Author's Note: This is actually something that I wrote for a performance task in my Creative Writing class. It's basically the result of a coffee-fueled ten-hour-nonstop eruption of words resulting from me neglecting to finish a requirement on time. It's not my best work but I saw no harm in sharing it and I might even receive some feedback and constructive criticism which can help me improve. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Everyone knew what the witch's favorite flowers were. But only Ramsey bothered to bring them to the witch's doorstep every time a new moon reigned in the sky.
White lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums. They were not the easiest flowers to find in the woods but Ramsey's father had taught her from the very beginning that all the trouble would be worth it in the end. This was what Ramsey kept repeating to herself as she crossed over the threshold from her village to the forest beyond, careful to handle all three flowers like they were figurines made of glass.
The walk to the witch's dwelling was not too far and the way had long been burned into the back of her mind. It was the same path that she had always trekked ever since her father decided that it was time she continue the family practice of bringing the witch her favorite flowers every month. The first time was when she was seven years of age, and her father had held her hand as he guided her through the dark, winding woods of the vast forest that circled their village. However, once they reached the witch's abode, her father let go of her hand just as they stood ten feet away from the doorstep to the witch's home. These last few feet, her father said, Ramsey would have to walk on her own. And with every visit, the number of feet that Ramsey had to walk alone increased. Soon, her father no longer left their home to accompany her. Soon, her father was no longer there to hold her hand.
But for the countless number of times that she'd gone to visit the witch, never had Ramsey stepped a foot inside her dwelling to ask for a wish. After all, that was what witches were for, weren't they? To grant wishes at a certain price, for a certain cost. And the witch that resided not far from Ramsey's village was no different. But never, not once, had Ramsey asked for a wish, not even in exchange for the flowers she tirelessly brought to the witch's door every month. She always came only to do what her father taught her since she reached the age of seven. Go to the witch's home and leave her favorite flowers on her doorstep. Nothing more and nothing less; she was to simply leave the second she had accomplished her deed.
As soon as she slipped out from a grove of trees, a clearing appeared within Ramsey's line of sight - a glade that was enveloped by shorter trees and bushes of different varieties. There, the grass was taller and the scent of the musk of wildflowers was stronger, and in the dead center of the clear stretch of land was a hut that stood crookedly, immediately discerning itself as something unnatural against the backdrop of nature. An abnormality within which something more perverse resided within its burnished, russet walls.
Below the curtain of night, Ramsey ignored the stutter in her chest as she neared the witch's home. Above her, the stars bore witness as she tried but failed to get rid of the way her fingers were trembling with every step she took, as what always happened with her every visit. Within Ramsey's gentle grasp were all three of the witch's favorite flowers, their combined saccharine scents cloying her sense of smell. She sucked in a steadying breath once she was a mere foot away from the witch's dwelling before she laid down, with utter caution, the flowers before the witch's door.
Then she took five steps back before turning on her heel and returning the way she came, trying hard not to give in to the urge to run.
Once upon a time, a goddess fell from the sky.
Her name was Agnessa and they said that she fell to be human. After an eternity spent watching over creation, the desire to walk among mankind soon became too much for her to bear, they said. And so she gave up her place among the rest of the divinity and became the very first to fall from the heavens. They said that when she crashed to the earth, she was unharmed save for a few cuts and some bruises. She did not bleed red like the creatures she used to watch over but her blood was the color of the night, thick and dark as ink. It was ichor, they said, the divine substance that flowed in the veins of the gods that thrummed with magic.
They said that the night she fell, she left a wide, sweeping slash across the night sky, a scar that would forever mar the face of the heavens. But this gash in the sky could only be glimpsed at night, when the moon was at its darkest and the stars their brightest. And the place where she landed became a clearing in the middle of the woods that would become the site where the people would erect the foundations of the temple of the gods, a place where they would come to for decades now that their faith had been kindled by bearing witness to the fall of a goddess.
Until their faith ran dry, and the temple fell victim to dust and decay.
"Emile, enough! There's no way you'll be able to catch it now that night has fallen upon us," Caius berated his companion but to no avail.
