There’s a scar on my left thigh.
I tried all I could to get rid of it when I was a child. But even human devices did not work. They use their own forms of potions, such as pastes and oils, to cure their injuries. However, all they create must be applied immediately, which I was not able to do.
So I tried all the potions and spells I knew. I even sent a message to a fellow witch a few towns over. Her reply was kind and caused me to hide in my bathtub, shaking with sobs, but did not help with getting rid of the scar.
I’m saddened to hear about this news. Please be aware of the codes when you move forward with your decisions. I urge you to be discreet.
Have you tried the moss potions? That has always worked for me. However, every injury I have sustained has been accidental or on account of witchcraft. In this case, they have not yet known it was me they were attacking.
I am afraid that I must point you back to the code that states “When a witch is injured in a personal offense meant to harm out of spite, not to kill or protect, but with the intention that the attacker is meant to devastate the specific witch personally, the wound shall not be removed by magical methods.”
Do you think this could apply to your scar, Alice? I do not know the details of the method in which you were injured, but due to your age and location, I must make my own deductions.
In this case, please consider removing yourself from the situation. You are almost of age, if I remember correctly? Your leaving of home should not affect any maturity of powers.
If I may suggest, many of our sisters have taken houses on the outskirts of their town. You may want to consider this.
Please write my back, dear Alice.
I met Nissa when I was six years old. She was sent to my town after she heard of an incident involving my father, a collapsed house, and me. They knew what I was and she was sent to teach me our codes. She has now been in contact with me for over a decade.
She’ll know of my execution in the morning.
I should have listened to her when she sent me that letter two years ago. I should have left my house and lived in The Wood, like a normal witch. But I let fear of losing my powers and my grip on our community if I left my birth house keep me from running. It’s a code that a witch must stay with their humans until they are of age or they’ll lose not just their powers but knowledge of the community.
But these codes are old. “Of age” used to be 13. Now, in the late 19th century, it is considered 18 years old.
When I die, I’ll be immortalized at 19. When Nissa told me to leave, I had been 17. Based on the old code, I could have left safely, but I was too scared. I was scared of being discovered and executed, but even more so I was scared of losing who I truly am.
Now I will endure both.
Executing witches never truly ended. But because of the curse, humans quickly forget about our community and our executions are described as simple murders, natural deaths, or disappearances.
I reach down and touch the large scar on my thigh. It won’t matter tomorrow, but today it pulls tears down my cheeks. Even as a small child with a large secret, nothing mattered to me more than making my own father proud of my every move. All I wanted was for him to love me and hold me gently.
But my father is an angry man and now I have a scar on my thigh. There are also multiple scars on my back but I cannot see them now, sitting in the steel cell. Tomorrow, my father, newly instated governor of our small town, will come to my cell and drag me to the stake where they will burn me.
That, the humans remember. Burning witches: works every time.
“Oh, my dear Alice.”
My stomach drops and my heart squeezes. I look up and my eyes widen upon seeing Nissa. The older witch now has deep grey hair and lined eyes. She smiles and reaches out for me.
“Nissa!” I jump up, my bare feet cold against the floor. I reach her hands and grab them, closing my eyes in relief as she places her palms against my cheeks. “What are you doing here?”
“Honey, you don’t think I’d let you be executed, do you?”
“But, how did you know?”
“I’m very old, darling. There is much I have learned you can’t even imagine yet. Now, come. Your town believes they have already disposed of one pesky witch and oh, how awkward it would be for them to see another in their prisons.”
I smile and Nissa wipes a tear of my cheek. She then waves her long fingers over the lock and I see it glow hot and then break, falling to the ground. I hadn’t thought of that. I knew I wouldn’t be able to unlock it – the steel, you see, it numbs our gifts. Doesn’t block them, just a strong numbing sensation I haven’t been able to defeat yet. But Nissa just heated the air around the lock.
