I have had such a disorganised week. I don’t know what is going on, but finally I got around to writing my piece for Search Engine Stories.
The prompt this week is looking to the light.
I have written a story about witches. Haven’t written one for a while. This was fun.
Hope you like it……
She got us. The old wood witch. We wandered into her woods, looking for herbs to cure Lilibeth’s heartache and ended up with a heartache all of our own. She has bound us, tethered us to the woods with a spell conjured from her black hatred. We are not physically bound but we cannot leave the confines of the trees.
A lone bird sits in the mighty oak where we have made our camp. He is a raven, dark as the shadows, but he has lost many of his feathers and his beak is scratched and scarred. We suspect the old wood witch has been hexing him.
He watches us with a gleam of sympathy in his eye, scattering acorns all around. Merla thinks he is a man transformed by the witch and spends hours poring over the patterns formed by the acorns, suspecting hidden messages. I think he is just a poor old bird stuck in the forest like us.
There are ways to break a binding spell but we don’t know of them yet. We are witches ourselves – in name only, as Alexa, head of the coven would say, for we are young, fledglings. The breadth of our skills is shallow. It takes time to master the magical arts.
Merla is the clever one. An excellent student. I , on the other hand, am told I spend too much time daydreaming about boys and working on potions which will give me a glowing complexion.
‘These are not things that matter, Kit,’ says our teacher, Madame Drew. ‘You come from a long line of magnificent witches and you waste your time toying with fripperies and bon bons.’
She is right. I do come from a long line of witches. Alexa is my great grandmother. It galls me that I, with such an impressive lineage, cannot break the binding spell of an embittered old hag.
It is the third week and still they do not come for us. Merla sent the sprites of the wood up high, ever higher, into the blue skies above, so they could sweep across the trees and clear the woods without the old witch knowing.
We suspect the sprites did not succeed for we found a little wing, intricate as lace, clear as crystal, lying beneath our oak. It had been ripped from the back of one of the little creatures, turning black at the edges. Merla cried for days afterwards, fearing she sent the little ones to their deaths.
The wood is dark. Our faces are pale from lack of sunlight. Each morning we hold our hands out as the dawn light slides between the trees, marvelling at the way the pale yellow light caresses our skin. But as the sun rises and moves overhead, the canopy of trees merges, blocking out the light as if resentful of its intrusion. We look to the light for only a few brief moments every day and it is breaking our hearts.
Merla sleeps for hours. She cannot stand the waking, muttering spells in her sleep that throw strange winds and sounds through the trees. The raven continues to sit, throwing his acorns.
Sometimes I become enraged and run, pushing with all my might against the glamour the old wood witch has erected around the forest, but it burns and tears and rips until I feel like I am being flayed alive. I have a wound on my arm that smells like rancid meat.
‘We are going to die in here, Kit.’ Merla is afraid. She is close to giving up. I can see it. When she is awake she clasps her hands around her body and rocks back and forth.
‘No, we are not. There is always a way out.’ I speak firmly, but my heart is quavering with doubt.
All day long I walk the perimeter of the woods, testing, ever testing, the strength of the glamour. But it holds, oh by the Great Mother, it holds. The old wood witch has a fierce power.
‘Why does she hate us so ?’ Merla cries.
‘She hates us because she is old and alone,’ I reply, knowing that it is the truth.
I sat up all night thinking, hoping, looking to the edge of the woods where the morning light appears. As the sunlight hit I saw the glamour, thick as mist, surrounding the trees, except for one small spot where only a child could slip through. In my excitement I forgot to leave a marker, in my haste to tell Merla there was a way out, that soon we would be free; and when I returned and the light had died, I could not find the break in the spell.
I cried then. Long, wrenching tears that left me gasping. I couldn’t stand another night in this forsaken place, so desperate, panicked, wretched I began to thrust myself against the glamour where I thought the way out had appeared.
Soon I was bruised, bleeding, my soul scraped raw. I could not fail now. I would not. I fell into a restless sleep, my face in the dirt, awaking to a dim morning light that barely penetrated the trees. Was it possible the old wood witch had the power to also block out the sun?
‘No,’ I cried. ‘No.’
I heard a flutter like a rustle of silken skirts. The raven stood on the ground before me. His beak was full of acorns. I reached out my hand to him but he flew up and out of sight before I could get close. I felt despair clutching at me and then I saw it – a line of acorns leading to a copse of trees, and a single black feather pointing outwards.
I ran, stumbling, tripping, clawing at the ground, grabbing Merla and taking her, dragging her back to the point where we could break free.
‘Look,’ I said, throwing the acorns through the trees, watching as they rolled on and out to freedom.
‘We’ll never fit.’ Merla was weary, afraid to hope. ‘We’ll get half way through and then we’ll be stuck. We’ll burn to death.’
‘We’ll roll, like the acorns, right through that hole,’ I said.’ And we’ll do it right now before the old witch realises.’
Merla hesitated but I could see she could smell freedom, I could see she was calculating the dimensions of the hole.
‘Make yourself as round and as small as possible,’ she said. She crouched, forming herself into a ball, and rolled, perfect as a sphere, through the hole and out into the safe, real world.
I crouched too, clutching at my knees, tucking my arms under my chin, but a sound in the distance, a snapping twig, unnerved me , throwing me off. As I rolled I lost momentum and my foot got caught halfway through. I lay there in the fresh , clean air, the sunlight coating my face with joy, with my foot stuck in the glamour.
The pain was indescribable. I was being tugged down, foot first, into the underworld. I knew it. Merla grabbed my arms, trying to pull me to safety, but it was hopeless. Slowly, ever slowly, I began to be pulled back into the woods.
‘Save yourself,’ I shouted to Merla. ‘Save yourself.’ I closed my eyes as the burning spread up to my thigh, waiting for death.
Suddenly, I felt wings brush my leg and a heard a bird call like a cry to war. The raven was plucking and pecking at the glamour, swooping like he was being thrown about by a hurricane.
All at once my leg was free. I was standing in the clearing. The raven fought on, valiant, proud, but one of his wings was caught and was slowly starting to smoke. In moments he began to burn. His screams of pain were more terrifying than the nights we had endured in the woods but soon they stopped. Just before his lifeless body dropped to the ground, I saw a face amidst the feathers, the face of a man, a real man. The man who saved our lives.
We ran then. Silently. Avoiding looking back. Pounding at the hills and pathways until we saw our village, the place where we belonged – and freedom. And home.