Oldest Brew

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain


The oldest woman on the East Coast stands by the stove of her quaint apartment and begins brewing some tea. A faded but floral patterned set of pajamas is adorned against her skin, each flower petal, presumably once brightly colored and distinct, are now indistinguishable from each other. She whistles a made-up tune to herself as she turns her stove on, the rising heat joining her song.

As she reaches to open her kitchen cabinets, a loud thump from her bedroom interrupts her.

“Mr. Pumpkin-Muffin?”

No response. She frowns at that.

“Pumpkin-Muffin, you best not test me!”

No response… except a low muffled meow.

She sighs. “Crazy old cat.”

Waiting for the water to boil, she shuffles to her living room, right beside her kitchen, and settles onto her couch to watch the news. The moment she flips the screen on, the news channel is already set, as she rarely watches much else, and the news anchor flickers into existence.

“-those just tuning in, a horrific sight has left both firefighters and police perplexed-”

Static cascades across the pixels like a wave, and pulls back and forth like a tide, splintering the message.

“The victims… only imprint of the bodies… cause of fire unkno-”

She steps up to the TV and gives a good whack to its side, killing and relighting the screen in a single instant.

“Strangest of all, the arson left no other damage to the homes, save for strange geometric patterns around the imprints. This is the fourth occurrence of this phenomenon this month, and-”

Abruptly, the screen fizzles back into static and white noise, and responds to no more whacking.

Annoyed, but not entirely surprised, she leaves the room and returns to the kitchen where the water is nearly finished boiling.

After pulling the kettle from the stove, she opens her cabinets, pulling out two simple ceramic mugs, and two small ceramic lidded pots, placing all four on the countertop.

She opens the first pot, revealing the loose green leaves within, and begins to prepare herself a cup of green tea. She opens the second pot, revealing the salt within, and begins preparing herself a cup of salt water.

As she finishes mixing and steeping, she sets the two finished cups, and the pot of salt, on a tray and carries it back into the living room.

The static is still buzzing as she nestles herself back into the couch. The screen swirls in shades of white and grey around a single black dot in the center. Like a pupil, it expands and dilates slowly until it consumes enough pixels to make a single, crooked silhouette.

The old woman sips her tea and waits.

A distorted voice resonates through the screen. “From your ash, the darkness will flourish…

The crooked image pulls itself from the screen, pouring out like liquid, but crackling like fire into the living room, coalescing as a jagged shadow.

There is no escape from me, no escape from this smoldering effigy…

It reaches towards her, slowly approaching the threshold of her coffee table, its presence burning thin curving symmetrical lines into her carpet. Even as its last pixel pulls itself from the screen, its voice is garbled and wrong.

Let your death become a seed, a seed within the cremation of this dark forest called humanity and-

“Ah, you’re just on time!”, the woman announces.

The silhouette stares blankly. It is eyeless, but still it stares.

...Do you even comprehend what is happen-

“The tea is just right. Just on the precipice of too hot. You arrived at the perfect time.”

She points towards a chair in the corner. “Pull that up, sit down, and we can have a little chat.”

The silhouette cranes what might have once been a neck before its entire body begins to shudder, its inky, shifting frame rippling like boiling tar. Each bubbling, black blot releasing a low, hissing sound, like a screeching tea kettle.

It laughs.

You really don’t get it, do you? You stand before the last lingering embers of your life and yet you-

“Mr. Pumpkin Muffin!”, the old woman calls. “We have company! Get out here”

There is a low, irritated meow and another low thump as something falls over in the next room.

The old woman shakes her head, clicking her own tongue in annoyance. She turns back to the monster burning a pentagram in her living room and says, “Sorry, he’ll be just a moment, but do sit down. You’re getting ash all over the carpet!”

The manifestation expands, the tendrils of its pixels stretching like needles from its amorphous body, as it reaches towards the woman.

Let me make you understand the power you dare attempt to command-

“I said sit.”

It freezes in place, its body unable to reach her.

What… what is happening-

“Sit. Down.” There is a shift in her voice. Not in volume, but in its presence. Each word emanates not from her throat, but from all around the apartment, as though she were speaking through the walls themselves.

It tries to push itself forward as an intense pressure pulls it towards the chair, yanking it backwards from what it thought was prey. As its body locks in place, the crooked silhouette falls back and slams into the chair, unable to break free.

“There,” the old woman says. “Was that so hard?”

It struggles against the chair, its inky body somehow glued to the seat. “I know not what feeble human magic you dare wield, witch, but you cannot hope to hold me for long!

Ignoring it, she taps her fingers against her couch’s armrest, thinking for a moment. “What’s the name of that horror movie?”

...What?

“That one with the tapes, and the well, and that girl crawls from the TV. You know what it's called? I can’t remember for the life of me.”

...

“Oh come now, you must know it! You even choose your victims sort of like her, only going after people who hear about you on the news! You didn’t get all that dramatic nonsense from nowhere did you?”

She leans back and chuckles. “Honestly, what kind of drivel were you spouting anyway? ‘This dark forest called humanity’? Tell me, with a straight face, you didn’t practice that, young man.”

...

“Though… I suppose I couldn’t tell either way, you having no face and all-”

A fluffy mound of orange and black fur hops into the old woman’s lap, the sudden weight almost knocking the teacup out of her grasp.

“Pumpkin Muffin!”, she grunts, still fumbling with her cup’s handle. “That was very rude of you.”

The cat purrs and rubs his head against her pajamas, sprawling himself out across the couch in a dramatic fashion.

She sighs and says to the crooked silhouette, “Honestly, can you believe him? Causing a ruckus and then expecting some cuddles.” She scratches Mr. Pumpkin Muffin’s chin. “I mean really, what audacity.”

The silhouette wants to set the cat on fire, throw it out the window, and see if the old wives tale still applies if the damned thing dies halfway down.

The old woman pushes Pumpkin Muffin onto the other side of the couch as she walks to her kitchen counter, passes her collection of sea shells, and brings back a manufactured box of cookies.

“Want a sugar cookie?”

NO, I DON’T WANT A SUGAR COOKIE-

“There isn’t a need for shouting, young man-”

I TIRE OF THIS, WITCH!”, he calls. The shadow envelops the entire chair like a spreading stain, looking for a weakness in its enchantment.

‘Young man?’ I am destruction incarnate! I am an immortal demon from HELL! I was there stirring the crowd when Christ was crowned with thorns-

No, you weren’t.

It stops immediately. “What? How could you possible say-”

“I know, because I was there. And I did not see you.”

She stares at him, her eyes devoid of lies. “And I see everyone, young man.”

The room suddenly glows, not with light, but with vibrance. Everything seems larger, and the self-proclaimed demon feels as though he is careening over a crumbling cliff overlooking a thinly frozen sea hiding the broiling water beneath.

“I was there when they nailed that poor boy to the cross.”

“I was there when Prometheus had his liver first taken by the eagle, again and again.”

“I was there when Osiris was trapped in that chest that became his grave.”

“I have seen every tragedy, mortal or otherwise.”

“But you. Were. Not. There.”

What…,” he strains to form his voice. “What are you?

She sips more of her green tea. “Old, mostly.”

He is silent, not sure of what to say; what possible threat could he give?

A disgruntled meow pulls him from his thoughts. At the base of the chair, sitting on the floor, Pumpkin Muffin swats at him, meowing loudly in disdain.

The woman slides over, giving an apologetic look as she sweeps the cat up. “Pumpkin Muffin, you can’t have the recliner, our guest is sitting there right now. An uninvited guest, but a guest all the same.”

She holds Pumpkin Muffin close, cooing and fussing over some of the stray ash caught in his fur from rolling in the carpet.

The crooked silhouette stays very still, a small trace of him dripping beneath the chair’s cushion. He compels the separated part of himself to slither to an edge, any sort of opening, anything that this banshee may have missed-

She speaks up once again, startling him. “Do you know the laws of hospitality, young man?”

“...No.” He replies, all strangeness gone from his voice, almost solemn in tone.

“Hm. Any demon worth its salt knows them. And every fae, for that matter. But of course, you are neither of these things.”

She settles back down, nestles Pumpkin Muffin back in her lap, and brings her cup of tea to her lips. She takes a small sip and glances at her guest.

“The laws are quite clear, once you get to know them. At its essence, especially for us otherworldly things, it decides the balance of power.”

“Power?”, the silhouette asks, listening to her, but still trying to find a way out within the seat.

“Yes. For example, when one being enters another being’s domain without invitation, well, they might find themselves compelled.”

“Compelled to do what?”

She doesn’t answer, instead twirling her hand and watching her tea swirl in its cup. After a moment’s pause, she abruptly asks, “Do you know what kind of tea I am drinking, young man?”

“No.”

“Hm. Green tea. Oldest brew there is. They’ve made so many kinds now, and I’ve tried all of them. But, call me old-fashioned, I think they got it right the first time. No need for anything fancy.”

