The chisel sunk in a little bit deeper, and Anna gritted her teeth. She would not scream. No. She had promised herself not to show the old woman her pain, her troubles. Anna had a lot of troubles, but no one ever needed to know about that. About any of it. That's why she'd come to the old woman, in the first place.
She'd been told she could get rid of things. Could pluck bad memories out of your head, like ripe plums.
Anna presumed people plucked fresh plums, never having eaten one. She hated plums. You know who used to know that? No, that doesn't matter now. The hag pushed a little deeper, sensing perhaps Anna's straying thoughts.
She was old, uglier than Anna had expected, with her toothless gums and the strange hairs coming out of her face, but the old woman didn't seem to notice. She was so focused on the palm of Anna's hand, as if a whole world was hidden in there, and perhaps there was.
The next time the woman let off the pressure, Anna took advantage to ask a bit more. She was a curious one, and that had always led her to trouble. Her step-father always used to tell her curiosity killed the cat, and it would kill Anna, too. Soon. Very, very soon, as her step-father sometimes liked to whisper in her ear.
"Have you been doing this long?"
She felt her brows knit together, as if that alone might ease the pain. It didn't. Nothing did.
It was a meaningless question, the sort of thing you say to seem polite, interested, when in fact, you couldn't be bothered. The old woman didn't as much as glance at her, so Anna tried again, seeing the chisel coming down once more and knowing she'd die from the pain.
"Why do you do it?"
The woman paused, chisel mid-air, and threw a furtive glance at Anna. A foolish little girl, who didn't know real trouble, who thought a few bad boyfriends were something to scream about. In Anna's palm, of course, there were other things, but the old hag had seen much worse. She no longer shivered at pains such as hers.
"Someone must," she said simply, and sunk the chisel in once more. And this time, Anna screamed, just a little, and told herself it was the shock. But it wasn't. She could feel bits of her slipping away, as if they'd never been there. She'd never thought it would be like this. She'd gone in knowing what the woman would take away from her, yet it never occurred to her she'd actually have to watch the memories go.
It was sad.
Sad and cold, inside this old witch's tent. Please let me go.
But it was a different thought and the old woman didn't seem to hear it. Perhaps it hadn't been said, perhaps it hadn't been meant for her. Just a little more, Anna whispered inside the solitude of her vanishing mind, just a little more and we'll be done. I can't remember so much already. There can't be that much left. What else has she got to erase? God, please, let her stop. My life wasn't so bad...
But the thoughts trailed. They scattered around the room as a thick bead of sweat dripped off the old witch's forehead, and as Anna looked a little closer, she thought she guessed the faint trace of glee in the old woman's eye.
After all, someone has to absorb the nightmares, someone has to feed off the would-be lives.
This is a 5 Minute Freewrite (truly) inspired by a misread prompt. It was 'plum cobbler', I do believe, but I read 'palm cobbler' and I thought that sounded really interesting, even though it was a mixture of ideas and thoughts with very little relevance to 'palm cobbler'. Still, I liked it, so by the time I realized I'd read wrong, I already had something in my head. So here it is. @mariannewest, you are amazing. Thank you.
And thanks for reading,