Note: Finalist of our flash fiction contest on the theme “home.” 

Path of Stones

Will you follow the path of stones from the lonely ring where no grass grows, through the willows and tamarack pines, down past the edge of the shore?
They say you can follow that path as far as it goes, but you can never find your way home. Not without making a promise.
Some people call that empty spot a fairy ring, and some call it Witch’s Hollow. Some say the ground is cursed, sown with salt, a blasted heath where nothing will grow. Others say it’s a cellar hole, different only because it’s round, and that those who dare to dig there find odd relics: a thick, three-tined fork, edged in verdigris; fragments of a ceramic washing basin; a dirt-caked doll of twisted rags, still wrapped in a shift of disintegrating calico.
What fire didn’t burn, time buried.
No one talked about the crossed sticks sometimes found along the trail, or off behind outcroppings of sedimentary rock. Bundles of three twigs, spooled together by balls of twine wrapped around their middles. Cats’ cradles, we thought. Children’s toys.

The witch had lived in a round house, my grandmother said. She feared angles.
She would have been better off to fear fire.
Last night I awoke to hushed voices in the dark. I heard the window shudder in its frame, heard my mother’s voice break. It’s not time, she said. She’s still a child, not yet grown.
This morning, the blood on my sheets made her a liar.
Tonight I lie awake, listening to the wind cry in the trees, to the branches that lash the windowpanes. I think of an old picture I found of myself, a child in a cradle. Dangling above my head, a strange toy of joined twigs, tied in the middle with a ball of twine.

I hear scratching at the window and wonder if branches can sound so much like nails. I think of the myth of the changeling. I think of the words borrowed time.
I wonder: will this be the night I walk the path of stones?

Kathryn Kulpa is believed to be indigenous to Rhode Island. She was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash prose chapbook, Girls on Film (Paper Nautilus), and is the author of a short story collection, Pleasant Drugs. You can read more of her work in Jellyfish Review, Reservoir, and Smokelong Quarterly.