Yayyy it’s time for another short story!! I tried to write a creepy one for y’all since it’s almost Halloween. Here’s your general trigger warning that this is a little gruesome! Enjoy~
We’d heard the stories of the witches who lived deep in the swamps; every child growing up in Louisiana had been told to avoid them. With the same fervor that most children are told not to talk to strangers, we had been told not to talk to the swamp witches. It was odd, I’d always assumed they were old wives’ tales, but as I grew older, no one turned around to tell me they’d been fake all this time. Instead, we simply stopped talking about them. I never thought I’d find myself turning to one of these women for help.
At nine, my twin brother Grant and I lost our mother. It was quick; she got pancreatic cancer, and by the time they’d found it, it was too late. At eleven, our father remarried. For some time, we thought things would be able to be “normal”. Eileen didn’t raise any red flags. She seemed to genuinely care for our father. At thirteen, we realized that she did not seem to genuinely care for Grant and me. In front of our father, she would say how glad she was to be accepted into our family. When he was gone, she would whisper about how ungrateful we were, how much we deserved the suffering we’d experienced, that our mother probably wanted to leave us. She would grab us by the arm so hard we would have slender, finger-shaped bruises for days afterward. She would lock us out of the house for hours upon hours, no matter the weather outside. Slowly, she stopped feeding us as much. This was subtle, as it took place in front of our father, but it was undeniable. One day, she wouldn’t allow us a second helping of soup, the next she would only allow us one scoop of beans instead of the usual two. I watched my brother grow smaller and smaller, his frame looking more like that of an eleven-year-old than of a teenager.
“Maybe we’re struggling again,” Grant says to me, just a few days after our fourteenth birthday. Our stomachs growl from the lack of food.
“Don’t you think Father would tell us this like he did the last time?” I ask, ever skeptical of our new stepmother. I watched Grant try to come up with an answer, but I knew he couldn’t. Our father was always open about our finances; we were poor, and we knew it. The difference now was that we were feeling the lack of resources, rather than our parents taking the brunt of it as they had in the past.
“Oh, come on, Hattie. It’s not like she’s trying to starve us,” Grant says as we wait outside for Eileen to allow us back into the house. It can’t be much longer, as our father should be on his way home by now.
When Eileen finally lets us back in, and we’re sitting down for dinner, I notice the smell of alcohol surrounding my father. He’s always been a bit of a drinker, but it’s gotten much, much worse since our mother died. Our portions are even smaller tonight, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He just eats his pork and sips slowly from his mug, his cheeks growing rosy as the liquor seeps into his blood.
This routine continues for a few weeks before I can convince Grant that it’s happening. It takes my ribs being fully visible for it to sink in that we’re being neglected.
“We need to do something,” I say as tie the waist on my skirt tighter. “I think she’s starting to starve Father too.” It’s true; his meals are becoming more alcohol and less food with every night that passes.
“What can we do? She has all the control here.” Grant’s voice is defeated already. I know he’s right, but I’m not ready to accept it. We need to save ourselves and our father somehow, and I don’t think we’ll be able to do it alone.
“What about the swamp witches?” I’m ready for him to laugh in my face, but he doesn’t. He looks at me thoughtfully before he speaks.
“Can we trust them?” He asks. We both remember the stories of how these witches will twist our words and “help us” with horrible, unforeseen consequences.
“Probably not, but what choice do we have?”
We venture out into the swamp on one of the days where Eileen has us barred from the house. Surely, she won’t notice that we’re gone. She rarely comes to check on us, rarely cares for anything beyond her personal wellbeing. We go carrying a basket filled with food. It took weeks for us to stockpile the scraps, forcing us to go to sleep with even emptier stomachs than usual, but we knew it needed to be done. I wish the sacrifice had been equal, but I know that Grant suffered more than I did. He’d always been more selfless than me. It was for this reason that I made a pact with myself. If the witches truly were evil, as we’d always been told, I would take the punishment, whatever that may be. I would not let my poor brother suffer anymore than he already had.
“Hattie, what do you think the witch is even gonna do for us?” He asks me as we sink into the soft ground of the swamp. I don’t have a good answer to offer him.
“I—I don’t know…but we have to try something.” We continue walking without speaking. Why waste the precious energy?
We come across a house that’s barely more than a hut. It’s almost completely shielded by the Spanish moss hanging from the trees around it. There’s nothing spectacular about it, but Grant and I both feel the subtle energy surrounding it. This has to be the place. We’re about to knock on the door when it swings open. Inside the hut comes the sweet smell of homemade gumbo. That smell used to be so familiar in our home, but I can’t remember the last time we had it, thanks to Eileen.
“Hello?” Grant calls out cautiously. A small creaking noise prompts us to scan the rest of the hut.
“Hello children,” says a smooth voice. We turn to see a woman sitting in a rocking chair. She looks nothing like the witches of the stories. She has long, silky brown hair, and a kind, beautiful face. She rises and comes toward us, seeming to float rather than actually walking. Her deep brown eyes scan us up and down, pausing on our protruding collar bones.
Something about her presence calms me. “We need your help,” I say. I feel as though I can trust her to help us, so there’s no point in beating around the bush.
