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A Witch For All Seasons

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She longed for Autumn. 

It had been weeks since the death of the coven, and the heavy lingering of those yet living was almost too much to bear. The children were scattered throughout the Spellman home, sleeping in makeshift chambers temporarily magicked on to the back of the house. Few adults had survived, and those that had were either unwilling or unable to lead. Hilda had naturally taken to the nurturing of the newly orphaned, while Zelda had developed a migraine that hadn’t abated since the whole business started. 

She sat on the porch with the newspaper in her lap and a cigarette in her hand and watched as the sun slowly made its way through the trees. The sunlight slanted along the meadow until it reached the house, where it rose up along the walls until it reached the shingles on the roof. All was quiet, save for the distant birdsongs in the forests. Eventually, there came the unmistakable sound of Hilda’s footsteps, and the roar of the oven coming to life, and then the meandering scent of bread and coffee drifting out through the open window. 

By the time Hilda brought her a cup, the sun was clear of the treeline. 

“Oh dear,” Hilda worried, as she placed Zelda’s coffee on the table beside her. “Seems like it’ll be another scorcher.” 

Zelda hummed in agreement as she picked up her coffee. It had been unseasonably hot in Greendale, and the air was already warm despite the early hour. The children had taken to running through the forest, delighting in the shade of the trees and the cool waters of the streams. The heat this year was almost unbearable, and Zelda had been tempted more than once to call the man from town to come and place an air conditioner. However, they prevailed, with Hilda’s cool lemonade and a few of Ambrose’s cooling spells. 

The morning heat had already started to settle in, though it was barely gone 8 o’clock. The cloudless sky was a smooth blue, and the sun’s rays had already soaked through the walls and Zelda knew that by noon it would feel as if hellfire itself was rising up from the floor. 

In the summer, the days were long, stretching into each other until each unbearable day felt like it lasted years. There still was no school organized for the children, and Zelda felt as if everything was still, and yet happening all at once. September seemed centuries off, and Zelda had done nothing all summer but wait for summer to be over. When it was Autumn she would be herself again. 

The only truly good thing about summer were the twilights. There were golden hours, where magic seemed to burst out of every golden fragment of sunlight and every green blade of grass. When the sun was low, and the heat had dissipated, Zelda would throw open her window to the glorious evenings. The sound of crickets and the smell of honeysuckle would come in through the haze, and Zelda would sigh. She would lean out and drink in the cool night air with its moon and stars. The children on the lawn would be chasing fireflies and Zelda would whisper a spell that would slow the insects down, so that for a moment, a child could hold one in their eagerly cupped hands. 

It was strange to be surrounded by children again. She thought Hilda and her had quite finished raising children, what with Ambrose fully grown and Sabrina finally baptized. And yet, here they were once more, a halfway house for witches. 

Besides opening up their home to the coven, nothing had really happened this summer. Of course, many of the children had lost their families, Satan had been dethroned, and the coven had quietly become The Church of Lilith. But besides all that, nothing had happened in the empty weekends filled with stuffy car rides to the local grocery store. Young Sally had a severe allergy to peanuts, two warlock brothers were vegetarians, and one of Sabrina’s classmates was vegan. It made for a complicated grocery list that seemed to grow longer every week.  

The drive up to the house was covered in chalk, pinks and blues and greens. There were large suns with faces, landscapes and hopscotch, flowers and runes that curved their way along the black pavement. The drawings stayed for weeks between rainfalls. 

Several children had been sunburnt while playing in the woods, and Hilda had treated them with aloe from the conservatory, and a few hushed words of comfort. Zelda’s remedy was to mutter “chop-chop”  and shoo them into the house any time a child lingered in the sun for too long and their shoulder blades turned red. 

The saturated months felt otherworldly, a bit out of time. Zelda felt as if she had been dipped into a thick, glittering river of magnified time, where everything was slow and hot and awful. 

The children had nightmares. Some were still afraid of Sabrina’s shadow. To them, her eyes were still white and the story of her flying had added to the myth of summer. They played with Dorcas and Agatha, followed Ambrose around like ducklings trailing after their mother, and adored Hilda and her baking. They still didn’t quite know what to make of Zelda. 

