On Witch’s Hill are two houses separated by a minute’s walk.

The larger house is dull, with peeling paint, splintering trim and crumbling brick; smoke is never seen to come from its chimney.  Those who pass by say this is a good thing, because the house and its surroundings already smell like burnt pork.

The smaller house is much more beautiful. The Witch built it seemingly in hours before leaving.  She adorned it with colorful birds' feathers and windchimes and surrounded it with fireflies.  On its lacquered door is a sign which reads "Come in" (though she instructed Milton to never, ever enter), and from its chimney always billows a soft column of white smoke that smells like burnt sugar.

Milton lives alone now in the ugly house.

Before leaving, the Witch moved her hands in circles and told him, "I will be gone a long time, Milton, because I have much work to do.  But I will provide for you.  You need not ever leave this house."  And in that instant he felt dizzy, very dizzy, but that was alright.  He knew she would come back.

He does not know how long he has been waiting.




The witch was fond of building miniature houses.  Most of the miniatures represent homes in the village claimed by that mysterious series of fires.

She filled the houses with miniature people: scraps of Milton's old socks stuffed with cotton.  Their button eyes shine in the slanted sunlight from the window.

A replica of the pretty house sits on a separate shelf.  Inside it, lights always shine.




At first only children entered the pretty house.

Soon after that men tried to board its doors shut.  After their nails broke against the frame they returned with torches.  They went home with singed hair and eyebrows.

Eventually they started to force their worst criminals into the house.

Years passed.




One night, a group of young men entered the ugly house and found Milton sitting serenely in his favorite chair.  When he got up to shoo them away they scrambled; one of them, Milton saw, left a thin trail of urine.  He wiped it up in disgust.

The villagers returned with torches.

They went home with singed hair.

Milton watched the procession from a second-floor window.  His laugh, rustling hay, was lost to the rising heat.




Mornings, Milton goes to the pretty house's miniature, opens its door and all its windows, and takes it to the kitchen.  Usually he has to turn it on its side and shake it over the skillet to get all the little people out.  At first it was children who fell; then teenagers; now it is men, usually, who beg for forgiveness before slapping against the iron.

Milton has given up trying to reply to the men who fall from the miniature. When he speaks only sighs come out. His tongue, a fat red strip of felt, can hardly taste anything.

He waits.

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