Maybe there's nothing to worry about — maybe there's much to worry about. Where witches and holy water are concerned, there's probably a great deal to worry about.
Inside eight year-old Jimmy's head, chaos was beginning to take over. He had been unusually silent on the drive home from church, barely aware of the conversation between Hannah, his six year old sister, and his grandma. But as they turned down the long, gravel lane to the old farm house, Jimmy couldn't stand it any longer. He had to know.
"Grandma, is holy water very important?"
"Well, yes . . . " his grandma began, "we dip our fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross. When we do that we are askin' for God's blessing and to cleanse us of our sins. Father Patrick sprinkles it on the congregation to bless and protect us from the powers of evil. I'd say that's pretty important, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah," he said solemnly.
Again, Jimmy fell silent as the gravel beneath the tires crunched and cracked like his crumbling hope. When his grandma parked the old pick-up in front of the house, Jimmy quickly jumped out and dashed through the slowly settling dust.
"Jimmy!" his grandma hollered as he headed around the corner of the house, "Don't you go disappearin' too long. Grandpa is expectin' your help out at the wood pile this afternoon."
Jimmy cut through the back yard and behind the chicken coop in a flash. He ducked under the old wood fence then continued to race down the gentle slope of the pasture to his special "thinking place". Today, he really needed to think!
At the edge of his grandparents' property, Jimmy sat down in the dirt and leaned against the fence. This had been his special hideaway since he and Hannah had arrived in the tiny mountain town of Goldfield where their grandparents lived. It was a place where he could be alone to sort through his thoughts. Their dad had driven them up from the city and dropped them off to spend two weeks of their summer vacation with their grandparents. But two weeks turned into two months and Jimmy was feeling as if he and Hannah had been abandoned by their parents. He missed his friends and he missed his mom and dad. He did, however, get a call from his parents on his eighth birthday, though. When he'd asked about going home, his dad had said it would be very soon. Their grandma had tried to comfort them by saying she was delighted to have so much time to spend with her grandchildren. But Jimmy knew there was trouble brewing between his parents at home. He'd seen the signs . . . they hardly talked to each other and when they did, there was a lot of arguing. He figured this little visit was just the beginning of something really bad. He thought a lot about that stuff at his special "thinkin' place". But now he had an entirely different matter on his mind.
Jimmy hugged his knees to his chest and thought to himself, boy you've gone and screwed things up really bad this time! You probably sent them all to Hell . . . the entire congregation . . . yourself included! Why didn't you speak up and tell Father Patrick about the old witch? Why? Did she cast a spell on you . . . zap your courage? Maybe she used you to spread her evil to the church. That's it! You were just an innocent boy, helpless against her wicked powers. Even so, it was you who let the devil in!
Jimmy buried his face in his knees. Had he let his guard down and invited evil into his heart like Father Patrick had warned? He replayed the events of the morning in his mind.
Their grandma had roused them out of bed early announcing, "We need to get to church early today since it's my turn to tidy up the place before mass."
"How come Grandpa doesn't go to church?" Hannah asked munching on her Cap'n Crunch while Grandma tried to tame her fiery red curls.
Grandma chuckled, giving Grandpa a wink, "Grandpa says he attends the church of the meadowlark every time he walks outside."
"That's six more days a week than you attend yours, old lady," Grandpa teased.
"I wanna go to Grandpa's church today," Jimmy said wistfully, pushing his empty bowl aside and reaching for a piece of toast.
"Me too," said Hannah.
"Oh, but I really enjoy having you kids at church with me," Grandma smiled, "besides I could use your help today.
The tiny, one-room, rock church reminded Jimmy of a dingy, dark cave. It smelled like one too . . . musty and dirty. He and Hannah had never attended church before arriving at Goldfield and it was all very strange to Jimmy. He struggled with his new knowledge of good versus evil. Sermons about Satan scared the bejeebers out of him. It seemed to Jimmy that Satan himself could be hiding in any one of those dark corners, just waiting for a chance to pounce.
While their grandma set about sweeping the rough, stone floor, Hannah and Jimmy dusted the wooden benches and Father Patrick busied himself at the altar.
"How old are you, my boy?" Father Patrick asked. Jimmy thought he had the most friendly eyes he'd ever seen. They sparkled like glitter.
"Ahh, old enough to do this very important task for me. Would you help me out?"
Handing Jimmy an empty jar and pointing beyond the tiny stained glass window, Father Patrick instructed, "Take this across the road to Granny Jenkins and tell her Father Patrick sent you for holy water."