Ten feet ahead of him stood the hunter with his bow and arrow poised to strike. Emile played deaf to Caius' words as he kept his eyes straight ahead, his vision now fully adjusted to the dark. He refused to heed his companion's words as his stubbornness prevailed over rational thought, his hunger for retaliation driving him closer to his target. Emile was careful to step over the fallen bough of a tree so as not to make a sound that would alert their presence to their prey as he felt Caius trailing behind him.
"Emile, we have to go back now," Caius whispered once again, a trace of fear in his voice, but Emile merely shushed him. A gust of wind greeted them as they began to inch closer to the river not far from where they stood, where the sound of rushing water filled their ears. As the night air grew colder, biting Emile's cheek as the wind grew in its severity, his ears picked up the sound of a branch snapping into two and he swiftly turned toward the source of the sound.
His heart skipped a beat the moment he saw it, the very creature he'd been hunting for days. In the distance, on the same side of the river, stood the abnormally large wolf, covered with fur as white and pale as snow. Dark pleasure surged through Emile's veins as his arm tensed to aim the arrow at the beast when he felt a hand latch onto his clothed bicep as Caius' apprehensive tone reached his ears.
"Emile, let it go. Let it be and maybe it won't come near our village again."
Emile gave a furious shake of his head, his breath hitching. "Even if I let it run free, another hunter will only come to chase it the next day."
"Perhaps, but trust me when I say that you don't want this creature's blood on your hands," Caius replied, his grip tightening on Emile's arm.
A snarl left Emile's lips. "You don't know that, Caius. This monster has my daughter's blood on its teeth."
"Emile, please. At least she's still alive-"
But Emile would no longer listen. He shook off Caius' hand off his arm and waited until the wolf had turned its head in his direction, bearing its fangs at him as it recognized the threat Emile posed. A low growl left the creature as it made no move to strike after a beat passed. Feeling the tension taut in his muscles, Emile drew back his arm and let loose the arrow nocked onto his bow.
The arrow sang true as it hit the wolf's heart.
In all her seventeen years of living, Ramsey never saw the witch. In all her ten years of bringing flowers to her home, Ramsey never saw one glimpse of the creature around which many of her village's stories revolved around.
She only knew the witch through the stories her neighbors often exchanged. That the witch was a benevolent being willing to grant wishes to those who proved themselves to be worthy of her time and energy. That she was a vile, vengeful fiend to those who turned on their word after a pact with her had been made. That she was a woman of unparalleled beauty, with hair as dark as a raven's wing and skin as fair as porcelain. That she was a hideous thing to behold, a sickness to the eyes with her pallid, ashen skin, sunken eyes, and shriveled lips.
No matter the number of stories that Ramsey heard about the witch, there remained one constant thing about them - the truth was hard to glean from each and every one of them. This, Ramsey decided for herself. And so, she found herself believing not one word of the numerous tales that surrounded the witch in the woods.
Ramsey was not a curious creature by nature. She was content to be constricted by the rules that her society had created for them to live by. Her life was one blank canvas that was yet to be painted with the colors of life's joys and sorrows. Her life was uneventful, save for her visits to the witch during the nights where the new moon watched over the land. But even her visits to the witch grew fewer and fewer in number until Ramsey came to completely neglect what her father taught her when she was seven years of age.
It began on the day Ramsey turned eighteen, when a boy of twenty by the name of Javier swept her off her feet on the night of her birthday. It began on the day Ramsey became a slave to love's whims, when every waking moment she spent with Javier came to occupy the space in her head, pushing out the instructions of her father to never miss a visit to the witch's hut. And so Ramsey came to forget her family's practice and she came to forget the witch.
But she never forgot the white lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums that she used to bring to the witch's doorstep.
Agnessa was the goddess of protection. She was the deity that people prayed to watch over them during times of peril and darkness. Men prayed to her when they went out hunting in the woods, women prayed to her to protect their children from disease and danger. When a person lost their way and their direction, they prayed to Agnessa for guidance.
Before Agnessa fell to the earth below the heavens, she birthed three children that she sent in her stead to watch over creation. A creature of land, a creature of air, and a creature of water. Three beasts that mankind soon came to call monsters for their irregular appearances. And while they succeeded as guardians and protectors, these creatures were not always as gracious and gentle as their mother. Sometimes, they lost their sense of caution and gave in to their natural, primitive sides.
