The air is dry and brisk, the leaves curled at the edges and hanging limp in shades of red, gold, and brown, dying as the sun edges farther away every day. It’s the kind of day made for hanging witches. That’s what Jasper says, at least. His father’s the law around here. He and his men found an entire coven of them, hunkered down in a house hidden in the forest, acting like they were normal people. Tonight, they will hang all of them. You don’t ever wait to hang a witch. History has all kinds of lessons about that.
Daddy hurries us down the road, away from town and the square, away from the gallows. The bottom of the sun touches down on the horizon, burning the rest of the day out. I can hear all of them, chanting together. It’s always the same kind of things—burn the witch, hang the witch, kill them all. Over and over, until the chant turns into a melody that crawls inside and whispers to a secret place inside of you. Makes you want to be part of it.
We’re past where the road turns from gravelly rock into dry dirt, where whirlwinds rise up and circle around the horses’ hooves with each step, when Daddy’s horse jigs right and stops dead, pawing at the ground. Daddy pats her neck, tells her to go easy. She’s got her ears pricked up, listening. Then I hear it. A sound that makes every hair go sharp in its follicle, stand wire straight off the skin. It’s soft and rhythmic, a chuff chuff chuffing full of strangled agony. Then two skeletal arms, streaked with dried rusty blood, reach over the edge of the road. The palms plant against the dirt, the bloody fingers dig grooves, the arms strain to form right angles at the elbows. I follow the arms to the shoulders appearing, to the matted hair, thick with great viscous clots that shine and wink at something dark inside me.
The hair hangs over its face, the arms tremble as it lunges forward, and the pale naked flesh of it flops against the road. A hole large enough to accommodate my fist gapes on its side, wide lipped and ruby red, and through the open mouth of it peers a dirty white sickle-curved rib.
It crests the ditch, dragging rusty, bloodstained legs behind it. The smell of copper hangs heavy in the air around it, assaults the back of my nose with the stench of it. Dirt sticks to blood that is still wet, blood that falls in drops from the wound in its side. I think it’s a woman but it’s hard to tell, the way the chest is pressed to the road, the amount of filth it wears. It is hardly even recognizable as a human, really.
Daddy dismounts, hands the reins to Tillie. Tillie is sixteen and I am fourteen, the years between us vast as oceans. Different fathers make us different seasons. Tillie chews the inside of her cheek, her body wired tense, her face turned small and pinched. She’s like Mamma, that way. Everything rings through her louder.
“Hey,” Daddy says. He takes slow, even steps up to it.
I ride up next to Tillie to get a better look.
Daddy gets right up next to it and crouches down. He’s tall and skinny; folded up he looks like a bundle of sticks. He reaches out, and puts his hand on its shoulder, away from that awful thing on the side that glitters open, a secret door into the body. The thing screeches—it humps up its body like a worm, curling away and still trying to contract, wiggle away to another place.
“Easy,” Daddy says, same tone he just used to soothe his horse. “Easy, there.” He puts his hand on the shoulder of the thing, halts its nonexistent forward progress. From under the mass of knotted hair, the thing turns and makes a sound I have never heard, one of anguish and fear and even a note of pleading all wound up in there.
I realize I have held my breath in my chest, as the neck of it rotates and the hair falls away from the face, and it burns in my chest as the bluest sky eye comes out from under. A sharp blade nose, pale lips, and the other eye, silver iris, black pupil.
“Witch!” I cry out.
“Hush,” Daddy snaps without looking back, stinging me whip sharp.
“Easy,” Daddy says, to the thing. The witch thing. “We’re not going to hurt you.” It trembles and moans. I’m fairly certain it’s a woman, the curve of a breast just visible if you look close enough.
She doesn’t have any clothes, but everything private’s covered with blood and dirt. Daddy strokes her shoulder gentle but still she flinches, her eyes running mad in their sockets, her fingers scrabbling for holds in the road. They’re all bloody at the end, bent in funny ways, missing some fingernails.
