The Soup Witch’s Funeral Dinner
by Nicole LeBoeuf
One morning, late March, Sammy Tailor visited the soup witch. He hadn’t planned to. He was busy wrestling with his father’s crankiest sewing machine when the good smell from the soup witch’s cauldron yanked him out the door by his nose.
Sammy came to the soup witch’s door a little resentful and a whole lot hungry. The soup witch handed him a bowl and a spoon, led him through to the back yard, and ladled him up what was in the cauldron. One sip chased resentment away. Sammy ate until all the soup was gone.
When he was done, the soup witch said, “Sammy, I need to train up a successor, and it looks like it’s gonna be you.”
“Because that was a successor-finding soup. You’re who came and ate it, so you’re who I’m gonna to train. Gotta problem with that?”
Well, it beat a future of mending the whole town’s trousers. Besides, after years of “Sammy, come here!” and “Sammy, do this!” he was mighty attracted to the prospect of getting to order everyone else around for a change. So he agreed to become the soup witch’s apprentice.
Lessons weren’t very interesting at first. They were all about making soup. Sammy had expected soup, it was right there in the job title, but so was witch, and he didn’t seem to be learning anything witchy. “When do I get to do magic?”
“Not til you got a handle on the mirepoix,” said the soup witch, “and the sofrito, and the holy trinity. You wanna do magic, you gotta learn how to cook. Now dice these carrots.”
He had to learn how to build fires for boiling and for simmering. He had to chop wood and stack it to age. He had to learn the names, parts, and uses of hundreds of plants. Animals, too. He had to render the fats and oils for cooking with and for seasoning the cauldron. Sometimes the smoke got so thick Sammy could hardly see over the next-door neighbor’s fence. But nobody ever came round to complain. Nobody came round at all, not unless they needed a cure.
“He didn’t thank you,” Sammy observed one day after the latest patient went home.
“It’s a thankless task,” the soup witch agreed. “What can cure can kill, and they know it.”
“So why do we do it?”
“Because we can,” said the soup witch. “Because it needs doing.”
By the height of summer, the soup witch started to teach Sammy how to listen to the cauldron. “It wants something, it’ll give you a nudge. Halfway to chicken dumpling you’ll get the idea for beef barley. You’ll reach for anise, come up with angelica. But only if you learn how to listen.”
“How does the cauldron know?”
The soup witch shrugged. “How do birds know when to fly?”
“But why should it get to decide who gets cures and who doesn’t?”
“Why should you?”
Sammy did start to hear that cauldron, a little at first and then a whole lot more, so the soup witch had him tend to more of the patients. He sat by while they ate their soup, and if they wanted to talk, he listened. That kind of listening took some learning, too. Sometimes they said the kind of things you only say to your doctor or your priest. Sometimes they just told him they were proud of him.
One evening, late September, Sammy froze with his hand over the cauldron. He’d gone where it had nudged him, just like usual, only the pinch of this was nightshade and the bit of that was angel’s trumpet, and he’d already put it in. He’d made a soup for killing. Its treacherous good smell was even now reeling its victim in–
The soup witch put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right, Sammy. That soup’s for me.”
Sammy’s heart went pang and his throat went tight, “Why you?”
“What that cauldron can’t cure tends to kill long and ugly. The long part’s just about over; the ugly part’s getting close.” She held out her
bowl. “That soup there’ll be a kindness.”
Killing the soup witch was the saddest thing Sammy had ever done. But he did it. He ladled her up what was in the cauldron, and he watched her eat until all the soup was gone.
“Sammy,” said the soup witch, “you’re gonna to have to help me to my bed.” He just about had to carry her there. He tucked her in, and she squeezed his hand tight. “You take care of them, now. They need you. They never loved me, but they like you. They got no fear of you. So they’ll let you take care of them, now that you know how.”
Then she went to sleep, and she never woke up again.
Sammy sat there all night long. At dawn, he let go of her poor cold hand and wondered what came next. She needed burying, but he couldn’t think clear how to start. So he started making soup, because he knew how to make soup. The smell grew rich and strong until even Sammy himself longed for a taste.
The doorbell rang. Sammy came through the house and opened the door.
