“Shhh…” He glared at his sister. “Honestly, girls are useless.” The cat turned and looked straight at the children. It hissed, crouched low like a panther. They froze as the old woman turned and looked at the bush where they were hiding. Lank grey hair hid her face. All they could see was the curious brilliance of her eyes.
They barely dared to breathe.
A branch snapped and they ran, diving through the undergrowth towards the fallen stones of the wall. The world seemed to change as they jumped that final hurdle and landed breathless on the tarmac. Neither sunlight nor traffic noise had penetrated the green shadows that separated the old house from the neat gardens of the street.
“She’s just a lonely old woman,” their mother had said, her hands deep in the flour of the baking bowl. “A bit eccentric.” They had waited, eager faces lit with the fire of mystery. “She was old when I was a girl. Had a flea-bitten cat that followed her everywhere. Samael or Samuel. Something like that. Must have died years ago.” It had looked as if she might say more, but she had pursed her lips and frowned in a way they knew was final. “Just stay away. Right away.”
There was no chance of that. They had crept over the wall again and seen her picking herbs in the forested garden. They had heard her muttering to herself and seen the tattered raven perched on the branch by her shoulder. It looked ancient; its eyes gleamed with knowledge, yet its feathers were torn and dusty. Beside it was the moth-eaten cat… black, with great yellow eyes. Listening, both of them. They had watched the old woman hobble back to the house, the long black skirts caught up to carry their harvest, the raven fluttering ahead, the cat at her heels and they had followed, creeping up to peer through the dirt encrusted windows…
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help, officer. I hope you find them.” The policeman smiled back, fascinated by the curiously brilliant eyes and lustrous white hair. Unusual in one so young. “I seldom get visitors…” She laughed and gestured at the glossy feathered raven in its cage and the sleek black cat that wound itself insistently around his ankles. “Perhaps the locals think I am some kind of witch.”