Spring 2012, Volume 12

Fiction by W. F. Lantry


You don't believe in witches. Neither do I. It's hard to blame you, really. All the old stories are silly: Hats and broomsticks and flying around, strange rituals in the forests at midnight. Orgies in a moonlit clearing. Let me tell you something: I've been in plenty of nighttime forests, and they aren't mysterious or romantic or even scary. They're kind of quiet, actually, tree trunks and a few wings overhead and the occasional bear, who doesn't want any part of messing with you. If you hear one breathing nearby just hold still, and after a while he'll lumber away, breaking sticks as he goes. Bears are really clumsy.

I only tell you this because someone may have sent you out into that forest, looking for witches. You won't find any. It's the wrong place to look. After all, if you could cast spells and whisper incantations, if you could bend the energy of the earth to your will, would you be spending your time tramping around in some damp cold forest full of bears? Of course not. You'd be home, safe in your warm bed, with your love in your arms.

That's the problem with covens. People get dressed up as if they're going to a renaissance fair, complete with swords and hats and pentangles, and pretend like they're doing some ritual. Most of them couldn't channel the lightest seabreeze, or even call up a small whirlwind. Have you noticed how often they dress in black?

The best one is when they're out in the forest at midnight with torches, and the high priest is holding a knife, of all things, that he's given some funny latin-sounding name to, as if he had any idea about the true names of things. And the priestess is holding a cup while she lowers her head, and he puts his knife in the cup. Then everyone's supposed to take off their clothes and have wild moonglow sex. Seriously, it'd be less trouble just to rent a large room. Then no-one would get their hems muddy.

You'd be far better off just looking around you. Of course, you have to know what to look for. Sweep all your preconceptions out of your head. That's what the brooms are really for. Witches seldom wear black. It's mostly jewel tones. There's something about bright colors that draws them. Gold and amethyst and peacock blue. Watch for Hermes scarves. They named them that for a reason.

Of course, you need more clues than that. Lots of people wear those colors and anyone can buy a scarf. If you're lucky enough to be invited into her house, look first for candles. On the dining room table, in the kitchen, anywhere, really. And while you're in the kitchen, look for salt. Not Morten's. Rough sea salt, the coarse kind. In a small bag or open dish. I have no idea why, they just seem to like having it around. If there are candles nearby the salt, all the better. They make these little altars all around the house, without even realizing it, with candles and water and salt. Look in the kitchen, look near the bath, if you get the chance.

But the real clincher is if you find little trinket boxes. They love those things. Limoges, Halcyon Days, Faberge: there are all sorts of different kinds. Delicate and fine and permanent. She might have a few out in the living room, or a collection in a backlit cabinet. Maybe some on her mirrored vanity, next to her jewelry case. Not that she always stores something inside. She just likes having them around.

But accoutrements don't make the witch, and neither do possessions or affirmations. If she tells you she's one, she isn't. You have to ask her flat out. And here's what she'll say: “I'm just a normal girl.” “I'm simply a regular mortal.” And if you talk about anything out of the ordinary, she'll warn you away from such things. “It's best to not mess with things like that. It's dangerous.” Seriously, would an ordinary person talk that way?

The only certain way to tell, though, has nothing to do with what she says, or what she has, or even what she does. What matters is the effect she has on you. How do you feel in her presence? We all know this, we have words for this kind of thing, and we use them everyday without even thinking about what they mean. Have you ever described a woman as “attractive?” What did you mean when you said it? That you felt yourself being pulled closer to her, almost against your intent or your will, as if you were some powerless scrap of iron, and she was magnetic?

Or say you're at a formal party, and you're introduced to a woman. And instead of simply nodding and saying hello, or shaking her hand and saying “It's nice to meet you,” it occurs to you to draw yourself up to your full height, take her hand deftly in yours, and bend down to lightly kiss her hand — well, not her hand actually, the air a few centimeters above her hand — and then straighten back up, look into her eyes, and then say, in a soft but clear voice: “Enchanté.”

What in the world did you mean? That she had enchanted you, cast some sort of spell, to place you into her power? Do witches even chant? I know you think they do, but have you ever actually heard one do it? I haven't. After all, a spell is just a wish, a desire, formed in the mind, it doesn't need to be spoken. Just held in thought for a moment. It doesn't even have to rhyme. A real witch can just look at a man, and think to the goddess “Thy will be done.” Asking for something specific always leads to trouble.

You'll only realize a spell has been cast on you when she moves away. Attractive means just what it says: you want to be closer to her. You'll forget what you were doing, or what you'd meant to do, and just wish to be near her. You'll think about her, all the time, when she's not there.

The way I think about Miranda now. The way I'm drawn to her, almost against my will. Maybe I should light a few candles?




BIO:  W. F. Lantry, a native of San Diego, received his Licence and Maîtrise from L’Université de Nice, M.A. in English from Boston University and PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. In 2010 he won the CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize, Crucible Editors' Poetry Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (in Israel) and National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry. In 2011 the Atlanta Review awarded him its International Publication Prize. His work has appeared in The Valparaiso Fiction Review, BLIP, Ellipsis, Journal of Microliterature and Aesthetica. His chapbook, The Language of Birds (Finishing Line Press 2011), is a lyric retelling of Attar’s Conference of the Birds. He currently works in Washington, DC, and is a contributing editor of Umbrella Journal. His website is http://wflantry.com.