The Wishing Witch | by Katie Gilgour

     A long time ago, in a land of magic and faerie dust, lived a witch.

     She was not unlike any other witch you may have heard of: her grey hair ran wild, her face was wrinkled and spotted with warts, and she wore a black cloak over her humped back. But she wasn’t like any witch the land had ever seen, for her magic had one purpose: to grant your heart’s desire.

     Her career in wish-granting—for lack of a better term—began years ago, when her afternoon tea was interrupted by a knock on her door. It was an odd, shocking sort of sound, for her cottage rarely attracted visitors; nor was she expecting company.

     When she finally opened the door, she was astonished to find a weary traveler who had nearly collapsed at her feet from hunger and exhaustion.

     “Please,” he begged, “Would you be so kind as to lend a cup of water, or a bit of bread? I have two gold coins. Please.”

     Never one to refuse a soul in need, the witch invited him inside and brought him a glass of water. “Never mind the money,” she told him as she started a pot of stew. “I don’t need it. You, however, need a good meal and lots of rest. Stay as long as you need.” 

     The man nodded gratefully as he gulped down his meal. “I don’t need much, ma’am—but I will be forever thankful for your kindness.”

     “If you don’t need much,” replied the witch, eyeing him thoughtfully, “What is it you do need?

     The man scoffed and said that he needed nothing else for the night, but the witch did not believe him.  “Come now,” she said with a smile, “You have also shown me great kindness. Not many are willing to waste their evenings with an ugly old witch. Can I offer you anything more for your journey?

     “I’m afraid not,” he said. “My travels are difficult for another reason entirely. I…I suppose what I want—what I wish for most in the world—is a home.”

     The witch was not expecting this, and her gaze softened. She understood this, too.

     “Wait here,” she instructed, and before the weary traveler could reply, she headed for the next room.

     She pulled a heavy book from her shelves and leafed through its yellowed pages, murmuring to herself as she read. A few minutes later, the man watched as she rummaged through her pantry. After what felt like hours, she held up a tiny blue bottle that sparkled in the light.  “When your journey is done, drink this. You will find what you are looking for, though it may not be what you expect.”

     The man’s brow furrowed. “Then what will it be?”

     “That,” she told him, “Is for you discover.”

     “I don’t understand.”

     “That’s the beauty of it, my dear. You don’t have to.”

     The man nodded and put the tiny bottle in a raggedy knapsack.

 

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     The next morning, the traveler felt strong enough to continue his journey. He thanked the witch for her hospitality and said goodbye, leaving her feeling completely and utterly alone. But as the years passed, something remarkable happened: word spread about the kind witch who offered help to the brokenhearted and downtrodden. Visitor after visitor knocked on her door, asking for love or money or adventure. She did not question them; she only gave answers. And because of this, she became known as the Wishing Witch.

     The witch learned that there were no limits within the human heart. Some wished for love or happiness, while others longed for wealth and glory. There was a spell for everything, and she cast them all. Some wishes were granted immediately and literally; some, like the traveler’s wish for a home, came true through unexpected means. Whether the witch healed a soldier’s wounds or helped a nobleman discover true riches, she was their hero.

     And yet, the witch felt terribly lonely, for she had no one to love—and no one truly loved her. She was a hero, but she was not a friend; after all, she was simply the Wishing Witch. She was just an old woman who gave and gave and gave, and her generosity wasn’t limited to magic.

     Every morning, she woke early to brew a pot of tea and cook the day’s meals. If it was a particularly slow day, she might do some gardening or visit the nearby marketplace, but those days had become far and few between; usually, she tidied up the cottage or baked a dessert or two (she had learned that those who carried such heavy wishes also had the biggest appetites).

     One early morning, after she had finished brewing her favorite blend of green tea, she heard a knock at her door. “Odd,” the old witch murmured as she put out the crackling fire. “A bit early for visitors, isn’t it?” She looked out the window, as though the still-rising sun would nod in agreement.

     Another set of persistent knocks sent the witch hobbling to the door. “I’m coming!” she called. “Or at least I’m trying…hard to tell with these old bones…”

     When she finally opened the door, she was surprised to see a young girl grinning up at her.

     “Hello,” she said brightly. “My name is Kaylin. I’m a baker. Well, actually—my father is a baker. But I’m selling bread for the first time!” She held up a large basket of bread to demonstrate. “Would you like to try some?”

