Author: Christina Soontornvat
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Izzy Doyle and the Changelings of the Edgewood
What do you do when you find yourself sitting down at your own kitchen table with a witch?
Because that was exactly what the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly had called the woman who now sat across from Izzy. When Izzy’s mom had acted like she didn’t hear him, the cashier had said it again.
“That neighbor of yours is a witch, or I’m a bull toad. Some people are scared of her, but I ain’t afraid to speak my mind.”
Izzy’s mom put on her polite smile and zipped up her purse. “I’m afraid we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Malloy yet.”
“Oh it ain’t Mrs. You think anyone would marry her? Shoot, no. She’d as soon put a curse on a man as say hello. Last year she told Old Man Hinkam that on account he built his hog pen on a fairy road, the fairies would make the meat tough.”
Izzy’s mom smirked as she lifted the grocery sacks into the cart.
“You think it’s funny, but sure enough that ham came out like a saddle strap.” The cashier’s voice dropped to a whisper, and his eyes scanned side to side. “Do you know what she came in here and bought last week?”
“I can’t ima – “
“Beef tongue. Now I ask you, what kind of person buys that? Put it in a potion or something, I bet. Mind, I’m only tellin’ you this ‘cause you’re new to town, and you got them young kids to look after. See, I ain’t afraid to speak my mind.”
Izzy turned to her little sister. “Hen, tell Mom you need to go to the bathroom,” she whispered.
“But I don’t,” Hen said.
“I know that! It’s just a stalling tactic.”
“So why don’t you do it?”
“Because I’m listening! I want to hear more about the witch.”
This was without a doubt the most interesting thing that had happened since they moved. The possibility of having a witch for a neighbor just might be enough to make up for living in a town with no movie theater, no swimming pools, and – worst of all – no library.
But Izzy’s mother had no interest in such foolishness, and chalked it all up to country superstition. “Can you believe that nonsense?” she had said as they walked to the parking lot. “I so wish this wasn’t the only grocery store in town!” Then she loaded them all up into the car to start the long, pot-hole-riddled drive out to their new, old house.
And now here they all were, two days later, seated around the table with a witch, while their mother poured out cups of tea and smiled as graciously as if she were entertaining one of her socialite friends from their old suburb.
True, this woman didn’t have any of the standard witch traits. And Izzy should know. It was safe to say that she had read every fairy or folktale concerning witches. In fact, she was almost sure she had read every fairytale in existence, and she had the books upstairs in her room to prove it. She knew that witches came in one of two varieties: hunchbacked hag, or cruelly beautiful sorceress. That’s just the way things were.
The woman sitting across from her looked more like a farmer than anything else. Her work clothes bore grass stains, and her fingernails were caked with dirt. Her short, white hair peeked out from under a crumpled men's hat. The only thing remotely witchy about her was that even though the wrinkles on her face put her at least at seventy, she seemed strong and didn’t stoop the way most old people did.
Though she didn’t fit the typical mold, Izzy regarded the old woman skeptically. There was still the chance it was all a clever disguise.
“Marian, we are so very glad that you decided to stop by,” said Izzy’s mom. “My husband works late at his new job, and I’m not used to living so far from any other neighbors. It’s nice to have another adult to talk to.”
“Humph,” said Marian, sniffing at her tea. “Far as I’m concerned, the best thing about living way out here is not having folks to talk to.”
Izzy’s mom laughed as if Marian had made a joke. “You know you’re more than welcome to join us for dinner, if you like.”
Hen’s eyes grew wide as pancakes at this suggestion.
One corner of Marian’s mouth turned up a little before returning to a scowl. “No, I’ve got to get home to my own supper. I only came over because I was driving past your house, which I normally don’t do. I think it’s best that neighbors meet face to face. Prevents problems later on.”
“Oh yes, I agree. Especially when one has children,” said their mom. “These are my girls – Izzy here is twelve, and Hen just turned eight last month.”
Izzy held fast to her skeptical expression while the old woman scanned her up and down. “Twelve? You’re no bigger than a chipmunk.”
“My Izzy’s always been petite,” said her mom.
Izzy cringed. So what if she stood only an inch taller than her little sister? She hated the word petite. It made her feel like a small dessert.
Hen, who had not stopped staring at Marian since she walked in the door, leaned on her elbows toward the center of the table. “How come you wear a man’s hat?” she asked.
Marian cocked one eyebrow, and squinted back at her. “A man was poaching rabbits on my land, so I poached him. His hat was a perfect fit.”
Hen giggled in that way of hers that always won over strangers. “Mom says you’re our neighbor.”
“That’s right. My house is on the other side of the woods from yours.” Marian pointed her finger at Hen’s nose. “You know, this property used to be part of my family’s land, before the Doyle family bought it from us.”
“Really? I never knew that,” said their mom.
“That was years and years ago,” said Marian, waving her hand in the air. She regarded the kitchen disapprovingly. “I see you’re already making improvements to the house.”
“Oh yes. This rustic style really isn’t for me. Still, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Most people would be thrilled to inherit a big farmhouse in the woods.” Izzy’s mother sighed as if to say she did not count herself as one of these people. “Before we inherited the house, the last time we were here was when Izzy was born. Right over there in the living room, as a matter of fact.”
Marian narrowed her eyes at Izzy. “You were born in this house?”
Izzy shrugged and nodded. She braced herself for her mom’s melodramatic retelling of her birth. Why couldn’t she have just been born in a hospital, like everyone else?