There, on the soup witch’s porch and in the soup witch’s front yard and overflowing into the street, were their neighbors and almost-neighbors and people from all over town. Sammy’s friends and family were there, and everyone Sammy had tended, and everyone the soup witch had ever cured, too, everyone who was still alive and still in town and could make their own two feet or someone else’s take them over.
Everyone had brought a bowl and a spoon.
“Come on through,” Sammy told them. “Soup’s on.”
And that was the soup witch’s funeral dinner. And Sammy thought, Maybe they did love her a little, after all.
Grandma Geraldine Sees a Dragon
by Cara DiGirolamo
The Dragon Photo Safari stuck its flyer under her door not long after Albert died, and Geraldine hung it on her refrigerator, more for the lovely sunset pictured than for any interest in trekking through the mountains on another plane of existence to see a dragon. She forgot it was there until her neighbor’s child–a charmless young person who drew alarming pictures in their notebook–glowered at it and asked, ‘what’s the point of going on a trip just to look at dragons?’
Never willing to let a child think they had one-upped her, Geraldine defended the idea. “Dragons are majestic creatures,” she said. “Wise and magical. Just the sight of them can change your life. People once spent their whole lives in the pursuit of just a brief glimpse of a dragon.”
She didn’t mention that these people were called the Mad Dragon Hunters for good reason, and though people appreciated their work in getting the Safari started, they were, well, mad.
The child pursed their lips. “So you’re going?”
Geraldine hesitated. She shouldn’t base her decisions on the disapproval of a child. But the child would sneer if she said no–just another adult telling them how to think without following through. “Of course,” she said. “This fall. Fall is the best time of year to see dragons.”
By summer, she’d forgotten her commitment to go in the fall. But then her family came to visit. Her daughter Angie, certain her mother was an inch from the grave, rattled on to her husband about Geraldine’s health (which was as hearty as ever) as if Geraldine wasn’t even there. Angie’s children, Jake and Jess, wouldn’t emerge from their phones unless there was twenty dollars in it. Neither one showed any tendency towards becoming interesting. Clearly, they took after their mother… or even their grandmother. Angie had been a frustratingly normal child, but recently Geraldine had also begun to find herself tiresomely dull.
When Angie threatened to visit again for Jake and Jess’s fall break, Geraldine said very firmly. “Oh no, I’ll be away.”
She registered for the Safari that night.
It was a long tour: mountain hikes and aching feet and lectures on dragon habits and habitats. The guide was a young thing, and couldn’t be trusted to get things right, so Geraldine made sure to prod him for further information at every opportunity. To her surprise, he’d grinned and happily kept answering her questions even as the others in the group groaned and went to make tea in a billycan. They saw quite a few dragons, but only at a distance: dark shapes unfurling from a peak, spreading wings and catching the air.
Geraldine took some excellent silhouette shots of dragons against sunsets, and promised to keep in touch with half the people in her group.
It was the last ascent of the trip. Lilian Lee’s bunions had gotten the better of her, and Mr. and Mrs. Pickles had been too worn out to leave their tent for the predawn start, so it was just Geraldine and Richard–an arrogant man with more money than charm who was always complaining about the lack of cell service.
Halfway up the mountainside, Richard twisted his ankle and demanded the guide help him down. Disappointment hit Geraldine unexpectedly heavily. This was their last hike. She wanted to have the chance to see one more dragon. The guide turned to Geraldine. She turned to head back down.
“Just keep on up this path,” he said.
Geraldine started in surprise. He never let them go off on their own.
The guide smiled. “Stay clipped to the rope and you won’t get lost. You’ve been listening to my instructions for weeks. My best student. Go on.”
Richard’s indignancy made it all the sweeter.
Geraldine left them limping downwards and continued towards the top of the ridge. Her footing wobbled, stones skidding out from under her hiking sandals. Geraldine paused for breath, adjusted her sun hat, and clipped herself from one rope to the next. Trusting her claw-footed stick for balance, she ascended the last few vertical yards and emerged on the ridge just as the sun broke the horizon.
There, before her, was the beast.