     “That’s very kind of you, dear, but I don’t need any bread,” the witch said, wondering what sort of wish justified baking a fresh loaf of bread. “I tend to manage on my own.”

     “Oh. I see,” Kaylin said. Her face fell slightly, as though she were trying to hide her disappointment. “Well, I’ll be on my way, then. Thank you.”

     The girl gave a sad little wave and started down the stony path, like so many visitors had before—only they, of course, had made a wish.

     The witch was unsure how to react to such innocent kindness. Occasionally, visitors would offer some sort of gift in return for a spell; not once had anyone offered anything for free.

     “Wait!”

     Kaylin spun around, her eyes growing wide with excitement. “Did you change your mind?”

     “Never mind that,” the witch said, waving her hand. “Are you…are you not here to make a wish?

     “A wish?”

     “Yes. I’m the witch who grants wishes,” she explained.

     Kaylin cocked her head and furrowed her brows, as if she were trying to remember hearing stories about the witch who lived nearby.

     The witch tried again. “The Wishing Witch?” she offered. “Have you…have you really not heard of me?

     “Never.”

     The two stared at each other, and for the first time in years, the witch was struck dumb. For what could she say to someone who didn’t want to make a wish? She had nothing else to offer.

     “So…you listen to people’s wishes?” Kaylin asked. It was an awkward attempt to break the silence, but the witch appreciated it all the same.

     “Yes. I listen, and then I make them come true.”

     “That’s awfully nice of you.”

     “I suppose,” the witch said. “But it’s no trouble. It’s just what I do. I could grant one of your wishes, if you’d like.”

     “Hmm,” Kaylin said, cocking her head again in thought. “I can’t think of a wish right now. If I came back tomorrow, would I still be able to make a wish?”

     “Of course.”

     The girl beamed. “Oh, how wonderful! I’ll be back tomorrow morning, or maybe tomorrow night. Here,” Kaylin said, stuffing several loaves of bread into the witch’s arms. “You take these. It’s the least I can do. And they are tasty, I promise!”

     “Well,” the witch said, feeling rather out of place. “Thank y—”

     Kaylin interrupted her with a horrified gasp. “Oh! I’m so sorry—I didn’t even ask your name! I can’t keep calling you the Wishing Witch, can I?”

     “You can if you’d like,” the witch replied. “That’s what everyone else calls me.”

     “Well, it’s very rude.”

     The witch hesitated. She was quite content being the Wishing Witch.

     “My name is Astrid,” the witch finally answered, although the name hardly felt like her own.

     “Astrid,” Kaylin repeated. She offered another bright smile. “It’s very nice to meet you. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

     With a giddy wave, the baker’s daughter skipped down the path, leaving a shocked—but pleased—witch behind her.

 

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     Kaylin arrived just as early the next morning.

     “Good morning,” she said, gasping for breath. Her cheeks were bright red. “I ran…all the way here.” She paused, clutching her side as she took deep gulps of air. When her breathing had returned to normal, she held up a basket bursting with breads and pastries. “And I brought breakfast!”

     The girl’s excitement was infectious, and Astrid found herself grinning as she opened the door. “Well, come on, then,” the witch said, waving her inside. “Let’s have breakfast and a cup of tea then, eh?”

     The two stepped inside, and together they set the table for breakfast. Astrid brewed tea and made fresh orange juice as Kaylin gushed about how much she loved the cottage. When they were ready to eat, Kaylin only claimed a blueberry muffin and refused to eat any of the sweet, fruit-filled pastries. “I get to eat them all the time,” she insisted. “You get the first pick!”

     After another moment’s hesitation, Astrid scooped a strawberry pastry onto her plate and took a bite. It was the perfect combination of tangy and sweet.

     Kaylin smiled. “It’s good, isn’t it?”

     “You made this?”

     “Yes. Well, Papa and I did. He told me to make sure to bring all the best stuff.”

     “In that case, you certainly succeeded.”

     Kaylin beamed with pride. “I’m glad.”

     As the witch finished her breakfast, Kaylin told her more stories—how her father had built their little house next to the bakery, and how he had once caught her stealing chocolate from the cabinets. She told dozens of stories, and Astrid loved each and every one.

     “You know,” the witch finally said, “You still haven’t told me what you’re wishing for.”

     “I’m still not sure,” Kaylin admitted. She bit her lip, and looked around the cottage before studying Astrid’s wrinkled face. “What would you wish for?”

     No one had ever asked her that before. “I don’t grant my own wishes,” Astrid said simply.

