But it wasn’t until her red-headed farmer married a village girl — Hannah, the preacher’s daughter, although she looked a good deal more like Mr. Rollins than she looked like the preacher — that Willa, herself, realized that she was a Witch. Willa’d been glad to hear of his marriage; she’d left the farmer a long time ago and they’d remained friends. He still supplied her with some of the best pot around and she knew that he needed a wife on the farm.
The wedding was a village affair; Willa wasn’t invited, but, then, she hadn’t expected to be. The bride insisted that people throw rice, although rice was scarce as coffee in those days; transporting it up from the south was almost prohibitively expensive, especially as “the south” (as in, a place warm enough to grow rice), kept moving farther and farther away. And the minister objected that fertility came from praying to God, not from throwing food, but Hannah would have it and her mother insisted that the minister pay for it. He reluctantly agreed: Hannah had never been his favorite child, but appearances mattered and he told the acolytes to sweep it up after the procession and to be sure to keep the birds away. If nothing else, he could rent it to future couples for their weddings.
Things hadn’t gone well. An historic murder of crows showed up as soon as the first grain of rice hit the ground and the birds immediately pecked up every single bit. The happy couple was off to the parish hall, but the minister watched a small fortune in rice disappear into the crows’ stomachs and he turned crimson with anger. There wouldn’t even be so many crows around if it weren’t for that woman who ran the pot store. She was an unbeliever and it was her kind that drew God’s wrath in the form of bitter winters, expensive rice, and wives who had affairs.
The very next morning he and Hannah appeared at the door of the pot store. Willa was surprised. Hannah usually slipped in just before closing to buy her pot, slyly suggesting that Willa not mention that she’d been there, and Willa assumed that, now, Hannah would have all the pot she wanted. And the minister had never come to her store.
“Can I help you?” Willa asked, petting the crow on her shoulder who was suddenly agitated.
“You can pay for my rice,” the minister said. “Go on, tell her, girl!”
Hannah squared her shoulders and said, “I know you’re jealous. I married the only man you’ve ever loved. You sent your crows to eat all the rice at my wedding. You don’t want me to have his children, do you? Your birds ate up all my fertility!”
Willa was, for once in her life, speechless. She didn’t even think to say “crow crap,” although, later, she wished that she had.
“You’ll have to pay for the rice,” the minister insisted. “I’ll have your shop shut down. I’ll take your house on the edge of the village. I’ll have every bird in this entire town shot.”
Willa shrugged. “The crows ate your rice. Go ask them for it. I won’t pay you a penny and you’ll never have a grandchild to dandle at your knee. Not that this girl’s children would have been your heirs, at any rate.”
“Witch!” the minister yelled, pointing at Willa and shaking with anger.
“Witch!” Hannah yelled, knowing at last that all the whispered stories were true.
“Yes,” said Willa. “I am. I am a Witch. I am beloved of the crows. I am a woman beneath the Moon, robed in magic, a practitioner of the Old Ways. I am a Witch. And now you need to leave my store.”
Her crow spread its wings.
It was a few years later that the winters became so bad that the birds had to abandon the town. They could fly south, but Willa was old, and arthritic, and couldn’t leave. Her familiar stayed on her shoulder until the very last crow had gone. Then that ancient bird went out and found Willa a brown, shiny seed, gave a heartbroken caw, and flew away. Willa called her brother, Wesley, who had become a mason.
And it was Wesley who carved the stone and Wesley who came and found Willa after she’d eaten the seed. It was Wesley who buried her in the forest, beneath the stone she’d wanted, and it was Wesley who placed a red glass bead, an old penny, and a bit of shiny gum wrapper on her breast for the archeologists to find all those years later.
That oddly-early Spring, when his granddaughter was born, Wesley said, “I think that you should name her Corneille.”
Corneille had a daughter, who had a daughter, who had a daughter, who had a daughter who grew up to take pictures on archeological digs. She had shiny black hair, as dark as crow’s wings, and she could always seem to find things when they went missing.
Picture found here.