A manicured hand slams a bag of colorful crystals onto a glass countertop, stirring the shadow behind the counter. A wrinkly face pokes through the curtain of smoke, writhing from incense sticks, staring back at the face that belongs to those intrusive hands.
“Hello. I’d like a refund,” says the young woman, her dirty blonde hair hanging limply to her shoulders, the last sparkle of light fading from her grey-blue eyes. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, crossing her arms, hoping to be taken seriously. She’s tall and willowy, unlike the owner of the shop who stands opposite her, petite and round, like a soft pillow. They both wear chunky stone jewelry—the type you see anthropologists wearing as they hang out in trees, snooping on other cultures—and their outfits have that air of boho glam. Long tunics, a few sequins, neutral colors. As if any minute a primal drum will start beating and they’ll have to follow it into the wildflowers.
“And what seems to be the problem?” the middle-aged woman asks, running a hand through her long, wiry grey-black hair.
“They don’t work. That’s the problem.”
“Are you sure it’s the crystals that don’t work…”
“Prebiotics? Wait a second,” she says as she flips the carton around, squinting to read ingredients. “I thought it was supposed to be probiotics?” She turns to see if anyone heard her talking to herself in the dairy aisle of Whole Foods. Just the thirty-something man with long hair and those trendy sweatpants. He’s her age, and handsome, she notices, but then she thinks twice about whether she’d ever want to date a man who even knows what probiotics are. She’s not even sure she knows what probiotics are. Wait, prebiotics. Yes, that’s right. Prebiotics.
She returns the carton back to the fridge, closing the door. After pulling her hair up into a messy bun, she crosses to the vitamin section, holding up her handwritten list. “Glutathione,” she says, mispronouncing the word. Finding the bottle, her eyes widen. She gasps. “Ninety-four dollars!” Again, she looks around. Did anyone just hear her?
“It’s all bull, honey,” a voice says. Her eyes flicker to the elderly woman next to her. Long, silvery-black hair, watery green eyes, age spots over porcelain skin. “Don’t do it, Deirdre.”
Eyes wide, she brings her hand to her heart, astonished. “How do you know my name?” she asks the old woman, who looks freakishly familiar. Is she a distant relative? Looking at her is like looking into a mirror.
“I’m you. Fifty years from now.”
This is the first page of a new young adult novel I'm writing. A romance between an unlikely pair.
Somewhere outside Salem, 1690.
Past the golden fields of wheat that shine like honey, through the thicket of pines and labyrinth of oaks, over the babbling brook that sparkles against smooth stones, until you reach the moss-covered clearing under the tallest tree, that’s where you’ll find her: The Wild Woman of the Wood.
That’s where she’ll be doing what she does best—stirring and pouring, never measuring or calculating, relying on memories, not recipes—alone in her humble cabin, sitting beside the fireplace. Here she steeps stinging nettle leaf, red raspberry, and clover in tall glass jars. She makes potions from bees’ honey and pine needles. She sinks her feet deep into the cold, damp dirt, letting it spring her back into this world. When the moon is full, she places jars of water onto a mossy bed, their openings facing upward, letting the silver moon cast beams of magic into the liquid. Yet this is not her source of strength. She gains her power from within, from the knowledge that she is tune with her Mother Earth. She syncs with her Magic Moon.
Though others call her the Wild Woman of the Wood, she knows that she is really a simple Wise Woman—one who listens to the songs the wind carries on its back, adjusting her potions accordingly. She hears her voice within, never letting thunderstorms outside drown it out. She is content to cook and bake, steep and ferment, from dawn until dusk, nourishing her body with the Earth’s generous offerings. But she does so because it pleases her, not because she’s beholden to anyone’s expectations. She does so because it’s what she’s always known, what she’s ever known, handed down to her from the Wise Women before her. For she is last in a long line of women who had been outcast, banished from their society, for knowing too much. For doing too much. For being too much.
Because that’s what history has shown us. True power comes from knowing yourself, and teaching others to know themselves. Our Wise Woman of the Wood has been keeping others’ secrets for too long, but it won’t be much longer now.
At the next full moon, the winds will turn. For now, before Harvest has begun, while the last of the cicadas sing their dying ballads, Our Wise Woman has no idea that her whole life will change. She doesn’t know that it will transform because of a young man, just a few years older than she, lost in the wood, seeking help. Because that’s always how it happens, isn’t it? A woman’s life always changes when she meets a man.
And that’s where our story begins.