The brown water at Hex Hollow stuck to people like sin stuck to the devil. If people stayed there too long, it sank right into their bones. Most of the people who first came to the Hollow were running off from one problem just to cause another. But things caught up with them. And if they hadn’t yet, well, they would.
Nellie Noll could tell that John Blymire thought he was just the shiniest pickle when he found her house. Well, it was more of a hut. The wattle walls did little to keep out the wind, but Nellie liked the wind. John’s eyes were beady tight with a sort of desperation about them, a man searching for a reason his life had fallen into such disappointment.
Nellie did her best to sound fierce and angry as she pounded her walking stick on the ground and asked him what he wanted. But she was secretly pleased that he had come. In fact, she’d rather enjoyed humans, something the other witches had never let her live down. No other animal demonstrated more appreciation for a fine drink, and that was just something that tickled her insides with joy.
It turned out John Blymire loved his drink, so much that the man drank any dang thing. Including the fetid water of Hex Hollow, which he’d been using to distill whiskey at his river-stone house. The man had no sense, a problem he took to his grave. But as senseless as he was, John managed to figure out that Nellie was a witch.
Maybe she was the one who’s senseless.
“Nellie Noll, I’m sure of it,” John said, leaning in with the look of fever in his eyes. “Nelson laid a curse on me and that’s that.”
“What’s cursing you is that mash you’ve been cooking. You’re making yourself sick and Nelson is a fool for continuing to live next door to you.” Nellie reached for a patch of dried herbs that dangled from the rafters, crushing the leaves onto a stone for grinding. The scent danced up like a spirit released.
-From “Hex Hollow” by K.P. Kulski
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