In the last installment (The Path of Moonlight: 15), Charlotte was traveling to the town the man had told her about. Yep, he still has no name. Before reaching her destination, however, she came across an old cottage on the side of the road. The old woman living there had invited her in and they were talking about where Charlotte was going and what she was going to do.
======== The Path of Moonlight ========
“You’d best stay with me, dear,” the old woman continued as she filled a bowl with stew. She sprinkled something dry in it and held it out, a kind smile on her wrinkled face. “For added taste,” she said, “and to help stave off hunger.”
I frowned as I took the bowl. “I don’t understand. You don’t know me. Why do you want me to stay here?”
She chuckled as she settled herself into her own sagging chair and blew on her stew. “I’m old, child, not blind, remember? I’m not deaf either. My ears can hear and my eyes can see you are not lately from this world.”
When I continued to stare at her, she explained herself. “You are not dressed for this place and you don’t speak as if you are from this place.”
I shook my head, refusing to be told what I had been starting to believe. While walking I had wondered if I was the crazy one, not the man. What if I hadn’t left the house yet and was asleep in my room, dreaming all of this?
The stew no longer looked so inviting and I didn’t want to eat it despite my gnawing hunger. My stomach won out though and I forced myself to be slow and chew the chunks of potato, the slices of carrots. I wouldn’t make myself sick eating too quickly and having my mouth full gave me time to think of arguments against the reality of my situation.
The old woman ate a few hot bites in silence. In my peripheral vision I could see her watching me. I pretended not to notice and stifled a yawn.
“Shall I throw down the gauntlet and reveal what I know?” she asked. It didn’t sound much like a question. I glanced at her and tried not to show my suspicion. Was it a trick? “You’re not from here, this world. Your clothes and accent say that much. But you were. I see it in your face, your features and coloring.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “I look no different from anyone else.” I had reached the bottom of the bowl and my belly was full. After spending a day and a half starving and dehydrated, it was pleasant to feel satiated. The yawn refused to be held back this time and I had to cover my mouth and avert my face.
“Perhaps not to others, but I can see it.” She tapped the middle of her forehead but all I saw were heavy wrinkles. As I watched, the wrinkles twitched and an eye opened, blinking at me.
I gasped and jumped to my feet, dropping the bowl and stumbling backward. The room tilted and spun with my sudden movement. It should have righted itself after a moment but it didn’t.
“What?” I mumbled. I swung my arms out, searching for something to grab to hold me up until the dizziness passed. My hands found the edge of a table and I leaned against it. Instead of abating, the dizziness grew worse till I thought I might throw up.
“Who are you?” I asked and was surprised at how slurred my voice sounded. That third eye in her forehead stared at me as the woman sat still in her chair. Perhaps it was my imagination making the eye look clear and sharp while the rest of the room grew fuzzy and indistinct. “What did you give me?”
“Herbs to help you sleep,” she said. “Don’t fight it, Lotteria. You need to sleep. You need your energy for the task ahead for it will not be easy.”
My world spun and lurched when I turned and groped for the door. I saw it there in front of me but my hands waved at empty air when I reached for it. It was too far and my legs were too weak. My other arm fought to hold me upright against the table but I sank to the ground and lost consciousness before I had hit the floor.
======== End of 16th Installment ========
Is this old woman good or bad? Find out next time!
No, I didn’t change Charlotte’s name. You’ll find out later.