The Mighty Gargoyle
Witch's Willow
Part 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Copyright 2002 by Matthew Gallagher.

Once there was a girl approaching the flower of maidenhood, who lived in a little town near the foothills of a large mountain range. She might have been named Alexis, or Brenda, or Gertrude, or Drusilla, but we'll call her Olivia, just to simplify things.

Olivia loved to spend the afternoons after she had finished school exploring the area around the town where she lived. In the springtime it was especially beautiful, as I'm sure it is in your town. Olivia would run hither and thither through the wooded hills, climbing the oak trees there, and smelling the exotic scent of the freshly-washed eucalyptus that spread throughout the land after a rainfall. Sometimes, when she was very lucky, she would find a willow tree, and spend the hot afternoons of the summer months sheltered under its cool shade. The willow was the tree she liked the best of all, for there weren't very many of them.

One day in the late late summer, right before school was scheduled to start, Olivia found herself far away from her town, at least three hills away, on a knoll that she had never been to before. She was climbing the red rocks there looking for lizards to bring home to her brother. Then, among the large boulders of volcanic rock, she spied the mouth of a cave in the hillside! Well, Olivia was never one to leave a cave unexplored, so she trundled up to the mouth and peered in. And do you know what she saw? Yes, of course it was dark, but there, far back in the deep shadows of the cave was a light! That's right, a light! As if a train had stopped in the tunnel, or a miner had got caught coming home for lunch. This was too much for Olivia's adventuresome spirit, and she bounced -- literally bounced! -- into the cave and toward the glimmer of light deep deep inside.

Now, as you know, caves are dank and dark, with lots of echoes and things that drip on a person... but let's not worry about that for now.

When Olivia reached the glow deep deep inside, can you guess at all what she found there? No, it wasn't a leprechaun with a pot of gold, but that would have been a good guess! Olivia found a gate there -- an old, finely crafted gate of some metal that had long since been covered by cool damp moss. The light was in fact another opening, which led to a beautiful lush garden on the other side of the gate. It was the sort of garden that aficionados of horticulture would envy. There were flowers -- purple and gold, scarlet and royal -- and vines heavy with different fruits, and... trees! Olivia pushed the large metal gate and you know what? It swung open easily with a sssswissss. So easily did it swing on its hinge that Olivia was able to ride the gate as it slowly followed its path to completion. Then she ran, willy nilly through the garden, jumping at the butterflies that tried to rest on the flower petals, started getting into a deep conversation with a Japanese Maple when out of the corner of her eye she saw it. About a hundred yards away, in what seemed to be the middle of this enchanting garden, the most sorrowful of all weeping Willows stood, sighing in the wind. Olivia stopped her conversation with the maple in mid-sentence, and ran as fast as she could toward the Willow.

"Always the way with the younger set," said the Maple. "No respect for their elders."

When Olivia reached the Willow, she grabbed one of the branches that fell to the cool grass below and she twirled until she was caught up in the leaves. The Willow let out a very surprised gasp, and then shook all its branches in delight. That afternoon, Olivia played with the Willow for hours, climbing in its branches and telling it stories and braiding the long tendrils together in pig tails. In this garden, it seemed as though the daylight lasted forever, and the afternoon became very hot, and Olivia became very tired. When the Willow finally invited her to take a nap in the cradle of its trunk, she curled up and fell fast, fast asleep....

Part 2    Back to top

The next morning Olivia awoke and bounded up the branches of the Willow with glee. She leapt from arm to arm, bouncing as if she were on a diving board. Sometimes she caught a branch, and yelled her best Tarzan yell!

"Chit chit chit!!!"

And then, being hungry, she clawed down the bole of the tree at a rapid pace, and raced through the garden looking for a nut tree.

You know why, don't you? Because, while she was asleep in the arms of the Willow tree, she had magically been transformed into a squirrel! You'd think she'd have noticed that right away, but I think she was too sleepy and too hungry to notice anything quite yet, for she had just awoken.

Olivia found a large English walnut tree and zipped right up the trunk, her new bushy tail giving her great balance indeed!

Back under the canopy of her friend the Willow, as she was eating the meat of a walnut she had successfully cracked open, Olivia felt the ground shake.

"WHAT are you DOING here?!?" screamed the witch who marched menacingly toward the Willow. "Get out of my tree!!!"

Olivia had never seen a witch before, but she immediately assumed that that was who the woman was, for she wore a long flowing dress that caught the breeze every time she moved. And she looked angry. Very angry.

