They stood at the side of a lovely pale blue Victorian mansion. In front of them spread formal gardens, with carefully designed neat herb and flower beds. In the center of the formal garden sat a small white gazebo, its fresh paint gleaming in the sun. A lovely young woman in an old fashioned gown sat within the gazebo sipping at a cup of tea.
Beyond the gazebo, Newt could see the edges of a vegetable garden, with the plants ready for harvest, all laid out in neat rows.
The woman in the gazebo looked up and noticed them, then smiled in a welcoming manner.
“Hello children, would you care to stay and have tea with me?” Her voice was honey sweet, yet Newt felt a cold shiver run down her spine.
Harold’s voice sounded in Newt’s ear. “Don’t eat anything. It’s the first rule of all enchanted realms. If you eat or drink anything, you’re stuck there forever.”
Newt nodded and prodded Dusty in the back. “Tell her no,” she hissed, not certain whether or not Dusty was paying attention to anything more than the beautiful woman and her honey sweet voice.
Dusty neither moved nor spoke, apparently transfixed by the woman, therefore Newt took it upon herself to answer the woman’s invitation.
“We can’t stay for tea, but we thank you for the invitation. We really have to be going. We have urgent business in other places this morning.” She smiled at the woman to take the sting from her refusal, then grabbed Dusty’s hand and led him across the manicured lawn, resolutely moving toward where she guessed the back of the property ought to be.
Harold caught her other hand, and she promptly tripped over her dress. Obviously seeing her predicament, Harold immediately shifted his grasp to her elbow, and she was able to grab at her skirts with her now free hand.
With their backs to the woman, Dusty appeared to come to his senses, and took her by the other elbow, freeing her second hand to hold her skirt more completely out of the way. Dusty’s other hand was busy holding his own cloak out of the way, but they were now able to make fairly good time through the garden.
Presently the path became tangled again, and the way narrowed. They reverted to marching single file, but still kept hold of one another. Newt turned back once to look at Harold, and saw with shock and dismay that the narrow winding path was closing up behind them as they passed through it.
She opened her mount to speak, but he curtly shook his head, and she subsided.
“It did that on the way in, too,” he whispered softly. “One way in, one way out maybe and just hope and pray that we’re on the path going out rather than heading deeper in. Just keep moving, and whatever you do, don’t leave the path and don’t let go of either one of us. We mustn’t allow ourselves to become lost, or to become separated under any circumstances.”
Newt nodded and continued forward as Dusty pulled her along. Harold had done the most reading on fantasy realms, and knew the rules better than either she or Dusty could possibly understand them.
Suddenly an arm clad all in black reached out from between a brace of the plants lining the enchanted pathway and snatched at Newt’s beautiful light blue pearl encrusted skirts. Newt screamed with surprise, and jumped out of the way. With dawning horror, she realized that her feet were now off of the enchanted path. Instantly, the garden transformed before her eyes into its usual tangled mess. She let go of her skirts, now not caring if they became wet or soiled, and clung to the hands of her two best friends in the entire world. They were her best friends in any other world, for that matter. She felt her palms become moist with her fright, but resolved that she wouldn’t let go of the boys’ hands, no matter what else happened.
At her scream, the boys jumped also, and came to a complete halt, though they remained with their feet on the enchanted path.
Slowly, the grasping arm came further out from between the bushes, and when the ancient and bent body of Old Mrs. M followed it, Newt almost breathed a sigh of relief. Here, at least, was something that was familiar enough to almost be comfortable, except for the fact that in addition to her usual black gown, she also wore a tall and pointed wide brimmed black hat with three long sweeping feathers that were also as black as midnight, if not more black. Newt had seen blackbirds, but none who grew feathers of that length, or that swoopy and droopy. They almost reminded her of a pheasant’s tail feathers, save for the fact that pheasant feathers didn’t, of course, come in black.
Old Mrs. M drew near and stabbed a long crooked finger at each of their chests, touching them lightly, as though marking their identities.