She takes another sip and savors it, emphasizing her satisfaction. “Always does the trick for my old bones-”

She suddenly grins at him. “But for you, I have an even older trick.”

She pushes the other cup towards him, a small cup filled with pale water.

He glances at it, not understanding. “What… what is it?”

“Have you ever wondered… why salt is used to ward against demons and spirits? And in so many cultures?”

He shrinks back from the glass, understanding.

“Sure, it is a solvent, a purifier. It removes rust and can clean wounds. But you know what I think?”

He does not want to know-

“I think it's because demons, as you call yourself, or spirits, which is what you actually are, are things of death. You are the ending and the after. But salt, entwined with the sea, is part of the beginning and the before. The primordial broth that all life originated, the true oldest brew…”

She pushes the cup forward. “This is the closest substitute mortals can make.”

He coils in on himself, retreating like a turtle to its shell. “I won’t bother anyone again, I swear-”

“Oh? Were you this reasonable with those people on the news? When they were where you are now, did you listen to their pleas of mercy?”

“I-”

“Drink.”

He feels himself reaching forward, his undeath nearing its end. “What can I do to convince you? Do you need a servant? You know I could never betray you, clearly you are too powerful to-”

“Drink.”

His tendrils stretch into the shape of a hand and shakily grab the cub by its handle. “I’LL KILL YOU, I WILL MAKE MY ENTIRE PURPOSE TOWARDS ENDING YOU, WITCH!

“Just. Drink.”

His center of his corporeal form, where the pupil first expanded, shapes itself into a hollow orifice; a mouth. “Please…”

The old woman sips her tea and waits.

He struggles to stop himself as the cup slowly approaches his newly formed lips. He trembles, every drop of him, every ounce of him, as he desperately fights against his own malformed hand.

“Wait, please, you’re right okay, I’m not from Hell, I’m just a theater nerd from Ohio!”

The rim of the plain porcelain almost grazes his bottom lip-

“Wait, goddamnit, wait! I just wanted a legacy, okay? I didn’t want to pass on just as some boring accountant! I just- I just…”

His hand goes rigid, before slowly descending back to the coffee table.

The old woman leans in, her mouth curved into a wicked smile.

“An accountant,” she says, savoring the taste of the word. “Now, that is something useful.”

The silhouette trembles, shaken from almost dying for a second time. “It is? For you?”

“Of course. Do you have any idea how hard it is to do taxes when the very concept is younger than you?” She laughs, her eyes glazing over in reminiscence. “I remember I gave the IRS the wrong name a few decades ago, or at least a name I hadn’t used in some time, and you know what they did?”

“What did they-”

“They charged me with tax fraud. Tax fraud! Ridiculous! If anything, it was the one time I wasn’t, with me using an older name… anyway, long story short, I faked my death, nothing new, of course, but inconvenient just the same. It's why I had to move here in New Jersey of all places.”

The silhouette pauses at that. “But… I was hunting in Maine-”

The old woman waves her hand dismissively. “You were caught in my web, dear, don’t worry about it. Or perhaps magnet would be the better term… regardless, I made sure you couldn’t break into anyone’s home but mine.”

She nudges Pumpkin Muffin off her again and stands up. “But that's besides the point. Normally, it's a real hassle lying to an accountant. I get all my past forms mixed up, but with you I can skip the nonsense… heck, I won’t even have to pay you! What do you think, does that sound-”

A black tendril darts from beneath the chair and strikes the old woman in her throat, solidifying into an obsidian edge and piercing all the way through her clavicle, out the back of her neck, and partially into the ceiling.

I think”, the silhouette says, the facade returning to his voice, “That you should shut. Your. Mouth.

It wriggles from the chair, reaching to reabsorb its separated self back into its oil-like body. It rises upward, its height uncoiling like a viper.

You know, I really hate breaking character, but at least it gave me just enough time. So, how about we start from the beginning? Where I speak to my heart's content, while you shrivel up and die like… dear god! Shit!”

He suddenly pulls his tendril back, steam erupting from its tip. “What- what did you do?”

The old woman brings her hand to her neck, her smile evaporating. As she pulls her hand away from the gaping wound, there is not a single drop of blood…

Only boiling water pours out.

“To think,” she says, stepping forward. “I was giving you a second chance. But you miscalculated- no, you misunderstood.”

The silhouette retreats back to the chair, trying to snuffle under the cushion like it was a shield. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that-”

“Convulse in agony.”