"The Willow said I could rest among its branches," Olivia tried to explain, but the witch would have none of it.

"You trespasser! You... you squirrel-girl!!! How dare you come into my magic garden with your candy-covered fingers and eat my walnuts!"

"I... I am a squirrel!" exclaimed Olivia, who had by now woken up enough to figure things out.

The witch explained, which was kind of her to do, since she was not asked for an explanation, and she was rather cross with Olivia for being there, and, well, she didn't have to.

"The Willow enchants anyone who sleeps in its branches. It turns the person into an animal."

"But... but the Willow must have been lonely," Olivia stammered. "That must be why! He likes to be talked to and played with. Do you talk to him or play with him?"

The witch glared. (You know how they do that.) She spoke very slowly in a low tone to Olivia.

"You like my garden, do you? You like my tree? Well, then you can stay with the Willow and keep it company for as long as you are in my garden. Forever!!!"

And with that the witch whirled around so fast that her dress looked like a green and purple tornado.

And then she was gone. Just like that.

Without saying "Excuse me" to the Willow, Olivia bounded down the trunk of the tree to the gate. She pulled and pulled, but her little squirrel body was not able to open it this time. It was ornately decorated, and though she could see a little ways into the dankness of the cave beyond, she could not find any hole in the gate large enough through which she could pass.

She looked back into the garden and saw the Willow far off in the distance. It sighed heavily.

Olivia sighed in response, and slowly crawled back to it, her tail dragging on the ground....

Part 3    Back to top

Time passed.

For Olivia the squirrel, it felt as though the last few weeks of Summer had flown by.  And yet, the sun continued to shine in the garden, keeping the flowers in full bloom and the trees heavy with fruit.  Each day, as sun would reach its highest point in the sky, the clouds rolled in to cover the sky, and poured rain on the thirsty garden.  Oh, how good it felt!

It turned out that Olivia liked being a squirrel in the enchanted garden.  She could talk to all the plants and animals there, and came to know each of the plants and insects in the garden by name and disposition.  There was Linda, the mud dauber wasp who lived on the side of a poplar.  Olivia would always say a cheery "Good morning!" to her as passed by her searching for breakfast, but Linda usually grumbled something about her aching back.  The peonies always greeted Olivia warmly as she strode by them.  They laughed and laughed to see her cheeks full of nuts!

She rarely saw the Witch visit her garden.  And when she did, she hid high in the branches of the Willow.  The Witch did not seem angry as she had during their first encounter.  She stopped to smell the roses, and listen to the bees buzzing inside their hive near the orange grove.  She checked the leaves of the pumpkin patch for signs that the caterpillars were being gluttonous.  She did not visit the Willow in the middle of the garden very often.  She seemed to avoid it, in fact, and only walked by its great trunk when she was on her way to the pond where the egrets bathed, down the slope from the Willow.  She didn't usually stop unless she heard Olivia make a noise in the tree.  Then, she'd pause a moment, peer through the leaves into the upper branches, give a harrumph and continue on her way.

Though she could talk to all the plants and insects, Olivia found that they weren't the best conversationalists in the world.  She found it downright lonely at times.  The roses were always arguing over who was loved more, who was the prettiest, and who the most fragrant.  The Queen Anne was the loudest, and declaimed on a regular basis that she would win top honours at the Imperial Rose Festival, should she ever be entered in competition there.  The snapdragons were ornery, as flowers go, and jeered at all the plants surrounding them.  The daffodils were the sweetest of flowers, effusive each time Olivia loped by.  They were a wonderful audience, and were full of compliments for her fine, bushy tail and acrobatic prowess.  "Good show!" they'd trumpet each time she somersaulted in the air as she sailed from branch to branch of the nearby bay tree.  But they never seemed interested in talking about anything of substance.

And Olivia missed her family.

Sometimes she would trip down to the pond and watch the graceful egrets bathe themselves and take off into the air as the sun hung low in the afternoon.  She wished that the Willow had turned her into a bird or a bat, or anything that could fly, for that seemed the only way out of the garden...

Part 4    Back to top

One morning, as Olivia rolled in the fresh dew that hung heavily on the clover of the glade, whispers of another trespasser came to her ears.  Olivia stood on her hind legs and sniffed the air.  A strange-but-familiar scent wafted to her nose on the morning breeze.  It seemed to remind her of something, though she could not properly recall who or what.

