MOTHER • by Holley Cornetto

I know a stranger has found our hut because it lifts its legs and turns to face away. It’s never liked strangers. And I know what you’re thinking; yes, our hut can walk, but it needs rest, too. Little chicken legs can only get so far carrying two grown women and a house before they get tired.

Mother and I walk out of the hut and see this guy staring like he’s found what he’s searching for. I can’t help but pity him. He has no idea what he’s actually walked into. I ask Mother if she could be nice to this one, this once, and she looks at me like I put eye of newt in her peppermint tea or something, then asks him, “Are you lost?”

He’s sweating buckets, and I know he’s about to run. For such a small woman, Mother can be very foreboding.

“It’s alright,” I say. “We can help you.”

He looks at her, then me, trying to figure out the puzzle in his mind. We seem so different, the wizened old crone and the lovely young maid. There’s a lesson in this somewhere, he’s sure, but he’s also lazy, so he gives in to the entreaty of my honey-brown eyes.

“I’ve come for a spell or a charm. Something that might help.”

It figures. They always want something. No wonder Mother turns them into rats or toads or whatever.

“Speak your wish,” she says. Her voice is more command than request.

“There’s a woman,” he starts.

I roll my eyes. There’s always a woman.

“I want to make her…” he takes a moment to reconsider his words. Words are important. “I want to win her heart.”

“Who is she?” Mother asks, as if she doesn’t know. There’s only one woman in this whole stinking kingdom whose heart matters, and this isn’t the first Prince Charming wannabe to try and make her fall in love.

“Princess Inessa.” I half expect him to pee his pants and run away, but instead, he holds out a locket with her portrait inside. She’s as beautiful as rainfall in the desert. I can hardly blame these princelings for trying to win her hand. She turns them all away, of course, and I can’t help wondering if they’re… not to her preference.

Mother’s pale gaze fixes on me. I can see the I told you so reflected in her eyes. “Alright,” she says. “Return in three days’ time.”

Prince Charming is on the verge of fainting or crapping himself. I’m not sure which. He takes the hint, spins on his heels, and runs off the way he came before she can change her mind.

“He wants to marry the princess,” Mother says.

I glance at the oak branch just above my head. A starling looks down at us. “He wants to be king.”

Mother nods. “Heat up the cauldron, Marta.”

As I work, I think of the portrait, and the soft lines of Inessa’s face.


He comes back in three days, just like Mother said. I mean, she’s scary and everything, but king is king, after all.

Mother offers him a blood red potion she’s cooked up and stoppered in a small vial. The secret ingredient, she told me, is beets. People don’t want love potions that are green or brown or even clear, so beets it is.

His eyes widen at the vial. He doesn’t see the liquid inside, not really. Inside, he sees a crown and a throne. He sees power.

Desperation drips off him. It’s gross.

“It doesn’t create love from nothing,” Mother instructs. “There has to be a spark; something must exist for the spell to take root.

Remember, one drop for you and one for her. One is enough, don’t get greedy.”

He nods, but he’s not listening. Do they ever?

“What do I owe you?” he asks.

“Your name.”

He looks at her, then at me as if I have the answers. I shrug and he replies, “Aleksandr.”

“Good luck, Aleksandr,” Mother says.

He flees from the shadow of our hut so quickly I could swear his feet are on fire. I turn to Mother. “You really are evil, you know that?”

She gives me her whole well, you-know-who-I-am, so what-do-you-expect, look.


I realize Aleksandr has returned days later when the hut picks itself up and turns its back to the forest path. I can’t blame it, I kind of feel the same about him.

He’s hunched over, clutching his guts, and barfing up… beets?

“Mother!” I call, but I know she knows he’s there. She’s just savoring the moment.

He glares when she finally shows herself. “What did you do to me?”

“What did you do to yourself?” she retorts.

“The potion had no effect on her. She laughed at me!”

“I told you it wouldn’t create something from nothing,” Mother replies.

It occurs to me that in all the years Mother has brewed potions for potential suitors, they’ve all had one thing in common.

“I didn’t…”

“Give her more than one drop?” she finishes.

He groans and vomits up more beet pulp.

“That’s what I thought.”

Why are they always so disappointing?

She offers him another vial. “Drink this.” She didn’t even bother trying to make the potion inside look pretty this time. It’s the color of mud.

He swallows it in one gulp. You’d think he would’ve learned the first time. Moron.

His body tremors and shifts, shrinking and turning in on itself. He lets out a guttural cry, realizing his mistake, but before the echoes of his cries fade from the forest, he vanishes, leaving behind a large blood-red beet on top of his clothing.

Mother lifts the beet and rubs it against her apron.

I pick through the clothes and find the vial.

“What are you up to?” Mother asks.

“There’s two drops left,” I say. “I’m going to see about a princess.”

Holley Cornetto is a writer, librarian, professor, book reviewer, and transplanted southerner who now calls New Jersey home. Her debut novella, We Haunt These Woods, is available from Bleeding Edge Books. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Daily Science Fiction, Flame Tree Press Newsletter, Dark Recesses Press, and several anthologies. In addition to writing The Horror Tree’s weekly newsletter, she reviews for Booklist, Ginger Nuts of Horror, and The Horror Tree. She teaches creative writing in the online MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. Find her on Twitter @HLCornetto.

If you enjoyed this story, show your support on Patreon.

Rate this story:
 average 4.6 stars • 9 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction