For the first piece of my fiction writing on this blog, I wanted to choose something that was complete, not long, and gave a good sense of my voice. This one is maybe 1.5 out of 3? It’s complete except for the ending, which needs another line or two, and probably more fiddly edits. It is certainly short. It is rare for me to write in second person and the language in this is a big departure from my usual. Still, I like it a lot for no particular reason; so even though it’s a bit scary to share it, read on.
It is very early in the morning when she takes you away. Sheltered cups of fog in ground-hollows shine fat as oyster bellies. Your mother’s strong arms, smelling of sex and hazelnuts, carry you to your home of the next seven years – the witch-home, the green-home, the home of starving winters and firefly summers, the deep woods far from man.
Seven years of sun brown your round arms. Seven years of pine needles and riverbed shale harden your small feet. Seven years of witch-living, and you learn their morning and midnight prayers, their way of taking birds in the palm, their way of singing to sleeping bears, their way of stealing corn at night from the farmer’s fields that border your forest.
Among the trees one day is a girl smaller than yourself, smelling different than you, fat where you are thin, pale where you are rosy and brown. Even her words are strange to you but you know the word that she holds out to you like a talisman: home, home, home. It is not so hard for you to find it. She will not go the last steps alone and so you take her damp hand and lead her to the door. You dance away from the paws that reach for her and next for you, until you see the gentleness with which they touch her. He gives you frothy sweet milk in a bone cup. All that night you sleep on the ground as you always do. Never before has it felt cold or hard.
At first they tell you you have no father, that witches have only mothers. Then they tell you if you go you can never come back. Then they tell you that when you come back it will never be the same. The mice will not nibble from your hand again. You will not know the names of the red and white stars.
In the end you go alone. To witches, even little girl-witches, long distances are not so long and paths not easily lost. He lives far past the border of the corn. You find him alone in a house whose wood is peeling like burned skin. At table there is no foaming milk but hard bread and silence. Your father stares at you as though to cure his wounded eyes.
Instead of watching spiders weave moonlight silk, you watch your own hands make patterns with coarse wool. Your teeth discover the ache of sugar. You learn to sleep within walls. Sometimes your father crushes you to him so that you can feel the drumbeat of his heart against your own, keeping the same time. His love is the wonder the witches could not teach you.
In five years it is your twelfth birth-day. Twelve are the moons of the year, and it is on her twelfth birth-day that a witch girl is tested by her sisters. The ebb tide of your child life is over. The witches do not come when the mellow sun is burning. At twilight, rich with violets and washes of blue, not yet tinted by but a stage for a gibbous moon ripe on the edge of the world, is when they come.
At first they are a distant rumble. Cracks bloom through dry earth as if it were easy to shatter as spring ice. In your father’s house everything has fallen or broken or shifted.
They are coming like a storm cloud bound with great chains to the earth. The witches, more than you had thought there were in the world, are pounding with their bare feet a clear path through the fields of man.
Long nights brought you dreams of your mother the witch, of her sisters and yours. In the dreams you helped butterflies open their wings; you stood on the shore of a vast dark ocean; you were in the old forest, or on a mountain, washing your hands of hot deer-blood in a cold stream. You were not afraid then as you are afraid now. Your fear is digging iron fingers into your belly. You stand your ground until you can see their bright eyes and the wicked teeth glinting.
The only direction for running is away. You have not forgotten how to run so swiftly the wind sings at your heels. There are fields and more fields, fields stretching away past where you have ever been and beyond that too.
They come closer as the moon crests in the sky. The fields are ending and now before you is a hedge of bramble, a towering cage of thorn. The witches are so close their breath is a second wind warm on your neck. You cannot run forever.
The hedge seems endless. The thorns glint steely in the moonlight. It is unthinkable that the grasping hands should take you so you close your eyes and leap. Great pain. Stillness.
When you open your eyes you see through a filigree of fine points and slender curling branches. You are high up in the thorns; how did you come so high? Your arms, your shoulders, your face, your throat, your tender thighs are sticky with blood. You are weightless among the thorns.
One by one the witches call to you. Their faces shine like a thousand moons over the crashing sea of their welcome.
© Margaret Collins
2 thoughts on “Homecoming (Short Story)”
Love the magic! Beautiful, sensual, vivid. Very wild, which was exciting to jump into. I can feel why you loved to write this piece, and so glad you are sharing it. Now that I’m thinking about it, it reminds me a bit of “Mistress of Spices”–especially the beginning–one of my all-time favorite reads.
I was confused, though, by the younger girl’s appearance. Didn’t understand where she led the narrator to, if it was “home” then how did father’s home figure in? And if the first “he” was not the father, how did he fit into a world of (presumably all) female witches in that second abode?
Also it would be easier, for me anyway, to get into the soul of the narrator if there was some emotional reaction–or even just visceral–to the littler girl who may or may not be her sister. Joy? Revulsion? Electricity? Something. You’re very clear, on the other hand, about her feelings for her father and his for her. It might be an interesting counterpoint to your narrator’s interior landscape to get a little tension going with the little girl? Just a thought.
More please; what a rich world is in your head!
What thoughtful, insightful feedback–thank you so much, Sherry.
The two girls’ dynamic (in fact, that whole paragraph) is what gives me the most trouble and what I find myself noodling with most. They are not supposed to be sisters, and it is seeing the lost girl’s father that gives the witch girl the notion to seek her own. I at some point condensed two paragraphs surrounding this moment and while it did need reduction, I need to take another stab at it. I’ll send you the next draft!