Then she heard the light thunder of feet tramping through the verdant landscape of the garden.  They seemed to fall heavily, and Olivia thought that the Witch must be angry again, storming through the garden.  Olivia leapt to the nearest branch of the nearest tree, and scampered high into its sheltering arms.

Far below on the garden floor she spied a young man traipsing over the grass.  He was tall, and had broad shoulders.  The sun overhead had dappled his face with little freckles, and caught his hair afire every time he turned his head side to side as if he were searching for something.  He stopped at the base of the tree from which Olivia peered down.

It couldn't be....

"Jason?" she asked, tentatively.

There was no response.

"Jason, is that really you?" this time imploring the redheaded man to listen to her.

He looked up at the sound of the squirrel's chatter.  It was him! It was Jason, her brother!  And how he had grown since the last time she saw him.  No longer the little pipsqueak of a little brother, but now, almost a man!

"Oh, hello there, little fellow.  I thought I heard something.  Say, this is quite a home you've got here.  I couldn't believe it when I found this garden stuck behind that cave back there!"

Cave?  The cave!  Olivia had almost forgotten about the cave and the gate and the entrance to the garden.  She had become so entrenched in the day-to-day routine of the garden that the idea that she had ever lived anywhere else had nearly disappeared from her head.

"So, is this your beautiful garden, little fella?  I was on a spelunking trip with my class at college when I found your secret cave.  Gosh, my sister would have been so excited if I brought her here.  But she ran away so many years ago...."

Years!  Why, it had only been a few short weeks since Olivia became trapped in the garden... hadn't it?!?

"I didn't run away, Jason!  I didn't!  I've been trapped here by a witch!" she chatted excitedly.

Jason laughed.  "My but you have something to say, fella!  Why don't you come down here and tell me what it is."

Olivia could understand perfectly what Jason said, having been human once, but he had no idea what she was speaking, for he had never been a squirrel and could not speak her new language!  Still, Olivia knew that if she were to leave the garden, it would be with Jason, so she bounded down the tree and landed right on his shoulder.

"Wow!  Aren't you the friendly one?  Well, come along and show me your garden."

Jason started to walk further into the garden, toward the Willow, but Olivia sprung from his shoulder to the ground behind him, and chatted with urgency, pointing back toward the gate.

"Jason, but I just came from there, fella.  You want to go back?  Don't you want me to see your lovely flowers, and trees?"

Olivia shook her head wildly, and then began to tug on her brother's leg.

"Oh, all right.  We'll go this way first.  My, but you are persistent!"

And with that he turned back toward the gate.  Olivia pounced back to his shoulder and hummed merrily as Jason strode over the grass.

Then, as suddenly as when you blow on a dandelion, a wind rose and nearly knocked her off Jason' shoulder!  In front of them a blur of purple and green swirled up from the flowers at their feet.  And what do you know, the Witch was standing there before them, a grimace on her face!

Part 5    Back to top

Well, you didn't think Olivia was going to escape so easily after the Witch had told her that she would be trapped with the Willow "Forever!", did you?

"Thief!" cried out the Witch.  "Thief and trespasser!  How dare you break into my garden and try to take my squirrel!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean -"

"You're not leaving your friend the Willow, are you?"

"My friend the Willow?" Jason asked, plainly confused.

"Not you, you upstart trespasser.  The squirrel-girl."

"Oh, I thought it was a boy squirrel," he said, blushing.  "Look, I don't know who you are or what your problem is, but we're leaving.  Me and this little squirrel here."

The witch became so angry that her face turned the same shade of purple as the honeysuckle down at her feet.

"People who find my garden and enter do not leave."  She waved her arms and her in her eyes a thunderstorm raged.

        "Though of flesh and blood thou wert made,
        You'll now change in this wooded glade.
        By Ishtar's eyes, by Hagar's tooth,
        Where now thee stands, thou wilt take root!"

And with that, Jason froze where he stood, and his skin became harder and darker.... and his clothes fell off as his arms turned into branches and the little hairs on his arms turned into little leaves, and in less than a minute, a red ash tree stood where Olivia's brother had been!

"No!  You can't do this too him!  Please change him back and let him go!  I'll stay here in the garden, and keep the Willow company, and never leave, nor try to -- I promise!  Please change him back and let him go, you mean horrible old witch!"

The Witch, who when she was not angry did not look especially mean, and certainly did not appear to be ancient, thought a moment.

"The offer of self-sacrifice is an attractive one, and I might have let him leave... if you had not called me mean and horrible... and old!"

