Disvillage Story 5 – Eglantine “The Crone”

“Is this dough ready?” asked a mousy albeit flamboyant girl who was probably closer to middle age than childhood.  She really had no business being so thin in this occupation.  Her small waist certainly kept her young – that and the big silly bow in her vibrant red hair.  In reality, anyone younger than Eglantine by ten years was considered a girl in her head. She was careful to be patient with herself when she had these ageist thoughts.   She hated growing old, but it did make each season dearer.  She had always loved autumn.  Now she wondered how many more there would be.      

It was early morning, about an hour before sunrise (or late at night, depending on which circadian rhythm you were dancing to).  The first chill of the season could be felt outside, but they were warm and snug in the little shop.  

“It needs to be kneaded” replied Eglantine to her assistant baker.  

“I need you” whispered Dulcinea setting her head at level with the bread dough.  

Eglantine wondered if the girl were simple, trying to be funny, or gifted.  It was a thought she often had in the many years she had known her. Not for the last time, she was sure. 

They both set about adjusting the shop getting ready for customers.  They flipped the sign open, turned on the customer music (for some reason they preferred to work in silence) and sat down to one of the small bistro tables.  Eglantine with her croissant.  The croissant being the shops signature bake.   On the inside was all the chewy doughiness of an American croissant.   On the outside was a crisp explosive French inspired shell guaranteed to blast crumbs all down your front.   And, Dulcinea with her paper and black coffee.  Coffee was their other signature.  It was roasted especially for them by a roaster in the mountains hundreds of miles away.  It had a unique and delicious flavor.  People drove almost as far to buy it from them. Together they waited for customers. 

“The serial killer has struck again”, stated Dulcinea absently as she continued to read and sip her black potion.  

Eglantine wasn’t exactly sure there was a serial killer in the area – even with all the mysterious deaths. However, she did know there was a demon in the city.  There had been for 20 years.  

Eglantine was a witch. She knew these kinds of things.  Her gift had always been identifying the supernatural.  Just as Dulcinea always seemed to know the difference between truth and lies and could guess the truth when she heard a lie.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at the situation, neither of them knew (if there even was one) who the serial killer was. Funny, she thought to herself, she was always one-hundred percent sure of her own gifts and only fifty percent positive of anyone else’s.  Eglantine, Dulcinea, and Tabitha; Dulcinea’ s daughter, made up their little coven – the maiden, the mother and the crone.  Tabitha was not yet even five.  It was hard to know what her gifts would be.  

Dulcinea was the daughter she never had.  She had come pregnant and desperate to the little shop some years ago looking for work. The shop had crackled with magic as she walked through her door alerting Eglantine to the presence of power.  She had thought she was barren, yet she knew this was her daughter the moment she walked in to her life.  

A few years later when relationships had been established and Eglantine had shared her first impression of Dulcinea with her, Dulcinea had asked, “does that mean Tabitha is your granddaughter?”

“Good heavens no,” stated Eglantine emphatically.  “I will never be anyone’s grandmother!  I will be her fairy godmother.”  

Tabitha had started preschool this year.  Eglantine looked wistfully to the corner of the shop where her playpen used to live. 

The bell over the door rang announcing a customer.  It was Gwydion their demon, and first customer always.  She greeted him warmly and without pretense.  Yes, Gwydion was always their first customer, followed by the truck drivers, then you had your business owners, followed by laborers and professionals, and finally ending with students and those in service.  

It had scared her when Gwydion had first walked into her shop.  She had been terrified.  Even more so when she learned he had purchased the local hot springs and was to stay.  She had never thought of her town as the type to attract a demon.  But, apparently there had been just enough indifference in the community for him to settle.  

A young man had been murdered 21 years ago.  He had been pushed by a pack of boys off a bridge.  One of the boys who had pushed him had been the chief of polices son. The only eye witness had been a homeless person that soon after disappeared.  The young man that had been murdered had an effeminate way about him that made a lot of people uncomfortable.  It had been ruled a suicide.  There had been no outrage from the town.  No uncomfortable questions were asked of the police, just silence came from the community.  It was enough.  It was enough for a demon to slip in.  

She was the third generation to own her family’s business, but she had seriously considered selling and moving.  She knew what the blight of a demon looked like.     

But, Gwydion (it seemed) would not fulfill her expectations.  Mysteriously he seemed to be hell bent on doing good.  His business attracted an upscale clientele and like many shops in the town, her little business thrived.  She often made deliveries to the resort.  She was amused by his use of old magic to organize the hot springs.  Old magic, gray magic, magic that had not been designed for the service of good or evil.  It was the same magic given to the earth to spin and the sun to burn.    

Gwydion had arrived looking well worn for a man in his twenties and now looked well preserved for a man in his forties.  When the time came, he could probably pull off claiming fifties.  But, unless there were amazing breakthroughs in plastic surgery, sixty he would have a hard time claiming to be.  She wondered if his time here was coming to an end.  An immortal could only pretend at mortality for so long. Just as the serial killer could only pretend at being God before mortality caught up to him.  She was old and knew the strength of youth did not last forever.    

While his evil nature and demon spirit had not attracted the crime one expects to follow his goblin footsteps, perhaps it had attracted a serial killer. It was a serial killer that made accidents happen to homeless and vulnerable people insisted Dulcinea.  A body found floating in a canal, someone hit by a train, a person slipping and cracking their head while walking in a ravine – these scenarios hadn’t happened just once.  They happened over and over again.    

Evil always makes way for evil.  Even she had fallen to the snares of his charm.  Here she was every morning genuinely welcoming him to her shop – breaking bread with the devil.  Yet the world was complex.  She trusted in the fact that her vision was limited.  Maybe the larger picture was a combination of prettier colors she did not have the view to see.  

Disvillage Story 4 – Cat and Mouse

Tasteful wall paper greeted Gwydion as he entered the light airy room of the empty resort suite. It was one of the better rooms – large, spacious, and… impersonally decorated. It was a place to make memories, not a place to face your memories. His opinion was that a hotel room should not remind you of your home or your ordinary life. Like a fantasy novel where the main character retreats from the common world to an alternate one, the hotel room should provide escape. Gwydion catered to fantasy and enchantments – the fantasy and enchantments of the rich.

Today Gwydion would not be indulging in fantasy.  He would be addressing the very practical reality of cleaning a room.  He had come to this suite to meet with his new employee Donny.  House keeping had alerted him to spoiled towels.  Towels meant for decoration (and occasional guest use – by those indulgent enough to use the ornately patterned towels in place of the lush white ones) had been used to clean the floor.  

Donny had used the wrong towels, Gwydion explained.  He had used the good towels.  Gwydion handed him a pair of rubber gloves and they began instruction in housework. 

As they talked about the finer art of cleaning a room, Gwydion eavesdropped on Donny’s mind.  Donny had not grown up with good towels.  He had grown up with working towels or towels that needed to be retired.  The idea of a leisure class towel had never occurred to Donny.  Donny was a good towel, Gwydion chuckled to himself, and he was too common to appreciate the art of not working.   

Gwydion took the opportunity to measure Donny’s soul.  It was something he did with all new employees.  He required good in his employees.  Evil was for the guests.  The evil Gwydion desired grew best in good soil.  

Donny had a small stain of theft and lies on an otherwise blameless soul balanced by an aftertaste of guilt and remorse.  It was a flavor Gwydion did not enjoy, guilt and remorse; it ruined the taste of sin. But there was no need to worry. The environment that Gwydion would provide Donny would soon scrub his heart and leave it pure.  

Occasionally true evil did reside in the poor, but it was rare.  True evil grew best in the hearts of the rich and privileged.  If a beggar had to choose to steal or starve than the sin was with the person the beggar stole from.  True evil did not grow well in necessity where things done the wrong way for the right reasons had a habit of working out for “the best”.  

He had one such soul almost ready for harvest – that rare person born to poverty capable of true evil. It was a boy born of the wrong cast and color – born to loving and generous; but, poor parents.  

The man had been born with two balancing gifts.  He had been born with a gift for charity and a gift for cruelty in equal measure.  This was a man destined for greatness who could do great good or great evil.  

Gwydion had ensured that a path to success was paved for him – a path to privilege.  He had been oppressed along the way, of course, human nature being what it is – always looking to kick a perceived inferior.  The oppression had made an impression on the man and the seeds of desire were sown.  The oppression had created a crossroads of destiny.  This man could go down either path.    