The dragon’s scales were lit red by the dawn. Its long form curled around the peak, neck arched, tail proud, the folded wings at rest, but ready at any point to stretch out and catch the air.
The dragon blinked.
Its eye was vast and yellow, veined with gold, the long slitted pupil darting and flicking until it slipped over and focused on Geraldine. It stared. Geraldine stared back.
Automatically, she reached for her camera. This would be a great shot. She could show everyone–
But then she lowered her hand, not wanting the apparatus to come between her and the great creature, not even for a moment. She wanted to see. The tiny scales that curled in patterns along its eyelids, their colors–a warm rust and earth rainbow–the long graceful claws on its finger-like digits, its scent, powerfully alive, reptilian, with the rich undertone of magic–that same scent that tints the air in a secluded glen, or on a high mountaintop overlooking the ocean.
The dragon tipped its head to focus its other eye on her, wary of this intruder in its den. And then . . .
It did not smile. Dragon mouths were not made to smile. But it did something, and Geraldine heard it, as if it had spoken words. It’s all right if it’s you.
In a whoosh, the dragon’s wings spread, and it took to the air.
The backdraft knocked Geraldine onto her behind. The dragon spiraled up, then fell into a dive, disappearing off towards a distant mountain.
Geraldine sat back, heart pounding.
She had seen.
She had been seen.
The neighbor child was lurking outside when Geraldine returned. She almost tripped over them, rainbows of dragons and colored skies and a world where magic was as thick as moisture in summertime air streaming through her mind.
“You went,” they said.
Geraldine looked at her little house in her little yard in the little world that she, a little person had disappeared into, and smiled. “I went.”
Then she quit her book group, abandoned three committees, bought $400 worth of hiking and camping equipment, and applied for tour guide training. Her daughter thought she’d gone mad, and refused to accept her phone calls.
But in exchange for regular photographs, the neighbor child sent postcards.
And all their alarming pictures were now of dragons.
About the Authors
Short fiction by Nicole J. LeBoeuf has appeared on the podcasts Tales to Terrify and Toasted Cake, the magazine NAMELESS digest, and the anthology BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS. She has a piece of microfiction forthcoming at Daily Science Fiction. Her poetry has been published in Sycorax Journal, The Macabre Museum, and Eternal Haunted Summer. Nicole is originally from New Orleans and has not let a little thing like moving to Colorado stop her from trying to grow mirliton and okra. She skates roller derby with the Boulder County Bombers under the name Fleur de Beast. She tweets at @NicoleJLeBoeuf, blogs at nicolejleboeuf.com, and publishes very short story-like objects four times monthly for subscribers to her Friday Fictionettes project at patreon.com/NicoleJLeBoeuf.
Cara Masten DiGirolamo is a recovering Linguistics PhD student, a fictional language consultant, and a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her fiction can be found in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fantasy Magazine, Cast of Wonders, Daily Science Fiction, NewMyths.com, and is forthcoming at Deadlands. Read more at caradigirolamo.com.
About the Narrators
Adam Pracht lives in Kansas, but asks that you not hold that against him.
His full-time day job is as Marketing and Volume Purchasing Program Coordinator for Smoky Hill Education Service Center in Salina, continuing his career of putting his talents to work in support of education.
He was the 2002 college recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy award for writing about the disadvantaged and has published a disappointingly slim volume of short stories called “Frame Story: Seven Stories of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Horror & Humor” which is available from Amazon as an e-Book or in paperback. He’s been working on his second volume – “Schrödinger’s Zombie: Seven Weird and Wonderful Tales of the Undead” – since 2012 and successfully finished the first story. He hopes to complete it before he’s cremated and takes up permanent residence in an urn.
You can also hear his narration and audio production work on two mediocre Audible audiobooks, and as a regular producer and occasional narrator for The Drabblecast.
Cheyenne Wright is a wizard that can turn into a dragon, or a dragon posing as a wizard. He forgets which. Either way, He makes comics, Art for games, and HU-mans can contribute to his hoard via patreon.com/docarcane.
He narrates short stories for a variety of venues where he is known as Podcasting’s Mr. Buttery ManVoice, and is an EA Storyteller.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.