I received the following letter via paper mail. I don’t know the sender, who identifies herself merely as “An Old Woman”. I’m giving the message special attention for reasons I can’t discuss in detail. Suffice it to say the envelope was marked with certain runes that very few people outside of the society would know and understand.
Dear Mr. Mahoney,
I’m an old woman now. At least 94. My exact age is unknown because my birth parents abandoned me in infancy, and because I have no trustworthy memories of my childhood. I believe much of what I remember about pre-adolescence is imaginary. I have no memory of willfully imagining it all—only a deep-seated instinct that most of it is lies.
This morning my granddaughter, who is seven, asked me where I was born. This is what I told her.
I was found inside a hive hanging from a tree branch: a newborn baby covered in live bees. A hunter heard me crying inside the hive and broke it open with his rifle. I fell seven feet without sustaining an injury. The hunter suffered dozens of stings picking me up and carried me home to his wife.
When he told her the story, he realized how ludicrous his own account sounded and thought he must have imagined it all. Maybe the stings had somehow caused him to hallucinate and misremember. Yet there I was, wailing on the kitchen table with bees still wriggling out of my ears and nostrils.
His wife believed the story and thought I must be evil.
She boiled water in a pot, intending to cleanse me, but her husband’s throat kept swelling from the stings and he died, right there in the kitchen. The wife blamed me for his death, and after confirming he was gone and keening over his body, she lunged for the boiling water.
Her lunge was awkward. She stumbled to her knees next to the stove, cried, “Oh!” from the pain, and—instinctively grabbing the pot handle to steady herself—managed to dump most of the boiling water directly down her open throat. She choked and thrashed on the floor for a while, and then she was dead, too.
I was found a day later, by a visiting neighbor, still on the table but no longer crying. No one ever pieced together exactly what had happened to the hunter and his wife. My origin remained a mystery. I was placed with adoptive parents and ran away from home at the age of eleven.
After finishing this story, my granddaughter asked me who else had been in the farmhouse that day. I told her no one. The couple had lived alone, miles from the nearest town. She asked me how I—only a baby at the time—knew any of what had happened.
“I remember it,” I said. “Every word. Every gesture. Which is impossible, of course, for an ordinary baby. But it’s the one thing about my early youth I know I didn’t imagine.”
“Maybe the wife was right,” my granddaughter said. “Maybe you were evil.”
I smiled when she said it. She’s a bright little girl. I wonder if she remembers how her mother found *her*.
An Old Woman
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