“Someone’ll be coming,” Tillie says, looking around. “Maybe she got away from the hanging.”
“She’s not from the hanging,” Daddy says. “Not like this.”
“Still, someone’s gotta be looking for her,” Tillie says.
“I know,” Daddy says. He gets up. Tillie’s already digging in her saddlebag. They talk without talking, like he’s her real dad instead of mine.
Tillie pulls out a ratty old blanket out of her bag and hands it to Daddy. He eases it around the witch thing, real nice. She doesn’t respond now, her fingers move restlessly through the dirt, her eyes stare off at something else. She whines when he scoops her up, but it doesn’t last long either. When he carries her to his horse, her arms and legs hang scarecrow limp.
He hoists her up, his arms shaking from the effort, drapes her across the saddle, swings up behind the saddle, which startles his horse. He has to lean over it to grab the reins. He looks right at Tillie.
“Stay on the main road,” he says. “Stay with your sister. Go straight home, hear?”
Tillie nods. He looks past her to me. “Listen to your sister, Winnie.”
With that, he turns his horse right and disappears into the trees, taking the back-way home.
“Come on,” Tillie says, the second he’s out of sight. She guides her horse around the mess it made, the pool of blood and dirt shaped like a three quarters moon. I can smell it, damp and invasive and rich. I fall behind her, aiming to ride right over it, but Bonnie dances around it, the horse version of tiptoeing.
“This is wrong,” I say, nudging Bonnie to go faster, til I can look Tillie right in the eye, but Tillie stares straight ahead, the skin on her face drawn taut by tension. “Helping a witch is the same as being one.”
“That don’t make it right.” Tillie says.
“If someone finds out,” I persist, “we’ll hang too.”
“Dad would,” she corrects me. “We’re too little and we ain’t got nothing to do with it.”
She calls him Dad even though he isn’t. Her dad passed when she wasn’t even born yet, caught the wasting sickness. I guess Daddy’s the only daddy she’s ever had, but it still rubs me the wrong way, sandpaper on raw nerve endings.
“Well.” I can’t think of anything else to say. Tillie and I, we just aren’t the same kind of people.
“You haven’t ever seen a hanging,” she says, real soft.
“And you have?”
“Once I was at Grace’s, didn’t know they were gonna have one. They caught her trying to steal something, I guess, hung her up right aways, in the square. Grace and I didn’t even want to watch, but we couldn’t get people to let us through, to get out.”
“You seen it? Did she try to get away?”
Tillie shook her head. “She knew it was over. She just stood there. Let it happen. I closed my eyes, and I heard everything go really still and silent, and then I heard the wood moving, heard the wind shift. There was this awful plop, plop, plop. I opened my eyes and she was just dangling there, like a doll. Her eyes were open but they had clouds over them.”
“What was the plops?”
“She shat herself,” Tillie says. “It was awful. It was the very worst thing that could ever happen.”
“Did her tongue stick out?” I want to know. Jasper and the others, they say the tongue comes sticking out and birds peck it out, they say the face turns mottled purple, they say crows roost in the tree and watch.
“Shut up,” Tillie says, and doesn’t say another word.
Daddy’s horse is tethered to the post in the yard. The back way is through the woods, where the ground shifts beneath you. It’s faster, but Daddy says it’s only safe for people who have ridden as many years as him. Tillie tells me to unsaddle and put up the horses, just like I knew she would. Dad tells Tillie what to do, she tells me what to do, and I just get the short end of the stick, every time. By the time I’m done, all the light’s been sucked out of the sky. The fire’s lit, beckoning as soon as I open the door. Aunt Caro is in her wheeled chair, dunking ripped up sheets into a boiling pot. Her biceps flex with muscle, the same muscle that hoists her in and out of her chair every day. She was born with thin legs that refused to carry her and now they are little more than sticks attached to her body.