Jimmy looked at his grandma.
"It's alright . . . go ahead," she said, nodding.
He walked out the door of the rustic, old church and looked around. There were no houses nearby. Confused, Jimmy crossed the road and peered into the thick grove of trees. It was dark in there and though he couldn't see a house, there was a narrow weedy path that led into the woods. Hesitantly, he followed the path beneath the cool shade of the evergreens. When a woodpecker hammered into the silence it made him jump. He had to admit he was a bit spooked being surrounded by the shadowy forest. Jimmy shivered but pressed on through the shadows until he found a small, ramshackle house. This must be the place, he thought.
He'd scarcely knocked on the weathered door when a bent, little woman in a dingy robe opened it. She was homely and more wrinkled than any person he'd ever seen. Gray, scraggly strands hung wildly at her shoulders. Jimmy immediately thought of the witch from the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale.
He was so startled by her appearance that he could barely sputter out why he was there. But when he finally did, she gave him a toothless smile and led him to her kitchen. She took the jar from him and filled it with water from the faucet. Jimmy was alarmed. He wasn't sure where exactly holy water came from, but he was pretty sure it should have been from some fancy fountain, not from a witch's rusty old sink.
"What's yer name, boy?" she cackled. Her tiny, black eyes pierced into his soft blue ones.
"J-Jimmy Parker," he stammered as he took the jar from her bony hands.
She regarded him for a few moments before speaking again in her shrill voice.
"Yer awfully scrawny . . . bet ya could use a cupcake," she offered, smiling and pointing to a plate on the cluttered counter top.
Again, Jimmy thought of the wicked witch who had lured Hansel and Gretel with sweets. He gulped. Cupcake? The witch offered me cake!
"N-n-no thank you," Jimmy stuttered, making his way back to the door. He bolted down the steps and raced full speed down the path as if the devil himself was chasing him.
His heart was pounding into his ears. Had he gone to the wrong house? Should he admit to Father Patrick that he'd failed his task — that what he brought back was NOT holy water? Of course he should! But, when he returned to the church, Father Patrick was so full of praise and thanks for his help that Jimmy could not find his voice. He joined his grandma and sister on the front row bench as Mass began, feeling a bit queasy.
Jimmy had been at his special "thinking place" for about half an hour when he felt a gentle breeze circle his legs and ruffle up his dusty-red hair, awakening him from deep thought. He became aware of a pair of yellow-breasted meadowlarks calling back and forth. It was such a sweet, calming song. Jimmy decided this must be what his grandpa was talking about — his church of the meadowlark. He felt so peaceful out here. He knew what he must do . . . knew it all along. It just took a couple of birds to help him figure out who he needed to tell.
His Grandpa was already out at the woodpile when he got back to the house. Jimmy stacked wood while his grandpa chopped.
After a while Jimmy asked, "Grandpa, is Hell really that bad?"
"They say it is," he replied breathless. He took another powerful swing then said, "Why do ya ask?"
"I think all of us at Grandma's church this morning might be going to Hell because of a really bad thing I let happen this morning."
Intrigued, his grandpa stopped and looked at him.
"I'm listenin' . . ."
After hearing Jimmy's predicament, his grandpa grinned and gave him a comforting pat on the back.
"Come with me, son, we need to talk to your grandma about holy water."
His grandmother listened until Jimmy was finished confessing that he had knowingly let Father Patrick and the whole congregation think they were blessed with holy water when in fact it was just plain, ol' tap water. He decided not to mention how he thought Granny Jenkins was a witch.
She gave him a reassuring smile and began explaining, "My dear boy, the church was built so long ago that it has no well and no plumbing as you might have noticed — which is why there's the outhouse out back that you and Hannah hate so much. Often times, Father forgets to bring water, so that's when he gets it from Granny Jenkins, since she is the nearest house. Water becomes holy water after it is blessed by Father. I'm sure he blessed it today."
It was apparent that a huge burden had been lifted from Jimmy's heart by the way his face brightened.
"Don't you worry yourself any longer. You did just fine — we are all safe," she assured him. "How would you two like a glass of milk and a cupcake? Granny Jenkins dropped by with a plate of 'em a while ago, such a sweet little lady. Jimmy, run upstairs and get your sister."
Jimmy's stomach did a flip. THE WITCH'S CUPCAKES?
"Grandma, can I go to Grandpa's church next Sunday?" Jimmy begged as he headed for the stairs.
She smiled. "We'll see."
word count: 1863