Actions

Work Header

The Witch of the Woods

Work Text:

ONCE UPON A TIME a young man named Samuel forgot who he was and where he came from, or how to get home. He awakened as if from nowhere at all, sitting against the smooth trunk of a birch tree.

Tall grasses fluttered as a warm breeze scuttled across the cove, spread out before him. A doe and her fawn nosed their way across the meadow. The fawn was newborn, long spindle legs and tiny cream spots on roan fur. He stayed close to his mother, tail swishing. Neither of them reacted when Samuel moved to stretch out at the foot of the tree.

He gazed up through the tree leaves to the sky beyond and thought his hardest about where he might have been before he'd awakened. He tried to think of someone he might remember, or a place, or anything at all from his past, but there was only a great gray expanse of nothingness.

Gradually, however, the image of a girl emerged from out of the fog, becoming more solid by the moment. She looked like him, only small instead of tall, elegant instead of broad-shouldered. Her dark hair curled down her back, mixed with glints of amber, and her eyes were the rich brown-green-gold of a fine old treasure map.

He remembered then. The girl, whoever she was, had been ill. He’d fed her soup and pressed cold cloths to her forehead. He'd held her hand while she slept.

The girl in his memory looked about sharply, as if knowing he thought of her. She called his name, and he knew it immediately as his own. She held out a slim hand as if all he had to do was reach out and grab it. He tried, feeling foolish, but touched only air.

She called for him over and over until she began to fade from his vision, and soon disappeared altogether.

Samuel stared up at the sky, discouraged and lonely. The stars above were a weak wash of scattered light, growing stronger as the darkness lowered. The breeze strengthened and raced over the cove to hover over him, nipping at the neck of his faded shirt, ghostly gray in the dusky light. He sat up, tugged the shirt off and threw it aside, then settled back again, grass brushing his shoulders in tiny cool points.

He stretched lazily, closing his eyes and breathing the freshening air deep into his lungs. The wind fluttered over his chest and stomach. He unbuttoned his pants and shoved them down past his hips, brushing over his abdomen with blunt fingertips. Trailing lower, he cupped himself idly. Warm flesh stiffened in his hand. The wind followed, plucking at his fingers.

Bemused, he let his arms fall to his sides. A single, delicate puff of air brushed over his cock. It came again and again, solidifying into something that felt like the light press of a finger. He needed more. Samuel tried to touch himself again, but he couldn't lift his hands.

His eyes flew open, searching for the thing or the person holding him down. There was no one there. He could wiggle his fingers and clench his fists, but he couldn't free himself. The breeze swirled around his hands in a tightening funnel, binding securely. He struggled, scrabbling his feet against the ground. A shelf of air dropped over him from above, driving the breath from his lungs and pushing him flat against the grass. It receded only when he grew still.

The light press of air against his glans resumed, the touch fleeting, measured and always at the same spot. It went on for what seemed forever, until every maddening press against his skin was torture, his cock standing huge and red against his stomach. Body bowed into the air, he begged for more but received only the same whisper press against the flared head of his unbearably sensitized cock. He choked out a cry and lost control. His body writhed, jerking helplessly with each feather touch.

It wasn't enough. It was all he could feel.

A wave of air descended like softest velvet across Samuel’s body, settling into the hollows and swells of rigid muscles, rubbing over his nipples and tightening them to dusky peaks. He twisted against the overload of sensation, and still he felt the insistent press, only moist now - a pointed tip of tongue instead of a finger.

Mindless sounds poured from his throat. His body was a trembling, taut band of arousal, arching wildly into the touch. Precome streaked his belly.

His balls drew up tight, body hesitating at the precipice for an endless moment. His cock pulsed once, hard and slow and dreamlike, shooting a single thick white stream onto his chest. Samuel moaned, thrusting into the air. A heavy spasm rolled through his cock, slapping up against stomach. Heavy, milky fluid pulsed and arced in the air. He panted in the darkness, staring blindly into the sky.

He turned onto his side, realizing his wrists were free. The sense of frustration and arousal was still with him, buzzing low and needy just beneath his skin. He wrapped a fist around himself, stroking roughly enough that it hurt, stomach muscles quivering with tension. He cried out and spilled over his fingers. 

Slowly his body relaxed again. Rolling over, he wiped off on the grass. The cooling air dried the sweat from his skin. He grabbed his shirt and slipped it over his head, then buried his face in the cool, soft grass and slept.

