I remember well the day I crossed the old woman. We sat in her kitchen, drinking tea from old chipped cups. The sun shone hot through the sliding glass door and fell across a scrawny grayish lavender plant and a sticky plastic recycling bin. The smell of the lavender was dry and faint, and a mustiness hung in the air like motes of dust.
She looked so frail, sitting across from me then. She seemed like any old woman, clinging to her dusty old house and kitschy old collections. Her frown looked bitter and stubborn, as if she resolutely mourned her youth.
I thought I was everything that she was not. Young, beautiful, and clever. I was in the height of my power, and proud, but I wanted more. I wanted her secrets, the lore of plants and songs, the ancient recipes she hoarded. I wanted the book. It just sat there on her shelves, covered in dust, as her lavender died and her cups got chipped and her whole life moldered with age. She seemed a prune, dried and leeched of her strength. She was dying and I was growing, and needed those secrets. I knew her well, and I knew exactly where the book was, behind the small army of dusty snow globes with old cookbooks and magazines. The globes made an ugly collection: the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, a basket of kittens.
That was the day our uneasy alliance ended. I know because I ended it. Gazing into my cup of tea, I began to mutter under my breath the spell that would render her powerless to stop me. I thought she would crumple. I could just reach out and take the knowledge she refused me.
I was wrong. She may have been old and dry and unable to keep a measly sprig of lavender alive, but age had not diminished her power. She destroyed my treacherous spell in the space of a blink. And she wasn’t even surprised.
The next morning I woke up in a strange place. My limbs moved slowly and the air felt heavy. As I looked around myself, I saw behind me a cartoonish Empire State building, tall and lonely and fake. Snow was drifting down in huge flakes from a dingy dust-brown sky. My stomach sank. I looked up again and there she was, distant, distorted, and huge. Her wrinkled face was amused, and I thought I could hear her cackling. She set me down in front of the book. It was huge now, guarding in silence all the knowledge I sought.
Tiny and muffled, I screamed.
Stephanie Siebert has been writing fantasy and science fiction for several years. She lives in California with her husband and cat.