While humans were thankful for the guardians that Agnessa sent, their gratitude did not last long. While the danger that Agnessa's children brought did not outweigh the good they did for the realm of creation, mankind came to see the beasts as more of threats than protectors. They chose to focus on the damage that the white wolf left on their farms in the aftermath of a fight with a pack of rabid hounds. And when the white wolf accidentally bit the arm of a young girl wandering in the woods during its hunt, after mistaking the child for prey, a village sent its finest hunter out to put an end to the beast's life - the girl's father.
On the bank of the forest's river, where the slain child of Agnessa lied, its blood seeped into the grass and the earth below its breathless body.
The terrified cry that accompanied his son's words immediately made Emile leave the walls of his hut as he ran outside to meet his son. Tears clouded Giles' eyes as his legs carried him as fast as he could back to his home. When he was near the perimeter of the hut, he skidded into a halt before he could crash into his father's frame.
Emile was quick to notice the bow in his son's hands and the quiver of arrows slung across his back. "Where have you been? What have you done?"
His breath came in heavy pants as Giles wiped away the moisture in his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. While catching his breath was no challenge, finding the right words to explain what he had just done was no easy feat. How was he to convey to his father the crime he had just committed? No, the right words did not exist, there was no easy way to put it . . .
"Father," Giles muttered. "I just shot a bird out of the sky."
Confusion contorted Emile's features as he narrowed his eyes at the young man before him. "Then why on earth are you crying? Did it hit you on its way down?"
"No, Father! You didn't see it! I found it deep in the woods. It was flying high against the blazing sun when I shot it down and only when it was down and bleeding on the ground was I able to see its feathers of crimson and scarlet! I thought it was a one of those vultures at first but it was much larger and its blood was as black as . . . As . . ."
Tears began to bead once more in the corners of Giles' eyes as he struggled to find his words. He watched as the realization dawned on his father, lighting up his eyes for a split-second before Emile shook his head. He placed his hands on Giles' shoulders and tightened his grasp on him, giving him a reassuring squeeze.
"Son," Emile said. "What is it that you think that you shot down?"
The words burned on his tongue as Giles replied, "One of Agnessa's children."
But Emile simply gave another shake of his head as he took the bow from his son. "Giles, Agnessa and her children, the gods - they aren't real. None of them are. They're just tales that were woven for the young, nothing more."
Once upon a time, there lived a goddess who longed to walk and live among the very creatures that she watched over.
One day, she crashed to the earth to achieve this aspiration of hers, falling from such a great height to which she could never return to again. This was the price she had to pay in order to fulfill a desire that did not even last for long.
From afar, from the heavens where she used to reside, the golden hearts of humans never failed to catch her attention as they glowed like beacons of light in the dark. And like a fool drawn to gold, Agnessa found herself drawn to the goodness of mankind, to something that had no guarantee of lasting. Once she was up close, with her feet on solid ground, face to face with humans, the darkness that lurked in the hearts of humans became more visible to her. She was unsurprised when she began to witness vile and wicked acts of mankind during the first year of her life on earth. After all, didn't the brightest flames cast the darkest shadows?
And just like that, Agnessa grew disenchanted with the idea of living among mankind.
She let herself fade to the background as the years went by. Stories of her fall were put to rest when the generation that witnessed her fall were laid beneath the ground. Soon, Agnessa ceased to exist and was replaced by a shadow of herself. As she lost faith in humanity, humanity also lost faith in her and the rest of the gods. The temple they built to honor the divinity soon crumbled to dust and dirt until all that was left was the stretch of land, the clearing where Agnessa had fallen into many decades ago.
It was there, when the last of the gods' temple had finally crumbled, that Agnessa built her new home.
On the day that Ramsey married the love of her life, Javier made a promise to her that she would not shed a tear for as long as they were husband and wife.
But that promise was broken on the night Ramsey gave birth to her first child, when the infant left her womb silent and still without an ounce of oxygen in its lungs. The tears that Ramsey shed that night were enough to create a new river in the forest that edged her village.