There were still iron spikes scattered along the border of their land, and Hilda had found a few of the children tucking onions into their pockets. 

“Just in case The Dark Lord comes back,” one of the young lads had said, his eyes wide with worry. 

Hilda had nodded and Zelda had said nothing when the next week’s trip to the shops included seven pounds of onions. 

...

To grieve was to be hurt in waves, again and again, by a series of epiphanies that the world was changed and nothing would ever make it the way it was. The children were grieving, for their friends and their parents, for the world that had always seemed stable and shielded. The coven was cloistered, protected by tradition and ritual. Zelda wondered what it must be like, to have the door of the world flung open. The experience of seeing beyond their small lives, to be thrust into the vast and disorienting mortal realm must be overwhelming. 

And yet, all the children wanted was to catch a firefly between their palms, and to sing the songs they’d known since before they understood the words. Perhaps grief was more easily borne when one was a child. 

To Zelda, grief had an almost terrible beauty. Everything felt charged, teeming with significance, and the world that had once felt so solid and unbreakable, was now translucent. The barriers between life and death were stripped down, until one could almost see the other side. She had caught a glimpse behind the curtain, at the gates of Hell. The fires had been blinding, and the smoke had made it impossible to see beyond Lilith’s quickly disappearing figure. And then the gates had shut behind her, and the world had changed.

It felt almost unnatural to be grieving in the summer, when the days were so bright it almost hurt to look. Despite the heat, Zelda continued to stubbornly wear all black, and she brought her black parasol with her everywhere to shield her pale skin from the sun. 

“You look ridiculous,” Hilda said under her breath, as they walked through the car park to the local bakery. 

“It’s called standards, my dear sister,” Zelda huffed, as she adjusted her sunglasses. 

“Delusion and heat stroke more like,” Hilda muttered, and Zelda pretended not to hear. 

...

The children feared a new wickedness would come, and so Hilda taught them how to hex suspicious strangers. Ambrose buried silver coins at the forest fence, and Zelda walked along the road with salt in her hands and the children following a little way behind. She said the words a little louder than necessary and smiled when she could hear the children quietly repeating the words to each other, as if trying to learn them by heart. 

The barriers were thin, and yet that which kept a witch tied to the land of the living was fierce. Everything that held them here reached out and snared at the heart when one least expected it. Salem had taken to sleeping at the foot of the beds of children who had nightmares the most, and Zelda had become fond of the pile of tiny shoes in the mudroom. 

The waves of grief had yet to swallow her up. 

And yet, in spite of everything, she felt drawn to the rifts and cracks. There were trees in the heart of the forest that had bark stripped away, and she placed her palm against the trunks as prayers to Lilith dripped from her lips. The great trees, which had been shrunken and bare in the earlier months, were now bursting with life and health and green. They stretched out their arms, and cast a pleasant shade along the forest floor. It was a mantle of brightest green, and Zelda searched for the rot beneath all the flourishing. 

She looked for signs, messages in the wind, or a pattern in the tap tap tap of the rain on the roof. But nothing came. She spoke to birds, and reached out to the wildflowers, and watched warily as dragonflies swarmed around her. The pine trees swayed in the breeze but did not answer her, and the few clouds that drifted across the sky held no shape. 

Something was wrong, Zelda knew. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but the sharp heat of August was unyielding and felt like a curse upon the town of Greendale. If she heard one more weather broadcast on the radio about a heatwave she would scream. The shade of the forest was like a balm against the relentless summer, and she wandered barefoot through the trees. 

She knew Sabrina had been going down into the mines. Over and over she made her way back to the tunnels with Theo and Harvey and Roz. They too were trying to find the cracks, trying to break down the doors. But the way was shut, and Hell could not get out, nor could Sabrina and her friends get in.

Praise Lilith for small mercies. 

Zelda knew little of heartbreak. True love was such a mortal concept. Their lives were short, and soulmates meant something altogether different when one lived less than a century. Sabrina was pining, heartbroken again, though this time it was for the handsome Mr. Scratch. 

