A long time ago, an old woman lived in the darkest part of the forest in a tiny hut all by herself. She was very shy and didn’t have any friends. Because she didn’t have friends, no one came to visit. She didn’t receive cards on her birthday or boxes of candy on Valentine’s Day. Though she walked in the woods and talked to the squirrels, she was lonely.

One day, the old woman looked out her window and saw three young girls walking down the path towards her cottage. Instead of greeting them and asking them in for tea, the woman hid behind the curtains. She wasn’t sure what she should say. Maybe they would laugh at her.

She saw the girls admire her herb garden. She watched them pick a few daisies and put them in their hair. The woman liked the girls and wanted to talk to them, but hesitated. She was sure they wouldn’t like her.

One of the girls peeked in the window and another tried the door, but it was locked. “What a cute house!”  one said.

“I wonder who lives here.”

“Probably an old witch!”  The girls giggled nervously and the woman frowned.

The girls started to leave, walking back up the path.

“Don’t go!” the woman thought. She longed for them to be her friends and with that longing, the children were transformed.

Instantly, the talkative girl became a blue jay. The quiet one, a clump of purple violets. The girl with red hair was transformed into a red squirrel. The woman was shocked. Nothing like that had ever happened before.

“Are you OK?” she asked them.  They chirped and nodded, but the woman worried, wondering how to change them back. She didn’t know how.

Over the years, every now and then, boys or girls would wander far enough into the woods and find her cottage. As soon as she saw them, and longed for them to be her friend, they were transformed.

Her menagerie grew. She had a spotted dog, a white cat, two toads, a tarantula and an elephant. (She had to build a large stable for the elephant).

Her collection of plants also grew and now included a prickly pear cactus, several rose bushes, a trumpet vine and an oversized cabbage.

She had no control over the transformations. She never knew what a person would become. It just happened, blink! It always upset her.  But, she reasoned, patting a dog was easier than talking to a person. Watering a plant was easier than wondering if someone liked you. Tarantulas, though difficult, never bullied. Trumpet vines didn’t call names. She took care of all the animals and plants with love, talking to them and telling them secrets.

But, the woman was sad they couldn’t talk back.  She began to wish they could tell her what they were thinking. Or, share a joke. Even disagree with her. She still felt lonely.

The woman began to cry. “I wish I had some people friends,” she said.

One by one, the animals and plants transformed back into children.

The boy who’d been a tarantula ran up to her. “I can be your friend.”

“Really?” said the woman. “You would do that?”

He laughed. “You know who I am and loved me anyway.”

The woman was puzzled. “I like creepy crawly things. People say that’s weird,” the boy explained. “That’s why I turned into a tarantula.”

“Hey, I’ve got a sharp tongue. I was a rose bush!”

“But your flowers are beautiful,” said the woman.

“Some people can’t stand the thorns. You didn’t mind though.”

The children and the woman talked for hours getting to know each other better and forever after, she had many visitors to her little house. The children knew she loved them exactly as they were and loved her back.

She considered all of them good friends and after that, was best known for turning oats, flour and raisins into the best cookies ever.

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