Once Upon a Thyme
Giovanna must face a mysterious witch who has the power to release her new husband from the grave. But if she fails the task she is given, she will lose him, and herself, forever.
Her hand was icy as she lifted it to knock on the wooden door. No one came to this place unless she was desperate, and Giovanna was.
She gave the door three raps, knuckles stinging. Brambles and claw-like branches had scraped at her bare skin and clothes through the briar in the woods, leaving her bloody and disheveled. She'd left her car at the forest's edge, and had rented a carriage in the village to navigate the narrow path through the forest.
Shivering, she glanced around at dozens of statues all in pairs littering the courtyard and staring at her with white, lifeless eyes. Only one statue was solitary, standing on the tallest pedestal, gray with age, and wrapped in vines. A tragic-eyed, beautiful woman.
The door opened and Giovanna peeked inside. The room was empty except for a single wooden table, chair, and candle.
"Come in," said a voice echoing both in front of her and all around her.
Giovanna stepped in, shivering, her eyes darting. She had only heard of the witch, the Strega, who lived at the edge of the Foresta Magica. It was said that no one came out of the forest alive. But Giovanna had to come. He was her only beloved, the man she had married only three days before, and he lay in the carriage, dead.
Mother had warned her. But if the legend were true, then the Strega had power over life and death. Only she could bring Giovanna's beloved Alonso back.
A black mist appeared in the room's corner, the waning light from the windows engulfed in the blackness, as if it were a swarm of insects sucking illumination from the room. Out of the haze, a woman dressed in black appeared.
"I am Signora DeVita and you are in my Obitorio, the place to bring your dead. Why have you come?"
Giovanna's voice trembled as she called across the room, bolder than she thought she could be.
"I have brought you my beloved, Alonso, that he may live again."
The door behind her slammed shut, and suddenly the woman, who had not seemed so old, stood before her, inches from her face. Giovanna could now see the time-ravaged face for what it was.
"Come with me," the Strega said.
She led her through an old kitchen, out into the backyard. Statues, in pairs, littered the valley as far as the eye could see. The witch pointed.
"This is the Obitorio de Vita, of life, child. All of these statues are those who have come to bring their dead back to life. But they all joined their dead in eternity to watch over my land. Are you prepared to join your Alonso if you fail?"
Giovanna swallowed thickly. "I am."
"Then come." They walked to the side of the mortuary where a large garden flourished, green foliage and vines. "I lost my mother too soon," crooned the witch. "She made me spaghetti con polpette, with meatballs, when I was a girl. I'll grant you your beloved's life if you can recreate her recipe. The meat is in the kitchen icebox. All the sauce ingredients are in this garden save one. You have three days. You must take time—three days from now, he will be yours, or you will be mine."
The Strega was immediately enveloped in a black mist, and Giovanna cried out and fell back as the witch disappeared. Giovanna saw a basket by the garden and quickly started picking tomatoes, basil, onions…when suddenly, she saw a statue that was unlike the others. He was a small, colorful garden gnome. With his bushy, white hair, mustache and puppy-dog eyes, he looked familiar…like…Albert Einstein?
She stared at the little gnome and he seemed to plead with her with his eyes, as if he had something to tell her…
She replayed what the Strega had told her in her mind and suddenly her eyes fell to the garden.
You must take time…
Giovanna reached out and grasped some fresh thyme leaves and stuffed the fragrant herb in her mouth. Instantly, the gnome blinked and smiled. "I am Alberto, and I can offer you one clue only."
"Oh please, tell me!"
"Faster than light or space consumed, in both conditions, it meets its doom!"
The riddle swirled in her mind as she gathered all of the herbs and vegetables from the garden.
Working in the kitchen, she made sauce, meatballs, freshly formed pasta, but every batch seemed wrong.
Faster than light or space consumed…
Moving at the speed of light…if there's no space…all ingredients save one…no light in blackness…
On the third and final day it struck her.
"Mio Dio," she whispered, "the Strega lives in a black hole! A black hole has no space, no light! She's trapped in no time! No thyme!"
Giovanna grabbed all of the thyme from the chopping block and ran out of the kitchen, scattering it to the wind.
That night she served the witch her meal. The Strega took her first bite, and her eyes widened.
Just as Alonso walked into the room, looking confused and sleepy, the witch was surrounded by a beam of light and pulled out the front door. Giovanna ran to the window and looked outside. The tall, single statue was no longer alone. Next to it, a young girl knelt at her feet, arms wrapped around her skirts in adoration. The young girl statue was the most pristine white marble, shiny and new.
"She's with her mother at last," Giovanna said.
Alonso looked at her and shook his head. "Where am I?"
"You were in a place with no time," she said. "But now you're here, with me again. Let's go home, amore mio."
As they left, Giovanna approached the statue of the little girl and planted a kiss on her cheek. "You're home at last, little one."
Giovanna took her skirt hem and wiped off the mother's face, bidding them both addio, farewell, and goodbye.