“Oh, darling, I know that. My name is Evanora.” Her voice has that slight twang that you’d expect from a southern woman. “Let’s get you some food and then you can explain. You two look famished.” She fills up bowls with rice and gumbo before we can respond. Grant looks wary of her, but the hunger wins out. We accept without protest.
“Now, tell me about the woman who’s been starving you,” she says. The witch sits down next to us with her own bowl of food and waits expectantly. Grant’s eyes meet mine, and he nods slightly. I begin by telling her about our mother.
Evanora keeps us in her home for a few weeks, nursing us back to health. She tells us how her kind has been discriminated against for ages. People lumped them in with those that practiced voodoo and assumed the worst. The witch tells us that the voodoo practitioners didn’t deserve the discrimination either, that it was a religion just like any other. The witches used their magic to protect the innocent. It was the same, age-old story: people discriminated against what was unfamiliar to them, and the witches were no different. They moved to the swamps for to escape the people who were threatening to harm them, and to be closer to nature. They found solace among the moss and trees; it allowed them to grow stronger. They helped the creatures all around them, keeping them safe from the pollution that ran wild in Louisiana.
However, not all of the witches wanted to advocate for the innocent. A small coven of them decided that if they were to be discriminated against, they would fulfill the stereotypes. They practiced dark magic, preyed on those who sought out their help. It’s hard to fight against these witches, but with the help of another, it is possible to kill them. After explaining all of these things to us, Evanora tells us her plan. With her help, we are going to kill one of these powerful witches: our stepmother.
“How will we do it?” Grant asks quietly.
“It won’t be easy,” Evanora begins, “and it’s hard to make sure there are no repercussions. She will try to break you.” There’s a finality in her voice that tells me she means it. I look to Grant. Judging by the set of his jaw, he has made his decision, and it allows me to make mine.
“Let’s do it,” I say. A sly grin creeps onto Evanora’s face as she guides us to the cabinet with her potions and powders. She pulls a knife from the counter, dips it in something bright blue and glowing, and begins reciting in some ancient, unknown tongue.
Grant and I trudge back through the swamp, again holding a basket of food. The basket is filled to the brim—it always will be, Evanora assured us of that—but it doesn’t weight anything. We’ve both put weight back on, and we’re finally looking like fourteen-year-olds again. I can feel the power that Evanora gave us coursing through my veins.
We should be sinking into the earth as we walk, but we tread lightly atop it. Part of the witch’s enchantment, I’m sure. Our trek seems to fly by. In no time, we’re outside of our tiny, old home. The white paint is peeling, an inevitable consequence of living in this humidity, and the whole house seems to have an air of danger. Though we’ve spent our whole lives in this house, it no longer holds the safety of home.
Grant reaches the door first, testing the knob carefully. It turns without complaint, but we have to force the door open in the frame. Immediately, the smell of decay reaches my nose. I see empty bottles of bourbon scattered around the living room. Has my father been drunk the whole time we were away? He’s nowhere to be seen, but Eileen is waiting for us in her usual spot at the table.
“I wondered when you’d come back,” she says dryly. Her voice is rough, sounding as though she’s been sick. “I knew you couldn’t make it out there. I was hoping you’d die, but something told me I wouldn’t get so lucky.”
Grant sets the fruit basket down carefully and reaches for the knife that’s tucked into the waist of his jeans. I approach Eileen slowly as he rounds the table.
“You look pretty hungry,” I say. “I’ve been eating better than ever.” She must’ve noticed, but I want to be sure. Her cheeks have become sallow, and all of the fullness of her breast has begun to sag. Is this the result of hunger or simply aging to show her true self? Either way, the ugliness within has begun to show without.
“Your father hasn’t been working much,” she says. I notice her eyes flitting over the empty bottles. “It’s a good thing I’m so resourceful, or else we might both have gone down.”
As the last word leaves her mouth, Grant appears behind her and drags the knife across her throat. Blood leaks from the cut, but she doesn’t falter, doesn’t cry out, doesn’t break eye contact.
“What do you mean ‘we might both have gone down’?” I ask quickly. She’s unable to speak her reply. Instead, she just smiles. As she drops to the floor, there’s a sinking feeling deep in my stomach. Grant seems to feel it too. “Why wouldn’t she fight back? Evanora acted as though there was no way these evil witches would go down without a fight. She said she’d try and break us!” My voice is shaking as my mind runs through possibilities. “Unless…”
“She’s already done something that will break us.” Grant reaches for my hand as we make our way to our father’s bedroom. The smell of blood and decay grow stronger, although I can’t tell if it’s coming from the blood covering Grant and me.
Together, we push open the door, and come face to face with our worst nightmare. On the bed, we see our father, although he’s not really our father anymore. He’s flayed open, has chunks missing all around his body.
She has been eating our father.
I hope you enjoyed this story! This was really fun to write. For one of my creative writing classes, we had to do a rewrite of Hansel and Gretel, and I wanted to do something a little different, making the witch one of the good guys! What better time to post a story about witches than at Halloween?
Stay tuned for more updates,
xoxo, second sister suzie
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