Zelda didn’t know what to say to her. She could heal almost any wound, and Hilda could always find the right words to make Sabrina smile. And once, almost a lifetime ago, Zelda had been there to pick up the pieces left in the wake of Harvey Kinkle. But now there seemed to be a distance between Sabrina and her aunts. Perhaps it was the presence of the other children, or the happy chaos of the house during the summer holidays, or perhaps it was the bloody heat. Whatever the cause, Zelda was troubled by Sabrina’s silence. Sabrina was many things, but never quiet. 

Zelda and Hilda had yet to comment on the almost daily pilgrimages to the old gates in the mines. Perhaps that was why the three of them had not argued for at least a month. Must be a record. 

...

There had been so many bodies to bury. 

Their neighbors, their friends, witches and warlocks who had lived much longer than Zelda. Poisoned by their own High Priest. It was a bitter end, and it was a bitter task to place them all in a row in the ground. The pet cemetery was a small plot beside the garden, much too small for the coven. And it felt too mauldin to bury them at the desecrated church. So they had buried them in the woods, as was the ancient tradition, far away from prying mortal eyes. 

There hadn’t been a funeral, beyond bringing the children to the meadow deep in the woods and whispering softly that this was the place, should they ever have need to find it. Sniffles and runny noses, and shuffled steps along the ground, and a few tears from Hilda, and that had been that. An entire community laid to rest. 

And the thing was, Zelda had nightmares too. The chime of a music box haunted her, and she dreamed that she twirled and twirled until her arms were tangled up in string. She dreamed of Faustus hovering above her with eyes full of hatred, and her helpless beneath him. 

She’d been halfway across the world when Sabrina had died and risen from the dead. The children were still frightened by Sabrina floating above the air, and Zelda was frightened that she hadn't been there to stop it all. She dreamed of Sabrina’s body crumpled and broken on the floor of the church. 

She’d been stripped and torn apart, and Zelda was still putting herself back together again. She grieved for her school and for her coven, and for those left behind. She grieved for Sabrina, who seemed all hollowed out. She grieved for her brother and his wife, and she grieved for the person she had been before she married. 

She wanted to weep, to be comforted. She was so tried of being strong. She wished she could turn to Hilda and be the one who was frightened for once. Just for a moment, for an hour. But she was The High Priestess now, and so she came to the forest and looked for her god in the fields. 

She prayed to Lilith to help ease the pain. 

...

Hilda had the four winds kept in jars on the top shelf of the pantry. She had starlight bottled up and kept safe with a stopper. She had rabbit’s feet and wool of bat, and dried lavender tied up with string and dangling on the wall. She had foxglove that she slipped into Zelda’s evening brandy, and a dash of sugar for her morning coffee. 

The one thing she did not have was lightning. 

Thunder storms were rare in Greendale, and wild lighting was a coveted item that any respectable witch should keep in her pantry. One morning, near the end of August, Zelda woke to a yellow dawn that reeked of rain. All morning the children wandered around the garden, looking up at the darkening sky with squinty eyes. 

Afternoon came, and the sky was all but black, and the clouds were rumbling. Armed with their lightning stick and mason jars, they headed for high ground. Prudence had never seen lightning caught, and so she came too, following Hilda and Zelda as they made their was up the mountain. Ambrose was left to tend to the children at the house, and Sabrina had disappeared sometime in the morning.  

Thunder rolled along the fields and rumbled louder and louder, until Zelda felt the vibrations in her chest. She smiled at the thrill of it as they reached the stony peak of the nearest mountain. She looked south and could see the chimney of their house far below them, just peeking up above the trees. The wind was whipping through her hair and the air was filled with electricity. A loud crack, dry and light sounded out in the valley. The storm was almost upon them. 

The black clouds approached and looked ready to burst. Then, all of the sudden, a soft curtain of rain descended from the sky and began to march across the valley. 

“Stand back,” she warned Prudence, who nodded and moved farther away down the side of the rock. 

They waited for the rain, and then the first drop fell. It felt as if all the hot months evaporated and disappeared. A white flash lit up the sky, no more than a mile off, and Hilda turned to smile at Zelda. She smiled back and opened her jar and held it high in the air.  Hilda braced herself and raised the lightning stick, and they said the words together. 

