Neither of them spoke as his father drove and Zach refused to look at him as his father dropped him off at the tiny public library that he was to spend the day at. At first when he parked, his dad started to say that he should get a start on trying to prepare for going back to school but the lecture quickly died as he knew that Zach wasn’t going to listen. Through an angry tone, his father finally just asked if he had money for lunch to which Zach only nodded before exiting the car. It bothered him to walk away without looking back but he didn’t want to. It wasn’t only that he was angry and feeling stubborn, though Zach was well aware that this was how it looked. He was angry but more than this this, he was scared. Zach didn’t know anything about this place and now he wasn’t even in a place that he could hide in. He didn’t care about being away from his games right now and didn’t even care that much about being out of the house. If it felt like he was somewhere that felt like it was comforting or inviting, he might have been okay but instead, he was being dropped off to be alone.
Once inside, Zach made his way to a darker corner of the building and did his best to avoid having anyone look at him. He was upset and he didn’t want anyone to notice how close he was to letting himself become emotional. More than anything, he was scared and didn’t want it to show on his face. He wandered around, slowly explaining to himself that he would calm down soon. It wasn’t as though he was entirely alone. There were people around him and none of them seemed to notice him which made it easier to settle a bit. Most of them looked like younger people in the midst of studying. He didn’t want to think too much about them and get worked up about potentially seeming out of place so he continued to let his feet guide him around the labyrinthine shelves. There was a second floor and when he started to feel like he had made his way around the ground floor too much, he made his way upstairs to hide.
As he made his way to the second floor, Zach laughed mirthlessly at the idea that his father would drop him off here to get him away from games and stuff like that. Maybe his father never set foot in here but Zach was well aware that he could get a password to get onto the internet if he really wanted to. It was tempting but he had no desire to go online at all right now. It was true that he missed his friends but he didn’t want to spend a whole day looking up things on social media to find out how their normal lives went on and they were enjoying the holidays. He knew even thinking about this too long would upset him so he forced himself to start searching the shelves of the second floor for something to take his attention away. Anything would do and he didn’t care if it only lasted long enough to chase his thoughts away for a few minutes. He got his distraction in the form of an old book by the title of Old Hag and Other Tales of Courtland County.
Zach took the book down and found a small cubicle to sit in. He flipped the pages of the book, expecting it to bore him but it opened immediately to the story of The Old Hag. He only remembered a few scant details about the story that he and his father had been reading the day he moved into the house. Mostly, he remembered that it wasn’t finished. Zach shuddered when he remembered how he smelled roses in the house when he was alone yesterday. That seemed like another lifetime ago now and from this vantage point, it seemed kind of ridiculous. He shoved away his embarrassment over it and began to read. This wasn’t the story itself but it was a chapter on what he discovered was a common tale around Courtland County. It was mostly familiar and he knew it had to be a tragedy of some kind. The story started just as he had read in the book. A mysterious young woman moved into a hidden part of the forest in the hills. She came and the gardens flourished and the people grew suspicious that she was a witch. She was said to be very beautiful and eventually caught the eye of an eligible bachelor that had a lot of money at his disposal. All this Zach already knew and just as he had guessed, eventually their lives together were shattered by people’s suspicions and cruel nature. There was no mention of how but eventually the man died and the woman was so distraught by his death that she grew to resemble an old hag. When people would approach her, she became enraged, blaming everyone for his death and pulled and tugged at her beautiful long hair until it came out in her fists. Eventually, she was worn down and hideous like an old crone. She haunted the town until the day that she died which was just as mysterious as her arrival. It was all something that he could have made up himself or read in any fairytale. The difference was that this book that he was reading now had a bit of history to back it up.
According to the chapter, this woman was a real person though there was some argument as to what her real name was. There were no pictures of her because she was so reclusive but there was indeed a woman who was known for her beautiful garden in the hills of the forest where it started to grow wild. Zach wondered if this was just a coincidence as the book went into detail about how this woman was courted by a very wealthy man who had been part of a very powerful family. After all, couldn’t that have been anyone back then? They did have evidence, however, that they had a family together and though the couple didn’t hide that they were married, their family did eventually have to hide in the forest. The book went on to tell of how the man’s family was indeed very rich but also had a lot of secrets and some powerful enemies. The town was already suspicious of him and his family and when their marriage was announced, it was something of a scandal because rumor was that the woman was already pregnant. She had the child after their wedding but it died soon after. Their second child had met the same fate and in that case, they discovered that someone had been poisoning both the mother and the baby. The family escaped to where the woman had originally settled in the hills of the forest and there they had several children, all of whom they hid and though they had some minor records to show they had been born, no one knew even what gender they were. Eventually the husband’s family ties and secrets caught up to him and he was murdered. His widow, by now an older woman, was said to have gone mad with grief. There was some mention of erratic behavior but nothing in any details and Zach wondered if she was just trying to get people to leave her alone. Eventually there was a fire in the house on the hill and her house was destroyed. Her children were grown by that point and some had even had children of their own. No one knew what became of them because they had all been stripped of their last name to keep them safe from who their father and grandfather had been.
Zach paused on the last few paragraphs of the chapter where it went into the details that people told about the story of the Old Hag. It was said that wherever she had been would smell of roses, something he already knew. It was also said that anyone she wished to visit would find strands of her long hair left behind. Though there was nothing to tell of her actually ripping her hair out in grief and anger, the book did mention specifically that the strands were moon white and where there was one strand found, there would be more soon.