She opened the door quickly and her dearest friend rushed in, bringing part of the blizzard through the entryway, and leaving slush on the floor.

“Good Heavens! Why in the world are you out in this mess?!”

While removing her coat, her friend looked left, and then right, and whispered, “I simply HAD to tell you this in person! I couldn’t risk nosey old Mildred listening in on the phone!”

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

Mother Simpson came to the house two nights back to warn me again. I opened the door, and she rushed inside, the first whirls of snow still spiraling around her.

“Good heavens, Mother Simpson, why in the world are you out in this mess?” I asked, fearful I knew the answer.

“Trudy is talking of Mildred again,” said Mother Simpson in a forceful, yet hushed voice. “I’m risking my own family telling you this. People don’t like it. Demons they say. Possession and witchcraft. I simply had to come tell you myself, having daughters of my own. You mind her!”

I did, but Trudy kept on.

“Trudy, you must put an end to this Mildred talk,” I cautioned, gently taking her by her small shoulders and looking deep into her dangerously innocent brown eyes. “Everyone will forgive you. But sister, if you persist, I’m afraid it could be the end for us. They don’t like us, and you know what happens when they don’t like someone.”

“Fires,” Trudy said, and I nodded, maintaining eye contact.

“Yes, fires,” I confirmed, nodding, “maybe for the both of us, or worse yet, one of us gone from the other, forever.”

“Like mother and father,” her small voice quaked. I softened my look and bobbed my head, ‘yes.’

“Go outside and fetch water now. Be a good girl and don’t stray. The snow is coming down heavier now. If you hear Mildred, you must tell yourself in your head that she is not real, and that you have chores.”

With that, she grabbed the wooden bucket and went out. We just had one window in the old farmhouse mother and father built, so I could see Trudy swing the bucket as she trudged, ankle deep through a dotted white world toward the well.

I thought of our parents. “Mind your sister!” mother screamed as they pulled her to the wagon and team which already held father, his hands tied as he stood in the wagon. “You are hereby charged with heresy and the acts of witchcraft,” a man shouted at my mother as her legs collapsed under her, two women pulling her away from our home.

“Mind Trudy!” my father called out.

My sister Trudy talked of an imaginary friend who lived in the woods at the edge of my father’s field. Mother and Father laughed a bit at first when Trudy began to talk of Mildred, but when Trudy began to tell the other children, their families heard, and talk of Trudy being bewitched, of Mildred being conjured, reached our home.

Mother said to me, “Listen to me good, Anne. Talk nothing of forest friends or things of the unnatural world with Trudy.”

I tried. I really tried, but Trudy talked incessantly about Mildred who lived in the woods, who made warm cider to drink, who helped her sit high in the tops of the cottonwoods so she could see songbirds and see as far as the Snyder farm. It was Mildred who taught her songs to sing in a language from an unknown homeland. Mildred! Mildred! Mildred! We could not have an end to the stories of Mildred, the mysterious woman from a distant land.

The townspeople knew no Mildred living anywhere nearby, but they had heard of young people and weak people overtaken by witches and evil spirits, of towns having to jail them, taking demons out of them, burning them in one case when they could find no other protection.

That afternoon, I lost sight of her out the window only for the door burst open again. It was Trudy, white flakes blasting in past her as she returned from the well.

“Anne!” Trudy said my name urgently, in a quiet shout if ever there was one. “I have to tell you something!”

“What is it?”

“They’re coming!”

She reopened the door, and snow blasted in, heavier this time. A wagon team driven by two men entered the farmyard. Trudy took my hand and led us crouched and running through blinding snow toward the woods where I was sure we would die in the cold.

At the tree line we left the snow behind. Holding hands tightly, we made our way deep into the dark forest, following no path, just Trudy’s lead. Eventually the trees gave way to a broad opening, tall cottonwoods curving all around and stretching to a blue spring sky. Trudy dropped my hand and skipped forward out into the sunny, tall grassy field encircled by cottonwoods.

Then, high in the upper branches of the cottonwoods, large hands poked out from the line of skinny trunks, which crackled as they parted like stiff curtains. A nose emerged next, then a weathered old face, broad like a moon among the trees, then massive shoulders and a body with towering legs stepped out from the trees. Before us stood an old woman, her height the equal of two farmhouses stacked one upon the other. Hunched slightly, her brown woolen cloak flowed down like the rows in my father’s field.

Her long arm dropped, and her palm opened in the grass. She looked at Trudy and raised her eyebrows, motioning with her palm.

Trudy looked back at me, “Mildred will help us.”