We’ve met Hattie before, in Past the Witching Hour. The two of us have some plans for more, but at our own pace.
Hattie resumed rocking on her porch, the creaking of the porch boards a counterpoint to the click of her needles. Add some boom, she thought, and it would sound like what the kids play in their cars. Out here in the swamp, though, only sirens carried to her door.
Mr. Sniff hopped back on the porch, then hissed and jumped onto the rail. He crouched, watching.
Hattie followed her cat’s gaze, and saw that flash of color. “You be good, kitty. That’s my friend.” She prodded the cat with a toe, and Mr. Sniff jumped down and glared before slinking away. The parrot glided under the porch, and alit on the perch that Hattie had made for him. “What news, Rainbow?”
“Visitor,” Rainbow croaked. The parrot had come to the swamp about a year ago, probably an escapee from some birdcage in Nawlins or up north, and had struck up a friendship with Hattie. He warned her of people on her path, and she gave him shelter on cold nights. Mr. Sniff thought he would make a fine feathered feast, but Rainbow knew to be wary of the cat. The bird was smart enough to carry on a limited conversation, too.
“Thank you, Rainbow,” said Hattie. She took a bag of nuts from a pocket, and shook at few into her hand. “Snack?”
“Snack. Thank-oo.” Rainbow flitted down to the arm of Hattie’s rocker, and picked the nuts from her hand, before flying away.
“Here, kitty,” said Hattie, laying down her knitting. “Let’s look like we know all and see all.” She chuckled. Nobody walked through this part of the swamp unless they wanted something from the Swamp Witch.
So when Scott Devereaux reached the clearing, where Hattie’s house perched on one of the few firm spots in the swamp, he saw the witch standing on the porch with arms crossed. Her black cat sat on the rail next to her, glaring at him. How did she hear me? he thought, then shrugged.
“What’cha needin’?” Hattie snapped.
“What makes you think I would want what you have to offer?” he said, a little more boldly than he felt.
“Nobody comes out here ‘less they need my help,” she said. “C’mon up and sit, Mr. Devereaux. Whatever it is, it stays ‘tween us. I ain’t stupid enough to go blabbin’ ‘bout people’s bidness.” Though I sure was tempted to turn in your daddy, back when you were in diapers, when he wanted some help for that thirteen year old girl he knocked up. But being strict about keeping people’s secrets was part of being a Swamp Witch.
“You know who I am, then.”
“Course I do. Your daddy’s the preacher at that big ol’ Protestant church. You’re the deacon, and he’s settin’ you up to take over when he retires next year.” She took her rocker, and waved a hand at the other one. “Pull that chair around. Tell me what’cha need, and I’ll tell ya if I can help.”
Instead, he stood, looking down at her. “What I need is for you to get gone. You’ve been a blight on this community long enough, and respectable folk have had enough. You do the Devil’s work out here, letting people escape the consequences of their sins—”
Hattie snorted. “You think you’re the first self-righteous fool who come out here to run me off? You might be surprised at the ‘respectable folk’ around here who I let escape the consequences of their sins, little boy. Me and your daddy went to school together, he knowed me all his life, and he’s been preachin’ ‘round here longer than you been born. He never seed fit to do nothin’ but live and let live, least by me. I know he taught ya to mind your own business, too.”
“Don’t you dare talk about my daddy,” he hissed.
“Okay by me.” Hattie sounded not at all intimidated. “I know he didn’t send you out here anyway, and he ain’t part of this. Maybe we should talk about you instead. Or, you wanna pay for your own sins, nobody’s makin’ you come to me.” She gave him a significant look.
“I am not interested in hearing your lies and innuendo.”
“Well, you don’t want my help, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere. So I guess we got nothin’ more to talk about.” Hattie picked up her knitting, ignoring how the younger Devereaux glared at her and tried not to fidget as the evening light dimmed.
“This ain’t over, witch.” Devereaux finally spun around and stomped down the porch steps.
“I know what’cha need, boy,” she called, and Devereaux spun around. “Yep. You think I don’t know what people need before they come a-callin’? I figgered you wouldn’t wanna talk about it, so I left it along the path.” She nodded at Devereaux’s wide-eyed stare. “So count off fifty paces after you pass that first tree, you’ll come to a little break on your left. Go through it, and count twenty more paces. It’s there.”
Devereaux nodded once, then turned and walked away without another word. “He didn’t offer to pay, I notice,” she muttered. “Theft is a sin, and sin has consequences, eh kitty?”
Mr. Sniff looked down the path, and arched his back at two faint splashes.
“Oh, dear,” said Hattie. “Dern fool got off the path, and the Swamp Critter got ‘im.” She returned to her knitting. “Time to find a new girl to take over, kitty. I’m gettin’ too old for this.”