“What do you young children think you’re doing in my garden? Did you come to steal an old woman’s supper vegetables?” the extremely ancient black garbed crone screeched at them.
“No, ma’am,” Harold assured her with a slight bow. “We didn’t come to steal anything that might belong to you, or to any one else. We were very simply taking a short cut in order to get to the shopping mall more quickly. It was wrong of us, and we’re very sorry to have alarmed you in any way.”
“Alarmed me? Alarmed me?” Old Mrs. M cackled. “Do you think I could possibly be scared of the likes of you?”
Harold cleared his throat. “No, Ma’am, I don’t think you would be frightened of the three of us, but I thought perhaps you might be frightened on behalf of your garden, that the three of us might accidentally trample it beneath our feet.”
Old Mrs. M appeared to consider his words for a long moment. Then let out a long and loud cackle of laughter. “Scared on behalf of my vegetables. Well, you’ve a pretty tongue, my good young fellow, I’ll grant you that, but I want you to understand in the deepest recesses of your young selfish little hearts that you’re absolutely never to come near my small piece of property again.”
The three of them began vigorously nodding their head up and down, and Newt thought they must look like a line of bobble head dolls, or those silly hula dancers people stuck in the back window of their cars that dance a jiggle hula as you drove down the highway.
Old Mrs. M scratched at her chin, and Newt couldn’t help but notice that with her great age, the old woman’s chin had become as stubbly as an old man’s, and that there were several large warts ensconced there, each sprouting long and crooked hairs from their depths.
We dare you to have someone in your novel kidnapped at the end of the next page. (Okay, they’re not held-for-ransom kidnapped, but they’re stolen-away-from-their-life kidnapped)
Suddenly the old woman cackled again. “I know exactly what I’m going to do about you.” She drew herself up straight and threw up one hand straight into the air. Muttering under her breath, she mumbled words unintelligible to her trio of listeners.
Old Mrs. M slid her other hand into what appeared to be a hidden pocket in her dress and pulled out a small, straight piece of some dark sort of wood, which had been either inlaid or overlaid with a lighter wood in a pattern of vines and leaves. Still muttering, she whirled the short wand about, drawing a trio of circles in the air.
Newt felt as though the air thickened; it was suddenly stuffy and hard to breathe, like the air in a very small bathroom after a very long and very hot shower.
Old Mrs. M tucked the wand away again, and reached out with both hands to where she had drawn the first circle. She made gathering motions with her hands, as though she was gathering and packing a snowball. Though there was nothing visible between her hands, Newt could feel a tension in the air, and the short hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
Old Mrs. M threw her ball of nothing straight at Dusty’s chest. He gasped, and fell to his knees, letting go of his robe and grabbing at his chest, as though he were having a heart attack.
Still muttering, Old Mrs. M gathered up another ball of nothing and threw it this time at Newt.
Though she had seen nothing, Newt couldn’t deny that she’d been hit by something. It was sheer cold as it penetrated her chest, and she sank to her knees with the pain of it. She longed to grab at her chest also, in the hope that it would ease the pain somewhat, but she didn’t dare to let go of Harold and Dusty. She had already broken one of the rules Harold had given her, and knew that her feet were off of the enchanted path. She feared what might happen if she released her hold on her fellows more than she feared the pain in her chest. Besides, Dusty didn’t look as though holding his chest was helping him any.
The third ball of nothing struck Harold squarely in the chest, and he joined his friends in the dirt of the enchanted garden, gasping for breath as he knelt before what was undoubtedly to their minds, most definitely a witch.
Apparently finished with throwing air, Old Mrs. M reached up into the sky again, this time with both hands, and called aloud in some language that Newt had never heard before. She grasped the air again, and screamed “Until midnight! You only have until midnight!” Then she pulled two great big handfuls of something down from the sky. A bolt of lightning struck just behind Old Mrs. M. The blaze of white light dazzled Newt and the thunder of the blast knocked Newt and her friends the rest of the way to the ground.