The boy was hiding under a tree. He had found the road, impossibly, after so much time searching. After all of his time creeping through the dark woods, he had found the road that lead home. He had followed it for hours as it wound through the trees. Then he had come to a spot where the passage widened, and the open space was terrifying to him. He feared so many things now: The coffin man, the creature Mr. Talbot had become, the madman they released from the asylum, and now even Jack-- he knew Jack was no friend to him. Jack had thrown William to the wolves to accomplish whatever goal he and the Scarecrow set out to accomplish.
And the scarecrow. William didn't know what to think about him. Was he just a merciless killer, taking advantage of him?
His small lantern couldn't cut the blackness of the forest around him, and that had given him comfort. It made him feel like whatever was out there couldn't see him any easier. Then the old willows, oaks and maple trees framing the road gave way to a small pine grove, and beyond that was a bleak open passage of land, where he would be a stark figure visible to all the eyes of the night.
As the boy stood in place under the shelter of trees, he had become aware of a sudden vacuum to his right. The blackness had parted there, and a small trail was visible leading to a house. The boy had no memory of this house from the many trips he'd taken with his parents in and out of town. He thought it possible that he had just never noticed it from the speeding car, but still. . . He found himself drawing near one of the trees, watching the house through the spiked needles.
The house was one story, squat and wide, with green siding and a gray shingled roof that looked black in the night. The windows were illuminated with a stark yellow, and the black silhouette of a figured was moving about inside. It was the first person the boy had seen all night, even if they were nothing more than an obscure shadow. His feet hurt, there was a long time until daylight, and the sight of another human being was, for the first time, a comfort.
So he had sat below a tree, flicked off his tiny lantern and made a nest from the pine needles. Here, he curled up with his arms below his chin and alternated watching the road for passers-by and the figure in the house.
No one ever came by on the road, but the person inside was constantly toiling, working; never-ending motion as they applied their self to some demanding project. Their constant effort dazzled him. The late hour was like a 100-pound bag on his eyes. Soon, he found they were closed, and next he was in the abyss of sleep.
He awoke with a start in total shock. The passage of time was completely unknown to him.
“Boy, come out from there! I'm hungry!”
It was a woman's voice, but only barely distinguishable as such. The door to the tiny home stood gaping. What had only been a small shadow at the window was a huge black figure now. The boy drew up against the trunk of the tree as something began to probe toward him. It scraped across the ground, leaving a wide arc in the pine needles.
“My spice's scents are strong,” said the old woman, “But the scent of your bones is stronger!”
The object drew closer, and the boy could see now that it was a broom. The handle reached far away into the tree, disappearing into withered hand.
“I need the marrow for my soup!” The old thing continued. “I bet your ribs taste of vanilla. I can smell the scent. There's pumpkin spice in the bones of your toes. There's cinnamon in your knuckles, boy! I need a femur for my stew.”
The boy was found, and it was impossible for him to hide. This woman surely knew everything of the area, and he knew nothing. He reached up at last and flicked on the lantern. At the same moment, the old woman took two pine branches in her hands and yanked them apart like double doors. The lantern illuminated her face. It was sickly green, with a protruding brow, a huge bulbous nose with a few faint gray whiskers trying to hide in the hard leathery wrinkles around her mouth.
The boy looked out at the street behind him as the old woman closed in. Now was the perfect time for the scarecrow to return. He would be coming up the road on his way back to the field right now. Surely Mr. Talbot was out here somewhere, still snooping around the woods, changed back to human by now. Even Stingy Jack would be okay. After everything that had happened, Jack wouldn't be so bad.
The old woman closed in on the boy, and he broke from the tree at last, fleeing toward the road. His feet were stamping on the soft pine needles, then onto the earth outside the shade of the tree. He felt pavement under the sole of his shoe one time before his feet were suddenly no longer under him.
The boy's body spun through the air, and then he was face to face with the witch. She held him suspended in the air with one hand wrapped around a single ankle. He was amazed at her strength. She'd gone quiet now that she had him. She eyed him only momentarily before turning abruptly and marching back to the house.
Once through the door, she flung him under-handed across the room where he crashed against a wooden wall. He dropped to the floor, dizzy, the room spinning, his body aching. He heard a heavy slam as she closed the front door. A clock began to chime, hours ringing away into the night. As he lifted his head, another door slammed-- the iron bars of a prison cell.
He looked up through the metal bars at the witch. She stood wringing her hands, staring at the chiming clock. “You have one day to live, boy!”
The final chime rang out the witching hour.