Tillie’s room door is open and I can see Daddy and Tillie beside a pallet, where it lies.
“What are they doing?” I ask Caro.
“Trying to clean up, put on some bandages,” Caro says. She reaches down and gets a bowl, uses wooden tongs to spoon out the linens and drop them in. She tells me to take the bowl to Daddy. I walk in and it smells of fermented fruit and sweat, oily and slick in my mouth.
Tillie’s doing the cleaning. Daddy’s using his fingers to feel around the wet side wound. I push the bowl next to him.
“What are you doing?” I whisper. I don’t want to talk too loud, because the whole room feels unsteady, blurred at the edges, like maybe one wrong word will cause the witch to rise up, cast spells.
“Making sure nothing’s in there,” he whispers back. “Cleaning it out best I can. Don’t want to close it with anything in it.”
“How are you gonna close it?”
“Sew it up.” He takes a wet, steaming cloth, and pushes it inside the wound. Squeezes it and the water runs out, dark with blood and dirty water. He does it a few times until it’s mostly clear. Then he dips his hands in the water and cleans them. He’s got big hands with long slender fingers. Everything about Daddy is long and thin. He takes the edges of skin with thumbs and first fingers, uses the others to smooth the rumpled-up flesh. That little curved rib shines at me, looking silk smooth. Then he pinches the skin together with one hand.
“Hand me that,” he says, about the needle and thread next to me. I do. He already pushed the thread through the eye of the needle, and he pricks it through the skin, one side to the other, drawing it tight, sealing it up.
I watch him for a while. He does it well, like everything else. “Where’d you learn that?” I ask.
“My grandma was a healer,” he says.
“Like a doctor?”
He laughs quietly. “There weren’t any doctors in her time. So, yes, in a way.”
The thing whimpers a little while he works. But after a while, her eyelids ease closed. She’s silent the rest of the time. They cover her with blankets and maneuver her pallet beside the fire.
Daddy sends me and Tillie to bed, and I lie in bed thinking about hangings and bones and mouths carved into skin while Daddy’s and Aunt Caro’s mutterings dance just outside the edge of my hearing.
She sleeps for near three days straight. Aunt Caro and Daddy keep us away from her, move Tillie into my room. Around the corners of doors, I can see them spooning liquids and broth into her mouth, her kitten-weak swallowing. Once, I see her neck, dark purple mixed with blue black, bruises in the shapes of hands and fingers, once I see the ladder tracks of Daddy’s stitches pulled tight across swollen red skin, leaking pus, once I see Daddy push her hair off her face and my heart turns to stone in my chest, dense and solid and impenetrable.
The fourth day, she is sitting at the table, wearing one of Tillie’s dresses. It is short, falling halfway down her thigh instead of the knee. There are fading bruises scattered along the curves of her calves, even on her long, narrow feet. Her arms are sticks decorated with the same berries of color, shaped like fingers and wrapping all the way around the biceps and forearms. They must have cut her hair off, and what’s left dusts the top of her shoulders, dark and glossy. Her eyes are clear and cold, the silver and blue irises moving liquid under the sunlight pouring through the window. Aunt Caro and Tillie both sit at the table, Daddy leans against the wall. The air is still and quiet, but something quivers underneath it, something I can’t quite grasp.
“Of course, you’re free to go,” Daddy says. “But there are men everywhere looking for your kind. You’re welcome to stay here a while longer, out of sight. Regain your strength.”
The witch, young, not one of the wrinkled crones that I imagine dangling from nooses, cocks her head, perched on her thin stalk of a neck. “And what would be the cost of that?”
Her voice is raspy. The necklace of purple remains vivid, unlike the other marks that fade. When she speaks, she passes her hand up to press against her throat.
Daddy doesn’t answer but he shakes his head just once. His eyes are sad eyes, always, since Mama died, but today the depth of it grates to look at, so I glare at her. Then he says, with so much kindness in his voice it sets my jaw to aching, “There isn’t a price. We aren’t the kind of people who believe in harming others.”
