One week later, Amelia and her sisters were in the fields near the forest playing hide and seek, and she had been it for the last quarter of an hour. She hated being it because she could never find anyone. Five minutes of half-hearted searching later, she gave up, too bored to continue. With an unladylike plop, she slumped to the ground and leaned on a fallen log, grateful the sun was shining. The gentle rays helped chase away the nagging fear plaguing her all week. Flinging an arm over her eyes, she slipped into drowsy relaxation.
The warmth disappeared, and the field darkened. A shiver stole up her spine, and she rolled over, curling on her side to continue her rest. “Oh, bother. Go away clouds. I am trying to sleep,” she muttered. The clouds, alas, were immovable. She cracked open an eye to investigate but a looming shadow obscured her vision. It blocked the sun and inspired a grim sort of dread which beat a steady rhythm in her head. The shadow advanced, and two gnarled, weathered talons outstretched to grab her. She opened her mouth and screamed.
The figure moved and her eyes, now accustomed to the unnatural twilight, discerned an old woman dressed in a faded blue dress with a wide purple velvet sash tied in the middle. A colorful shawl draped over her stooped shoulders and a scarf wrapped round her head, neatly framing her wild mane of silvering hair.
“Are you one of my little liars?” she asked, her thick accent clipping each syllable until the words were nothing more than a litany of jagged consonants firing in her mind.
“You’re supposed to be gone! My papa told you to leave a week ago.”
The old woman cackled and rubbed her hands together. “You know who I am. Good.”
She shrank against the log and wrapped her arms about her knees.
“I see you are afraid. That is also good.”
“What do you want with me?” she whispered.
“Not just you, little girl. I also want your sisters, too.” A delighted smile cracked her tanned, wizened visage, but her gap-toothed smile did nothing to ease her fear.
“They’re not here.”
“They’ll come. I saw them hiding not too far away from here.”
From the forest came a loud cracking of branches alerting her to the truth of the old woman’s statement. Her two sisters emerged from the forest and ran to her, Beatrice yelling at the top of her lungs, “Amelia! We’re coming!”
Spying the old woman, they skidded to a halt and in wary apprehension, looked at her and the old woman. Evie whimpered and ran to huddle beside Amelia while Beatrice, ever the eldest, stood in front of her sisters. Drawing herself up to her full height, she demanded,“Who are you and what do you want with my sister?”
Amelia admired her sister’s bravado, for she saw what it cost her. Small hands clutched her skirts in a white-knuckled death grip and the usual rosy sheen which graced her young face had been leeched of color.
“I am just an old woman passing through the forest.”
Beatrice assessed the old woman, taking in her faded garments and weathered face. “You’re a gypsy!” With her chin held high, she waved her hand in the air in a blatant act of dismissal. “Be gone! My father has evicted your kind for your treachery against his hospitality!”
“Our treachery, Lady Beatrice?” The old woman whispered, venom lacing each word. She advanced on the girls, pinning them against the fallen log. Soon, her wrinkled face was looming over Beatrice’s, her eyes dark and angry. “Don’t you mean yours?”
“How do you know my name?” Beatrice stammered, her eyes darting from the old woman to her sisters behind her. Having reached the end of her courage, she held out her hand to Amelia and grasped it in her own. She pulled Beatrice down with a plunk to sit beside her.
“I knew we wouldn’t get away with it, Bea.”
The old woman had heard, and she nodded.”I know all about you three and what you did last week.”
Amelia’s lower lip trembled and she asked, “What are you going to do to us?” Because there had to be a consequence. There was always a consequence.
“I intend to make it right.” The old woman raised her arms and the clearing stilled. The bird song quieted and the gentle wind which had been rustling the leaves and feathering the grass ceased. A terrible light gleamed from the gypsy woman’s aged eyes.
“For your lie, an innocent man was tried and found guilty of a crime he did not commit.” The once dormant wind rose and whipped through the clearing, slashing her silvered hair against her face and howling its outrage as it tore across the grass and through the tree grove. Clouds rolled up and over each other, ripping apart the sky with its upheaval.
“It was you who were too weak to tell the truth, and have forever condemned an innocent to life far from his family!” She pointed a gnarled finger at the three sisters. “And so, I curse you.”
When the last of the three had been cursed, the old woman’s arms dropped. Revenge faded from her eyes only to be replaced with sad resignation. The winds died and the clouds sped across the sky. Light flooded the clearing, but the girls could not see. Fear clouded their vision and possessed their minds.
The old woman raised her right hand and made the sign of the cross, a sad smile on her face. “Te aves yertime mander tai te yertil tut o Del.”* With a final look at the three sisters, the old gypsy woman walked to the woods and vanished.
*I forgive you and may God forgive you as I do.
© Sara Ackerman 2016