Meeting Maude

a Tale from Pine Harbor 


The sun was nearly set and a chilly breeze was blowing through the pines around the little cottage. “Samson!” Miss Abi called from her stoop. “Samson!!” She sighed and looked over at Sugar, who was usually the goat that was hard to keep track of. “What has your brother gotten up to?”

Finally she was rewarded with a sharp bleat from the tree line. A small shadow made its way toward the cottage, followed by a much larger shadow shaped much like a hunchback. As they grew nearer, Miss Abi could see that it was a woman with a large rucksack on her back being led by a Samson who looked quite pleased with himself. A large raven hopped along the ground behind them.

Tutting at the little goat, she scratched his head and said, “What a fright you gave me! Go on inside with your sister, you rascal, go on!” Then she smiled at the woman and looked her over. Tattered skirts, worn shoes, an old but hardy rucksack that looked stuffed full… and exhaustion mixed with grief dancing around her eyes. A little older than herself, perhaps. Hard to tell as she was definitely worse for wear. The raven hopped up onto her hunched shoulder and made a noise that sounded suspiciously like hello.

The stranger was looking over Miss Abi, too. The Victorian ruffled blouse, long grey skirt, and slightly pointed hat with green, yellow, and purple feathers blossoming out from the brim cut quite a figure in the light of the doorway. But what she noticed most was the warmth that seemed to not only come from within the cottage, but also from within the woman herself. This was a safe place. 

“I’m Maude,” she said, then motioned to the bird on her shoulder. “And this is Harry.”

“I’m Abileen, but all my friends call me Abi. Please come in, both of you. Let me put on some tea. Are you hungry?”

Maude nodded and graciously followed Miss Abi inside, set down her pack against the wall and took a seat in the kitchen as directed by her host, and let out a deep sigh. “Your kindness is greatly appreciated, Abileen, thank you.”

“Abi,” she corrected as she filled the kettle. “We’re friends now. I trust Samson’s judgment.” The goat in question was curled up on a small rug in front of the fireplace, and raised his head at the sound of his name. Sugar took this as an invitation to play and immediately head-butted him. He protested, so she turned her attention to Harry the raven and attempted to climb into Maude’s lap in order to reach him. “Sugar! Down!” Miss Abi shook her head, “That one is a handful, let me tell you.” The little goat huffed and sat beside Maude’s chair, still eyeballing Harry curiously.

“So,” she continued while pulling out some leftover soup to reheat, “how did you end up here in the woods?”

Maude fingered the bone necklace around her neck and wondered how much to tell and where to begin. “Mad Maudie,” croaked Harry from his perch on the back of her seat. She swatted at him and he fluttered to the chair on the other side of the table. “Mad Maudie,” he repeated.

“Well,” Maude said reluctantly, “I guess we can start with that. I used to live in Glory Pointe to the south, but I just… I didn’t fit in there. Everyone called me Mad Maudie or Odd Maude. They were cruel. The kids vandalized my home, the adults made it impossible to find work, and the last straw was when they started throwing rocks at Harry. I had to leave. But I didn’t know where to go.” She gratefully accepted a steaming cup of tea from Miss Abi. “So I packed my bag, took Harry, and started walking. Now here I am.”

Abi stirred the soup and responded, “That’s terrible, honey, I’m so sorry. What made you so different that you didn’t fit in?”

Maude fidgeted with her necklace some more as Sugar finally turned her focus away from the raven and laid her head on the woman’s knee. She was no longer quick to trust, but the strange warmth of the cottage told her it was safe to elaborate.

“They’re all so…” she struggled for a fitting description, “... conservatively progressive. One might even say narrow-minded. Then there’s me with my bone jewelry, and my rune readings, and my spell candles, and my raven. I go out at night and talk to the moon. I know which plants can heal and which ones harm. I am at home in the darkness. I am comfortable with death.” She paused to consider for a moment. “I suppose I represent all the things they don’t want to acknowledge.”

“I see,” said Miss Abi as she set a bowl of soup and a spoon in front of Maude, who sniffed appreciatively.

“They called me ‘witch.’”

A tiny smile played around Abi’s lips at that last statement, and she excused herself, retreating briefly to the next room and returning with a large brown book, worn and shiny with use. “Eat your soup, sweetheart, and I’ll tell you a story.”


The Tale of Bertie the Bat

Bertie was a fruit bat and she lived in a colony of birds. After all, they had wings and flew, too. How different were they, really?