Maybe they don’t, I think to myself. Something glitters in me that is mean and sharp and real as the hair on my head, real as the witch in our house.
“You’re a man,” she says. “What do you require?”
“Nothing,” he says, shakes his head. “I’m not that kind of man.”
There is an understanding reached between them, something that passes between them like the notes others pass in class, the ones I don’t ever get.
“You’ll have to stay out of sight,” Daddy says. “We don’t get much company, but, still.”
“Of course,” she says.
“The first snow,” he says. “The men will be busy shoring up the barns, covering the fields. It will be a good time to leave. It should come soon, maybe a month.”
She nods again. When she stands up, she presses her hand to her side. And somehow, between the four of them, it’s all settled.
My jaw throbs, my teeth clenched together tight.
“What’s your name?” Tillie asks.
Caro made me and Tillie go pluck green beans this morning. I hate it. They’re all bunched together low to the ground and hard to pull off. Dirt sneaks up under my nails and makes them gritty for days no matter how much I wash them. When we sit down to break off the stems, Milla comes right over and lowers herself beside Tillie, her breath hissing out between her teeth. We work in silence until Tillie decides she wants to have a get-to-know-the-witch session.
“Milla,” she says. Milla only speaks when she’s asked a question. “Where are you from?”
“Did you have a mom and dad?”
Tillie’s asking questions like a witch really has a beginning. I haven’t ever heard of them having beginnings, only endings.
“A mother,” she says.
“Where is she?”
Milla snaps a bean right in half. She puts it down. Her hands are smooth and most of her fingernails are already growing back. They tremble, just a little bit.
“Dead,” she says. “Hung a long time ago.”
“Our momma died too,” Tillie says.
My stomach tightens into a knot, strings pulled tight all across my body.
“She was real pretty,” Tillie says. “She got the wasting sickness when Winnie was just a baby. She was always laughing.”
Her face turns blurry. I rub my eyes with my fists. I don’t have memories like Tillie. I don’t have any images of my mother pasted in my head I can flip through. When I think about it, I feel cold as wet river stones inside, and my teeth set against each other.
“I think that’s enough beans for now,” Aunt Caro says. When I look at her, deep lines have been drawn in her forehead, ones that don’t disappear later.
I hear the softest voice that night, lying in bed. It’s her, talking to herself, but I can’t make out what she’s saying. There’s a sound accompanying it, something that could be mistaken for crying, if I didn’t know that witches don’t cry.
She has been here for seven days and seven nights the night I get up for a drink. I come around the corner, see Daddy leaned back in his chair, his face falling off the planes of his bones. He looks old, like maybe time has passed I didn’t know about it. If I were a different kind of girl, I’d go crawl in his lap and put my arms around him, but I can’t, because I have a mean streak inside me. It’s sharp and crackling like a bullwhip.
But then there are soft footsteps, and Daddy’s eyes snap open. He sits up, his face coming all together again. Then Milla the witch moves towards him. She’s wearing one of Tillie’s shirts, that hardly covers her private bits.
“What are you doing?” Daddy asks her. He swallows and I can hear it loud, even over my heart thumping double in my chest.
“I owe a debt to you,” she says. “I know you say you don’t require it, but I don’t want it hanging over my head.” The shirt drops down her back, off her arms, lands puddled on the floor. She is still thin, but curvy in parts, skin like polished ivory. Something fat and ugly lodges in my throat.
Daddy’s skin has gone white, his hands grip the arms of the chair so tight the veins on the back of his hand bulge out. He’s shaking his head. “No,” he says.
“I owe you,” she says. “I can make you—”
“No,” Daddy says. He stands up fast, snatching a blanket off the back of the chair. “Go back to bed, Milla.” He puts the blanket around her front first, and I can see his hands shaking when he wraps it around the back.
