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Alas, did I bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…pricking my thumb and bleeding over the pot. I did. All night long. A fortnight of work I put into this. A year-long plan I had batted about for centuries. Foolish mortals.

Foolish men. Think they can come into my woods, take away my lands, and tell me, tell me, how lucky I am they let me live. My cattle all slaughtered. My dogs all shot. Me now with this brand on my back. Lucky, say they.

Oh, luck has nothing to do with me. Mayhap they be a bit more lucky that they think me a craven old woman, all alone, working the herbs to help heal and do what I can for the babes and the cows.

I still hold the deed, gifted to me in perpetuity by the High King Himself, in my possession. I will have what is mine back…and I shall take enough to cover that which was stolen from under me as well. Fine, I do agree, I shall take more than a bit for revenge for my old canine friends, raised from veritable pups into healthy adults under my stead. Oh, let me not grow maudlin for the old animals now. I must hold fast to the task I have set myself.

I plowed the field using the nanny goats, tied together. Both got with young, but still early enough it won’t do them no harm. As old as I am, I have not the strength to dig these rows myself. I mean to bombard the castles below with my copious generosities, so I must plant great long rows. Plus, as I must do this in as much secret as I can, I must do this in many different places.

Now, each plant I grew in my dour little home. A burnt-out cave of a thing left over from decades past, when once they hunted witches and their ilk. Old folk always bore the brunt. I knew the people here. No witches these, just elderly and no children to lend help to them. Dead and gone now. Their spirits with me, whispering, talking, aiding the growth of my darling sprouts with visions of vengeance dancing in their ethereal heads like sugar plums for Christmas.

Thousands of these plants did I sow and handle with such valiant care. Each by hand, months and months at a time, did I plant. I did not expect a yield the first year, nor the second either. Little did I expect these little darlings of mine to take on a life of their own. I had no idea these small shoots would gather their own forces and grow forcibly into tall bushes, thick and thorny, with a wild fruit with a scent so fragrant and mouth-watering none could resist. A scent that traveled nigh on for miles.

And so it was that the most work-intensive part of the plan for my own sore body came not to pass at all. With that smell wafting and wriggling through the vales and the valleys, soon men and woman came of their own accord looking to gather the fruit. And what fruit indeed. Huge conical shapes, much like strawberries, which is indeed what I had intended them to be, yet now monstrous in size, a single berry engulfing the palm of a man’s hand. Dipping into one, biting it, brought on such euphoria.

At first, I was stymied. Whole towns gathered in my woods to strip these berries from their bushes, gorging themselves on the fruits as they picked, for the berries never seemed to be picked and gone. Always more leapt up in their place. I wanted to see these people suffer. I wanted them to hurt as I did. I wanted them writhing in pain, screaming as their eyes bled. I wanted to watch them burn in the fires they themselves lit as they faced their own eternal damnation. Yet, that is not at all what I saw.

Week after week, they came to harvest and to eat. Week after week, they went away. The cold set in. The snows came. I began to lose the fires of my anger. I felt worthless, as if I had failed. I wailed in the night to the Shadows and to those who had passed on. I dug in and I allowed the cold to permeate my old bones. I slept, tears drying in my eyes as I did. I slept.

In my sleep, I wandered, as I am wont to do. I walked into town. Empty. I walked through the castles. Empty. For twenty miles around. Nothing. No people. No dead bodies. Nothing. Just…gone.

I turned around and prayed to Heaven to send me an answer. The Angel Himself came to me and explained.

The berries were not mere food to be swallowed, complacent with their place in the botanical kingdom. Through my own sorcery, and through the prayers of those who had passed on, not only those in my own house now, but those from miles around who heard the tales and aided me in my work, they too came to add their prayers and their magics to my mix.

When the people are the berries, it seemed they walked away fine. The truth of the matter was that inside each huge berry was a smaller one, one alive, one with a powerful hunger of its own…and the teeth to eat itself out of the gullet enclosing it.

Each berry was diminutive, so it took them time to extricate themselves from the walls of flesh surrounding them. In the end, however, with so many berries eaten, so many berries taken from the hills, so many meals prepared, so many tributes given and eaten themselves…that for all around in any direction for many miles, no one now existed. Their depravity had been fed back into the earth as offal from the berries.

And the berries, I asked, clear in my awe? The angel smiled, leaning forward. The berries, they learned to evolve. Once each one had eaten its fill, it burst into a rainbow display of spore. Billions of tiny particles now spun through heaven and earth, looking for the fertile fetid land necessary for the plants to grow to their full fruition.