*

He awakened at dawn to the wind sweeping over the meadow, swirling in a chattering circle of leaves loose on the ground. He rose and followed the wind up the mountain, over a faint trail of rocks and bare roots winding through the trees. Overhead, leafy branches of hemlocks, sugar maples and oak trees tangled together.

“Where are you off to?” a voice called from ahead. Samuel rounded a curve. A slender green shadow stood above him on the trail, the wind hissing all around.

“Following the wind.”

She laughed. “And where will it take you?”

Samuel shrugged and walked closer. “Do you know?”

“I? How would I know?” The woman’s hair whipped around her shoulders, shining red and gold in the sun breaking through the canopy of leaves. Her face was a white oval, her mouth a little red bow. She wore a toad-green dress that followed the dip of her small waist, fitting over her curves.

“You’d know if you’re the one I’m following.”

She shrugged. “And what can the wind give you that you follow it?”

“Just tell me. The wind led me to you, yes?”

She nodded, smiling slowly, and the breeze died suddenly all around her. “Will you come with me?” Her voice was warm and sweet as wild flowers plucked from the woods.

“Where are you going?”

She gestured at the trail before holding her hand out to him.

“I don’t know.” He grasped her hand, unthinking. Her pulse beat at the wrist, and he rubbed his fingers over it until he realized what he was doing and stopped.

She cocked her head. “How will you know for sure?”

Samuel sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “What do you want of me? Do you know me?”

“I saw you at the cove. You were alone and lost. I wanted to touch you.” She smiled, teeth sharp and white. “You didn’t seem to mind.”

He flushed and shook his head. “Wrong answer, then.”

The woman’s red brows rose, astonished. “What answer did you think I would give?”

“I don’t need a stranger to touch me.”

“Are you sure? It seemed that you did.”

Samuel’s face tightened. He turned away, heading back down the trail.

The woman followed, touching his arm. “Then why did you follow me?”

Sam stopped, turning to glare at the woman. “I wanted to know who touched me. It doesn’t mean I want it again.”

“No? Has anyone ever sent you the wind before? Has anyone ever truly known you without knowing you at all?”

Samuel glanced at her, impatient. “So you know me now? All that through the wind?”

“All that,” the woman said. “The wind is mine, here in these mountains, and the trees hear your dreams and speak of them to me. I know many things. Your parents are dead and you live in their house in the valley with your sister. She’s your twin, and she’s been very ill. Her fever affected your dreams, the same as it affected hers. You wandered off.”

Samuel stared at her. “How do you know all this?”

“I told you. You came to the cove. You needed me.” Her fingers crept into his hand again. “I’ll show you things, Samuel. I’ll make you feel things you’ve never felt. Come with me awhile.”

Samuel shuddered. His fingers clenched hers tightly. “If I do, will you show me the way home?”

“I will.” She smiled slowly. “I can make you feel better. I can take the pain away.”

“You said the girl is my sister? She's been sick, not me. That much I remember.”

“I know, Samuel.”

“You know everything, do you? Then tell me who you are.”

“I live on this mountain in these woods, the same as I always have. I see your kind below in the valley, busy ants building toys that last no time at all. You’re mindless, short-lived things, most of you.” She stepped close and put her hand on his chest when he stiffened, a gentle entreaty. “Most, not all. Stay awhile. Your sister is fine. You saw her in your vision. She’s better every day.”

He watched her, thinking, then blinked and looked closer. For a moment her eyes were a cat's eyes, shadowed and green, pupils slit longwise. He shook his head, groggy for an instant, and a corner of her mouth curled upward.

He couldn’t think when she was near. He looked away, anywhere but at her, glancing to the side, then up into the branches of the trees overhead. The leaves were dark puzzle pieces fitting into the glow of the sun behind them. The light grew brighter, glaring and white. He couldn’t tear his eyes from it.

She called his name, her voice echoing as if from somewhere across the mountain. She tugged at his hand and he followed, unseeing, stumbling over roots and rocks.

They walked, and the glow faded from his eyes little by little, down into white dots on the side of the path. Lilies of the valley grew wild on the ridge by the side of the trail, hundreds of small white bells drooping gracefully over deep green leaves. He’d never seen so many. The smell was overwhelmingly sweet. It made him dizzy, and he slid down against a tree trunk.