He keeps his eyes to the side, not looking at her.
“Is it because of them, what they done?” she asks. Her voice isn’t quite as strangled as it used to be, just husky.
“Nothing to do with that,” he says. He turns away, and I can hear both their hearts beating and colliding in the air around them. “Please go, Milla.” Like his hands, his voice shakes.
I do not get a drink. I do not think it would pass the lump in my throat.
I grind my teeth to drown out the drums of beating hearts pulsing in my eardrums.
It does not snow for two weeks. Tillie keeps asking Milla questions, Milla answers. She says she can’t do any magic. That she wasn’t ever taught. That she just wants to live in peace.
Witches lie. Ask anybody.
“She’s pretty, isn’t she?” Tillie asks me.
Milla’s standing at the window. She’s still wearing Tillie’s clothes. They might be the same size around, but Milla’s tall and it seems like her legs and back are always exposed. She is pale and her bones are sharp under her skin and sometimes I catch Daddy watching her move fluidly across our house, looking all twisted up.
It isn’t the first time I’ve seen Daddy look at a woman like that. There have been others. One, Amy, even came to dinner a few times. She had a laugh that scraped across the nerve endings in my ears. She lasted longer than the others, but she left too. I used to throw fits. I’d scream and kick and bang my head against the floor. I imagined me scraping right back across her eardrums and her head pounding like mine.
“I can’t do this,” she told Daddy after one.
“Aren’t you lonely?” I overheard Caro ask him one night.
I was glad I was eavesdropping and couldn’t see his face. Hearing all the pieces of his voice was bad enough. “I miss my wife,” he said. “I don’t think anything can make that kind of lonely go away.”
There was no one else until Milla. I’m older, so I know I won’t get away with fits like I used to. I glare at her; don’t eat anything she’s touched. Today, I tripped her, Daddy moving lightning quick to catch her, and she made an odd strangled sound and recoiled from him. She fled with her hand against her side and didn’t come out the rest of the night. Tillie gave me a mean look, but her meanness doesn’t have nothing on me. she knows it, too.
I creep out after I hear Caro’s chair squeak to her bedroom, after Tillie’s breathing is deep and regular and she doesn’t hold her breath when my sheets rustle. I peer around the hall corner, where I see Milla, no top on. She clutches a shirt to her chest. I see Daddy on his knees. For a moment, I think the worst, but then I see the scissors in his hand, sharp and silver. He’s severing the threads he put in, is all, and it gets easier to breathe.
She doesn’t move, even when it must hurt, except to wrinkle her forehead. When he removes the last one, he touches her on the pink seam he created. “Hurt?”
She shakes her head. “I’m sorry,” she says.
I can feel how they’re looking at each other then. How thick it is between them, how there’s another secret circle I won’t ever belong to.
“About what?” he says.
“Earlier. I was just startled, you know,” she says. Her voice drops lower in register. Daddy hitches a breath in. Out. “It’s going to be time for me to go soon, isn’t it?”
I think Daddy says yes but he’s so close to a whisper I can’t rightly make it out.
“I was thinking.” She stops. Moisture, the pale imitation of a tear, glistens in her blue eye. “I was thinking about the things they did to me. I was thinking someone might do it to me again, probably. And I was thinking maybe if I had something nice to remember, maybe I could forget some of it, block it out.”
Daddy’s breath comes out all at once. He stands up, knitting his hands together.
“Not payment,” she says. “Not at all.”
“Oh,” Daddy says, hoarse.
“Please,” she says and then she puts her mouth, her enormous blood red mouth, on his. I can hear their hearts banging away again. Together, crashing and booming in thunderous blasts. I can’t quite take it, but I can’t look away. She drops the shirt, and Daddy’s arms go around her. She’s tugging at his, and they separate to let it over his head, and her breasts are small and round and the nipples tip them pink. Daddy drops his mouth to one, and Milla groans and then there’s something inside me burning and hollering, and I take my hand into my mouth and clamp down so hard I taste my own blood, just to keep from screaming. I feel my stomach knotting up and squeezing and I know my dinner’s fixing to reveal itself, and I do turn away, I do, I do.
