“A demon!” Sarah shouts, feigning fright as we run together through her yard. Well-kept plants, from bright and pastel flowers to decorative bushes and trees, dot the field-sized landscape her mother tends.
We pass a new witchberry bush and I gasp. “She’s here! Run faster!” My aunt warned us about the deadly night shade; witch’s berries she called them. A clever and deadly poison for any curious child who pops the pretty red berries in their mouth. She leaves the trail of berry bushes wherever she steps.
Another bush! Another! Two more steps and I freeze in mid-sprint, paralyzed. “No! Sarah! She’s got me.”
“Run!” Sarah pleads as she pulls at my arm.
I cannot budge. “The other statues must be children too! Run! Or she’ll freeze you too. Just go!”
“No! Come on, you can fight her! Fight her!” She screams at me, we’re both nearly in tears.
I squeeze my eyes shut. “I’m cold…” The brisk air prickles goosebumps up my arms.
“Fight her!” Then, a less sure question. “You’re just pretending right?”
“No, I’m really cold.” I whimper. Move! I command my legs in silence, grunting. Slow, they begin responding and we run again, throwing glances over our shoulders. We reach the end of the field and the road.
“We can’t cross that.” Sarah pulls at my arm again.
Cold crawls along my limbs while a terrible tickle creeps up my insides and down my back. “No, the river’s too treacherous. We have to keep moving or she’ll catch us. We can lose her if we loop around the long way.”
Sarah nods and we run the edge along the back of her very large yard and around into the small playground where she hits both swings. Little goblin horrors fill the empty space of the moving swing, still invisible. “They’re still here!” I shout.
“We have to go back home!” She hops on the tire swing and we stumble more than once in our rushed winding of the ropes until they are so tight we must duck our heads. Then we release our ship in the hopes it will spin us back into the real, much safer world we left earlier, spinning in the reverse direction.
The violent twister flings our long hair in a tangled whirl of long blonde and brown until finally the pace slows, leaving wild strands obscurring our vision. “Are we safe?” I glance around, no adults…no help, but no witch berries. The swings stopped moving. I look over at Sarah, shoving blonde strands out of my face.
The tenuous expression of relief on her face quickly morphs into fear and horror as she loses her grip on the ropes. “Something’s got my leg!” She reaches out for my hands.
“No! Sarah!” I wrap the ship’s ropes firmly around one hand and brace a leg on either side of the tire and reach. Our fingers touch but she falls through the tire swing beyond my vision.
“Sarah!” I duck under the tire and into the dark and murky world of the witch’s garden. A darkening world parallel to our own. In our reality this garden thrives with rhubarb and other wonderful plants grown by Sarah’s mother; here witch’s berries and other treacherous plants grow. She dragged Sarah off in this direction, I know.
“Laura! Help me!” Sarah’s voice shouts so near I startle and turn. The playhouse, a log cabin her father built, looms darker here; an imposing structure. In this realm, it’s the witch’s cabin. I swallow in vain around the dry lump in my throat.
“She has Leah…and Peggy! They’ve been locked up for months!”
“That’s why they disappeared?!”
“Oh no, I hear her! Hide!” I run behind the cabin and peek through the window. “Hurry, climb through here.” I whisper from the corner.
“What are you girls doing?” Christine, Sarah’s mom, calls from the back door.
“Just playing!” We answer together. The spell broken, Sarah runs inside for lunch.
I run home, making sure I look both ways before crossing the treacherous river alone. So cold… I rub my arms and giggle, skipping the rest of the way home.
Yes, this is a genuine memory from when I was about eight (Sarah was seven) in story form. We really played like this, complete with an interesting amount of real fear and emotion while knowing it was pure pretend as well. Great fun!
What else would you expect from making friends in the late 80s with a girl named Sarah Kreuger and having a religious aunt who tells stories about demons and witch berries (belladonna plants grew wild all over the neighborhood)? Because the witch was a recurring villain in our adventures, this might be more than one memory blurred together in a continuous story.
For the record, her mother still keeps a gorgeous yard great for childhood adventures. Also, while belladonna grew wild all over the neighborhood, I never recall actually seeing any in Christine’s yard; too well-kept (the witch berries in this story were as made-up as the witch who leaves them in her wake).