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Nellie stopped in mid-screech when she got close enough to see her daughter’s slack, unconscious face and the bloodstains on the child’s torn skirt. The rolling pin that she had been brandishing fell from her hand, landing with a dull thud on the wet ground. Next to it, a cobweb quivered atop the grass, catching the light in spiraling reflections.

Photo of a spiderweb in wet grass.

(Photo credit: Liz West)

Going down to her knees, Nellie raised Mabel’s skirt just enough to see the large scar that had not been there earlier, from an injury that could have been healed only by magic. She shook her head twice slowly, as if dazed, and then lifted her head and met Ina’s eyes.

“Did you…”

Nellie’s speech trailed off raggedly, as she mustered the courage to go on. She bit her lip and tried again, her voice so faint that Ina, standing a few paces away, could barely hear her words.

“Did you bring her back from the dead?”

Ina took a step closer and replied just as quietly. Although Mabel did not yet appear to be regaining consciousness, it was possible she might hear, and Ina did not want to frighten her.

“No. But it was close.”

Biting her lip even harder, until a drop of blood could be seen, Nellie lowered her gaze again. Her face had gone paler than the child’s as she watched the slow rise and fall of Mabel’s chest. She gathered the little girl into her arms and rose to stand.

Only then, glancing warily back and forth from Ina to her house like a frightened animal getting ready to bolt to its den, did Nellie appear to take in the details of Ina’s bare, scratched feet and sopping wet dress.

“If you, uh, want,” Nellie stammered, her bitten lip twitching as she looked into Ina’s eyes again, “there’s hot tea in the house—I was brewing it just now—and fresh scones. I have a clean dress that you can put on until yours is dry, and ointment and bandages for your feet.”

While that wasn’t an apology or even a wholehearted invitation, Ina supposed it was the best she could expect, given Nellie’s fear of witches. Even if begrudging, it was an offer of hospitality, and it felt like one that should be accepted. Although she couldn’t have explained why, Ina had a sense that there was something more she needed to do here.

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