Every pixel flares in excruciating pain, a burning sensation that rocks through his entire being. A faint scent of briny water wafts around him.

“Did you really think you had a chance?” She crouches by her table and pulls out a small basket of yarn and wool. “Did you really think that after entering my domain, you had even a sliver of control?”

“I just thought-”

“Feel the pain of your victims, every last one.”

For a brief moment, the silhouette sees through a dozen eyes, hears through a dozen ears, and feels a dozen fires melt through all of that skin. He cries out, a flash of each victim’s last moment culminating into one single second of condensed torture.

She pulls a needle from the basket and brings it to the nape of her neck. “This human shell is far from my first form, nor will it be the last.” She pushes through the spout of water and pierces the needle into her skin. The water slows to a trickle, and then stops completely, as she sews the skin back together without using a thread. It simply knits together, good as new.

The silhouette writhes in pain, only able to watch as the witch, or whatever she is, stands over him.

“Do you understand, now?”, she asks. “Do you see that I was being kind to you, young man? Very, needlessly, kind.”

“Yes, I understand, I understand everything, so please…”

“Open your mouth. And drink.”

His spasming tendrils wrap around the cup and drag it towards the face beginning to fully form. There is no struggle now, he does not have the strength. His only plea for forgiveness, and survival, is the quivering expression made by both his colorless eyes and lifeless lips.

“You are too young to be a threat, but are too old to be forgiven.”

She leans forward, her eyes as murky as the deepest waters.

“What was it you said before… ‘From my ash, the darkness will flourish’?”

Her eyes go white.

“Then from your ash, I shall flourish instead.”

As the sunrise peeks through the window, the spirit finishes its transformation, its ashen body burned white and its intangibility made solid.

Smiling, savoring the last bit of her tea and making up a tune to herself, the oldest woman on the East Coast, and every coast since before the continents split, reaches forward and picks up her pot of salt…

And wipes the new pile into it.

 
 


Submitted: December 12, 2021

© Copyright 2022 G.P.Sharp. All rights reserved.

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Comments

KatV

I really enjoyed reading this short story; it could be a series You held my attention from the start. At first I thought it was going to be something with the cat, but you surprised me with the image coming out of the tv. And, you surprised me again when you revealed that the old woman was a witch! Great job building suspense and peaking curiousity! I was even surprised at how the salt was used, and what it actually was. Great imagery; I was right there in the old womans living room. Honestly, there is nothing about your story I dislike! I have no suggestions. You have done a terrific job with this piece! Good luck with the contest! Write On!

Tue, December 14th, 2021 1:12am

Author
Reply

Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I was little worried that I had a slow start, so it means a lot to me that it hooked you in at the beginning!
It's funny you mention the cat (as that was my original plan, to have the cat catch the spirit in the other room), but I decided to change it when I changed prompts. I was originally going to do the "mundane thing during major event" prompt, but decided it would be more interesting to have the main character have more agency over the story.
I try to test out characters or snippets of plot ideas when I enter these contests, so I may bring her back, Mr. Pumpkin Muffin included.
Sorry for rambling, and I wish you luck with the contest too!

Mon, December 13th, 2021 6:16pm

Lucas Barstow

I don’t know if you were going for this but the strong old woman had a bit of a Granny Weatherwax (Discworld) vibe but in a more modern setting, this made the character very interesting for me. I remember hitting things to make them work from when I was younger which gave it realism early on. Altogether a really good short story.
I’ve got to suggest an improvement so this has some value to you, the first line says “in” when it should be on, just a typo.
Seriously good job.

Thu, December 16th, 2021 1:37pm

Author
Reply

Unfortunately, my library is lacking in the Witches series from Terry Pratchett, so I've really only heard about her from here-say, but a modern immortal is definitely what I was going for. Glad you enjoyed it!

Thu, December 16th, 2021 6:54am

Harris Proctor

Hi G.P.,

This is one ripping yarn! I am really impressed. You masterfully unravel the characters through dialogue. It comes across as such a simple story–I suppose, on some levels, it is–but the subtle twists of the slender plot are actually quite elegant. I found it hard to adjust to the layout of the piece. I thought at first I was reading a poem, I actually scrolled back up. But then, I have a 2-speed brain, so I'm sure that's more a formatting problem for me than for most.
I like the use of bold for the "tone" of your character. Have you considered paring it down? Would "You. We're. Not. There." be more effective if she built up to that moment? She has such a grand matronly way. I like the switching between granny and irresistible force. Just a thought. I feel like this story is pretty tight, and one can only find a random nit to pick :) I love the "too young to be a threat, too old to forgive" line. I'm going to use that if I ever have tea with an evil spirit.
Well done! It was a pleasure to read.

