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art by Jason Stirret

The Tying of Tongues

Kristi DeMeester lives, loves, and writes dark fiction in Atlanta, Georgia where she is the fiction editor for Loose Change magazine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Shimmer, Niteblade, PANK!, and others. Growing up both Southern and Pentecostal, she has witnessed traveling preachers cast out demons. These demons still haunt her writing.

***Editor's Warning: Adult, disturbing, haunting tale. Please be advised***
When the hooded woman came to our village, her bloodied skirts trailing behind her, the old mothers whispered behind chapped hands, and the animals found their holes and hid.
"Shameful," my mother hissed and crooked her fingers against the woman's silent, creeping form.
"Witch," my mother called her and spat at the reddened twigs and grass she left behind. "Evil One. This is why she bleeds into the Earth. A curse for selling her soul, Anya."
I won't let Mother catch me watching. The woman's arms and neck are pale and smooth like the stripped flesh of trees. I want to take her fingers in my mouth like ice, like snow, let her skin melt against my tongue. But I cannot speak of this.
It is two days after she first appeared, and my brothers have taken me to the river. I tell Mother I am going to wash, but I love to watch my brothers fish, their fingers dipping in and out of the meat, their hands shimmering like starlight as they scratch away the scales.
We are alone this morning, and my brothers move about their nets carefully, their voices low. I watch the mist rise from the river and imagine stripping myself bare and walking into the water, the mist cupping my breasts, the waves lapping against my calves.
I drowse, lulled by the soft hum of dragonflies. My brothers notice her first; their stooping forms suddenly straightening, their murmurs falling into silence. They watch the woman in the same way that I do, try not to lick their lips when they see her figure moving through the trees. But they are caught up in their own visions and do not notice me.
"What would your wives say?" I say, teasing them. They smile without teeth, turn their eyes away but not their bodies. As she draws closer, our gazes land on her once more, all of us bewitched by the languid movements of her body. She moves like water, like wind.
I am not yet a wife, and my brothers see only what they want to see. I try not to smile as we follow the movement of her hips together.
"Where does she come from?" I ask, but they only shake their heads. Their wives have tied their tongues as Mother has my own.
"Perhaps if you looked like her, Anya--hair as black as the raven's feather, body like a ripe pear, you would not waste away in Father's house," Jacob the eldest chides me, and I try to blush, force the heat and color to my cheeks. It isn't so difficult with the woman standing near me, and heat crawls up my thighs, my neck.
My brother's laugh as I flush, assuming it is the fault of some toward village boy with wandering hands, but when they turn away, distracted by the possibility of biting fish, I glance again at the woman.
She is looking at me, her eyes so dark they almost blend against her pupils. Like looking into a night without stars.
Unnatural, I think, but she appears amused, her lips lifting in the briefest of smiles before she turns her back and begins to move away.
I want to call after her, tell her not to go, but my blood has frozen, and I cannot.
But she is turning back, glancing at me once more, before moving into the trees, her skirts flashing crimson in the sunlight before vanishing.
My brothers have lost themselves again in the capture and kill, have turned their backs, and before they can notice, I slip away, the shadows swallowing me, sweet and cool.
She is waiting, and when I find her, she brings a finger to her lips and reaches her hand for mine. I hesitate. "Witch" my mother called her, but I want to know the feeling of her fingers in mine, so I wrap my hand around hers, and my mother's voice shimmers, falls away.
It is like touching glass. Like the sky has torn open above us, raining down fire and ice, and there is beauty laced with pain, and my skin stretches, full to the brim with her touch. I cannot bear it.
"I know you, Anya," she says and her voice is like birds singing into the gray morning, like wolves sending their midnight chorus toward the moon.
"Like honey. Like a flower. Something to be tasted. No doubt the men have come hunting for you, for that sweetness you carry between your legs?"
My head spins, the trees blur, become like some wide, yawning mouth. I fear I will tumble into them, be forever lost, but there is her hand pulling me back, holding me to this world.
"But I see your secret, Anya. It is written across your eyelids, it drips from your fingers, your lips. It takes no witch to see it," she pulls me close to her, her breath cold and wet. She smells of cloves and ocean water.
