Cabin in the woods
When I woke up in the sister's cabin, on that last day, it felt like wet tingling fleas were jumping all over my face. I was too terrified to pay much attention to the bruised back of my head, where I'd been hit and everything had gone black on the hiking trail. But in all my scary dreams of the Black and White Sisters . . . in all the menacing diary entries that pointed to their guilt in my mother's death . . . in all my premonitions and visions of seeing my long, lost father, I never, even for a second, counted on this. When I finally came to, it wasn't just me in danger anymore. My friends were now facing the evil sisters with me. I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if anything happened to them because of me.
Wet tingling fleas jumped on Tabby’s face as she climbed a ladder. Each step felt a little lighter, a little closer to the top. Eventually the brightness almost blinded her. In an instant, she was awake. The light she’d been climbing to from unconsciousness turned out to be a bare bulb hanging loosely from the ceiling of a grubby cabin. A blurry figure sprayed mist in her face. The wet fleas, Tabby realized.
“Help!” a young voice called out. A small boy twisted and turned in the chair next to Tabby.
The blurry figure sprayed the boy’s face. He awoke with a start and Tabby saw it was Rupert. The figure reached a thick hand into Rupert’s jacket and pulled out a necklace. Then he or she turned, walked the length of the room, and hung the necklace on a peg that stuck from the wall.
Tabby squinted. A dull old coin hung from the necklace. The amulet!
Next to her, Rupert doubled over and retched. Vomit splashed on his running shoes and seeped into the cracked wooden floor. Tabby reached to help him, to hold his head or grab a bucket, but to her horror, she couldn’t move. She looked down to see her arms and legs strapped to a wooden chair. Rupert sobbed.
Before she had a chance to utter a word, the cracked cabin door swung open. Tabby nearly fainted at what she saw next. Tabby had known in an instant—perhaps before the door had even opened—who it was. Tabby had seen the woman’s face many times before in visions and dreams. Mrs. Bumble and her mother’s diary had mentioned two names, Mary and Meredith, but Tabby couldn’t remember which name belonged to the sister with the white hair. Tabby supposed that before long, she would find out.
The white-haired old woman approached and breathed what smelled like rotten eggs into Tabby’s face. Tabby gagged at what she saw. The woman’s dull green eyes bulged above sagging, creased skin. The wisps of white hair around her face looked so brittle they might crack with the slightest touch. Blackened teeth were revealed behind a wrinkled smile.
“It’s amazing,” the old woman said, scraping a three-inch razor-sharp fingernail across Tabby’s cheek, “just how much she looks like her . . . all . . . grown . . . up.” The scrape burned under the woman’s hot, foul breath.
Tabby had an urge to spit on the woman, but before she could, the elderly woman spun on her heels and approached the iron cauldron. Underneath the pot, hot coals crackled in a pit.
“It won’t be long,” the white-haired sister said, hoisting a two-foot-long wooden stick into the pot, “until it’s complete. Only two ingredients remain,” the woman continued, stirring the cauldron heavily. “The first one, my dear sister, is gathering as we speak. The other”—she glanced with glee back at Tabby—“well, we’ve got that taken care of, don’t we?”
Rupert squeaked in fear.
“Don’t be afraid,” Tabby whispered. “We’ll be okay.”
The cotton-haired woman whipped on her heels to face them. “Oh, how touching!” she yelled in mock appreciation. The old woman confronted Rupert. “Oh, come now, little one, you remember Aunt Mary, don’t you?” she said in a baby voice. Mary kneeled so she was eye level with the frightened child. “Or would you prefer to call me Sasha?”
So this was Mary, Tabby thought as Rupert’s eyes widened—and this was who’d been texting with Rupert.
“But . . . ,” he stammered, “but how could you? I thought . . .”
“Yes, you thought I was some dumb little twit, didn’t you?” Mary said. “I know it doesn’t look like much,” she said, walking hunchbacked to a grimy desk in the corner, “but we’re not completely ignorant of the modern world, you foolish little idiot!” With that, Mary pulled a velvet cover from a lump atop the desk.
Rupert gasped. It was, although dust-covered and dated, nonetheless, a computer.
“But I thought . . . ,” Rupert stuttered.
“I know what you thought! You thought Sasha would keep her word. That she would give you a powerful magic that would restore your friendship with your stupid friend and reduce his affection for the girl. What was her name? It was ugly.”
Tabby was stunned. “What did you do, Rupert?”
Rupert’s eyes watered. “I’m sorry, Ms. Mulligan. I didn’t mean . . . I thought she . . . Sasha . . . was my friend. She said all I had to do was steal a necklace from you. That it was stolen property and I would be serving justice,” he sobbed.
“And you believed that?” Tabby stammered.
“Yes, you children are so easy to manipulate,” Mary hissed.
Rupert was in tears. Then suddenly, Tabby’s breath steamed in a small hand-held mirror.
From behind it, the ruined woman spoke, in the calmest and deadliest tone yet. “Take a good look, Tabitha. For what you have done to me, I will do to you. What you have taken from me, I will take back, a thousand fold. Did you really think I would allow you to live?”
Mary threw the mirror to the floor. It crashed and splintered into a million pieces. Rupert howled in pain. Tabby saw a thick shard of broken mirror jutting from his shin. Blood dripped down his small leg and filled his running shoe.
“LOOK . . . AT . . . ME!” Mary howled, years of rage pouring out of her wretched mouth into Tabby’s face. “I am twenty-eight years old!” She roughly grabbed her loose, wrinkled skin and stretched it like taffy. “YOU! You and your disgusting mother have done this to me.”
Tabby’s eyes were wide. She felt something she had never felt before. Loathing. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes any moment now. But she held them back. With all the effort she could muster, Tabby yelled at the old woman, venom punctuating every word, “You did this to yourself, you OLD, PATHETIC HAG!”
Tabby braced for a reaction, but there was none. To Tabby’s surprise, Mary smiled. Tabby wasn’t sure which was worse.
Tabby screamed. She pulled against her ropes with all her might.
Rupert whimpered and struggled against his ropes, trying to reach his wounded leg.
Tabby’s heart began to pound. She had to get them out of there. No matter what.