Cheers,

H.P.

Fri, December 17th, 2021 3:12am

Author
Reply

Thank you; I always try to make dialogue my focus, so I'm glad it caught your eye (especially as you picked up on two of my favorite lines). And yeah, I had a lot of fun with the bold tone, I felt very inspired by the Themis Files and Discworld, as they often used fonts and bold lines for characterization. I also think it was a bit rushed when I got to the "You... There", though for the life of me I couldn't think of a better segway than just jumping into it, so I got a little lazy and just did (one day I'll figure out how to use suspense). Thank you for the review, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Thu, December 16th, 2021 8:26pm

Amy Chiappiniello

"What are you?!"

"Just old."

a perfect response it made me laugh. This was great work I love it

Wed, December 22nd, 2021 12:53am

Author
Reply

Always trying for a laugh, thank you, glad you enjoyed it.

Tue, December 21st, 2021 5:09pm

Archia

I really loved reading your story. I found the old woman had a certain quaintness that carried on throughout the whole story. Even when she was being very powerful and controlling, there was still that simplicity in her and I think you built up her character really well so that it was easy to follow along with her. I didn't think this was going to go the way that it did and I really liked the surprise that it was. Overall it was a really exciting and engaging story to read.

Wed, December 22nd, 2021 8:23pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, that means a lot! One of my favorite troupes is when a powerful character also just lives like an ordinary, unassuming, person, especially immortals or monsters, so I had a lot of fun with this one.

Wed, December 22nd, 2021 12:35pm

A.K.Taylor

Solid execution, G.P. I liked the dynamic you played with in this little story. An old granny/witch/immortal just suits this narrative perfectly. Despite not having much setting described I could see the old house trope popping up in my head--something like a modern day cabin in the woods maybe. Or just a simple cottage home.

The demon was basically an inky blot similar to Aku in Samurai Jack(an animated series). Or at least that's how I perceived it. The tone with which you used to signify power worked well. Simple words with simple direction augmented by will more than actual force. This is confidence and strong character direction for the old lady. She has seen al she knows and understands more of what she hasn't seen better than the demon itself.

Great little story. Plus I see potential for more entries involving the Old Granny as you have stated earlier.

P.S. Just a touch more description in the setting might've brought more enhancement to the story, but the lack of it didn't really harm its direction at all. I suspect there was a word count involved. Archia does initiate those often in these contests.

Fri, December 24th, 2021 2:58am

Author
Reply

Thank you, I was really happy with how this story came together. The old witch vibe was definitely what I was going for (but with a less obvious aesthetic, which is why I open with her in pajamas in her apartment).
And aku is a good analogy; another over the top and dramatic kind of evil with an amorphous body and a wide variety of powers (even with the power scale difference)
Im almost always pushing the word count limits for these contests, so that did play a factor, but I think my writing tends to always lean away from description (particularly setting), and it's definitely something I'm trying to work on, especially with some fantasy worlds I'm mulling over.

Thu, December 23rd, 2021 7:39pm

charlamaye

good job

Fri, April 8th, 2022 12:22am

Archia

I can see you have made a lot of changes. I really enjoyed the first story so I was wondering what you would have done differently and I also really enjoyed this one. There were a lot of little bits here and there that I think you added which gave a lot more to the story. Pumpkin-Muffin seemed to be around a bit more and like any cat with a great name that's always fun. The cat does add a lot to the woman's character- it captures that dear old lady picture but doesn't make her seem weak.
I did find the part where she was considering having him help with her taxes a little trivial and out of character. She has such a strong, resolute personality, the waver seemed a little weak of her and a bit off topic too. I did really like after that where he attacked her though, that gave it another layer of action and also another chance for the woman to show who or what she is.
All in all you have a really great story here. Your characters are really strong and it's an exciting story. I'm glad you didn't really change the very end few lines, I loved that before and it was perfectly captured the whole story in it.

Fri, April 15th, 2022 10:08pm

Author
Reply

My creative workshop thought there should be a bit more tension and uncertainty before she takes him out, because in the original once she had the upper hand there there was nothing else stacked against her. I'm glad you still liked it (though I'm not sure what I think of the tax scene either, I'll have to think on that more).

Thu, May 12th, 2022 10:24am

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