They felt the pressure of the air drop, and suddenly, for the first time in weeks Zelda was cold. She shivered as the rain came down in earnest. It poured down her arms and through her hair, across her brow and soaked her skirts. She leaned back and let out a witch’s cackle, and looked at the sky as the lighting sparked and made its way down from the clouds and into her jar. 

She laughed as the whole world flashed white hot and the boom of thunder seemed to shake the ground beneath their feet. Her heart yearned for the storms of her youth, when the whole world seemed to be ending because the sky had become so terribly dark that the sun couldn't possibly ever shine through them. 

She wanted to feel, wanted to reach out and put the lightning in her veins, she wanted to be the storm, cold and furious. Trees swayed with the wind, and branches snapped off and flew away. Dead leafs swirled and the sky rumbled again and again, until Zelda wanted to scream right back.

They filled up seven mason jars that shimmered with their treasure, and then they waited for the storm to pass. 

When they got back to the house the storm was over, and the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle. They were shivering and cold but Zelda felt wild and unhinged, and she wanted to stay in the forests and find a pack of wolves to run with. But Hilda had said something about catching her death, and Zelda couldn’t bring herself to worry her sister, and so she sat in the kitchen and watched as Hilda put the kettle on. 

The lightning jars were placed in the pantry, side by side with sugar and eye of newt, and Hilda smiled proudly at the little glimmering display. 

“That was quite a storm, wasn’t it sister?” she clucked mindlessly as she flitted about the kitchen. She was cleaning and preparing the evening meal, and sorting the berries from the garden all at once, and suddenly a cup of steaming peppermint tea was placed in front of Zelda. As if by magic. 

“The best one in decades,” Zelda agreed. She picked up the cup and saucer and blew onto the hot tea, and took a sip. The peppermint was fresh from the garden, along with the blueberries and raspberries that were in little quart sized baskets on the table. The children had taken to picking them for Hilda, though half of the crop seemed to disappear during the harvest, with the remnants only seen in blue lips and red-stained teeth. 

“The berries look wonderful this year, Hilda.” 

“Yes, they’re coming along nicely,” she said as she popped a shepherd’s pie in the oven. “Although my Pomegranate tree might be the star of the show.” 

Zelda hummed and looked out the window for a little longer until the rain stopped. “I’ll set the table and go and find Ambrose,” she said as she placed her teacup in the sink. 

“Hmm, lovely,” Hilda murmured.

Hilda had already dried her hair and clothes with a quick drying spell. Zelda was still dripping as she went into the dining room. She mindlessly picked up a pomegranate and put it in her pocket. She forgot about it until long after supper when she was undressing for bed. She took it out of her pocket and placed it on the nightstand and hummed to herself as she put moisturizer on her neck and arms. She rubbed a night mask under her eyes, and whispered a curling incantation to hold her curls in place for the morning. 

Then, she sat on the edge of her bed. She felt a sense of time slipping away and life becoming unreal, unrecognizable. She felt as if she would vanish, like all the witches who had come before, and the world would go on, unaware of all the magic that was fading. She picked up the pomegranate and turned it over in her hand again and again. It was a beautiful deep red, and yet it looked sickly sweet. So she placed it on the ledge beneath her window and opened the window to let in the evening air. 

Magic was a bit like wine, and if one wasn’t used to it, one could get quite drunk on it. Zelda had not had lightning magic in her hands in years, and she felt as if she was hazy with the hum and crackle. She looked out at the sky and sighed. The scent of after-rain still lingered, and the night was thick with fog. 

She got on her knees, as she did every night, and prayed to Lilith, The Queen of Hell. She prayed for a good harvest for Hilda, and for the swift return of Autumn. She prayed devoutly to her queen alone, and asked for knowledge and honor, and guidance in this time of uncertainty. She asked for good familiars for the lost children, and for Sabrina to be made well again. 

“I bind myself to you, as your High Priestess. I bind us together, now and forever. Hail Lilith.” 

When she opened her eyes, the fruit on the windowsill was gone.