The Big Sleep

I missed writing with Tex last week. Just couldn’t get myself together. Our prompt from last week was waking in the dark. I’ve written a kind of modern twist on Sleeping Beauty.

So here is my little witchy fairytale……

Myrna was vague and flighty. Everybody said so. Maude could see it, could see her mixing the wrong ingredients into her potions so that they exploded or burned, could see her disfiguring the humans who lived in the lowlands instead of curing them as she was meant to.

‘You need to take better care,’ Maude said to her on many occasions. ‘Or you will be banished. The elders are displeased with you.’

Myrna would improve for a while, claiming she was worried and didn’t want to be banished, but it wasn’t long before she started making mistakes again.

Then came the biggest mistake of all. Maude was gathering milkweed for a tonic when Myrna came running up, excited as a child.

‘You’ll never guess what’s happened,’ she said. ‘I’m in love.’

‘Is it Osgood?’ Maude asked. ‘Or Terrence?’ Both were considered to be the most handsome young wizards in the highlands. It would be just like Myrna to think she was in love with one of them.

‘It’s neither. You don’t know him. His name is Darrell. He plays the flute. And this is the best part – he’s human!’

‘Have you lost what little sense you have?’ Maude was angry now. Sometimes Myrna was just too stupid for her own good. ‘It is forbidden to be with a human. You know that. You need to stop this nonsense straight away.’

Myrna began to weep. Great choking sobs. ‘I really am in love,’ she said. ‘It is killing me not to be with him. He loves me too – he wants us to be wed –  but he is afraid his family won’t accept me. It’s the eyes.’

‘Of course it’s the eyes.’ Maude was shouting now. The witches of the highlands looked like humans except for one thing – their eyes were the colour of freshly cut emeralds and instead of being black, their pupils were deep forest green. The blend of greens was striking but alarming. There was no chance of one of them pretending to be anything other than what they were.

‘You’re just going to have to forget about him. His family won’t tolerate you. They will know what you are as soon as they see you.’

‘What if I could change the colour of my eyes?’ Myrna’s tears had stopped. She was smirking.

‘There is nothing you can do. You could carry out a basic enchantment, but you would have to do it every day. And you know what you’re like – you’d forget one morning and that would be the end of it all.’

‘What about Orla’s Stone?’ Myrna lowered her voice. Orla, head witch of the highlands had a stone so full of power it was forbidden to touch it lest it cause harm. It was kept under glass in Orla’s cottage at the edge of the woods. Guards came at night. Dogs sat in the shadows. It was said that whoever touched the stone could have their greatest wish granted, their heart’s desire.

‘Don’t even think that for a moment,’ Maude said. ‘The penalty for touching the stone is serious. Maybe even death. Promise me you won’t even think about touching it. Promise me.’

As the sun set and the nightbirds began to sing their mournful songs, Maude was seized by grief and despair. She suddenly felt afraid in the dark. And alone.

She heard a scream. Dogs snarling. Her heart felt like it was going to explode in her chest. She ran to the edge of the woods.

They had Myrna. The guards. A dog worried at her cloak, it dragged on the ground in tatters. Orla was there, grey hair streaming, her lips blackened with her wrath.

‘She dared to touch the stone,’ her voice was a knife through the top of the head, fire in the eyes. ‘I want vengeance.’

Orla held the stone aloft. Its terrible brilliance lit up the woods like daylight. Maude felt panic flow through her.

The rest of the highlanders appeared. Circling Myrna. The elders were dismayed.

‘Cast her into the pit,’ said one.

‘Banish her,’ said another.

‘Burn her alive,’ said a grisly old crone with red eyes.

Myrna’s face was as white as the flour Maude ground every morning for bread. She was sinking to the ground. Maude thought Myrna might die from fear. She knew Myrna couldn’t face the punishment that would be doled out. She was a foolish girl but her only crime had been to fall in love.

‘It wasn’t her fault.’ Maude’s voice rang out clear in the night. The entire circle turned to regard her.

‘I bewitched her to get the stone for me.’

Orla was on her in an instant. ‘You lie. You do not have the power to carry out such an enchantment. What possible reason could you have for wanting my stone?’

‘I wish to be the most powerful witch in the land.’

They bound her. The ropes cut into her. There was pain at first, then a dull coldness. They carried her to a place where not even candlelight could penetrate. Maude did not recognise the place but it smelled like death.

‘I will not kill you,’ Orla said. ‘But you will pay for your defiance. You will sleep for a hundred years, two hundred, maybe more. You will not rise until all those tied to you by blood are long dead and gone.’

Maude heard a scream, muffled in the dark. Then another. She knew it was her mother, her sister. She thought of begging for mercy. How could she stand this judgement?

‘You will sleep,’ Orla went on,’ But once a month you will wake at night, always in the dark and you will gasp in pain and fear and self-loathing and know what you have lost. So will it be.’

Orla raised her hands. Maude felt her breathing begin to slow, her eyelids close. She struggled, fought against it, thinking of her family, of Myrna, of the sunlight she might not see for a hundred years, of the stone. She slept, plummeting into the abyss of dreams, dreading the dark, dreading the waking in the dark even more. Dreading the breath shuddering through her body. She had become the night.

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