Rage builds a house inside me.
Snow comes and Milla doesn’t leave. She smiles now, a wicked wanton scythe, looking at my Daddy, braiding Tillie’s hair. Helping Aunt Caro. I can hear them at night. I know what they’re doing, but it isn’t the sex stuff that bothers me. It’s the way he looks at her that sets my bones afire.
Winter is here, white spread over dead trees and dead fields.
We go outside and the cold sets my nose to numb, matches my insides. I don’t feel anything at all when I walk up to Jasper.
“Jasper,” I say. “Gotta talk to you.”
Jasper tosses his hair, just like a girl. “What do you want?” His breath comes out cool and shimmering, pretty like the rest of him.
“Alone,” I say.
All the times Milla makes me mad stack up on each other. The mean streak trembles and it wants her to go away. I want that too, but I feel fingers, ghost cold, trying to seize my words before they come out. They feel like I imagine a mother’s touch would, but I shake them off. If the gods wanted me to have a mother, they would have let me keep mine.
Jasper rolls his eyes. “All right, horseface,” he says. He walks around the building with me. “What?”
He crosses his arms in front of him. “Interested in showing your daddy a witch?”
He thinks it over. He doesn’t have much use for me, but he’s the youngest of three boys. He sure does want his daddy’s attention. I know all about that.
“Where?” he asks.
“Gotta promise me one thing,” I say. I make tears appear in my eyes. I brush at them with dirty snowflakes on my fingertips, help the process along. I start leaking good. “My daddy doesn’t get hurt. See, there’s a witch possessed my daddy. Laid a spell right on him, and Aunt Caro, too. You gotta promise you won’t hurt them.”
“Yeah, all right,” Jasper says. I can see the flush of excitement crawl up his cheeks. “I guess I can take care of your witch problem for you.”
“You promised, Jasper. No harm to my Daddy.”
“Yeah, sure,” he says, but he’s forgotten me, moving around the corner.
Inside, I taste something rich and sweet spreading through me.
Milla and Daddy are walking past each other, getting the table ready for dinner, brushing their finger together, eyes like moons. I’m sick and miserable, wanting the knock at the door to come. I’m on the outside, looking in, as always.
But it’s Tillie spilling through the door first, pale and high spots of color in her cheeks. She looks right at me. “You told!” she shouts and then slams into me. We fall to the ground and she’s swinging her fists one two one two, raining them against my head.
Then Daddy’s got Tillie around the waist, pulling her back. “What the hell’s going on, Tillie?” he shouts.
“She told about Milla!” Tillie screams, and she’s crying real tears. Not like mine or Milla’s.
Daddy looks at me, and I put my fist in my mouth and bite down hard.
“Oh, Winnie,” Caro says. She twists the blanket in her lap between her knotted hands.
Daddy looks at me. His face cracks like glass. Then he looks away, dismisses me like I’m not even there.
“You have to go,” he says to Milla. “Right now.”
Milla has manufactured tears. They slide down her cheeks and drip onto shoulders. She holds out her thin, angular arms to him and then he crosses the room and wraps her up in them. I know she’s going but still feel my hate inside me, expanding and spreading and I saw my teeth against each other.
“I’m sorry,” he says, pressing his lips against her forehead. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Ssshh,” she says. “It’s alright. We knew it would happen. We’ll meet again.” She draws his mouth down to hers. He’s crying too, something he only does when the memory of Momma chews at him too hard. She lets him go, and turns to Caro and squeezes her hands tight. “Take care, Caro,” she says.
“Be safe,” Caro says. She’s crying too. Everyone is but me.