Olivia blurted out "I'm sorry!" at once, but by the time she started forming the "ess" sound of "sorry" in her mouth, the witch had already disappeared in her little green-and-purple tornado.

Olivia curled up in the crook of the branch she was on after her brother had been turned into the red ash tree, and she cried.

Part 6    Back to top

Now, the thing about trees is that even though they can talk, the speak very, very, very slowly.  And the larger and older they are, the slower they talk!  Where you might say, "Hi there!  How are you?" in about one-and-a-half seconds, it would take an oak tree nearly a week to make the same greeting.  So, even though Olivia could talk to the trees in the garden, she didn't get much feedback from them, including her special friend, the Willow.  But like any tree, he was a good listener.  Talk to one sometime, and you'll see what a good listener your tree is.  Honest!

The Willow listened to Olivia tell stories for hours and hours.  He would shake his branches with laughter when Olivia told him how she would get in trouble at school for bringing insects to class that she had found on one of her trips in the hills.  Her teacher Mrs. Hanley was extremely afraid of bugs, and there was that one time when the Jerusalem cricket got out of its little cardboard box and flown around the room, finally landing in Mrs. Hanley's hair -- wait, let's get back to this story.

Now, even though it was difficult for the trees to talk fast enough for Olivia to pay attention, the could talk to one another very easily, and over great distances.  So it was that Jason the Red Ash and the Willow became very well acquainted.  When Jason realized that Olivia was indeed his sister, he wanted to pick her up and hug her and whirl her around over his head!  But he couldn't, because he was a tree, and his movements were limited.

The Willow told the Ash his story.

Like Jason, he hadn't started his life out as a tree at all!  He had been a young man named William.  Now, I know you have been waiting for this part -- William was in fact a prince from a far-off land!  But, though he was a prince, he wasn't a crown prince or anything, and had at least a dozen brothers ahead of him in line for the thrown, and he himself had no land nor money of which to speak.  So he had come to these hills, far away from his home, searching for the gold that he had heard was locked away inside.  And that is how he had met the witch.  He had been pan prospecting in the river nearby when he saw the witch gliding through the tall grass and disappear into the mountain through the cave mouth that was normally so difficult to spot.  He had followed her, and nearly frightened her out of her wits when he came up behind her in the cave.  But he had struck up a conversation with her, being rather taken with her looks and aire of mystery.  Her name was Janessa.  She was rather taken with him, too, and invited the young prince to enter her garden and enjoy the fruits there.  They spent several days together in the garden, splashing each other in the pond, and lying together at night, counting the stars and making up their own constellations.  Then the Witch -- Janessa -- told him about the treasure that she kept in the middle of the garden.  I know!  A treasure, can you believe it??  Right there under a secret door in the very middle of the garden.  She wanted to share her treasure with the handsome young prince, and help him build his own tower.

But, the prince was not what you'd call a person of strong character.  One morning, very early when the sun was only waking up and peaking out with one eye from under his covers, William took the treasure from its hiding place, and was just about to steal it....

But, as we have seen, no one who enters the garden has an easy time leaving it, do they!

The witch had awoken, for she felt everything that went on in the garden, and she was so angry at William's betrayal that she turned him into the Willow tree to guard the spot where the treasure lay.  And now he stood right over it.  She also enchanted his branches so that anyone who slept in them would become a small woodland creature, to prevent them from leaving the garden.

William was very sorry he had tried to take the treasure, for he had cared for the Wi -- for Janessa, and realized that if he had to do it all over again, he would never had betrayed her like that.  But then, he was a Willow tree with a lot of time on his hands to regret things, wasn't he?

Part 7    Back to top

Olivia noticed that the Witch started to come to the garden more frequently than she had before she had turned her brother into a tree.  She still stayed away from the Willow and still watched the egrets.  But she would also visit the Red Ash.  Sometimes she would aerate the soil around it, or bring food to its roots.  Sometimes she would check to see that the insects in the garden weren't eating the leaves.  And sometimes, she would sit under its branches, and play a little lute, whose music would waft through the garden so beautifully that all the plants and creatures there would stop what they were doing and listen.

Even Olivia was captivated by the notes that the lute sent out.  After the Witch had come to sit under the Red Ash a few times, Olivia crawled warily toward her.  Finally, she crawled quite close to the Witch's skirt and got the surprise of her life -- he Witch, Janessa, reached down and scratched Olivia right between the ears!  This made Olivia's tail furl and unfurl.