I grab the bars and pull, causing the door to swing open. I throw my arms around Nissa’s neck and she holds me close, letting out a sigh of relief that sounds like a laugh. When she pulls away, her eyes are glassy but she’s still smiling.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Any day, darling. Come, let’s go. We mustn’t stay long. They’ll forget in the morning but they’ll never look at you the same way,” Nissa says as she pulls me out of the cell.
We walk up the steps, careful not to slip on the moisture clinging to the stone. The cells are in the basement of the old station and are still used to hold criminals (and the occasional witch) but most of the police department has moved across town. Fortunately, this means we only pass two people on our way out of the building. They look at us in confusion and I start to shrink away in fear but Nissa just smiles, nods, and waves her hand in the air, making them turn away with slightly blank expressions.
“You’ve got to teach me that one,” I say as we run out of the building. The sun is still shining, though it’s starting to set, and the wind is speeding up. Small goose pimples rise on my arms and I wiggle my fingers until I feel a surge of warmth pass through me. That was one of the first tricks I learned. Had to, to survive in a house where my dad turned off the heat in the winter and took away all my blankets to punish me for talking back at dinner.
“It’s easy. You’re not altering their memories or thoughts, just the sight in front of them. You make a familiar face look like a stranger or a stranger look like a friend or a body look like a tree. They don’t question it because accepting it is much easier. Remember, dear Alice, humans are always looking for the easy path.”
I nod, following Nissa through the alley in the back of the town. A gutter to the right drips water on the stone ground and a skinny grey cat chases a mouse under a pile of trash. I can hear horses on the main roads and men shouting at each other as they head home from work. Nissa’s grip on my hand is tight, as if she’s afraid I’m going to evaporate at any moment. We’re already on the edge of town and we only have to make a sharp left into an even narrower alleyway before we emerge into the edge of The Wood. There’s a large gap between the buildings and the trees that’s mostly dirt, with deep divots where the carts and carriages have been pulled over the years. I remember when I was a kid, about five and six, I used to stand in the dirt, staring into The Wood as if expecting a monster to jump out at any moment to claim me. To take me away.
I still wish one would have.
I stop running suddenly, dust flying up under my feet. My arm jerks Nissa back and she stumbles, spinning around. “What are you doing?” She asks, her voice a hiss.
I stare at The Wood, eyes wide, before turning back to Nissa. I shake my head.
“There are far more monsters in this town then there are in The Wood. You’ll be stronger there. The life behind the trees energizes you. The plants and creatures and clean air, it’s the nourishment we need.”
“Alice. You’ve been of age for quite some time. You’re free. You need to let yourself be free.”
I’m about to argue but Nissa’s dark green eyes stop my words in my throat and I swallow, nodding. Nissa smiles, kisses my cheek, and pulls me into The Wood. As soon as we cross the line from dirt and people into the world of grass, animals, and life, I can feel my entire body buzz with energy. I reach over and pass my hand over the top of a bush as we run, smiling wide.
“Told you!” Nissa shouts.
We run faster. Our feet glide over the top of the ground. Our hair flies behind us. Faster and faster and faster. We weave between the thickets of trees and jump over roots and bushes. I lose my body and my spirit dissipates into the world around me. The air and the clouds above and nature all become one, mixing together to create a painting that would bring the greatest men to their knees.
We emerge from the trees into a circle of bright green grass lit by the sun. A small field where I drop to my back in the middle, feeling my skin breathe with energy and peace.
Nissa lies next to me and we stay quiet, lying in the middle of the pocket of nothing in the middle of The Wood. I can distantly hear leaves blowing in the wind and animals chirping, howling, barking, and singing to each other.
“Why have I never come here before?” I ask, turning my head to look at the older witch next to me. Her thick grey hair fans out around her chest rises and falls in gentle breathes. She smiles, showing crooked teeth that aren’t solid white but could be if Nissa wanted them to be. She looks at me with those eyes that are as green as the ground below us. She reaches out with her long, thin, gentle fingers and brushes my cheek, the movement warming me better than I ever could.
“This clearing is yours, Alice. The Wilderness built it just for you.”