Her pale face appeared over his, heart-shaped, tiny indent in her chin like a small finger had pressed there once and set. She crouched in front of him. “Breathe, Sam.” She stroked his cheek.

He struggled to keep his eyes open. “Where are we?”

“You were wandering the forest. You’ve been sick. Rest while I pick some flowers.”

He watched, eyelids heavy, as she walked among the lilies, tiny bells of light swaying as if the wind still blew. She picked a great mound of them, gathered them in the crook of her elbow and dumped them in his lap, laughing.

“So these are for me?” he asked doubtfully.

“To help keep you with me. Breathe deep, Samuel.”

The smell was cloying. He flung them to the ground and stood, turning his head to the side and taking deep breaths. “It won’t work. I’m going home now.”

Her pretty white face fell. “I wanted you to stay.”

He shook his head and walked away. His head pounded. He staggered, following the trail downward. Home was somewhere at the foot of the mountain. All he had to do was get to the valley. He’d find it.

He walked until he forgot what he walked for and then stood still on the path, breathing hard and listening to the birds calling out crystal notes that floated high in the air. Water rushed musically somewhere behind the trees.

A hand slid into his, small and strong. “Come with me,” she said, and he couldn’t remember why he should refuse.

They walked between maple and dogwood trees, following the sound of the water. The stream came into view, wild and roaring from the mountains, frothing over small falls of rocks and damned-up branches dressed in bright green moss. A fine mist rose over all.

The woman stepped out of her dress, flinging it over a nearby bush, and looked back at him over her shoulder. She was small, her skin flawless, with a tiny waist and a sleek little bottom that would almost fit in his palms. She turned and held out her hand. His eyes fell to her high breasts, rosy nipples peaking in the mountain air.

He turned away, aroused and ashamed. He had to leave. Someone waited for him. Someone he loved.

He watched the water tumbling and roaring downstream, miniature droplets settling on his skin and floating on the air, refracting blue and green and red. He flashed upon the girl—no, his sister's—image again, her eyes beseeching, green and brown like the river rocks. She said a single word.

“Samuel,” the witch said, her voice a clear bell rising over the watery babble. The vision of the girl vanished. He stepped close and took her hand. It looked so small, nestled in his. She smiled at him slowly, eyes shining. He pulled his hand away and stripped while she watched.

The water was cool, rushing by and leaving bubbles clinging to his skin. The witch wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his back. She bent to his nipple and kissed it, sucked and bit. It stung, then throbbed savagely. He looked down at his chest, surprised, and she pulled him to her and kissed him. He tasted his blood on her lips and tongue.

She lifted her hips, heels digging into his back, sinking onto Samuel’s cock in one long slide. He was hard and aching, cool from the stream. The heat inside her burned, taking his breath away. Her thighs flexed as she moved, burying him inside her again, finding a rhythm.

He pushed away from a tall slab of rock at his back, held her tightly and swung around, slamming her against it. She laughed up at the sky and spread her thighs wide. He curved a hand around her jaw, holding her still so he could watch her face as she gasped and writhed against him, open-mouthed, lips as red as berries against snow. Kissing her neck, he thrust deeply inside her and then bit her shoulder.

She hissed, hooked a hand in his hair and yanked. Pushing off the rock with strong legs, she lunged and knocked him backward so that he stumbled down into the water. In an instant she was above him, pushing his head under.

Bubbles foamed and rushed over his face and up his nose. He struggled and coughed, trying not to breathe in water. The witch's hold relaxed. He rose to the surface, gasping lungfuls of air.

“What’s your name? Where do you live?” she demanded, colder than the stream. She leaned over him, hair falling against his face in wet whips of red and gold. “Speak.”

He coughed, blinking water out of his eyes. “I’m Samuel. I don't know where I live. I'm lost. I need to go home.”

She leaned close enough to kiss. “Another dip for you, then.” Her eyes were flat and green, looking out at him like a lizard gone still on a rock. She grabbed his throat with both hands and forced him under.

The rushing water thundered in his ears, flooding his nose and head, stinging. His chest burned with the need for air, spots swarming over his eyes.

She pulled him up by the hair at the crown of his head. “Who are you now, love?”

He couldn’t speak. He coughed and choked, but she only tightened her fingers in his hair.

He croaked out the words. “Part of you.”

She leaned close, her mouth soft and unmoving against his, giving him her warm breath. When his breathing quieted, she kissed him. He gripped a handful of her wet hair and pressed forward, kissing her back.

