Cottonheart started every day the same: two biscuits with apple butter. One day a week she added grits and homemade plum jam, just to keep it special. Cottonheart was all about finding the special. Those passing by her shack at the edge of the fields saw only what they wanted to see. What they didn’t know was that for Cottonheart, on the inside, and always on the inside was where she made a home. Her ramshackle shack was built against the back of a small hill. Those that looked closely might notice that the small clearing that held the shack was a perfect circle. The trees surrounding it honored that, circling her shack as well. There was something about her that held others at bay. She rarely left her home, preferring instead to trade the jams she made, the beautiful handcrafted blankets, the delicate silver jewelry for what few outside items she needed. The Romany knew her and what she needed and they would visit once or twice in a year. That night the townsfolk might see the bright orange of campfires, hear the echo of music that was both haunting and inviting. If any ventured close they would see the motion of dancing figures. If they counted the number of dancers might puzzle them. But then you never knew how many traveled with the Romani.
After one such visit Cottonheart sat in front of her shack, well aware she was being watched. She expected that it was children from town; come to spy on the old witch. She carefully spread the biscuits with the apple butter, waiting and watching. Her bones creaked these days and soon she had to make a choice. To retreat inside the shack and let it slowly disintegrate, or find another to replace her. The watcher made no further move and finally, Cottonheart moved back into her shack. Shaking her long black hair loose so that it brushed down the ground. Her dark brown skin danced with gold and a warm glow turned her from simple to beautiful. Her gait smoothed and she sighed with relief. She knew her time was near and she had yet to find a replacement. It used to be easier. These days people were less willing to stop and have a glass of clear water and a conversation much less give their lives to watching and waiting.
The knock on her door surprised her. She reached out. It was not one of the children who once and again got brave enough to venture the circle, knock and run. Running away before “the old witch” could catch them. She rarely played their games anymore. She was tired and every venture outside limited her time remaining. The knock came again. More urgent this time.
Cottonheart opened the door and met eyes as filled with pain as hers had once been. She stepped aside, letting the woman in. She recognized her. She had seen this one before. She had knocked before and been turned away with a small purse of gold coins that never quite emptied. Usually that was all they wanted. Never had one returned. Not with eyes still of pain.
“Please” she said “I have seen enough, done enough, had enough done to me, lost enough. I know that you can give me more. I know that you can help me find the peace I see in you. The peace I see within this place. Will you let me?”
Cottonheart took the woman’s head in both of hers, let the cat’s eyes that were a result of her heritage show through. The woman gasped but did not move. She held Cottonheart’s eyes and she knew this was the one. She could hold the door open for a good long time. She would move between the world of the Faire Folk and the human folk and be their bridge and Cottonheart could return home for good knowing her people would thrive with the energy the humans brought while protected from the anger that drove them so much of the time.
The woman smiled as well. Cottonheart would be a good name. She could leave her old name behind and the pain would fade in time. She knew that now. She was home.