"Once, many years ago, there lived a young lady and her family. No one seems to be able to remember her name, but she was terribly nice, and she sold the most crimson-colored roses in her flower shop down on Baker Street. The town loved her and her roses.
"One day a family came into town called the Windigos. They were an odd sort, but the town liked them well enough. He was a businessman, and she took care of their small son, who was a shy, pale thing and couldn't come outside to play at all. Come to think of it, I'd never seen them come outside during the day. Mrs. Windigo complained of the heat all the time. Anyway, it so happened that when Mrs. Windigo held a tea party for the ladies of the town, and everyone was invited, including the flower girl. Mrs. Windigo held an instant dislike towards her, though no one knows why.
"They say that Mrs. Windigo planted a book of witchcraft in the flower girl's purse – where she got it, no one knows. During the tea party the Flower Girl's purse fell, revealing the book, and Mrs. Windigo accused her of being a witch. The flower girl ran all the way home crying, terribly hurt. The town caught wind of the whole incident, and that night they stormed up to the girl's house in a great rioting tirade and threatened to burn it down if she didn't come out. Luckily she was able to escape away from the house and into the forest, up to Black Mountain, where the wildest roses grow. They burned her house and garden down though, and her family left the town in shame. No one has seen any of them since.
"Now, sometimes you can still hear her crying if you come close enough to Black Mountain."
Moira, Lucy, and Adam all sat down in the basement, listening to Adam tell them a story. They had spent the entire dusktime playing games in the shadowed basement and getting to know their new friend. He was a clever boy, and by the end of the tale both children were rather intrigued.
"Moira wants to know whatever happened to the Windigos." Lucy asked for her sister, who sat quietly with Digory in the corner.
Adam shrugged. "No one knows. They simply disappeared after that night. Some people don't even remember who they were."
Lucy tilted her head and sighed. "That poor girl. All she wanted to do was to sell flowers; it seems rather sad. That Mrs. Windigo was terribly cruel. I wonder why she disliked her so much."
There was a long silence that lasted for several minutes, the children simply sitting there, contemplating the story that held such sadness in it. Lucy suddenly stood up with a light flickering in her dark eyes.
"We should go visit her." She announced candidly.
Moira shifted in her spot in the corner and Lucy frowned. "Of course it could be dangerous, Moira, but not terribly. Don't you want to meet the poor girl? She couldn't be a witch; witches don't like flowers, after all. Adam, can we go?"
He shrugged and smiled. "It would be worse not to. Come along, I know the way."
And as simple as that, they were off, three children out in the darkness of night. The moon hung high and quite full, lighting their path as they passed the cemetery and continued onward through the woods towards an ominous-looking black mountain.
As soon as they reached the bottom of Black Mountain, Adam found a path. True, it was small and a bit hard to navigate, but Adam seemed to know his way around it, and a green-eyed raven followed them so as to make sure they didn't get lost. Soon they stood at the top of the great mountain and before a tall, wiry house.
The great old house blended in so well with the rest of the forest, the branches wrapping themselves around the white wooden boards and squeezing rather hard. A porch jutted out crookedly like teeth, and it too was wrapped with branches from the skeletal trees. The two windows up above were lit with the dim glow of a candle, peering down on the well-managed yard below like dead eyes. Emily marveled at how beautiful the garden seemed with its bare bushes and zig-zagged roses and daffodils, all red and black in the moonlight. They grew so sprightly and tangled like beautiful spider webs. A light was on in one of the bottom broken windows, covered by a thick white laced curtain so one could hardly see what was inside.
A small black metal fence, entangled in the garden as well, wound around the house, rusty and aged and dark. The gate to it creaked and swung in the light warm breeze, seemingly beckoning the children in.
Lucy led them on, and Adam and Moira, along with Digory, followed closely behind, just as curious as Lucy was. Once on the porch they all stopped and stared at the door for a moment. Oddly, Moira was the one to toddle up to the door and knock on it, quietly, though it resounded around them as if someone had screamed.
They were neither scared nor nervous about the visit to see the Flower Girl. She seemed rather misunderstood and cruelly miscalculated, or so it had been made out to be. Adam was not one to lie, so Lucy was quite certain that the story he had told was accurate.
The door suddenly opened and there stood the Flower Girl, or Flower Woman, as she had now grown rather old and motherly-looking. Her face was almost black and streaked with deep dirt stains. Brown eyes glinted in a crooked smile that flashed white against her darkened skin and wrinkled the corners of her face.
"Children! It's wonderful to see you," she smiled down at them all, including Digory, and held open the door. "I've been expecting you. Come, come!" She cackled.
Lucy looked at Adam, and then at Moira before following the woman who had disappeared down the dimly illuminated hallway. The lights that led the way were jars and jars of fireflies all lined up on cobwebbed shelves.
A pleasant smell met Lucy's nose as they entered the house, which creaked and made all sorts of interesting noises as they continued onward. They passed a tall grandfather clock with a man inside the bottom case, sitting scrunched so that his legs reached above his head. He greeted them cheerfully as they went inside the kitchen.
The room was lit only by a fire place and a few lanterns containing more fireflies. A wood burning stove sat in the corner by the window of the room, while four chairs had been set up near the crackling fire.
The Flower Woman was at the stove, pulling out the source of the pleasant smell. "You're just in time," she announced. "I've just pulled out the fried bat wings, and they're absolutely scrumptious."
In minutes she and the children were devouring the tantalizing wings and sitting around the fire whilst the Flower Woman told them her sad story in grave detail.
"Mrs. Windigo despised my flowers," she said sadly. "She could never grow hers to be as crimson as mine, and she resented that. I suppose mine weren't as beautiful as the ones up here on Black Mountain – the ground is so much more yielding and fertile – but I do miss my little shop."
Lucy studied the heartbreaking woman with a tilted head and puckered brow. She was a plain woman, with dainty features and high cheekbones. Her hair was dark and wavy, containing bits of twig and sprigs of wiry earthy things that had collected while she had been working in her gardens, no doubt. Ragged clothes hung off of her thing frame, and bony fingers clutched knitting needles that absently sewed a long red rope. Cuts and bruises from her plants and bushes had scarred her arms and stained the sleeves of her dress, but she paid them no mind.
"Flower Woman, what's your name?" Lucy inquired quietly after the story had been told.
She smiled. "Oh, dear, I would love to remember, but I simply can't. I've lived up here for so long, it seems. With only my plants to talk to, it's hard to recollect when all they call you is Gardener."
Adam gave her a reassuring smile. "Perhaps one day it'll come back to you."
"Oh, I do hope so," said the Flower Woman, standing to go put the dishes in the sink. She checked a large boiling vat sitting on the stove still and spoke to the head bobbing there before replacing the lid.
Lucy leaned over to Moira, who had stayed quiet most of the time, and had fed Digory the rest of her bat wing. "See, she can't be a witch. She's far too nice, and she eats bats."
Adam leaned over as well and seemed to open his mouth to say something, but the Flower Woman was back, and with her was a companion.
"This has been my company these long years, aside from my other plants, of course." In her lap sat a plant, a fly catcher to be exact. The green animal-like plant was larger than any Lucy had ever seen before, and moved as if a breeze blew at it. "This is Vern."
Moira's eyes widened at the sight of such a plant, and her head tilted with interest for the first time that night.
"Vern simply loves bat wings and eyes." Flower Woman said with an amused grin lighting her features. She pulled out an eyeball, still sticky with goo and tossed it into the air, just in from of the plant. With cat-like speed Vern snapped at it, catching it effortlessly and revealing a jaw full of gleaming jagged teeth.
The children were entranced with the creature. They spent several moments marveling at its agility and rare qualities that couldn't have been found in any other earthly plant in all the world.
For a few hours they passed the time talking and keeping good company with the Flower Woman, until Adam announced that it was time to go. They were all reluctant at the truth of the matter, which was that they needed to be home quite soon. Flower Woman was very gracious and grateful about the parting, and gave them a few bat wings for the trek back down the mountain. She made them promise to come by again, and they said they would.
Lucy turned suddenly as they reached the creaking gate, staring intently at the dark woman standing on the porch with Vern in one hand. "Your name – it's Rose, isn't it?" she called to her.
Flower Woman blinked suddenly, as if someone had hit her, and then she softened as a tear dripped down her cheek. "Why yes, yes it is."
Rose waved goodbye and watched as the three children disappeared into the thick forest before turning to Vern. "What lovely ones these are; the last ones were so terribly rude." She turned to a few plants that sat in pots on the stairs. They cried quietly for their mother and father, but no one heard, because to anyone else, they sounded like the creaking of the gate.
Adam went home after they came down from the mountain, and Moira and Lucy were left to themselves as they walked home, Moira at a constant chatter about Vern. Never in all her years had Lucy ever listened to the girl talk so animatedly or vividly. Of course, to a man walking down the street in a top hat, the two girls looked dark and emotionless, but Lucy understood.
When they arrived home Grandma made spidercakes – pancakes that looked like spiders – and they all sat down to a lovely breakfast while Lucy told the entire adventure to Grandma.
"We'll have to sell Rose some of my trinkets when they're ready." Grandma mused after the tale had been told.
Lucy smiled and nodded eagerly.
She found herself almost smug about having uncovered the secret of Black Mountain, but she felt sorry for Rose. It was comforting to know that the woman of Black Mountain had not been a witch at all, but simply a banished green thumb. She hoped she would see her again quite soon.
Author's Note: Sorry it's taken me so long to reveal this one. I've been a bit busy with other things, but alas here it is. I must confess that it's not as I'd hoped it would have been, but alas, do not worry, dear reader. The Storybook of Strange is only beginning, for there are many other tales to be told.