*

The witch slept at night high up inside the mountain. Late in the afternoon they began the climb, finally coming to a stop before a great, bare peak of stone jutting steeply into the sky. It was near dark. The witch drew her finger down the surface in a straight line from above her head to the ground. With a cracking sound the mountain opened, the ground rumbling and shaking beneath their feet. When all had grown still again, the witch stepped inside and turned to Samuel, darkness at her back.

He didn’t move. The air was thin and he hadn’t yet caught his breath from the climb. He didn’t want to go inside. It was pitch black and close, too much like being buried.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked, impatient.

“Why do we have to sleep in there?”

“Why will you ask stupid questions?” she snapped. “The cave won’t open to me after nightfall, and I never stay out at night.”

He frowned. “What are you afraid of?”

Her eyes glittered in the low light. “Better not to ask.”

“Better not to go in, either.”

“It’s where I sleep,” she said, her voice softer, coaxing. “If you belong with me as you said, then come inside. I can’t let you in until dawn if you don’t.”

“I don’t like it.”

“That’s very clear,” she said, irony dripping from her voice, “but I promise that it’s safe.” She held out her hand, and finally Samuel took it.

Inside, the cave was warm and dark, only a crack high up in the side of the mountain allowing a glimmer of starlight within. The witch’s bed was wide, built of pine boughs smelling of sap, sharp and clean. The mattress was green moss. He sighed when he lay down on it, soft as down against his back.

She climbed onto his body and crouched over him, hair wending over her shoulder in a glossy serpentine curve. She tore his pants open, ducking down swiftly and swallowing all of his length, scraping sharp teeth over him. He moaned and grabbed her shoulders.

She rolled her eyes up and looked at him slyly, mouth swollen and stretched around him. Her tongue snaked and wiggled over his flesh like a hundred different tongues, all stroking independently. He thrust into her mouth mindlessly, panting and clawing at the springy moss beneath his back.

Afterward they slept. Just before dawn Samuel called out someone’s name, and the witch leaned over him, her hand rubbing slow and soothing over his chest.

He forgot he’d dreamed at all before he fully awakened.

*

“I’ll show you everything,” she said the next morning, stepping out of the mountain and into the gray day. The clouds were low, hiding the sun, and mist swirled just over their heads. In the muted light her eyes were clear as bottle glass. She ran her finger down the rock behind them and the crack stitched itself closed, leaving the mountain whole again. The wind caught at her hair and whirled it all around her face, holding all the meager light the day offered. Samuel couldn't stop looking at her.

“Are you doing that? Calling the wind?” he asked, and the witch laughed.

She led him to a stand of pine trees grown old and strong, drops of sap beading on the black trunks. Wood-sorrel and pink lady’s slippers bloomed beneath on the ground. She stopped beneath the darkest, tallest pine tree of all, under which nothing grew.

“Now we climb,” said the witch.

The tree was much easier to scale than Samuel would have guessed, and before long they were near the top. The branches were thinner and more flexible at such a great height, but the witch found a sturdy one near the crown and settled herself. She beckoned for Samuel to come and sit close.

Below them clouds floated over rolling hills and green trees. Mountain streams cut through the land, meandering toward the town below. The town itself looked like a plaything―tiny and perfect, houses clinging to the sides of the hills.

Thunder rolled across the sky. A flash of lighting followed, smelling of clean rain and sharp ozone. The branches on the old pine creaked, rocking in the gusting wind. All around them trees swayed and dipped.

“Are we safe?” Sam asked, voice rising against the wind.

“I am, as ever,” she replied.

“And me?”

The witch didn’t answer, and Samuel’s eyes widened.

“Faithless,” she said, laughing at him. She leaned over and kissed him. Cold rain fell on their faces.

A soft, querulous cheep sounded in a nearby branch, and both of them turned to look. A junco sat on her nest, soft gray and brown feathers ruffled by the wind. She shifted, and a tiny head peeked out beneath her, then two more. Their heads stretched upward, wobbling, all beaks and long necks.

“Shh,” the witch said. “Be still and watch.” She made a cheeping sound just like the chicks. The mother bird cocked her head and turned dark red eyes their way. The witch repeated the noise until the junco flew to her shoulder and settled.

The witch's eyes went wide. Her mouth opened and out came a high, lonesome sound, a screech like the call of a hawk. The mother bird flapped away in terror, feathers drifting like snow in her wake.

