This piece is one in a chronological series.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
5. Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation
May 22 – Part 1 Stone Lady Paper Boots Dredge Half Yours, Half His Flower Seller
When You Must End Love Talk Scorpio Rising Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude Reliability dead girl Soft Witch
It is time to visit the garden again. And it is time to visit that foreboding grave, filled to the brim with fresh garden soil in the corner of the garden. It is like a flower patch but filled with death instead. I know as I approach it what I am going to see on the tombstone: it will be blank as it always has been for years, despite the garden blooming around me, flowers and green vines spreading across the red brick walls and the red brick paths, and roses the colour of red bricks everywhere, even growing along the side of the grave. The grave used to be a portal to the Otherside, cemetery side, grave site. Used to be. It isn’t anymore.
Beside the grave is a woman in her mid forties. Her hair is still black and in a ponytail and she is wearing gardening gloves. In her right hand is a spade, and in the other, she holds a chisel. The grave as usual looks freshly covered. I smile, and reach out with my hand for the chisel. “I guess it’s time I got around to taking care of this, ” I say quietly.
“Well, I am the Time Witch, so wherever I am it’s Time I guess!” She laughs at her little joke. “Do you need to dig to know what to write?” She asks, a little slyly.
“No,” I say, “No, I know who is in there.”
“Ahhh, and yet you sound so peaceful. Good!” She lets out a bark of a laugh and throws the shovel towards me; I catch it reflexively in my other hand. “Good! Good! Excellent! But you will still need this. Better get carving, child. It is the end of the year, which means it is the beginning again! A circle ends. A cycle begins. A lifetime has ended, a new life awaits.”
I sit in the earth, with the shovel and carefully carve my name into the stone. It goes faster than I expect. But when it comes to the years of life, I hesitate. “Well you know when you were born, don’t you?” She asks.
“I don’t know what to put for when I – she- died.”
She smiles. “Everyone thinks death happens in an instant, but really it takes years. Sometimes it takes a lifetime, ha ha! Most times… you have to be reborn to know you have died at all! And did no one tell you what makes you a witch, little witch? You are not a witch because you can cast spells. You are not a witch because you hold the key to those ancient scripts written in red brick. No. You are a witch because you have lived twice in a single lifetime. You are a witch because you have had those years of living half dead and half alive. You are a witch because you know life and death have existed in you at the same….time. Maybe that is why you don’t know when you first died. All you know is you are alive again, on the garden side of your heart. Lucky for you, I am the Time Witch, and I know what time everything and anything happens.”
I stare at her, and swallow. “So tell me. When did I die?”
She fishes in her pocket, and pulls out a small gold locket with a small gold chain and flips it open. I see her staring intently. I see a soft warm glow emanating from the object, and lighting up her face like a torch under a chin at a campfire.
“Is that a watch?” I ask. She does not move but looks up with her eyes, ancient and young all at once. In her pupils, I see the reflection of a face of a clock, with too many hands to be reasonably possible, whirling like a little sun, blurring. Along the edges are numbers, letters, and many shapes. They grow larger in her eyes and I see photographs and videos of people go by.
“Watch,” she says, her eyes drill into mine; in her gaze I see gears and memories swirling like pages in a yearbook, faster and faster and faster. Dizzy, I blink, and she holds up the watch. I see a scattering of dates across its face. June 2012, July 2013, Winter 2014, the numbers and letters whirl and fall to the ground like autumn leaves.
I swallow and turn to the grave.
“Is there more than one body in there?” I ask.
She is quiet and serious. “You are a witch because you killed the dead. Over and over actually. And you are a witch because you killed yourself and were reborn in a single lifetime; suicide is a cardinal sin after all. So in a way, you have known Death and cheated Her, and well, now you’re a witch. But here’s a question for you. Does it matter what date you pick for your Deathday?”
I smile quietly and lean against the headstone. I stare at the grave that has always looked too full and fresh. I feel tears against the corner of my eyes. “No. No it doesn’t matter.”
“Aha! ha ha, “she cackles like a hyena. “So what date does matter for you?”
I turn to the tombstone and see what I have written. My name. The year I was born. A dash. I laugh. “That was a mean trick,” I say to the Time Witch.
“Not mean at all! Fear is mean. Loneliness is mean. And they have not visited you in a very long time, have they? I am only…very funny,” she says thoughtfully, and laughs again.
