The others fled, but Harriette remained and thought up a new plan.
|Harriette shuffled her pudgy feet through her living room, excited to have a visitor. She answered the doorbell, cracking open the front door, and spying a man on her porch. Despite his warm smile, his presence set her intuition on edge. She preyed mostly on those with ill-intentions, these days, but at least she rarely lured them anymore. They now arrived at her door in full possession of their free will.
Her spine tingled as if a daddy long legs spider scurried down the middle of her back. She yearned to see what the tea leaves might reveal about the stranger, but it was not the time for tea or fortune telling. Besides, she'd already gleaned enough knowledge from the universe about her newest visitor. White light remained in him, but the darkness oozing within him maintained a greater hold on his soul.
The man's smile waned, and he began lecturing about the dangers of gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning. While he spoke, Harriette took notice of the dark green uniform he wore and the identification badge clipped to his shirt pocket. He was 'Jonathan Smith,' according to the badge.
He announced he needed to inspect her home for gas and carbon monoxide leaks. Harriette stepped aside for him to enter.
She led him to the kitchen, then stood watch as he examined the gas line connected to her stove. He nodded in satisfaction at the read out his handheld detector displayed.
Harriette narrowed her eyes at him as he swayed where he stood. He lifted his hand to wipe his sweat-beaded forehead, and she was pleased at the sight of a sweat stain growing where his arm pit lay beneath his shirt. His Adam's apple bobbed in his skinny neck as he forced a swallow, and she imagined how dry and large the lump was in his throat. She led him to the door leading to the basement.
Massive heat greeted her and the man at the top of the stairs.
He turned to leave, but Harriette's girth blocked his way. He cleared his throat, and then started down the stairs.
He was sweating profusely enough for her to smell his musk, now. Following him down, Harriette mumbled a spell.
The man swung around and discovered he stood alone. The door at the top of the stairs slammed shut. He lifted a leg to run upstairs, but staggered backwards when something brushed past him.
A creak sounded off behind him. He turned to face the noise, and his eyes bulged at the sight of the large contraption looming in the depth of the basement. With strange golden symbols carved into its onyx cast iron skin, the body of the thing--a macabre marriage of a boiler and a furnace--sat rotund like a cauldron as a long, thick pipe ran from the ceiling down to the top of the body.
Harriette materialized at the bottom of the stairs. She laughed, stifling her laughter with a thick palm across her mouth. She longed for the days when her triumphant cackle echoed throughout the woods, striking fear in the villagers, fueling their rumors and superstitions. She'd lived in the forest for nearly two centuries until the villagers' descendants grew greedier and continued cutting through the greenery, their greed eventually leading them to build oversized mansions, shopping malls, and other such modern dwellings.
The man grabbed Harriette by her throat and squeezed.
Harriette flung wisps of her magick toward the assaulting hands. White-smoke tendrils whipped the back of the man's palms. But he persisted, continuing to choke Harriette despite the pain.
As Harriette's life force drifted toward the edges of the other side, she focused energy onto her furnace. The door of the contraption swung open at her mind's command. Reddish-orange flames gyrated inside its square mouth like fiery tongues hungry to lick the skin, muscle, and bone of their latest prey.
She uttered a strength spell in her mind and the man's hands flew from her neck. She bound him in a cloak of her magick, and he stood frozen, captive.
Harriette flicked her wrist, thrusting a wave of her power toward the man.
Propelled by the crone's magic, the man shot forward. The contraption sucked him in, offered him no time to fight back.
Bones snapped and cracked like dry leaves caught underfoot as Harriette's magical force broke the man's body to fit him into the furnace.
Harriette thought of how the humans had forced her to improvise, to learn new ways of survival. Rather than flee or fall victim to extinction, she assimilated. Her magick allowed her to appear more human-like. She renamed herself, using her disguise to live and labor among the humans as she hunted them sometimes as a cook or nanny to families that usually ended up suffering illnesses. How she missed the days when villagers shuddered at the softest breath carrying her true name, Rahthica.
A deep clang and a roar echoed through the basement as the contraption's door slammed shut and the flames engulfed the imposter.
Memories of her life with her coven fluttered through Hariette's mind. She and her spirit sisters had been driven to the edges of the dwindling woodlands, while the wildlife had lost their abodes, growing as extinct as the fairies, elves, and crones. The humans were reaching a new low by letting scumbags prey on their elders, Harriette thought, as she retreated upstairs. The elders and the others had fled, but she'd remained and thought up a new plan.
Harriette chuckled. She suspected she would have the chance to feed her furnace, soon, again.
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