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Green Witch

What you dream, you can grow.

Someone told me that, but I didn’t believe it. I said I had nothing and that people with nothing are unable to dream. But I was wrong. Dreams are like air. They never leave you. It takes less than nothing to begin. Start with a pile of rocks. Moonstones, night stones, stones the color of snow. Start with heartache, thorns, vines. Let there be mud on your clothes, nails in your boots, ink on your skin, pain deep inside you. Let it grow and don’t be afraid.

Start with your own story.

I lost every thing — my mother, my father, my sister, Aurora. They went into the city on the day of the disaster. My last words to them were not pretty. I wanted to be the one to cross the river. I was hurt and resentful. I wanted more. But I was the one who stayed home to work in the garden. It was my sister’s turn to visit the city that I loved so much, not mine.

I wasn’t with them when they died.

Afterward, I didn’t want to move forward from that moment when our world fell apart. My garden was chalk and ashes after the city across the river burned down. Cinders covered the countryside. But time changes things, like it or not. Now, a year later, whatever I plant grows overnight. I can hear my garden in my dreams, unfolding, flourishing. Each morning I have to take an ax and cut back the vines or my cottage will disappear into the thicket.

Every one of my roses is blood red. Red to remind me of all that is gone — my family, my city, the life I led before. Blood red to remind me that despite every thing, I’m alive. I’m still bleeding.

A few survivors managed to escape. They set out on rafts even though the river itself was on fire, every wave roiling with embers. Those who made it to our shores told us that the people who destroyed the city call themselves the Horde. They had been coming down from the mountains in secret for years, setting up shops, befriending their neighbors in the city, biding their time.

Once the city had been destroyed, they announced that their mission was to put an end to every thing we had built. They said we had only ourselves to blame for what happened — the sheets of flame, the skies of death. They believed it wasn’t their fires that had destroyed us, but what we had built — our trains and libraries and bridges, even our schools — that had brought us to ruin. They want to go back to a time when men toiled in the fields without plows and trucks, when women were shut into their houses, sweeping, cooking, never daring to speak back.

They insist the fire that killed so many was an act of heaven meant to punish us for our sins. Repent, they tell us. Join with us. Don’t even try to fight, because heaven is on our side. Angels ride on the backs of our black horses.

But my sister, Aurora, was there in the city that day, selling vegetables from our truck, and I know she hadn’t sinned. She was a globe of light, a white dove. Heaven would have never burned her alive.

Only a year ago, the world seemed dead. We hid in our houses. We cursed our fate. Some of us used our regret and grief to destroy ourselves. Everywhere you went, people were in shock, wondering why they had survived when so many had not.

I know. Twelve months have passed, but often it’s the only thing I can see, even when I close my eyes. I was on the hillside when my family set up our vegetable stand in our favorite marketplace. I saw the spark, the flames, the red walls that trapped everyone I loved.

That day I stood on our side of the river and had no choice but to look. I looked until I couldn’t see anything anymore.

I watched as my world disappeared.

Now there are buds on the trees. There are fish in the river — silver eels, trout with blue scales. The Horde keeps a watchful eye on us, but they have allowed the bridge to the city to be rebuilt, made of logs and rope and hard work. Our village has begun to trade with the few survivors who remain in the city. Some of those who were there when the explosions happened are burned. Some are mute and some are so easily startled they dart away whenever they see birds in the sky. They live underground, equally frightened by the light and the darkness. They no longer trust strangers. They appear in the marketplace when they are desperate. They offer those who come to trade with them gold and diamonds in exchange for barrels of clean water, blankets, clothes for their children. Nothing works in the city. There are no church bells, no trains, no radios, no schools, no stores. Still, whenever they’re asked if they want to leave, the few who remain always refuse.

We’ll rebuild, they say. It will just take time.

In our village, life has moved forward. We once relied on the city for nearly every thing, including our clothes, our building materials, our water. Now a well stands in the center of the town square, and the water we draw in wooden buckets is clean and cold. An old man who was a professor at the university in the city has taught some local boys how to build the windmills that dot the fields. It has been difficult piecing back together all we once had. We are lucky to have the Finder, a mysterious person who lives in the woods. This curious individual leaves out parts of machines that are useful. If you need it, he can find whatever you desire among the ruins of villages that have been deserted. No one has seen the Finder, but there are many strange people in the countryside now.

The world has changed, so it only makes sense that people have changed as well. There are women who live in trees, men who sit on rooftops keeping watch for looters, bands of orphans who refused to come back to town until the woman who had been our teacher gathered them up like wildflowers. There’s Uncle Tim, who is nobody’s uncle but seems kindly enough and has been adopted by the village. He washed up onshore after the fires and now cares for abandoned dogs at his campsite in the woods.

These are the people who can’t get past that terrible day. We know them, and leave them to their grief. We avoid the woman who sits at the banks of the river and howls when the moon is full. We never bother the man who lost his beloved and has torn out all his hair. Loss does different things to different people. Some fall apart. Some, like the Finder, rebuild. I have done both. I have crawled under my table and refused to come out. I have covered myself with thorns and tattoos. I have planted a garden, reached out to my neighbors, begun to write down my story.

Surely, I can never sit in judgment of the lost or the found.

If you want something from the Finder, it’s easy enough. Write a note and leave it in the notch of the big elm tree at the fork in the road. Leave a gift alongside. Not money — we don’t use that anymore. Something useful — a set of measuring spoons or a can of soup, a hammer or an apple pie. Whatever you’re looking for will be there within the week. It may be battered, it may be in pieces, but still, it will arrive. The Finder has managed to avoid the Horde’s spies by limiting his movements to the cover of darkness. Because of his efforts, there are now generators that are run by hand. Lights flicker in the darkness. There are iceboxes, stoves, medicine kits. Because of him, a bell has been found to sit atop town hall. It rings twice a day, at dawn and at dusk, reminding us there are still hours in the day.

I had always been a city girl at heart. Moving there had been my dream. That was no longer true. The city I’d loved was in ruins. I thought of it as a graveyard, the past, not the future.

On the day of the bridge reopening, when a big festival was held, I couldn’t go any farther than the tollgate. I stood there with my sister’s little dog, Onion, beside me. I couldn’t take another step.

There were jugglers on the bridge and Uncle Tim played the guitar. The schoolteacher had the children make banners.

I walked away.

I wasn’t ready to see the place where my family had perished. I couldn’t go back to the city I had always loved. I have heard there are no longer bodies in the streets or blood on the cobblestones, but my beloved city is still in pieces, the buildings like silver stars — some fallen, some rising, some constant in the sky.

I live alone in my cottage, deep in the woods. I rarely go into the village. I’m too busy working in my garden. I wear simple clothes: a green shirt, a faded skirt, green suede boots or bare feet. I tie up my long black hair with string. People in the village are polite. But they stare at me because of my tattoos even though I am their neighbor and they all know my name. Green, who can be depended on. Green, who has walked through to the other side of sorrow.

Excerpted from GREEN WITCH © Copyright 2011 by Alice Hoffman. Reprinted with permission by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. All rights reserved.

Green Witch
by by Alice Hoffman

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545141958
  • ISBN-13: 9780545141956