When old Mrs Bishop passed away in her house two doors down from me, a surprising number of ladies appeared in our tiny village. They claimed to be here for the funeral of their “poor friend Sarah” but they could be heard gossiping and cackling with laughter all the way up the street in the days before the service. None of them seemed particularly upset at her passing and I had never seen any of them before in my life. Mrs Bishop had taken me under her wing when I was just seven. I spent every day after school in her house while the doctors and my father attended to my sick mother. She taught me about gardening and how different plants and herbs could be used for healing. My father called it “alternative medicine nonsense” but my mother took comfort in the gifts I brought home and it kept me out of the way of the carers that surrounded my mother’s bedside.
My mother passed away when I was twelve, and my father sent me to live with Mrs Bishop for a few years. He had always been a hands-on dad, but I was approaching puberty and he had no clue how to deal with me. Whilst living with Mrs Bishop she taught me the importance of being a woman, how to meditate and clear my mind, and how to make my own candles. She would put herbs or scented oils in them and taught me which scents would help with relaxation, focus, calming and energising. I found it all fascinating.
When I was sixteen I moved back in with my father. He expected me to take on the cooking and cleaning in the house, so I found myself unable to spend much time with Mrs Bishop. I missed her company. Strange things reminded me of her; cabbage, for instance. I would be in the kitchen preparing dinner for my father and I would hear her voice in my head.
“Cabbage is important for your diet, child. It will help prevent you getting sick like your mother.”
I was twenty five when she passed. The funeral was a quiet affair. I attended on my own; my father was too ill to go too. After the funeral, there was a reading of the will. I wasn’t going to go but I was asked to attend. All the strange ladies were very attentive. My attention was caught when I heard my name.
“To Miss Maria Bradbury, I leave my house, garden, money, and all of my possessions, on the understanding that she will take on my precious healing work. I also leave her my most prized possession: My walking staff”
The ladies in the room hissed in shock and glared at me as I accepted the staff from a man stood before me. An almost painful tingle spread from my hands through my whole body. As I trembled with shock, an old woman turned to me.
“Welcome to the Coven, Witch”