River Witch


I sit at the edge of the riverbank a few kilometres from my garden. The waters are calm and still, and not too deep. I see pebbles under the surface and fish, reddish gold and blueish green dart under the surface. I peer into the surface, seeking her out. She only appears in my own face, after all.

At first, it’s just me. My own face, neutral and serious. I purse my lips impatiently, and my eyes narrow. The reflection’s lips remain the same. “Hi, ” I say tentatively, and she bursts into laughter, the strange swooping cackle of a witch. The fish fly through the water like a flurry of pigeons, startled by the sudden sound. I see the edges of her features sharpen – her lips are mine but tighter. Her cheekbones higher, her eyes darker, narrower. Her nose longer, the bump in the middle more prominent but not unbeautiful. Haughty and sharp. Her teeth are all pointy like a shark’s, and this is the only significant difference, I think, between her and me. Her mouth. Her tongue slithers out like a snake, tasting the air and she winks at me. I see how sharp the little razor edge of her tongue really is. She has a mean face I think. A weapon for a mouth.

“Well, I *would* considering my name-” She says unnervingly, cutting through my thoughts.

“I know you all can read my mind, but it’s still a little odd,” I say out loud.

“I can do more than read your mind, you know –  We all can of course, but I’m the only one that’s ever really done it, so you want to talk about that, is that right?”

I look at her cruel face, her lips red like blood under the surface. The rest of her body is shrouded, the water is deeper than it looked at the start. I can no longer see pebbles or fish, only a murky depth.

“You look a bit like BeingLovedAgain,” I say finally. “She has your tongue. And… your smile.”

The river witch smiles, and water ripples around her face.  A mean mermaid who ate all the fish, I think. A mean mermaid who killed them all. I sit in the shadow of a tree, looking across the river stretching for miles in either direction. It’s as wide as the Amazon I think. As deep and as treacherous as any ocean.

The river witch is speaking – “I do look like her, don’t I? And she has a wicked scorpion tail – which I don’t have anymore. I gave it to her. I’m her older – much much much older – cousin.” She pauses, and looks sideways out of the corner of her eye. “Cousin? Maybe aunt. It’s all so long ago, really.”

Witches in my life have a strange family tree, I muse.

“You know who I am, ” she says. “There is no mystery here, like with the others, so ask what you came for,” she commands.

I think carefully about what I want to ask her. “Are you my friend?” I ask finally.

Her eyes widen in surprise. It was not the question she expected. I am learning too about my own craft, and I smile, a sliver of her own expression in my face, icy cold for an instant.

“Sometimes,” she responds, her eyes are honest. It lands like truth in my gut. “I am always here with you but I cannot say I am always here for you…or I could but I’d be lying.”

I notice how still nature is here, there is no rustling, no leaves moving. The breeze is dead. Even the sun feels cold.

“Show me,” I tell her. “The… when you take over me like that and… change me. Show me now.  Here. When it’s calm and things are ok.”

She searches my eyes, treading water, and then rises from the river. Things shrink. The river is regular sized and shallow. I see fish again swirling against her ankles, and pebbles in the shallow stream. She grows, and steps out onto the riverbank, naked and of course perfect. The body I always wanted for myself. I see the flash of silver at her elbows. Metal. I know her jaw is made of stone and diamond instead of bone, and that there is something alien in her muscles, like liquid steel. An otherworldly energy processing machine. I stay sitting on my knees, and look up at her, partially in awe even though she is just my height.

“You’re the Stone Lady” I say to the river witch. The dark triangle between her thighs is perfectly trimmed unlike my lazy winter bush, lasting well into Canadian summer. Her even tan covers her whole body, and her hair hangs, straighter and thicker than mine – all the way to her knees. I try not to stare. It’s probably rude to stare even if I know she doesn’t care. She really doesn’t care. She is the witch who has no fucks to give. Her body is toned perfection but I know she doesn’t go to the gym. This is just how she’s built. She is a killing machine, an animal, a monster – there is something quietly robotic about her. Something manufactured. I feel if I listened to her chest, I would hear the soft hum of a rattlesnake or a high efficiency car. “But you’re also someone else, and I didn’t know that until today.”
“Before trees, there were sharks, and before sharks, there I was,” she laughs. “Are you sure you want to know? Are you sure you want to….feel me change you? Now?”

I nod. We’ve never done it this way before, where I’ve invited her. She has been there sometimes suddenly and instantly.

She presses me further. “Are you – the real, embodied you with all your physical structures – sitting in a safe spot where you can’t hurt yourself or anyone else?”

I’m on my lunch break at work, I think out loud.

“That’s not good enough,” she says. Water continues to drip from her like it would off a plastic umbrella. She is unfazed. Her nipples don’t harden in the cold. She is the cold. She turns to leave. Her footprints leave deep impressions in the riverbank, like heavy construction boots. I feel she is heavy. If she were to step on a scale, it would break under her sheer strength and weight.

“Wait – please,” I say. “Just… stay. We don’t… we don’t talk properly. We haven’t talked like this. You’ve always talked with my mouth. This is different. Can we just talk like this when you’re not – in me?”

She stares at me unblinkingly, and I realise she probably doesn’t need to blink. “We can,” she says, finally, and smoothly sits down on the bank near me. She has no smell other than the river. Like rain against a stone. She looks as smooth as a pebble, as sharp as one too. She is a weapon, crafted by water.

“Ok, you want to talk witch-to-witch, hmm? Ok,  let’s talk” She says, and bursts again into laughter.

Her cackle is a knife, cuts the air into oxygen and a vacuum – it’s a sound she’s made with my mouth before, and I’ve seen how the blood of men freezes when they hear it, seen them choke on their own thoughts,  but

I am not a man and
she is only me, a part of me,
and my blood stays running, warm
and regular, and same, and sane,
and I am neither hot nor cold, I am
somewhere between fire and ice, while she is both, all at once.

I laugh too, a quieter gentler laugh. “Yes, Rage. Let’s talk.”

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