Frances cringed at the thought of consequences looming, and propelled her bike toward a solitary cabin, white clapboard in the blackest maw of the clouds. Wind and introductory rain blew against her face, her breathe coming in fits, Frances slid her bike into the dust of the front yard and banged urgently on the front door. A hesitation. A sound of shuffling feet. And Widow Beecher was standing in the door frame.
"What in the blazes! Frances Little. Come in before the tornado does." The circling wind caught pieces of Widow Beecher's white hair and swept them vertical. She looks even more like a witch, thought Frances.
Lilac hung in low bunches from the sealing, drying. The air was pungent with their smell. Frances followed Widow Beecher to the chair in front of the fire, sidestepping a raccoon, a squirrel and a possum curled up together in the warmth of the blaze. Frances allowed herself to look around at the cabin's interior with curiosity. It had been six months since she had sat at this fire. Six months since she had been banned from ever going back. Maybe no one would ask where she waited out the storm. Maybe Mama won't suspect. Frances thought. Even Frances knew this was unlikely. Mama suspected everything.
Widow Beecher paced back and forth, putting away the dishes, checking the latches on the windows, stepping from corner to corner with worry in her forehead. Even in her house dress, there was no hiding the strength of her shoulders, the confident movement of her hands, the curve of her back that held more power than the straight muscle of grown men. White wisps, loose from her braid, tested the air.
"Now I thought you weren't supposed to see me, Frances. Suppose you tell me why you arrive unannounced in the middle of a storm?" the old woman saw into Frances's soul.
"I uh. Mrs. Beecher, its just that I didn't think I could make it to the farm. Please don't tell my folks. I promise I'll leave as soon as the storm goes."
"And if the wind takes the house? My reputation in town won't be helped if you are taken by a tornado in my presence. . . " Widow Beecher shut her eyes and let out a low chuckle, "Burned at the stake... wouldn't be the first time." A window exploded. Shutters let go of hinges. Frances and Widow Beecher fell to the floor as glass and rain descended. The tornado was upon them.
"Frances! Are you ok? Come here, now!" the old woman was crawling toward the girl, who had begun to cry.
"Frances, we don't have time, do exactly what I say!"
a.) Widow Beecher found Frances, wrapping her body with her arms, just as the house and the animals and the bodies huddled together and the bicycle were lifted into the storm. All was wind and cacophony.
b.) Frances looked up through rain and tears to see Widow Beecher grab a bundle of lilac and crush it in her hand. Memories of summer sun and sweat filled the little girl's mind. She saw the lake and the flash of water's reflection, just as a hole opened up in the floor below them and the world went dark.
c. ) "No! Stay away from her, Frances!" boomed a man's voice behind them. Frances turned abruptly at the sound of her father's warning. He appeared like the tempest itself, rain soaked and fierce. The house shuddered around them, perhaps from the storm pressing in, perhaps from the exchange of power between a white haired witch, no longer old, and a father in the doorway.