“I hate living like this!” Disgusted, Jaspa tossed the can of tomatoes to the floor, spilling the contents.
“Starve then,” Jaspa’s mother said, trying to salvage the tomatoes.
“Can’t afford to be picky,” her father said, digging into a can of beans.
“Why can’t we settle somewhere? I miss having hot meals.”
“And become Scavenger bait? No thank you, I’m attached to my skin,” her father said.
“The light and smoke of a fire draws attention.”
“I want chocolate and a decent bed.” Jaspa pouted, crossing her arms over her chest.
Her parents exchanged exasperated glances.
“The Old Witch would know how to conjure chocolate and I bet she has a bed soft enough to ease her bones,” Jaspa said.
Worried glances passed between her parents.
“She’s all safe in her apartment building. No one dares to bother her,” Jaspa said.
“For good reason,” her father said.
“Her magic is the dark sort,” her mother said.
“I’m going to see her,” Jaspa said, standing.
“No you are not!” Her mother stood, putting her hands on her hips and staining her grimy shirt with tomato juice.
“She’ll take me as an apprentice,” Jaspa said.
“She’ll bake you into a pie,” her father said.
Jaspa snatched her backpack from the concrete and slipped her arms through the straps. She grinned at her parents, sure of her quest.
“If you leave you are no child of ours,” her mother said.
“I thought our common sense would have been inherited,” her father said, shaking his head.
“Fine,” Jaspa said, chin lifting as her eyes stung. “When I am an all powerful witch and you two are dying of starvation I’m not going to help you.”
“It’s been nice knowing you,” her father said. “I wish it was for longer.”
“Wait and see,” Jaspa said and stormed out of their hiding place behind the dumpsters.
Gritting her teeth, she was determined not to turn back as she reached the mouth of the darkened alley. Sunset colored the sky in fiery shades, causing the ruined city to become a silhouette of black spires. Fear snaked through Jaspa, her steps tentative. She had never been on her own. Inhaling, Jaspa bolstered her courage and strode onto the debris littered street.
She stuck to the sidewalk, staying close to the safety of the buildings. Her body was tense, waiting for the slightest sign of one of the bands of Scavengers that plagued the ruins. They’d kill her in a heartbeat, scouring her belongings for anything useful and leave her corpse to rot with the detritus abandoned by humanity. Jaspa’s gaze flickered constantly, trying to probe the shadows of alleys and doorways for movement.
The distant sounds of gunshots sent her skittering into an unlocked corner store. She ducked below the window display, her heart hammering against her ribs. Voices echoed, the words mangled as they resounded through the streets. Jaspa raised herself and peered out, her pulse roaring in her ears.
A band of people spilled into the crosswalk, semi-automatics slung across their backs and pistols in their hands. Jaspa slid down, her breath coming in gasps. She stared at the shadowy interior, praying they would move along without investigating the store. More shots caused her jump, the loud reports too close for comfort. She slithered across the floor, her pack jiggling on her back.
Once in the safety of the shadows, Jaspa crouched and began weaving through the aisles. There had to be a back door, and those words looped in her head. It was a mantra to keep her focused, to keep the panic at bay. She almost cried out in relief, spying the exit sign over a blue metal door set into the wall. Rushing to it, she pushed, finding it unlocked.
Jaspa stumbled into the alley. Turning, she raced to the end of the alley and bolted across the street, not stopping until she reached the Old Witch’s abode.
Stars pinned the twilit sky, and the late spring breeze cooled Jaspa’s cheeks as she bounded up the steps and opened the door.
Candlelight illuminated the cavernous lobby with a soft golden glow. Closing the door stirred the air, causing shadows to leap and dance upon the wall. Jaspa shivered, her stomach knotting. Gathering her courage, Jaspa stalked to the stairwell and began her ascent.
The Old Witch’s suite reeked of smoke and something sickly-sweet. Jaspa trembled, her muscles rubbery. Glass French doors separated the living room from the bedroom and as Jaspa approached, the hair on the nape of her neck rose. Through the rippled glass, she spied a creature of fire and bones. Hands shaking, she turned the doorknobs and entered the room. She had come too far to turn back.
Before her sat an old woman, skin papery and time worn. A gentle smile played upon the witch’s lips while kind blue eyes regarded Jaspa with surprise.
Jaspa inched closer, shivering with fear and cold. The paltry fire in the hearth flickered as a draft toyed with it.
“Goodness, child, why are you quaking so?”
“I have seen…things on my way here,” Jaspa said, her voice wavering. “A man covered in black dust.”
“Only the charcoal man,” the Old Witch said, gesturing at the fire.
“And a man clothed in gray fur,” Jaspa said. She drew closer to the crone, relief chasing away the terror.
“That is the huntsman. He’s kind enough to supply me with meat.”
“Then there was a man covered in blood,” Jaspa said, quivering at the remembrance.
“My butcher,” the witch said.
“I spotted a fiery creature sitting here before I came in.”
“You’ve seen my true form, dear.” The Old Witch grinned. With a flourish of her hand, the witch transformed Jaspa into a block of wood and tossed it onto the fire.
As the flames cavorted, hungrily feasting upon the wood, the Old Witch chuckled.
“Finally, I will be warm.”
NOTE: This story is for a flash fiction challenge found on Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds. It is a retelling of Grimm’s fairytale “The Old Witch” set in a dystopian world.