Without hesitation I kick it over as the Time Witch claps with amusement. The stone crumples into ash, dust, then nothing in the ground. With the spade, I begin to dig, no longer afraid of what I am going to find, no longer afraid of anything.
When I find the bodies, I feel only peace. There are nearly too many to count. It is alright. I am not overwhelmed. I dig them up and lay them out.
“Wow, nice work,” says a new voice. A new witch is standing against a tree nearby. She is wearing dark red lipstick that looks black in the moonlight, and a loose dress.
“You look like Cher,” I say, laughing. “Or Morticia.”
“New year’s eve,” She says smiling at me. “Felt like dressing up.” In her eyes, I see pride.
“Do I know you? Have we…met?” I ask suddenly, seeing her pass something easily between her fingers. An almond. I squint and see many rings.
She smiles a half smile. “You don’t need me to be a child anymore.” BeingLovedAgain steps out from the shadows, and holds up the almond. No. Seed. She looks like me. Exactly like me. Goth me. Ok. I can live with that. “I told you long ago I would hold onto this. It’s now…time. But there is something you must do first. And you must do this properly. With intention. With wisdom. With kindness. With yourself.”
I look at the bodies, the many clones of dead me, me past, the many me I have tried to be. They look peaceful. I smile, look at the trees around me and lift a hand, cleaving one from the earth around it. With my arms raised, I separate the trunk and branches, cleave the top off like a broccoli head. I close my eyes, then open them again and move my hand, remembering an ancient spell: “Where the hands go, the eyes follow. Where the eyes go, the mind follows. Where the mind goes, a spell is cast. And when a spell is cast, the deed is done.” The firewood lies in a pile in the empty grave. Once I move the bodies over the wood, I am ready. I feel the fire curl in my chest, a small flame with a small wick. It feels like breathing again.
“Goodbye,” I say and feel the flame rush from my lungs; without blistering my throat, my breath sets the pyre on fire.
“Goodbye, and thank you for your patience, your time with me. Goodbye, and I am sorry. Goodbye, and it is a good bye. Rest in spirit and in love,” I say, softly, watching the flames rise from the grave.
I hear them breathe finally and faintly, a last breath as the bodies shrink to nothing. After many hours the pyre has burnt to ash, the bodies a part of the soil.
BeingLovedAgain looks at me, hands me the seed. I see it’s sprouting a little. “A different story?” I ask her.
“How did you get it to sprout?” I ask.
“Like any seed. Put it in water and set it in the dark. And cast a spell,” she says.
“And” says the Time Witch, who has been watching silently up until now, “give it time.”
I place the seed in the grave – no. No longer a grave. Just a very special part of the garden. I place the seed among the ashes of my dead bodies, cover it gently with soil.
“Today,” I say, looking up at the Time Witch, who nods slowly holding my gaze. “Today is the date that matters. But…if you’re the Time Witch, can you do one more thing for me?”
“Maybe, for a price,” she says. “I don’t set the price. The balance of the universe sets that price.”
“I want those years back,” I say. “The Dead Years.”
The Time Witch looks at me thoughtfully, then grins wickedly. “Hah! Cheated Death so now you want to cheat Life! Oh what a game. What fun! She will be so annoyed. And if I love annoying anyone, it has to be Life itself!” She takes out her watch and winds the clock back. Tossing it to me, she shouts “Take your years, and be damned ha ha! You are a true witch tonight,” she cackles. She turns to leave, and as she walks away, I hear her words. “You are a witch because you do what you want. You are a witch because you take everything you need, even Time. You are a witch because you live as you please, but remember Child, to please your Self well.”
I catch the watch and at first, nearly drop it; it’s as hot as a coal from the fireplace, but cools quickly. And as I open it, numbers stare at me: 27 in red fire against the gold. Slowly, the 7 shivers like far away buildings do on a hot day, and changes, redder, brighter, a deeper scarlet as it shifts its shape:
I look at BeingLovedAgain. There is work to be done, and her slight nod tells me she knows this already.
Behind me, I hear the familiar trumpeting of an old friend. Memory, the elephant tickles the nape of my neck with His trunk. “Well!”
“I’m ready,” I say, laughing, and turning. “I’m – woah” She lifts me up with her trunk and places me on her back and I land with surprising ease. “I’m ready,”I whisper, looking up at the night sky, the moon, the stars, and my breath as it creates a little fog in the winter sky. In this places roses can grow in the snow. In this place anything can grow anytime.
Everything in my mouth tastes like life.