But they were, in fact, quite different. 

They looked different. They ate different things. They kept different waking hours. And the birds would taunt her: “Bertie’s not a birdie, Bertie’s not a birdie!”

Determined to fit in, Bertie made herself a beak out of tree bark. “See, I look like you!” she cried, but as she spoke the beak loosened and fell off. The birds all laughed at her.

She tried eating insects, but they were wiggly and tasted disgusting. She missed her sweet fruit and nectar.

She even tried staying awake during the day, and sleeping upright at night, but the sun was too bright and nothing was as comfortable as hanging upside down. 

Bertie was hungry, exhausted, and distraught. No matter how hard she tried, and how much effort she put in to be accepted, the birds wanted nothing to do with her outside of bullying and harassment. And finally she’d had enough.

She left.

She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she was going to sleep during the day, fly at night, and eat delicious fruit. Hopefully that would be enough to be happy, even if she was all alone.

It was only three nights later, in the middle of a papaya feast, that Bertie heard an enthusiastic “Hello!” She looked around for the source of the greeting, juice dripping down her furry little chin. Another fruit bat fluttered over and landed on another papaya nearby. “Good eatin’ here, isn’t it?” he asked with a grin.

Bertie blinked once, then twice, trying to find words. “Yes” was all she could come up with.

The other bat chuckled. “You’re new here, I can tell. Do you have somewhere to stay? There’s plenty of room at our roost and you’re welcome with us!”

An invitation to make a home with others of her kind? This was more than Bertie had imagined! She blinked a few more times before she found her voice. “Yes. I mean no. I mean yes I’m new here, and no I don’t have a place to stay. I would love to join you if you’re willing to have me.”

“Perfect!” said the other bat. “My name is Benny. I’ll show you the best fruit trees, and where the comfiest roosts are, and introduce you to the rest of the camp.”

Benny winked at her and added, “It’ll be nice to have another pretty gal around.”

A smile crept along Bertie’s snout and she almost laughed out loud as she thought about her tree bark beak. She never needed that. And now she could eat fruit, and stay up at night, and sleep upside down, all with others like her who did the same! She thought her heart might explode as she felt more accepted and included than she’d ever been in her whole life. But it didn’t explode. That’s just what it felt like when your heart was full… and finally hers was. 

Miss Abi closed the book and looked meaningfully at Maude, eyebrows raised slightly and head tilted a bit to the left. There were tears in the older woman’s eyes—at some point the soup spoon had paused halfway between bowl and mouth, and with the spell of the story now broken she suddenly noticed and lowered it back to the bowl. With a shaky breath she said, “I understand.” Abi just nodded and waited.

“I understand,” Maude said again. “I was a bat amongst birds. I just need to find my kind. I need to find where I belong.”

“You know,” Miss Abi slid the Big Book onto the table in front of her, “they call me ‘witch’ here, too.” Maude’s eyes widened, and her face twitched as though she didn’t know how to feel about that.

Abi gave her a sly wink and continued, “I’m the library witch, you see, and this is my Big Book of Stories. Stories are a powerful kind of magic. My favorite, in fact. They can help us learn, and connect with each other, and see things more clearly. As you have just experienced.”

Maude spooned up the last of her soup with a smile of relief. No wonder she felt safe here.

“No longer are you Mad Maudie,” Miss Abi stated solemnly. “You are Marvelous Maude. Mysterious Maude, even, if you so choose. But absolutely you are now My Friend Maude. And on that note, it is my duty as your friend to inform you that there is a cottage just down the way that is in need of an inhabitant.” Maude’s face brightened, but Abi raised a hand and kept speaking. 

“It needs a little love, but you’re more than welcome to stay here while we fix it up, or there’s an attic apartment above the library in town. The only thing with the apartment is that you’d have to put up with Gunther, the ghost who haunts up there. He’s noisy but harmless, and I get the feeling you two might be good company for each other.”

“Yes, please. I wouldn’t want to impose on you beyond tonight, you’ve been so kind. The attic apartment sounds perfect in the meantime.”

Miss Abi was on a roll now. “And I must introduce you to Dame Erin and Momma Mihari. They have the twin metaphysical shops in town, and I’m sure Momma would love to carry your candles and Erin would let you do rune readings in her back room. Oh, you’re going to love it here, darling. You have found your bats, so to speak.”

She stood and gave Maude a gentle hug. “Welcome to Pine Harbor.

Harry responded with a caw that sounded an awful lot like home.