Here is the beginning of the fifth story in the collection, named The Witch of Hawestone Moor.
Marie Scott looked through the windshield of her car and sighed. The rain kept coming down. That would mean she would be late – again! Her office job already kept her busy until 6 pm and in the best of circumstances she could be home by 6.45 pm. Now it would be at least seven o’clock!
Marie lived in a cottage in the hills; a place she had found some years ago, during a bike tour. The little house had charmed her a lot, and when she had spotted the ‘For Hire’ sign, she had not hesitated to call the agency. She was fed up with the flat in town anyway. The neighbors were loud and noisy, and it did not help if she complained about it.
Her shy nature made her keep away from people. That was why she was happy with the job she had: filing articles for the local newspaper, The Tribune. Her office was situated in the cellars of the office building and she only saw the occasional journalist – most of the time they just sent her an email requesting information.
She knew she did not have a lot of social skills. She rarely made friends and blamed it on her shyness and her plain looks. She surely was no beauty; no man would give her a second glance.
A shape popped up before her on the road. All of a sudden she realized she was daydreaming. She quickly applied the brakes and the car skidded to a stop. Yes, there was someone there; a huddled figure carrying two heavy bags. How strange! She drove this road twice a day and never ever had she seen anyone on this deserted stretch over Hawestone Moor. Nobody lived here, did they?
She looked again. The figure – she could not decide whether it was a man or a woman – kept moving on steadily. For just one second Marie considered her options. If she would offer help, she would make it home even later than seven o’clock. But almost immediately her conscience forced her to open up her window and call out:
“Hello there? Need a ride?”
The figure stopped and turned around. She saw that it was a woman and an old one for goodness sake. What was this granny doing out in this shit weather?”
“Thank you, dear. I’d like that.”
As the old lady seemed to be struggling with the bags, Marie hopped out of the car and hurried to take them over. She quickly opened the boot and placed them inside. Then she opened the passenger door and helped the woman get in.
“Where do you live?” she asked.
“Not so far away,” the old woman responded, “but it was nice of you to offer me a ride. What’s your name, dear? Mine is Madge – Madge Hawestone.”
“I am Marie Scott,” she said. “Hawestone? Like the moor?”
“My family has lived her for ages,” Madge reacted. “Who knows what’s named after what?”
“Yes, indeed. Will you tell me where to drive?”
Following Madge’s directions they crossed the moor until they reached the home of the old woman. It was a nice, big house which stood somewhat hidden by a copse of trees. That way it could not easily be spotted from the road.
The rain had even doubled in intensity as the car came to a standstill.
“Wait a moment, I’ll take my umbrella,” Marie told Madge.
Once she had it opened, she escorted the old lady to the front door. Madge put a key into the lock and went inside.
“I’ll get your bags,” the young woman offered.
“That’s very kind of you, dear.”
Marie put one bag inside and then went for the second. When she put that one down as well, Madge invited her in.
“Have a cup of tea to warm you up, dear. You’re not in a hurry, are you?”
Marie smiled. She had forgotten she wanted to be home so urgently.
“Heck no. There’s no-one waiting for me!”
“Well, come along then. Get out of that wet coat. It’s nice and cosy in the kitchen. I always keep a fire going there.”
An Aga took the place of honor in the spacious kitchen, hinting to hidden wealth. Marie sat down at the oak table and was handed a china cup and saucer.
“Tea will be ready in a second,” Madge announced. “And don’t you want something to eat, lass? It’s no trouble to me, and I’ll enjoy the company.”
“Why, you are so kind, Mrs. Hawestone. Yes, I’d like to get something between my teeth, and I enjoy the company too.”
Some time later, after having enjoyed a meal of mutton stew and bread, the two women relaxed with a glass of mulberry wine Madge claimed to have made herself.
“Only one glass,” Marie reacted. “I still have to drive home.”
“Have you looked outside, dear? There’s a storm brewing and I would not advise anyone to become victim of the elements. Better stay here and spend the night in one of the guestrooms.”
“I don’t have anything with me,” Marie answered.
“Oh, I can provide you with a nightgown, no problem. I keep some stuff around, just in case… And you’ll find towels and toiletries in the bathroom en suite.”
“This is such a lovely house, Mrs. Hawestone. You must like it here a lot!”
“I sure do, dear. And please call me Madge. Want another glass?
Marie accepted it without further discussion.
“So tell me more about yourself. Where do you live?”
The young woman found that it was very easy to talk to Madge. Without restrictions, she told her everything she wanted to know, and often more. She even talked about her shyness.
“Why should you be afraid of people, Marie? You’re such a sweet person. Surely others will notice that, too!”
“Do you think so? No man has ever asked me out, so far.”
“You must show more confidence in yourself, that’s the key to success.”
“If you say so…”
“You know I’m right! And now off to bed, young lady! I can see you’re pretty tired and need a rest.”
Madge showed her into a cosy bedroom. The wallpaper had tiny flowers and the curtains were in a warm red. The room seemed to welcome her, and after she had taken a shower and dressed in the fresh smelling nightgown, she got into bed and instantly fell asleep.