The witch reached over and picked up the junco's nest. The chicks drew tighter together in the nest and cheeped softly, worried.

“Stop, stop! What are you doing?” Samuel reached out, trying to grab the nest from her and very nearly falling from the tree.

The witch flung it to the ground. The mother junco circled around, making soft, confused sounds of distress.

Samuel stared at the witch, stricken. “Why? Why would you do that?”

“So it is with all of nature. There’s no kindness or any of that other nonsense, you know.” She shrugged. “Juncos are annoying. Besides, everything dies. Everything hurts. Isn’t that right?” She stared back at Sam, intent and still as a snake after a mouse.

He turned away and began climbing down the tree. At the bottom he walked away blindly, and the witch followed, silent.

The rain had stopped almost before it began. He tramped ahead, over outcrops thrusting from the ground and beneath the branches of mountain ash and pitch pines, through clusters of orange butterfly weed and tiny white daisies. Finally he stopped at the edge of a small, sunny meadow and sniffed the air. His stomach growled. He didn’t remember when he’d last eaten.

“Open your eyes if you’re hungry,” the witch said, waving her hand at the meadow. Samuel walked to the middle. Bright red strawberries shone against green leaves. The witch bent to pick one, popping it into her mouth.

Samuel picked berry after berry, ripe and sweet and perfect, at first stuffing them in his mouth as fast as he could and then finally slowing, allowing himself to savor their tart sweetness. He sighed and lay down in the meadow, patting his belly. The witch laughed at him, but he couldn't meet her eyes.

“Don’t sleep just yet.” The witch drew her dress over her head, her body pale, perfect porcelain against the background of everything green. She lowered herself to her knees, red hair curling over her breasts, and reached to tug his shirt up over his head. Sam moved back so he could take his pants off without her pulling at him.

She was on him almost before he could lie back again, grasping at him with long fingers, wrapping her lips around his cock and sucking until he was hard.

He rolled her on her back in the grass and thrust inside her with one hard stroke. She braced herself with the heels of her feet on the ground, rolling her hips to meet his thrust. Juices dripped down her thighs. She keened like one of the forest animals, eyes glittering up at him, and it made him think of the bird nest falling to the ground, the mother junco circling in distress.

He fell still. The witch's eyes narrowed. She pushed her hips against his, impatient.

“Wait,” he said, shushing her. He ran his hands along the back of her thighs, pushed her knees high and spread her open. He pulled out of her quickly, lowering his mouth to her slick folds, at first flicking back and forth with a pointed tongue, then slowing. He flattened his tongue and licked up and down, taking his time.

The witch wiggled and mewled with each swipe. Her fingernails dug into his scalp. She pulled him close, and he buried her face in her, stabbing suddenly until his tongue was deep inside, fucking her with it. She cried out and jerked her hips higher in the air, legs quivering. He felt the clench and throb of her orgasm against his lips.

He rolled to the side, trying to conceal that his erection had gone. The witch grabbed his arm and pulled him over on his back, looking at him, at his softened cock, and suddenly she scrabbled over his body like something starved, a spider that would suck him dry, all tongue and frantic pulls at his cock that hurt, made him sick and felt awful and then almost good, though he didn’t want it. He closed his eyes and came anyway in long, hot pulses, more empty and hopeless than he'd ever felt. She sucked up everything he gave, moaning, hungry noises coming from her throat. He felt the vibrations of it all through his cock.

Afterward he lay still, willing his hands not to push her away, willing himself to stay his ground and not to run.

“You're tired,” she whispered. She stroked his brow. He saw it all over again, her face as she screeched at the mother junco, her green eyes with pupils slit like a cat’s, and the nest spinning to the ground. He wanted desperately to go home, but he couldn't remember how to get there.

Samuel turned his head away, looking anywhere but at their bodies lying close together. He drifted off to sleep in the warm green grass and dreamed of the girl’s face again. The witch had told him she was his sister, and this time he knew it to be true. She was his twin, Maria, the only person he shared dreams and thoughts with. It'd been that way for as long as he remembered.

Maria was in the cove where the wind had first touched him. She searched for him, calling out his name. Her eyes were wide, brow bunched with worry. The wind rose and strengthened, lifting her hair from her face.

Samuel shouted, trying to warn her, but he had no voice where she was.

