“What do I do now?”
Her question hangs in my mind, my heart beating steady as I jingle little bronze bells over the flickering wick of an ocean blue candle. The light dances in my eyes and I study the flame as it moves. My hand flourishes across the page of my journal, documenting, scribing, casting words onto the page, and forming ethereal bonds with crow-black ink. Lyra and I have been friends for nearly a decade. She trusts me, and I do my best to help her and others with my gifts when I can.
I wet my index finger and thumb with my tongue and pinch the wick, darkening it with a sizzle as I close my journal with the other hand, looking up into the eyes of the young woman sitting across from me. Smiling warmly as my hands envelope her own to squeeze them gently, I speak softly.
“He will come home. You must give him the time he needs to heal. You must also give yourself time to heal.”
Her green eyes light up, and she smiles solemnly, removing her hands from mine and pushing the ornately-carved wooden chair from the table as she stands, exiting the room. Her gait holds a limp, her stomach still swollen from her first birth weeks ago.
Pursing my lips, I sit back with a sigh. There is so much energy in the room. I can feel it running over my skin like warm water. My bones shiver, and I stand to pull the brass chain above me, the Tiffany fixture flickering on in a kaleidoscope of blue, green, and purple glass. Iridescent watercolors spread over the ceiling. Mala weaves between my legs, purring, and I smile down at her, bending to pick her up and rub my face against her black fur.
“You feel it too, don’t you?”
She jumps from my arms and disappears into the kitchen, meowing for her food as if nothing is happening around her. My heart sinks, the voices floating around me telling me everything I needed to know about the poor young woman. They whisper in my ear, soft, spilling secrets of what really happened to the baby.
She wouldn’t stop crying.
He hadn’t slept in three days.
He couldn’t take it anymore.
My eyes fill with tears, and I wave my hand beside my ear as though brushing away a mosquito’s high-pitched whine. There was never an excuse for what happened to that poor child. I purse my lips, wrapping my arms around myself for a moment before approaching the curio cabinet adjacent to my reading table. One hand reaches out to the ornate, deep blue glass knob on the front of the oak door and gives it a pull. The other reaches in and wraps as it can around the thick spine of an old, leather-bound volume with water-wrinkled, ink-stained pages.
I heave it over to my reading table, where it lands with a "thunk!" and a cloud of dust. I flip through the pages, the spells and incantations, tinctures and potions, getting darker by the minute until I land upon what I’ve been seeking. I run my hands down my face, grumbling.
“I promised I would never practice this. I swore on the Maiden and Crone and the Earth.”
Mala peers up at me from her place on the floor, the green jewel around her neck glistening next to the silver of her collar. She hears what I am saying, but of course she doesn’t really understand. I sink into my chair, fingers drumming over the velvet table runner as my eyes scan the pages of my grimoire. My jaw hardens, and I slam the book shut as I stand up a bit too quickly and knock the chair backwards. Mala shrieks, dashing off to the safety of the sunroom, and I shake my head. There is nothing I can do. Well, there is nothing I am willing to do.
Weeks later, at work, my mind is racing. I grind rosemary and peppermint with a mortar and pestle and sprinkle it into patrons’ drinks, imbibing protection upon them. I put extra rosemary in Josie Lane’s cocktails, as she is a regular and often leaves drunk. She always makes it back, somehow.
I flip bottles of vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey all night, adding my own twists to each drink to ease my worry and keep the bar atmosphere mellow. If I can make the lives of countless others better, then I feel less horrible about what I am going to do to one life. Lost in thought, I lose my hold on a thick, brown bottle, and it falls to the ground. It shatters, and in the multitude of reflective surfaces, I see my face, though it isn’t really mine. The eyes are dark, and my cheekbones are sunken. I take a sharp breath, my coworker gently grasping my elbow and pulling me from the wreckage.
I think about the broken bottle for the rest of the night.
Back at home, Mala is waiting and purring with happiness as I climb into bed to rest my head on my favorite pillow.
I awaken to chickadees and sparrows chirping in the tree outside my bedroom window, and the sun peeking over the ridge just past the neighborhood. Shadows float around my room, and I study them for a moment before I pull myself from sleep and my bed. I yank a vintage silver brush through my mess of red curls, pin them to the top of my head, and slip into a black silken dress patterned with little blue flowers before heading downstairs.
The grimoire is where I left it, and I stare at it nervously as I wrap my arms around myself, cold. I step lightly past the reading table into the kitchen and immediately seek out my stash of black salt.
I spend the morning piling it in the corners of my house, my windowsills, and I even do a quick lap around the house itself, waving to my neighbors as they give me odd glances. I ignored their sharp words, my jaw hardening as I finish my task and make my way back into my home, flicking black salt over my left should before slamming the door shut.
I plop down in my chair and rest my elbows on the surface of my reading table, my eyes scanning the spell once more. It’s a simple spell, a run-of-the-mill blood and words kind. I could be punished greatly for this, but we witches are allowed a trial. I believe I will be acquitted of charges upon giving an explanation.
I pull a needle-sharp hairpin from my hair, the strand it held falling to frame my cheek. I press the needle to the ring-finger of my left hand, a bead of blood pooling on my fingertip. Straightening my shoulders, I take a deep breath and press my fingertip to the page. My blood disappears instantly, not having run to the other side. It has been swallowed by the book.
I know the spell by heart and soul, though those times were dark, and I hadn’t yet known the repercussions. I light first a black candle and then a white one. I sprinkle black salt around the grimoire as I whisper the incantation.
“Morte ad vitam artis. Morte ad vitam artis. Morte ad vitam artis.”
Trade death for life.
I say it three times by the book, the table shaking as the candle flames shoot high into the air to cast warmth and light into the room.
Just like that, it’s over. The flames extinguish themselves, and the room is plunged into darkness, save for the sunlight floating through the curtains. The only sounds I hear are the beat of my heart and my harsh breathing. Ignoring the eerie silence of the room, I close the book and stand to stow it away in the curio cabinet.
Later that day, as I am organizing my herb cabinet, a knock breaks my trance and I brush my hands against my dress before answering the door. The young woman stands before me, her green eyes bright with mirth and worry.
“Ingrid,” she said quietly, “he’s dead.”
My eyebrows arch and I cross my arms over my chest. My voice is equally soft, feigning surprise.
“I am so sorry.”
She stands there for a moment, wringing her hands, and I reach out to rest a hand on her shoulder with a small smile.
“Are you alright?”
Her dark brown hair is frazzled, though her skin glows and her lips are full with the hint of a smile.
“He came home two nights after I saw you. He seemed stressed and said he missed me. We made love and… I hadn’t thought about it at all.”
I cross my arms once more, a strong energy washing over me as my eyes glance at her belly, a light pulsing from within it. A new life, flickering like a freshly-lit candle.
“Ingrid, I’m pregnant.”