Gwydion had made sure that there was always a balance of someone helpful – to provide charity for him. Someone that got the man into an Ivy League college his parents could never afford – someone who had shown him grants not readily known about.  Another someone that introduced him to the right people to get him a cushy elite job – a job never posted to a pool of candidates.  And finally, support to implement a rise to power in his corporation – the right over qualified secretary, an HR manager charmed by his meager beginnings, a boss ready for retirement that never got in his way or took credit for his work.  In other words – “luck”. 

The man had rejected any notion that he was charmed believing all privilege he had acquired had been his own hard work.  He, who was beholden to everyone, believed he was beholden to no one.  It had been a gamble by Gwydion to provide him with charity in hopes that the man would not recognize what was being extended to him (goodwill) and invest that understanding in fostering his own talent of benevolence.  It was a gamble that had paid off.  It had made the corruption of the man’s soul that much more delicious.  Things could have gone a different way.  He could have recognized the generosity of others and been humbled by it.      

By providing luck, Gwydion had groomed and fostered a talent of disregard and callousness until it had led the man to the great sin of his soul.  It had led him to a turning point.  

The man was faced with someone who had helped him climb his mountain of success.  It was someone like the man.  Someone born to all the same disadvantages and blessed with none of the charms and assistance.  Instead of raising this fellow up and passing on his good fortune, he had done the opposite. He had chosen to oppress him.  He had treated the employee as an inferior and had reveled in his authority and power over the employee.  He who had been oppressed celebrated the joy of providing oppression.  The man had realized that he had not been working for riches but for power.  He now had the power to inflict harm on the innocent.    

The man had chosen to never invest in his gifts of charity and had allowed his soul to tarnish leaving no path to redemption.  Ironically, an investment in altruism would have provided the true greatness this man envied in others – greatness only found in humility. Now he would always be dissatisfied because a part of him would forever know that he had missed his opportunity to be the great man he could have been.  The man was dissatisfied and cruel – flavors Gwydion relished.  His soul was ready.  Gwydion would devour it.  Like a cat bating a mouse, it was time for him to pounce.  

Gwydion was a demon.  

Gwydion thanked Donny for his work and dismissed him taking his gloves and then removing his own. Donny departed the room and Gwydion was left with the back of the hotel suite door.  And a mirror – that (had he been hungry) would have been blank.  Because he was full, the mirror provided Gwydion with an image of himself. It revealed his true visage; what humans would describe as a classic vampire.  But unlike a vampire, Gwydion did not drink blood.  He drank souls.  These souls needed to be sweet, delicious, and corrupt beyond redemption.  And while no one was beyond redemption, these souls had rejected it.  They had rejected a call to humanity and embraced their selfishness.  They no longer had a desire to be good, to do the right thing, to think about others.  

Gwydion looked good. He did good.  He fostered good in others.  But he was evil.  He needed to be surrounded by these very good people to bring out the evil in others that he so desired.  These wicked humans that could be feasted on.  

Gwydion was a being of selfishness and soullessness.  And, the soulless had no reflection.  When Gwydion was well fed, he had a soul and could see himself.  The mirror; however, did not show him what his magic hid.  A glamour allowed him to look living, hid his fangs, and made his livid red eyes brown.  It was a glamour the mirror did not replicate.  While he was full of soul, he could reflect on himself and indulge in humanity.             

An Angel had once asked him if hell approved.  It had been an amusing question.  Hell did not approve of anything.  Hell was not organized.  There were no allegiances.  It was every demon for himself.  Hell was not a place but a state of being.  He wondered if heaven was really a state of being as well.  He wondered if the cooperation of the good created a community that gave the illusion of space.  It was a question he was not capable of, except when devouring the souls of the living. These sorts of questions were almost repentant.  They required a statement of “I” which led to a realization of self which led to a realization of others.  The irony amused him.      

Gwydion approved. That was enough.  His motives and alliances were his own.  

Disvillage Story 3 – Treble Makers Under a Rest

Fruitless mulberries had once lined the street – with one in front of every lot.  Or, so she had been told.  She had met another “nosey neighbor” at an open house. When she had described which property was hers (to see if the two of them were neighbors), the elderly lady had exclaimed “oh, the house with the perfectly sculpted tree!”

It was… perfectly sculpted.  The trunk had been pruned to resemble a hand.  With her second eye, she always saw a tree house sitting in it.  She wondered which alternate reality that was in.  Yet, maybe it wasn’t an alternate reality.  Maybe it was the future. 

When she had first bought the house, she had thought about cutting it down.  It provided no fall color and no fruit.  However, the love that had gone into the maintenance of the tree could not be denied. 