"Your music is beautiful," Olivia said after she found her voice again.

"Thank you.  I haven't played in a long, long time," the Witch replied.

"Why not?"

"I didn't have such a lovely spot to sit before."

"You like my brother, don't you?"

"He's very nice."

Olivia decided to make her offer again.  "You know, if you change him back into a boy again, I would stay here in your garden, and watch over things for you."

"You don't want to be a girl anymore?"

"Well, I liked being a girl, and it's fun to be a squirrel, but if I became a girl again and had to leave the garden, I'd have to leave the Willow behind, too..."

"You like him, don't you?"

"Yes.  Why don't you like him?"

"He tried to take something from me once."

"Your treasure."

"My heart."

"I'm sure he's very sorry that he did that."

The witch stood up and stretched her arms and gave a slight yawn.  She turned to look at the Red Ash and reached out to touch its bark gently.

"What do you think?" she asked quietly.

Olivia wasn't sure how to reply.  "Well, if you --"

"Not you.  I'm talking to the tree."

Olivia flicked her tail side to side and said, "Oh."

The Witch made a gesture in front of the tree and sang this chant:

        "When once a man of flesh you were
        By Osiris' crown here's now the cure:
        From bark and leaves, my words repair,
        Return to blood and flame-red hair."

The leaves of the Red Ash shivered for a second, and then the branches twisted, and the trunk split up the middle and became legs again.  In the space of time it takes to read this paragraph, Jason stood in front of the Witch and his little sister.  He cracked his back and then bent down to lift Olivia to his shoulder.

"She doesn't have to stay for me, Janessa.  I'll stay here in the garden in her place.  That is, if you stay, too."

The Witch looked at him very strangely for a moment.  Her eyes went from green to purple and then back again.  She spun on her heal, and the brother and sister thought she was going to whirl into a tornado again, but she merely trod off to the middle of the garden.  They stood nonplussed for a bit, then followed quickly.

When they got to the middle of the garden, the found Janessa waving her arms in front of the Willow.  They couldn't hear her, but they thought she was chanting.  They saw the Willow shake violently and there was a loud CRACK! as if it had been struck by lightning!  The great bole of the tree split down the middle loudly and fell apart, the branches crashing to the ground.  There in the middle of the tree, crouched a man.  He was just about Jason's age, though a bit taller when he stood, with dark wavy hair and curious hazel eyes. He rose to his full height, and blinked.  He looked at the Witch as his eyes began to focus, and then at Jason, and then at the little squirrel on his shoulder.

Olivia leapt off her brother's shoulder and stretched out on the grass.  Her arms became longer as her tail shrunk into her body, and the fur that covered her receded as she became a girl once more.

"I... I don't understand..."  William began.

"These two," said the Witch as she thumbed at them over her shoulder, "reminded me of something I had forgotten a long, long time ago.  Sometimes it's good to give up your most prized possession for someone you love."

William blinked again.  "I don't want your treasure."

"You're not getting it.  But you are getting something else before you leave my garden, never to return."

Janessa took Olivia's hand and put it in William's.

"You're so handsome," she said quietly.

Jason whistled.  "Gosh, sis, you sure have grown up!"

And indeed she had, for what had seemed like mere weeks to her had in fact been several years, and Olivia had grown into a woman.

Janessa put her hands on her hips.  "Now, if all of you would leave my garden."

"No," said Jason.  Olivia turned to her brother, tears welling up in her eyes.  "I'm not leaving, Janessa.  I meant what I said.  I'll stay with you and help you tend the garden, if you'll have me."

"But I'll never see you again, Jason!" Olivia cried.

Janessa looked up at the small white clouds and then back at Jason.  "This garden has needed some good tending for a long time.  The two of you should leave now before I change my mind and turn you all into rocks."

Jason embraced his sister.  "You won't forget me, Sis.  And who knows, maybe I'll get to come visit."

William held Olivia's hands to his lips.  "Come, we have many adventures ahead of us."  He began to lead her toward the gate.

Olivia stopped and then ran back to the Witch and hugged her.  "You take care of him, or I will come back!"

And then she ran back to William and they walked hand in hand through the gate, through the cave, and back into what you and I might call the real world.

"The Witch's Willow" copyright 2002 Matt Gallagher. All rights reserved. For information, contact the author.
Select scrips are available for purchase in book form at

Content copyright 2009 The Mighty Gargoyle. All rights reserved.