Old woman Agatha Featherwood snaps the curtains that overlooked the vegetable garden shut. The kettle on the wood-fire stove begins to howl. It’ll be her second helping for the day, the caffeine isn’t good for her heart she knows, now little and frail with age. But after the visitor Agatha had just had, another pot of Earl Grey wouldn’t hurt.
Her little cabin sits primly on a hill in the middle of nowhere. For miles in any cardinal direction, there is only the endless expanse of green, the deep indigo cutouts of mountains in the distance that pierce the gray sheet of sky. It is cozy. Quiet. There isn’t much to do but tend to the garden, bake sweets, and drink tea down to the leafy dregs– London fog with extra cream, extra vanilla.
And of course, there are the children.
One comes every few months or so. Sometimes it is two. Rarely is it ever a full party (the cabin is too far into the journey for all of them to have survived.) They’re usually filthy, hungry, and haunted from the things they have seen. Agatha is sure to whip up something sweet. She believes that her cooking has a kind of magic that can mend the soul, even if it’s only for a little while.
As Agatha pours another cup, there is a knock at the door. She peers up at the cuckoo clock. It isn’t even noon yet.
“Another already?” She sighs as she deposits her spoon into the sink. “I hadn’t any time to make more finger sandwiches.”
She goes to the door. It had started to rain in between her setting the kettle and tidying up after the last visitor. It sounds like stones pounding on the tin roof, but after all this time it has become lulling, melodic.
Standing on the porch, soaked through and looking like a drowned cat, is a boy. He can’t be older than twelve or thirteen. He is covered head to toe in dirt. A rucksack is thrown over his shoulder, a longsword sheathed at his hip. In the downpour, Agatha isn’t sure if his baby-blue eyes are wet from the rain or tears.
“Hello…” the boy mumbles. There is a cut red and curved like a sickle on his left cheek.
Agatha smooths the front of her apron. “Hello there. Would you like to come in?”
The boy nods. Agatha steps away for him to enter. Too weary to worry about a potential threat, he takes off his boots and socks, dropping his bag and sword by the door. Feet rooted on the worn Welcome mat, he looks about the cabin. Shelves are cluttered with spices, tea tins, painted porcelain dishes and carved wooden figurines in the shape of dancing bears. Bundled herbs are suspended from the ceiling to dry. A fire crackles giddily in the hearth.
“Come sit! You must be cold to the bones.”
The boy sits down hesitantly. Within seconds a cup of tea is set before him, and a towel is placed over his shoulders. He wipes at his neck. “Are you a witch?”
Agatha laughs. “Oh heavens, no. I’m just a gardener. It’s hard to get good produce all the way out here, so I decided to grow it myself. Milk and sugar?”
He nods, doesn’t tell the old woman ‘when’ until the tea is completely cream-white. A plate of blueberry-cherry scones are set down next. “What’s your name?” Asks Agatha as she finally sits.
“Nathan. That is a good name, a strong name.” She takes a sip, peering at the latter. “My name is Agatha Featherwood. You look like you’ve come a long way.”
“I didn’t think that there would be a house all the way out here.”
She smiles. “If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that. Where are you headed?”
Nathan swallows down the last bit of his scone, reaching for another. “To the mountains.”
“Let me guess. A giant? Dragon?”
“Dragon,” murmurs Nathan.
Agatha nods solemnly. “How old are you?”
Thirteen. Such a young age for such a quest. “That’s a daunting task for a thirteen-year-old.”
“What does ‘daunting’ mean?”
“It means difficult, intimidating, formidable.”
“Oh,” Nathan picks at his scone. “Then yeah, it is.”
“Well, if you’d like my advice, don’t take anything from the dragon’s horde, that’s a one-way-ticket to losing your head. And bring a shield, you’re gonna need it for all of that firepower.”
“How do you know this stuff?”
“I’ve had a lot of heroes like you come my way, some of them had to slay dragons.”
“These other heroes… were they—”
“Children who have had their fates written on an old slab of rock?” Agatha’s smile grows sad. “Or perhaps an old book? It’s always something with a prophecy they must fulfill.”
Nathan doesn’t say anything for a moment. Finally, when he does speak, it is softer than a whisper.
“Do… do they come back?”
“Some of them do, yes.”
“But not all?”
Agatha grips her teacup. “No, Nathan. I’m afraid not.”
Silence falls over them. This is always the hardest part of these visits. The children that come through are already halfway defeated. Their worries are too big for their too small bodies.
Agatha needs another cup, she fears.
“What is this place?” Nathan asks, as if he isn’t sure what to ask anymore.
That is something Agatha has wondered for a long time. When she bought this tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere all those years ago, never had she thought her little fixer-upper would be right on the vein of a ley line. After some research, Agatha learned that ley lines are formed through a straight highway of energy garnered by the Earth. Between these lines, strange phenomena are known to occur. It is as if Agatha’s little cabin sits in the crossroads between universes. For the forty years she has lived here, Chosen Ones from different places, different eras, different worlds— all of them have ended up right on her doorstep. All of them have shucked their boots and unloaded their weapons on her doorstep and eaten cookies or scones or finger sandwiches. All of them have been young— always too young to be so far away from home. Always too young to die for a prophecy they had no say in.
Agatha has learned not to grow too attached. She had stopped drawing them baths or letting them stay the night. She keeps to baking instead of cooking suppers. It was easier this way for the children to just pass through. It dulled the hurt when a lot of them didn’t return.
“This place,” says Agatha. “Is a checkpoint for Chosen Ones.”
Nathan, without warning or preamble, drops his head into his hands and begins to sob. The rain continues to beat on the old cabin. Gray-washed light filters through the sheer curtains and spills onto the floors. Agatha hopes it doesn’t drown the tomato stalks she just recently planted.
The rain has finally stopped outside, leaving the smells of earth and storm behind. Nathan stands at the door, much dryer, bandaged up and back in his boots. His sword is sheathed at his hip and rucksack slung along his back. The load is a little heavier with a bundle of blueberry-cherry scones and a thermos of tea.
“Righto, there you are.” Agatha straightens the collar of his jacket, stepping back to get a good look at the boy. “Looking like a proper hero.”
Nathan says nothing. Agatha places a gentle hand on his messy blonde head.
“I don’t want to die,” he whispers.
The old woman steps back, crouching down to Nathan’s height. She takes his chin in her hand, lifts it so he will look at her. In the daylight, the boy’s eyes are an electric blue. Like a deep island lagoon, or a fresh coat of paint on a cottage door.
“No, I don’t think many do either,” Agatha says. “But one thing I learned about Chosen Ones is that they’re a different kind of breed. They’ve got guts.”
“Is that what you tell all the others?” Asks Nathan.
“You caught me.”
To her surprise Nathan smiles a little, albeit it is a little melancholy. He hikes his bag further up his shoulder. “Goodbye, Miss Featherwood.”
Agatha watches Nathan walk down the dirt, serpentine path that winds up and away from the cabin, all until he is nothing more than a small speck on the horizon where land meets mountain and sky. When he is finally out of sight, she checks on her tomato plants and heads back inside to fill the kettle again. It’ll be her third helping of the day, the caffeine isn’t good for her heart she knows, now little and frail with age. But after the visitor Agatha had just had, another pot of Earl Grey wouldn’t hurt.
Ambriel Hurst is a healthcare worker and English literature student residing in Virginia. Her hobbies include reading, writing, swimming, and spending time with her two dogs. Her favorite things to write are all things strange and mystical. She is currently working on her second novel, and hopes to become a best-selling author one day.