One year she had it pruned back to the “hand”.  The summer after had been unbearable inside her house as the tree struggled to regrow its canopy.  She had discovered what the tree was for.  It was for shade.  The lesson had solved another problem.  The neighbor across the street who had constantly complained about it, never complained again.  She guessed it had been a hot summer for them as well. 

The tree had proven it’s worth.  Moira would keep it.  Taking the under canopy up, she provided a space for undergrowth trees and populated it with Dogwood and Japanese Maples. These under canopy trees would provide the fall foliage she needed.  As a day dreamer she recognized the importance of keeping and celebrating the passage of time.  In a place where seasons were not distinct, she tried to provide some structure for mother nature wherever she could. 

While the tree thought of itself as ancient (it was probably the oldest tree in the neighborhood), it was (in reality) a mere fifty.  Since she had decided that the tree would stay, Moira bought a boulder for it to have as a friend with the hopes that the much older rock would impart some wisdom to the provincial tree. 

Moira was sitting under it now on that very boulder as she mentally prepared herself to go to work.  There was nothing hard about her job, but she liked to be in the right space before she arrived.  Also, Donny, her neighbor Jakes housemate, was going to catch a ride to work with her.  So, she was also waiting for him.

Gwydion, her employer, had given Donnie a job in house keeping in the café at the resort and hot springs she worked at teaching yoga.  She was also preparing for her meeting with Gwen regarding expanding her role there.  Gwydion was trying to establish music for the grounds and was hoping to start training talent as they were having some difficulty securing local musicians.  As with everything with Gwen, it was long term thinking – seeds planted now for shade trees and fruit tomorrow.  She also suspected that Gwen was laying out the first steps in a path to make her his second in command. 

Gwen had laid out four areas of focus for the resort – water, earth, wind, and fire. 

Water was represented by the hot springs and bathhouse.  It was a chance to be clean.  To wash things away.  It also represented the heart and was the most social part of the resort.

Earth was represented by the grounds.  They were laid out with a compliment of edible, medicinal, and ornamental plants.  It was a place devoted to the care of the body.  

Wind was represented by the amphitheater.  It was a place where ballets, lectures, and concerts were given addressed the needs of the mind.   

Fire was represented everywhere.  It could be found in the heat of the drawn bath.  It could be found in the oven of the kitchen.  It could be found in the illumination of the theater.  Fire was transformative.  It addressed the needs of the soul. 

Moira’s instrument of calling was Double Bass, but she played all the string instruments.  She had taught both her grandchildren violin – her little treble makers as she liked to call them.  Adjacent to the amphitheater, Gwen had plans for a school.  One of the classes taught there would be music, but Gwen had hinted that her role would be one of a “principle” of sorts. 

Moira had the background to pull it off.  She had started her life in classical music and dance before moving on to university and then a corporate position of leadership all the while dabbling in fine arts to amuse herself. 

It was corporate life that had introduced her to the concept of “retreat”.  These “work vacations” had become important to her as a time of deconstruction and reconstruction.  When she retired, she found herself gravitating to all sorts of retreats.  Yoga retreats, music retreats, writing retreats, ceramic retreats – you name it.  Moira enjoyed it all. 

It was at one such retreat she had met Gwydion, sailing.  He had discussed with her his resort.  They had a likeness of minds and a relaxed way of speaking to each other. He was also very easy on the eyes which made her school girls heart glad.  He made her feel young.  Before she knew it she had been recruited to join his team of workers.   

Which brought her to now – under this tree – sitting on this rock.  Yoga instructor hadn’t really felt like work.  It had felt like a calling.  But the resort also had the feeling of a calling.  Taking on more didn’t feel like signing up for more somehow.  It felt like another step down her right path.  It was a path that had brought her to this house, this neighborhood, this town.  There was magic here.  She could feel it. 

A noise distracted her and she looked up to see Donnie on his way accompanied by her other neighbors Tyco and Jamison Lee.  They were delivering fresh eggs and had dropped some off at Jakes just in time to escort Donnie over. 

A new friend, a new opportunity, and fresh eggs.  There were even blueberries on the bush and peaches on the tree.  At a time in her life that she should be thinking of how to wrap it up, it felt like she was just beginning.  Her wandering soul was at rest.  She had arrived.  Like the tree her reason for being had not immediately been apparent.  It was time for her to start providing shade for others to sit under.