An unholy glob of brownish mucus leaves the witchy woman’s mouth stringlessly and crashes dangerously close to Harrison’s right loafer. He takes a step back, as does Libby, and the witchy woman goes on the offensive. She steps towards them twice and her odor pushes them back another two steps. Now the witchy woman’s smiling – she has them right where she wants them.
“You two aren’t from around here, are you?” she creaks, her voice a leaky faucet.
Libby’s eyes light up. “No, we’re not! How did you know??”
The witchy woman’s eyes move up and down each of their bodies individually. Harrison and Libby take the chance to do the same to the witchy woman, and we shall join them in their mutual judgment of each other. The witchy old woman is draped in a black cowl that seems to sprout from her black wool sweater. Her legs are covered by a skirt, a very thick and old skirt, one made of stained burlap or something else just as wicked. The bottom hem of the heavy skirt is torn, frayed, tattered, soaked deep with mud. The outsiders, on the other hand, are dressed up fancy-like for their drive through the rural outskirts of Bur City. Harrison’s wearing his penny loafers, the classic browns, beneath caramel slacks and a riveting red blazer with what else but a black button-down with white buttons beneath it. Libby is wearing a sundress and only a sundress, and she doesn’t care who knows because her OnlyFans followers paid her very well to pull this little stunt and when it’s all done and over with she can buy herself a parka.
“Just a hunch,” crones the witchy woman. “What you had the wiles to point at is The Nineteen’ninety-five Longaberger Pottery Gingerbread Country Cottage set, not a cookie mold as you so belliriantly put it.”
“Um…” injects Harrison, an English major. “Belliriantly isn’t a word, Ma’am.”
“Irregardless, the Longaberger gingerbread house mold is a very rare collectible, it’s individually numbered and only a limited number of them exist. I’m going to need… I’m going to need seventy-four dollars for it.”
“Seventy-four dollars?!” booms Libby, her eyes burning hotter than the oven she’s determined to use to bake a gingerbread country cottage. “How are we supposed to get dinner on the way home if we pay you seventy-four dollars? That’s way too much!”
The witchy woman folds her arms and smiles a toothless smile. “And yet the price holds firm. You two cidiots have a nice day now.”
A Large Tip
“…cidiots, as in city idiots. The utter audacity of the woman was entirely preposterous.”
“You got that right,” says a gruff purr of a voice.
Harrison looks out of the corner of his eye and sees the bartender. He’s cleaning a drinking glass down at the other end of the bar, but Harrison was talking pretty loudly into his phone. Couldn’t have been very hard for him to eavesdrop. The four girls sitting in the booth next to the door probably heard the entire conversation, too. Libby probably heard too, and she’s still in the bathroom laying down enough toilet paper to sit down on the toilet and not feel the need to shower immediately afterwards.
“Listen Dally, I’m going to get back to my drink. Next time we’re in Wuester we’ll give you and Sally a call, we’ll all get together like the old times. Yep. A’ight, enjoy your night.” Click. “You go into Wuester much, ‘tender?”
“I do,” as the burly man moves closer, glass and rag in hand. “I live out there, know most of the townfolk. Sounds like you went by Old Meredith’s place.”
“She sure presented like an Old Meredith. She wuh–”
“Who’s Old Meredith?” says Libby, back from the bathroom.
“The fine old woman you folks attempted to barter with today.” The bartender puts his glass down. “Wuester’s a small town, not a whole lot to do. Some folk like to mess with the outsiders for kicks, can’t blame ‘em. You just have to prove you’re good folks.” He walks out from behind the bar and disappears into a door on the far end of the room, then comes back a moment later with a full jar in his hand. He places said jar on the bar between Harrison’s Malibu sunset and Libby’s cosmo. “You go back and give this to Meredith, tell ‘er Grit says he wants the gingerbread mold. She’ll give it to you.”
“Just like that?” asks Harrison skeptically
“Just like that,” confirms Grit, and that, dear hypothetical reader, is how you earn yourself a large tip from the odd few cidiots who manage to escape the confines of their concrete jungles. “But you two’ll want to be careful cruisin’ around Wuester, especially if you wander close to the center. Some folks in the deeper parts of town are the kind you’d do well to turn away from, and they love to invite random innocents into their twisted acres with sales. You never know what you might catch buyin’ stuff from deep Wuester folk, take it from me. I come across a lot of them in my line of work.”
“As a… bartender?”
Without blinking, without faltering, without skipping a single beat, the bartender answers, “Yes. As a bartender. You folks enjoy that gingerbread mold.”
As they get off the bar stools, Libby and Harrison notice the four girls in the booth staring at them. They make no attempt to hide it; if anything, the stares are only more intense now that the cidiots are looking.
“Shall we?” Libby asks. We shall, Harrison answers without speaking.
They can see her staring at them before Harrison has a chance to put the car in park.
“So. You’re back,” challenges Old Meredith, her feet planted firmly.
“We are…” squeaks Libby.
“We have this,” says Harrison as he takes the jar out from behind his back. “And a message. Grit says he wants the gingerbread mold.”
Old Meredith’s glare sharpens to daggers. She closes one eye and scans the cidiots individually with the other, Libby first, Harrison second. Nobody says a single word.
Then, “Grit’s a good man, cidiots.” Old Meredith turns, takes up the Longaberger kit, and makes the exchange. “You two make sure you get that mold to him.” A moment of uneasy silence. The cidiots are petrified. “He warn you about Mahty, cidiots?”
The cidiots nod their heads slowly. Libby isn’t sure why they aren’t in the car yet.
Harrison says, “He said there were some shifty characters deep in the town, yeah.”
Old Meredith closes her eyes and nods slowly. “You two get that Longaberger to Grit now, then skedaddle. Maybe don’t come out to Wuester during sale season, yeah?”
“Maybe we won’t come out again…” Libby mumbles, as if to keep it to herself.
“Maybe you won’t,” Old Meredith agrees with a smile. “Maybe you won’t.”