Adam pushed the heavy door open gently and silently, but found Frally Winter staring at the doorway
regardless. She was perched up on a stool behind the counter, a small blanket wrapped tightly around her shoulders, and her
light blue eyes sparkled with weary moisture. There was no one else in the store, and she had probably been hoping for a customer
to come in any second. Business was very slow when it rained in Palmer Ellis.
"Good afternoon, Ma'am," he managed politely, checking the crooked wooden clock on the wall above
her head to be sure it was actually after noon. It was about half past.
She replied with a nod, looking down at a stack of boxes, wanting to move onto something else
now that she had identified her customer. He had seen her a few times before on the street, but he had never seen her looking
this unsettled. Frally Winter normally had a very comfortable, satisfied air around her, and wore brightly colored wool dresses
that she unbuttoned to the sternum. Her hair, which was now pulled tightly back into a utilitarian knot, was usually braided
or pinned loosely, showing off the dignified single streak of gray which ran its course through her dark tresses. That streak
was now hidden.
He realized he must be idly staring, and focused instead on the seed sack in his hand. He remembered
that Mistress Irvine had asked him to speak to Frally about the payment.
"Miss Winter..." he began, and was surprised at her quickness to correct him.
"That's Mrs. He may not be standing here but that doesn't change the paperwork."
It seemed like a lot to say after she had merely nodded in response to his initial greeting. He
smiled with the best humor he could manage and continued to inquire about the seed. She seemed to be lightening up from whatever
darkness he had noticed at first, and the thought of that overshadowed his momentary confusion at her remark. He knew nothing
about a Mister Winter, but then again, what did he know about the townspeople anyway?
She brushed a bit of corn dust from the hem of her heavy, dark blue skirt as she went to fetch
him the seed. He admired a woman who would lift and carry things, because most in Palmer Ellis wouldn't. The value of a thing
always went up with rarity, he supposed.
"You seem troubled, Mrs. Winter," he had spoken aloud before he could stop himself. At first he
thought she must not have heard him from her position, pulling seed sacks down from overhead storage. It was probably for
She plopped the heavy bags down at his feet and rose, looking him right in the face. The look
in her crystal eyes told him she had heard him, and that she was not suspecting this observation to come so easily. She turned
back to the counter and began adding up the order on a sheet of paper, sneaking glances back over her left shoulder to assure
him she was not ignoring his comment. She spoke the math outloud to herself, scrawled a neat total, circled it, and then filed
the sheet away in a stack.
"The Witch Doctor is out walking around," she finally spoke, her tone serious but still conversational.
"He walked by here...and it scared me the way he was looking at those layabouts. I bet he is planning to do something awful
"The doctor from the Vespers?" he asked, knowing that must be who she meant. He had never suspected
that he was any kind of witch, but the people in town would know better than he. He had never seen the doctor, but had heard
(and overheard) stories that made him very uncomfortable indeed.
Frally nodded. "He's just walking around in the rain, mocking Eclisolus and testing his divine
patience, no doubt. It chilled my blood when he walked in front of that window." She gestured to the big storefront window
that was still dry and clean under the awnings outside. "There was still quite a bit of light coming through it to counter
the shadows of the storm- praise Ecli- but when that witch stepped in front of it, I felt the cold dark of evil sweep through
here. I had to get my blanket out."
Adam let his eyes widen, and looked at the front window some more to avoid the frightening seriousness
in her face. What sounded like well-rehearsed melodrama was actually her true feelings about what had happened, and what chilled
him more than her story was her reaction. How can one person walking by- on the other side of a wall, even- make one grown
woman feel so horrible?
"You didn't see him, did you?" she asked, when he had not responded.
Adam shook his head. "No, Ma'am. I have never seen him."
Hoping the movement wouldnt frighten her, he pulled his pit-knife from his back pocket and sprung
it open, moving it quickly to the sack of seed. He split the top with a wide cut and began pouring the first bag of seed into
his grain tote. When this rain cleared up, it would be the perfect opportunity to go ahead and get Mistress Irvine's grass
layed out. The soil would suck it all down nicely, and there would be no wind to blow it out of place.
"How many years have you been working with the Irvines?" Frally asked, bending to cut the other
bag with her own knife from the counter. Adam mused at her decision to use the word "with" instead of "for." "With" was actually
much more accurate, though many people mistook his position as one of near slavery.
"This is only my second season," he clarified, lifting the bag she had cut before she could do
it herself. When all the seed had been transferred to his tote, he slung it back across his shoulders, grunting with the effort.
He realized that the grass seed would become mixed up with the other grains he already had in his bag, but he had been carrying
Klineoak, which would not grow in the muddy patch and would instead act as a sort of fertilizer for the grass when it began
to break down.
He was already stepping toward the door, thinking about his next planting project, when Frally
stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. He felt a momentary flush at his nearly leaving, absent-mindedly, without even saying
"Your name is Adam, right?" she asked him, her hand sliding down his arm and then dropping down
to her side again.
"Yes Ma'am." He boosted the grain tote a little higher on his shoulder, where her hand had been.
"Adam Love. It was nice to finally meet you today."
She seemed interested in further conversation, but it wouldn't be dutiful of him to hang around
and banter all afternoon. Mistress Irvine surely already had a complaint about his efficiency ready for Lile when he returned
He turned to Frally one last time before pushing through the door and out into the rain. She was
returning his sentiment about being pleased to have met, but he hardly heard her words. When she finished speaking and was
simply smiling at him, he put one foot outside and offered her words he knew would make her feel better, regardless of how
much he knew about good and evil.
"Don't be afraid of the doctor, Mrs. Winter. You're such a good person, evil couldn't
touch you with a fence-pole."
He felt her quiet little gasp of joy as he stepped back out into the midday, shining with metallic
rain rather than warm sunshine. The air smelled of damp wood and soil, and the pooled water from the street was beginning
to climb against the walkway.
The little girl in rags watched him as he walked past, her face never moving- just her eyes. He
wondered what it must have been like for her to be sitting here as the "witch-doctor" walked by, and if she had felt the same
dark evil that Frally had.
It saddened him that a little girl should have to feel the true presence of evil when he, in his
twenty-five years, never once had.