A short story, 500 words. Dark.
Brown grass. Who needs to mow brown grass? Not Ted. He had a beer, a bit of tree stump to sit on, and distance from the house.
All he’d done was mention the new neighbour, and the list of jobs fell from her mouth like a shovel-load of shit. In his long years of living with that woman, he’d learned when to make himself scarce, when to say what she wanted to hear and then disappear. It would be the pub, but they were all shut, so he’d just sit here, out of sight of the house, and stay there until it was dark or she came looking.
What was the deal with the neighbour? Sure, they were different. She looked like a witch. A good looking witch with yellow hair instead of black, but she wore those funny flowing skirts like a black gypsy or shaman.
Now if they were proper shaman, wife wouldn’t say nothing bad at all. But they weren’t.
The man, whether he was husband or father, was much older. Grey beard, no hair, and a high-point hat that twisted at the point like a cat’s thinking tail.
They’d dropped in to meet the neighbours.
Ted wasn’t home when that happened. She’d told him, and he’d asked what she thought. That was the last time it was mentioned until he forgot and said he saw smoke from their place. Now he was out here in the hot sun with no radio, no television, no air-con. And no hissy-fitting wife.
Safer. Better to die of skin cancer than face the cyclone of threats that hefted whole worlds at the bearer of bad words.
Ted glanced at the house. The light in the front room went on. She was watching telly. Maybe if he slipped down the road and spoke to the neighbours himself, he might find an answer.
He tossed the can to the back of the shed to join its companions, and lifted himself vertical. His feet ached, his back ached, but all that was better than her headache.
Two hundred paces down the dirt track, and the aroma of cooking crackle teased his nose. Barbeque. Excellent. Ted smiled and picked up his pace. This was going to be the easy greet. ‘Just passing, thought I’d drop in, oh, you’re having a charcoal grill – I love grilled meat.’
He walked down the unkempt driveway through the crackle of drought-dead grasses with no seed heads, whistled as he rounded the back corner. His feet stopped, but his eyes didn’t. They screamed at the sight in the middle of the yard. A bonfire. Huge logs burning hot as the breath of a hellion woman. A shape in the flames. A man’s shape, beard flaming like a howling hound.
The coloured skirt swirled around the base of the fire, her hands clapping, her feet tapping, her hair swirling around her head like glints of air-fed flame. She looked up with those blue-white eyes and smiled.
‘Come to me, lover, come feed the magic, be free of fear and full of purpose.’
Ted’s feet shuffled through the grass. Why didn’t he tell his wife where he was going? She’d deal with this, as she’d dealt with others. Why didn’t he listen to her, trust her instincts?
The witch took his hand and wrapped her wrist to his with a stringy sinew dripping with black blood.
A quick practice run, off the cuff — how do you like it?