"Soon enough the men will begin to suspect. They will wonder why you turn them away, why they cannot lure you into their warm bed. And the town will whisper, will throw their barbed words against your back. You will bleed before it is done.
"I loved a woman once. But that was before the men came, before they took us to the forest, filled us with sticks, rocks, their fingers. They pulled our insides into the night. So soft, so soft they said, and I held my love until she went still. Her mouth was full of leaves."
Her pupils dilate, all darkness and midnight. I think she will cry black, oily tears, but she does not. I weep for her instead, and she brings her tongue to my cheek. I wonder if I taste of salt or of something sweeter.
"They left us there. Food for worms. The vultures waiting to take the soft bits. But there were things moving in the spaces between the darkness and moonlight. Faces, hands reaching from under the trees, pale fingers full of death and magic. I let them take me, and they gave me back to the world. And it trembled beneath my feet like we had trembled beneath the muscled arms of those reeking men.
They called me witch until I took their tongues, their children, pulled their bones from them one by one. Their blood rained over me, and I called it love."
I want her to press her mouth against mine, want to feel her moving against me as a husband moves against a wife, but she steps backward. The darkness seems to snake out from the hidden places in the earth. It swallows her, and I am alone.
I feel that I can taste her, the sharp tang of muscadine. I think of screaming into the sky or raking my hands across my belly, spilling my blood against the dirt. But it would not bring her back.
So I turn back to the river, to my brothers and their fish. As I walk, the birds drop out of the sky like stones and small woodland creatures lie down before me, their breath coming no more. I am not afraid.
Mother asks me to fetch water, so I return to the river. How the man follows me, I do not know, but he appears, his hand covering the place only his wife should touch. I do not know him. He is not from our village.
He grins. His mouth is all wetness, and a deep fear flutters then settles in my stomach. I don't want him to touch me, but he is handsome, his shoulders broad, his eyes a clear blue, and I wonder if it will be easier since he is beautiful.
Because I understand what he has come for. I could almost laugh at the absurdity of it all.
I try to run, but he is quick, his arms strong, and he captures me, presses me against the dirt. His smile is lovely, teeth like pearls glinting against the afternoon sunlight, and he brings them to my throat, traces his tongue against my collarbone, writes out his horrors against my skin.
I try to scream, but my mouth is full of leaves. I choke against them, and he laughs, smashes his fists against my teeth. My bones snap under his fingers, my blood caking under his clean, trimmed nails. He breaks me into pieces, uses the parts, the holes that he can.
He finishes, oh please let him be finished, and the sky is the color of blood. He kicks me twice, sharp blows against the ribs, before leaving, stumbling into the dusk.
Ravens and crows fling themselves toward the ground, and they fall around me, their feathers pointing toward the sky in rakish angles. Small creatures find their way to where I lie. They curl against my legs, my hands, sigh before they draw last breaths. I close my eyes.
I do not notice the hooded woman until she is above me. Her form blinks in and out, wavers between shadow and light. I think for a moment that I see dark wings behind her, the feathers deep and glossy against her bloodied skirts.
If she speaks, I do not hear, but the earth shudders under me, and she rips at what is left of my dress. Her mouth moves over me slowly, her tongue dipping in and out of the cuts he left. She moves down my abdomen, lingering in the hollows of my hip bones. Then she is breathing her secrets into me, filling my womb with words I do not understand. Curses or prayers to ancient gods swell under muscle, under bone. She speaks the language of trees, of wind, the humming truths of the river, and I am full, full of her.
"I'm dying," I whisper.
"Yes," she says simply. The growing dark morphs, disjointed forms taking shape. They creep across the ground, circle around us. Watching. Waiting.
"Can you love me?"
She touches her lips to my fingers, kisses them one by one.
"Yes," she says.
I close my eyes, wait for the shadows. We will wander the earth together, our blood seeping back into the ground. And we will call it love.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Author Comments

This story was born not as a story of witches but as a story of vampires. After several rounds of edits, it just wasn't working. So I put it away, let it breathe. After some time apart, I scrapped everything but the first paragraph, and spent some time in Anya's head, explored the reasons why she would be so fascinated by this hooded woman. So finally, after almost six drafts and four beta readers, Anya's little story was born.

- Kristi DeMeester
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