and let her hair fall away from her face, allowing the moonlight to bathe her skin with silver.
‘Pssst! Come here!’ the boy repeated, more forceful this time as his auntie prodded him harder in the leg. She was getting impatient.
‘Hurry up, boy! Get her!’ she hissed from below.
The girl jolted back into reality and stepped towards the boy’s outstretched hand. She was anticipating the touch of his flesh against hers. She had waited so long.
She held out her hand, wanting him to kiss it delicately. Instead, a bony old claw gripped her hair and the bad witch’s walking stick hooked through her dress, and the girl was heaved over the fence into the evil garden. Aside from the sound of her muffled cry, it was possible to hear a thud as the boy fell over the fence and landed in the good witch’s flower bed.
And so it was, that the good witch’s niece was trapped in the tower in the bad witch’s house with no light or food or warmth, and the bad witch’s nephew was tucked up in the spare four-poster bed being nursed by the good witch. The boy had quite hurt himself when he fell.
Slowly but surely, the evil in the air seeped into the girl’s blood. Her eyes would occasionally flash red while she gripped the bars of the window looking out on the eerie shaped in the garden. When the bad witch was sure that the girl was thoroughly bad, she unlocked the heavy door that kept her inside. The girl didn’t run. She breathed in the stale air and sniffed the stench evaporating from the stone walls. Her figure was hunched from being in such cramped conditions and she crept downstairs to explore her new home. She was grinning, and had an evil glint in her eyes as she sensed the pure badness that saturated the entire place. The bad witch was happy for the first time since losing her nephew. Her plan was to get him back and keep them both.
Meanwhile, the young boy was unable to resist the cleansing powers of the glowing goodness that warmed his blood and softened his heart. The good witch spent every evening sitting by the bed telling him of her niece, showing him photographs and drawings she had done, and reading him poems she had written. Slowly, the boy began to fall in love with the good witch’s niece and longed for his broken leg to heal so he could rescue her from his evil auntie. Since the air was so pure and the water so clean he did heal quickly and was soon strong enough to walk in the garden, feed the goat and help the good witch with her housework. He was very happy, but he mourned the loss of the girl almost as much as the good witch did herself. It was very sad. The good witch wasn’t capable of bad thoughts so she would not concoct a plan of revenge. She was waiting for her niece to return.
The boy felt increasingly frustrated at the barrier between the good garden and the bad garden. He couldn’t bear the evil force that struck him every time he opened the gate and made him double over with sickness. He was unable to return.
One afternoon, as he was trimming the roses, he thought he would throw one of the flowers over the fence to tempt the girl. That one lone rose lay unnoticed in the undergrowth. However, the boy never gave up. The next afternoon he threw another red rose. It fell alongside the first which had slightly shrivelled due to the lack of nourishing goodness.
The following afternoon, the boy threw a handful of lilac and magenta pansies over the fence and they fluttered down through the gloom landing randomly on branches and bushes and grass.
The boy was determined in his efforts and daily he sent over a handful, or an apronful, or a barrow load of lilies or poppies, daisies or roses, violets or forget-me-nots, and over time they created a beautiful carpet of colour in the bad witch’s garden.
Now because the bad witch was so engrossed in plotting to steal back her nephew, consumed as she was with bitterness and hatred, she failed to notice the change occurring in her garden. The good witch’s niece, who had become very bad, spent her time wandering the house and learning from the bad witch as she didn’t really know how to use her badness. One particularly gloomy day, the girl decided to venture outside and become familiar with the layout of the garden. She picked her way through the treacherous undergrowth, not caring if her clothes were ripped or her skin scratched enough to bleed. Her red eyes helped to light up the path ahead of her.
She eventually reached the fence and walked alongside it in order to get back to the house more easily. The boy’s flowers still shone in many layers and colours, their power of purity stronger than the evil that was being slowly stifled. The good witch’s niece gasped when she saw the spectacle and as she did so her lugs filled with the sweet intermingled fragrances of all the flowers and her heart was filled with goodness again. It was poured into her as if the flowers had been storing their power until she found them.
The bad witch was in her blackened room and she jolted upright, dropping the potion that she was holding. The glass shattered into a thousand pieces, letting out a scream audible to only evil things. Her world was closing in. The beauty, light and colour spread through the garden, saturating the heavy gloom with life. The trees that had grown bent and crooked stood up straight and spread their branches. The thorns shrank back and flowers flourished. The grass glowed many shades of green and the tangled black ivy that clung to the fence and the walls became a healthy thriving plant with tiny buds that popped open.
The bad witch was repulsed by the goodness and she sped after the evil as it disappeared into the distance.
The pretty girl, who stood in the centre of this spreading beauty was welcomed by an old woman in white and a young man with a limp who kissed her hand.