Old Annie woke sudden, as no twig ever snapped in her woods without her kenning, much less when she was sleepin'... She grumped solid, cause she hated being woke without good reason, and Reason wasn't worth spit.
She took heights as a squirrel; hurryin' and hustlin' from briar to bole to branch and back again, tail flickerin' like candles in a haint's breath and three times as quick. She smelled it afore she saw it, and red now, her sight... blood thunderin' and lips shakin' and oh, holy blazes was this'un gonna pay for wakin' her, cause beauty didn't keep, and she'd done broke the bank and spent her winnin's.. long, long ago...
Like lightnin' she fell, and snatched it by the neck and raisin' it high, legs kickin' and strainin', stinkin' of fear and dryin' tears, straight to her slaverin' maw... the least she could do was show it's death comin'...
“Hold! it cried. Parley!!”
“Parley?” she boggled, and she wasn't the bogglin' sort... for long since she heard that dusty old word. She dropped it on it's ass, and legs splayed and scramblin' as it got it's bearin', and dared raise up tall to gape straight at her. The nerve! She near swiped it's head clean off, for even takin' such tact.. But a question was itchin', and an itch be scratched.
What and where and why and who and to blazes with all that!! "How come you here?" she croaked, for a frog be in her throat... She swallowed and spit and knocked off a tree-top just to show her bother.
It panted and wheezed and strugglin' and seekin' and finally it cried: "They're doing wrong... takin' liberties... Stealin' skins! And cry then it did, like a baby slapped silly... Down on knees blubberin' and bawlin' and all a-bothered was it; and Old Annie then was a-bothered too. She knew puzzlement and wonder, for no It had ever cried for another... ever cried for anythin' but it's own worthless hide. Why, she never... or did she?
She scratched her head and looked to the Moon, for she was rememberin' and recallin' and she didn't like that one bit. It was pointin' west then, and nothing but field and fen and waste that way... She bent down and scented it, for Old Annie could smell a lie .. as sure as snakes did rattle... and she was tired of wonderin' and wishin' and damnation for this Thing what woke her without good reason, and Reason was never good.
She scented and sniffed and then sightin' she did, sightin' through it's cursed eyes, sightin' back to yesterday and then gasped.. and she wasn't the gaspin' sort. She saw then, and blew white cinders, for she would not weep. She drove an iron talon at it's feet, and spat "Do not leave this place..." ; more breath than she had spared for a Thing such as It in ages...
It nodded, and sniffed and lifted a bag of baccy' and aimed to roll smokes while she went to instigatin' measures of clean judgement, sleepy no more.
She took stride as a mare, as she had thinkin' to do, and white was her mane, as appearances were for keepin'... She slowed not before the doors, and keened as they flew inward all shudderin’ and splinterin’ and bustin’ wide open. She saw then, and red now, her sight! Red as floor and stolen skins, and their laughin' was turned to screamin' and runnin' and too late, for Old Annie had come!!
Red now, her muzzle; and redder now, her hooves... with smoke and cinder to spare.
Mercies were given, and privileges revoked, and hungers were slaked, and gold from tooth gobbled and trophies taken and now strung and floppin' on cord of fresh sinew. Walls were painted and foals chased out, and alight now, the beams and straw... and faces pressed in ashes and arms yanked and bones ground and Old Annie caperin' and cacklin' in blazes of hay as this foul stable come temple did burn and raze.
One kept on the hoof, and now dragged squawling by hair and soiled dress and privilege punched clean outside-in, and left a-flogged and a-swingin’ on the gate, neck stretched by rope of stolen skin. For Old Annie would not be so impolite as not to leave a callin' card.
Back now, she thundered, and true as a rattler; the thing had rolled smokes for her return. Bristle a little did she, for the chase was in her now, and she’d hoped for more games. But a promise was kept, and so would she keep it.
It patted the ground beside It, and called her: “Rest your tired bones, ma’am.” So she hunkered down and folded up and was no bigger than a starved brat, looking up at it’s face. It lit a smoke for her and watched the ants about its feet. She reached in her bag and tossed forth trophies to land with a shufflin' of muffled footsteps. It frowned and kept mum, and up she glanced, and was mum too.
Who are you? she queried. “Nobody worth sayin...” it shrugged.
…and yet truth, for he knew not what he was… He would keep his silver tongue, for she knew not what to make of him either. Wonderin' she did... and like moonbeams it struck her... damn near knocked silly was she! It knew her name...
It. It was him! That little rascal who got away... all those years back!! And look at him now... How long?
Him? He? It broke on her then; this was no “It”… This was a he, a him, a… MAN! A man, here? In her garden? Now?!
Oh.... she wanted to suck his bones clean... Almost drooled, she did, but drooling wasn’t her way. But a promise was kept, and so she must keep it. Still! Just a little!? She just barely escaped whining... But No...
He glanced at her... “Get moving” she insisted. “I got things to do, straightening up… leaves are turning soon… Laundry.” She fair winced at the telling... Laundry?! Smirk, she did... Same dumb old crone…
Frowning again, as appearances were for keepin', she took three withered apples, and kissed them ripe. She handed them to him, “For good work… NOW GIT!”
He nodded, and crushin' out his smoke, he wandered northward into dawn, into many stars and moons and destinies... munching on an apple of her kissin'... She was in him now, and worms someday burrowin' into his bones… With him her seeds would go, and be sprouting in long days after his fall, together forever, til dust did they part. She grinned and lay back and stretched out long as telephone poles...
And so Old Annie, who had been so lonely, whose bones had been so tired, who had gone so long without a smoke that her lips scarce held the memory, drank in the sun. She smiled and the icicles cracked and fell from her maw. She was growing and shaping anew. Her corpus plumping and ripening and now again smooth as a fresh razor.
Red now her hair, like her mother’s... Oh how she missed her Mama! With pursin' lips and furrowin' brow she did ponder and think of her sisters... They should know! They should all know… the treaty had been kept! The forsakers forsaken! A man sighted... no chattering Thing... no worm on legs bustlin' and hustlin' around cities puttin' on aires! It was a sign, sure as rattlers! A portent! The days of iron and fire would return! Her sisters must know! Dare she?
How dare she not...
She took sky as a murder, and broke for the southern coast, toadstools blooming in her shadows. Lichens did flower, and beetles did battle, and all the world was coming alive. ALIVE!!
She soared onward and called mighty and Her sisters now, all eight did come! And they broke tables and set blazes and brought flowers and tore cauls and guzzled whisky and kissed beggars and boned bankers and supped on scalps and threw dice and lovely young Annie, once black and now Red, knew joy and dance and merriment and rode many many brooms, sometimes thrice at once.
Finally… at long last…
Spring had come.
...with thanks to Lisa Riordan for inspiration.