The wind stole her breath. It tore at her clothes and shoved her to the ground beneath the birch. Maria screamed his name.

Samuel woke himself, yelling. He leaped up and threw his clothes on, running to the edge of the meadow. The witch watched him, arms crossed over her chest.

“Where is she?” Samuel's heart beat at his ribs like the wings of a falcon.

The witch looked mildly surprised. “Who? There’s no one here but us.” She reached down, plucked a grasshopper off a long blade of grass and popped it into her mouth. Her eyes closed in bliss as she chewed. The hind legs wriggled frantically, ridiculous green against the red of her lips. Then her tongue swept the rest of the grasshopper inside.

Samuel stood and laughed up at the trees until the laughter turned into a sob, and then he rubbed his eyes and looked away. “I was dreaming.”

She licked her lips and sighed. “That was so good and tart.” She leaned against the trunk of a tree, tapping a finger against her chin thoughtfully. “Your dreams don’t always come true, you know. Sometimes they’re just … dreams.” Her eyes fixed on his, a lynx with prey in sight, less human than he’d ever seen her. “Aren’t they?”

He stared back at her, silent, until she began to smile.

He leaped at her, pushing her to the ground. She laughed once more even after he smashed her head against a fat old tree root jutting from the earth, thicker than Sam's arm and unforgiving as iron. He shouted and cried, pounding her head against it again and again.

Something at the back of her skull caved in. Her face turned white as snow, mouth falling open in shock. Slowly her hands rose as if to touch him, then fell at her sides. Blood flowed red over the twisting root, sinking into the dirt beneath.

Samuel watched over her a long time. He was sure she would awaken.

The sun lowered to the west. The witch's blind dead eyes looked up at the sky above. The sky looked back. Her mouth was still open, eternally surprised by what he'd done. He pushed it closed with a finger beneath her chin. Her skin was cold.

Sam got up and walked, then jogged, then ran, rushing to his sister in the meadow below. Down the mountain, leaping over rocks, swerving around bushes and trees, letting the downward pull of the trail speed his steps. He ran until his legs shook and his vision went gray and faint, and still he ran. When he reached the birch tree at the edge of the meadow, he could only lean against it, gasping. He couldn't speak.

Maria was there. She heard him and turned just as she had in the dream. Her eyes opened wide and her arms opened wider, pretty and bare, as she reached for him. Her hair curled against her cheeks, nearly black in the hard light of late afternoon.

He was only her brother, and she was only his sister, someone he’d fought and laughed at, ignored and wished away for most of his life. Only everything either had left in the world. He’d never realized.

“I dreamed of you beneath this tree,” Maria breathed, staring at him as if shocked to find he really was here. She leaped into his arms, talking in an excited, relieved rush, demanding to know if he was well.

Samuel hadn't breath enough to answer.

Maria burrowed in close. She cupped his face in her hands, parted her lips and shared her breath with him. She pressed her warm, sweet mouth to his.

Then she took his hand and led him on the long walk back to their home.

*

The shadow of the mountain lay long and sharp as a blade over the lowlands. The wind stilled with no one to call for it.

Soon the sun fled, a cloak of midnight blue draping over the peaks. The moon rose high as the hour grew late, a diamond field of stars winking in the night sky.

The witch awakened, bloody and ruined, far from the safety of her bed in the heart of the mountain.

A scream spiraled up from the ground, spreading through the thin air. The animals heard. They crept, crawled and flew to gather around the witch. Some had sharp teeth, some had beaks and claws, and some were armed only with their terrible strengrh.

For each chick dashed to the ground, a hundred birds lit upon the meadow. Their feathers rustled, black-bead eyes shining in the starlight. For every whelp, kit and cub the witch killed, hundreds more of their kind gathered around and kept vigil.

A hush fell over the meadow. A star streaked across the sky in silent signal, white and hazy as the glow of the moon.

The animals fell upon the witch, a bestiary gone mad. They stamped over her body, grunting and shrieking their victory to the skies.

After a while, the animals in front drew back, allowing others to claim vengeance. They tore and bit and clawed long after the last of the witch's screams died and sank into the ground.

Constellations fell to the west as the sky lightened. The animals paid little heed.

At last, one by one, in pairs and in threes, the remaining creatures left the meadow.

The sun rose, shining and golden. The meadow grasses sparkled with dew. The earth where the witch had lain only hours ago was clean once again.