Tillie runs and throws her arms around her. Milla hugs her back and whispers to her. Tillie shakes her head back and forth. Milla kisses the top of her head. She starts toward me and I feel my insides contract. She stops but doesn’t touch me. She looks into my eyes with her mismatched set. “Take care, Winnie,” she says. “I don’t blame you.”
It makes me feel even more knotted up and angry inside. I open my mouth but nothing comes out.
And then Daddy is beside her, telling her to take his horse, telling her she has to hurry. They disappear through the door together. I want to follow, to see what happens next, to see it through to the end, but Tillie comes right up to me, her fists balled up at her sides.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she says. She’s looking at me real funny, like she’s trying to see something behind my eyes.
“She’s a witch,” I hiss. “She was messing Daddy up.”
“She was fixing him,” Tillie snaps. “You don’t know anything. You’re just mean.”
She’s not wrong. Inside me, the mean streak turns double edged and sharp as an arrowhead. It twists and turns and hurts until I let part of it out. I used to wonder where it came from, when the rest of my family is so good it makes my teeth ache. Maybe it was born inside me, maybe it was because someone took my momma away before I knew her. All I know is I feel better when I get the meanness out, same way a teakettle’s gotta release steam when it gets too hot.
Daddy comes back inside. His eyes are wet and red. “Go to your room, Winnie,” he says.
The men arrive with their boots thudding on our floor. Jasper’s daddy apologizes.
“Sorry to come like this,” he says to Daddy. “My boy here—” his hand drops to Jasper’s shoulder, standing beside him, “— says your girl Winnie told him a witch came and laid a spell on you, to hole up here.”
“She’s a damn liar,” Tillie interrupts.
Jasper’s been looking around the room, but his eyes snap back to Tillie. “She wasn’t lying,” he says. “I know. She made me swear you wouldn’t hurt her daddy. She meant it.”
“We’ve been having a bit of difficulty with Winnie recently,” Daddy says real soft to Jasper’s daddy. “Losing her mother so young, you understand. I haven’t been home as much, as of late, and I think perhaps maybe she was a little mad at me and this was just her acting out.”
My jaw clenches up tight. The muscles in my face tremble. I’m mad, but it still cuts me up, to hear him say that. That he’d pick a witch over his own daughter.
“That true, Caro?”
She nods, and Tillie says again, “I told you she was a liar.” Her cheeks are flushed and somehow it makes her prettier. I can feel my own face stained red, but my skin is usually chalk white and if I were to look in a mirror, I would not be prettier.
They act like I’m the bad one, but they’re the ones lying. They’re the ones who harbored a witch. And now everyone will hate me even more, call me a liar, when I didn’t do anything wrong. Inside, red hot fire burns in my chest, branches down my arms, my legs, spreads into my fingers and toes. My eyes meet Jasper’s.
“She was here,” I say. My voice is weak, not strong, but I say it anyway. I only look at Jasper. I need him to see.
I can feel Daddy looking at me. I know that everything between us has changed, that it will never be the same. “Go, to your room now,” he says, and his words are clipped off at each end and his voice is full of ice.
Jasper is staring at me like he can burn a hole in me just by thinking about it. I know I can’t say anything now. But I will later, when I’m free of Daddy and Tillie and their lies. Jasper and everybody else have always been right about the witches. We have to get rid of them all. I see Jasper’s got a mean streak just like me. Together, we can hang them all and then burn them to bits of bone and ash so they can’t come back.
I don’t need Daddy or Caro or Tillie, or anyone at all.
I go back to my silent cold room and feel the meanness inside me. It sets its teeth into my heart and pulls at the ragged strip carved through the center. It crawls inside and begins to nest. I think about Milla and how wicked she was. She didn’t use real magic, but she cast a spell over Daddy all the same. She was rotten right down to the core. She’ll be the first witch to hang. I can hear the chanting in the back of my head. Burn the witch. Hang the witch.