I crumple over a snowy-white boulder carpeted in lichen. My eyes drift over the things around me; I see symbols, pictures written into white birch-bark, secrets left behind by moss lettering and fairy-feet. Patterns are etched into the soil beneath me; worn roots curl into spirals, and mushrooms, bearded with mold, make ancient villages in the shadow of the trees.
VERA HADZIC, THE SPIDER
On the edge of a bay, so close to the water that the high tide sometimes brushes against its foundations, stands a house made of sea glass. At night, it is a soap bubble, frothed and frozen as the waves roll in and the moon shines his light dispassionately on. In the day, it is every color of blue, green, and gray—at once cloudy and clear.
The fisherman who lives within the sea glass house is, of course, the victim of a curse.
A young man lived in a stone house beside the shore with his father, mother and three brothers. Though he came from a long line of fisherfolk and sailors, though his mother had been a herring girl who could gut a fish in two strokes of a knife and his father a sailor who had slain pirates, and though his three brothers were seal killers who made his family rich with their pelts, the young man had no fire for death. He couldn’t bring himself to harm a living thing.
I brought this upon myself when, more out of politeness than conviction, I agreed to babysit for the summer. My mum’s friend needed someone to, as she put it, ‘keep her daughter in check’. When she squeezed my hand until the pressure made my knuckles crack, I wanted to back out.
Scooping out a hunk of fat with cupped fingers, I rub it between my palms. It gives way and melts. The smell is faintly meaty, a welcome warmth in the stiff coastal air. I smooth the blubber into the puckered flesh of my thighs, over my shins and down to my feet. As I rub between my toes, I picture a membrane of skin forming between the cracks, fusing the soft pink digits – the advantage that would give me in the water.
Life would be more bearable if every so often you could take your body off, Jules thinks, as she attempts to heave her legs off the side of the mattress. If you could just tuck it up in bed and exist as dust or whatever souls are made of. Pollen seized by the breeze.
At 76, all her body knows how to do is ache.
“You’ll adore the distillery, my darling,” Magnus promises, and Catalina knows better than to trust the pretty words of lovesick, stupid boys.
(Should know better, anyway. Yet here she is.)
She does not, in fact, adore the distillery. It’s a grimy, hulking eyesore on the horizon; closer inspection fails to reveal any grander beauty, but has the delightful accompaniment of a strange, sickly odor in the air.
The Elwood manse sits at the junction of Middle and Nowhere, its gardens adorned with tumbleweeds, dirt and hay-starved horses.
I’m the talk of the cemetery before I’m even in the ground. I don’t know it in the moment, being busy with other things, but it makes a certain sense. My story is all over. My body, tied up in the closet, missed in the first three searches. My mother on the 911 call at five in the morning, reporting me kidnapped. My modeling photos, coy and cute all at once, too adult for a young lady of only thirteen, how could my parents allow it. None of the dead buried there can turn on the evening news or pick up the Sunday paper, but they hear my story all the same.
The house on the edge of the forest was as twisted and malformed as the trees that loomed around it, blocking the sun and the air and anything else that would allow the house or its denizens to grow straight and strong. The house had a slippery, winding iron staircase on the outside rather than the inside, so if someone wanted to venture from kitchen to bed, they risked a dousing in rain or pollen or hoarfrost-edged moonglow. Three people lived in the house; a mother, a father, and a little girl named Ember who was so naïve that she still dreamed at night.
People often believe witches should look a certain way. They imagine us as haggard crones with black hairs curling out of warts protruding from the tips of hooked noses. They project us on screen with our gnarled fingers, tipped with black talons, wrapped around the shaft of straw brooms as we speed across the sky. Or they show us cackling as we wave our wands over steaming cauldrons to cast our spells. On Samhain they dress their daughters in our image – pointed hats, black capes, velvet dresses and hobnailed ankle boots – to scare wandering spirits back to the underworld.
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We watch her from the corners of our eyes but say we’re looking elsewhere, somewhere. The neighborhood calls her the lady of the earth and pretend they don’t see her when they can hear her dancing.
GRACE SAFFORD, SHE IS BEAUTIFUL