     “Why?”

     “I’m too selfish. It never worked out.”

     Kaylin considered this. “You don’t seem very selfish.”

     It was almost cruel, the girl’s naivety. If only she knew the truth—that the witch’s generosity was born out of pain, not bravery or sainthood.

     Unfazed, Kaylin continued, “Some people believe that the stars hear our wishes.”

     Astrid frowned. She had never heard of such a thing.

     She remembered how, long ago, she taught one of many weary travelers how to use the stars as his compass. Some witches looked to the stars to tell their future; others to tell stories of gods and heroes. There was infinite wisdom in the stars—wisdom that not even an old witch could fathom.

     Before she became the Wishing Witch, casting spells out of pity or kindness, she made her own wish: a wish that even the stars were forbidden to hear. She didn’t think it could ever come true.

     But then she found the perfect spell.

     It was meant for them. For both of them. It wasn’t meant to be cruel or complicated or wise. She had only wanted—as so many of us do—to be loved in return.

     And it had gone terribly, terribly wrong.

     Kaylin narrowed her eyes. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

     “Well…it’s just that—“

     “Do you know any constellations?” Kaylin interrupted.

     “Yes, but—”

     “Then it will be easy to find a wishing star,” Kaylin said confidently. “I need to get back to the bakery, but I’ll come back tonight. We can both make our wishes.”

     “But Kaylin,” Astrid blurted, “That’s not magic.”

     Kaylin grinned. “Don’t worry. You’ll see.”

 

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     Astrid spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and cooking meals. A few visitors stopped by to make simple requests: a cure for headaches, a potion for insomnia. She granted each wish with a weary heart. As fond as she was of Kaylin, she dreaded her next visit. Astrid was very good at helping others, but she made disastrous decisions for herself. That was why, years ago, she had decided that she would no longer make wishes—she would only grant them.

     As the sun set, the witch found herself hoping that Kaylin had forgotten her promise—but sure enough, the girl came knocking on her door as soon as the first star shone in the sky. Astrid grabbed a quilt, warm cups of hot chocolate, and led Kaylin to her garden. In the dark, they could just make out the outlines of flowers and the vegetable patches. An owl hooted a friendly greeting as they found a spot clear of trees.

     “Right,” Kaylin said, authoritatively. She pointed towards the heavens, where more stars had twinkled into view. “See that bright one, over there? That’s the best wishing star.”

     As Astrid located various constellations and stars, Kaylin explained which stars could—according to her father—hear wishes. Hours passed, and despite Kaylin’s gentle encouragement, Astrid still could not bring herself to make a wish. It hurt her heart, to think of all the things she longed for. To think of all the things she had given others, because she understood what it was like to be lost and afraid and alone.

     “It’s hard to decide what to wish for, isn’t it?” Kaylin asked. While she had great faith in witches and stars, she also had yet to make her wish.

     “Yes,” said the witch, “And no. I know it’s hard to imagine, but I was once very young and foolish. I made a wish, and I hurt someone I loved very much.”

      “But it turned out alright in the end, didn’t it?” Kaylin asked hopefully. At that moment, Astrid longed to be a child again.

     “I’m afraid not.”

     “And that’s why you don’t make wishes?”

     “Never,” Astrid said. “I am afraid of making the same mistakes.”

     Kaylin hesitated, then said, “Maybe you will. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.”

     The witch thought of the hundreds of wishes she had granted; how carefully she had crafted each spell and brewed every potion. As misguided as some people were, they only wanted to be happy.

     The stars seemed to wink at her, promising to keep her secrets and lighten her heart. And why wouldn’t they? It seemed impossible—ridiculous, even—but the stars had always been there. They knew her well; she, on the other hand, had made the very same promises to strangers.

     Could it be? Could she truly wish on a star?

     She wondered.

     “Astrid?”

     Startled, the witch turned her attention back to her friend. “What was that?”

     Kaylin giggled. “I finally made a wish.”

     “Is that right?” Astrid asked. She gazed up at the stars, and she had trouble holding back her grin. For once, hope didn’t feel like a burden. “Me too, dear. Me too.”

 

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Katie is a twenty-something writer, tea addict, and crazy cat lady. In her spare time, she serves as a staff member for The Teacup Trail and Thistle Magazine. She also has a nasty habit of buying books faster than she can read them. You can follow her adventures (and keep up with her cat’s latest mischief) on Instagram and Twitter @katielilybeth.

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