Javier's promise was broken once more when their second child, a fragile babe with sallow skin and brittle bones, only lived for the duration of a week after its birth. That night, Ramsey was sure she could've started a storm if she wanted to.
With the death of her two children looming over Ramsey like a second shadow, her life's canvas came to know the color of blue. Shades of it, a sea of blues that rose from the sorrows she received during the first two years of her marriage. Without the laughter of children to fill her home and her days, Ramsey lost the will to carry on, lost the path in her life as it grew clouded by her grief and suffering. She allowed herself to simply be taken away by the current of life as day went by and by that she locked herself up within the confines of her empty home.
Until one day, her feet drove her toward a destination that was not to be found within the walls of her hut. On one night, while Javier was away, Ramsey found herself leaving the safety of her home as she headed toward the edge of the woods.
On that night, a new moon watched over her as she found her feet walking upon a familiar path that she thought she had long forgotten. The scent of wildflowers grew stronger as she neared her destination, the grass growing taller with every inch that she grew farther away from her village. Above her, the gash across the dark heavens was at its most visible, a gaping slash that would forever serve as a reminder that some scars never did heal, even with the passage of time. But as Ramsey brought her eyes up to night sky just as she stood ten feet away from the witch's doorstep, she knew deep in her heart that some scars did heal over time.
In all her twenty years of living, Ramsey never saw the witch and never made a wish. Tonight, she decided that she would finally change that.
But first, she needed to find some white lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums.
The day the water of the river in the forest ran as dark as blood was the same day Emile decided to go fishing with his son and daughter.
As he and Giles stood knee-deep in the waters by the riverbank, his daughter, Fleur, opted to stay near the small patch of white lilies that grew on another part of the riverbank, the idea of placing her feet underwater only to step in mud greatly appalling her. Fleur merely watched as her father and brother labored to catch some fish with their spears.
"I heard a serpent lives in these waters," she remarked after an hour had passed and they had managed to catch only three fishes.
Emile gave a grumble as his eye caught the slither of another fish not far from where he stood. "Do you mean an eel?"
Fleur heaved a sigh. "No, a serpent."
A chuckle rolled off Giles' tongue upon hearing his sister's reply. "Really, Fleur. You ought to forget the tales that Mother put in your head."
Fleur kept silent after that. She watched with little interest as Emile threw his arm back before hurling it toward something that she could not determine from her spot. She knew the spear in his hand met its target when he let out a triumphant holler at his newest catch and even Fleur was unable to stop the smile that tugged at the corners of her lips.
But then the river's water began to change its color. From the spot where Emile's spear now protruded from, dark liquid swelled up before it began to spread and taint the river. Murky water turned to jet-black ink as Giles rushed away from the riverbank in a panic, his mind unable to fathom what was happening. Fleur could only stare in horror while Emile plucked out his spear from its spot and scooped up his catch.
"Father . . . What is that?" Fleur pleaded, her voice trembling as she spoke.
In Emile's hand was the head of a creature that bore a striking resemblance to a snake, save for two protruding horns on its head. It was thicker than Emile's thigh and its length Fleur could not yet determine - the rest of its body was still submerged in the dark water of the river while her father only held up its head. A gaping hole scarred the center of its head where ichor continued to ooze in copious amounts, the obvious result of Emile throwing his spear at the creature. With the help of what little light filtered through the branches of the trees looming over them, the serpent's scales gleamed and rippled azure and cobalt.
The horror that swam in Fleur's eyes were reflected in those of her father's as he stared at the creature's bleeding corpse that he held in his hand.
"Father," Giles spoke. "You told me they weren't real!"
Emile gave no reply but his silence spoke volumes.
The white lilies were the easiest to find beneath the moonless sky. Ramsey found them on the riverbank and plucked not only one but several of those that were in full bloom. She was careful not to crush them in her grasp while she made her way toward the deeper part of the forest in the dark. She went farther than most hunters cared to do so as she trekked a path far down south, until she reached a small plot of soil from which a shrub of red peonies grew from. Like she did with the white lilies, Ramsey took a number of the red peonies. She had to make it up to the witch, after all.
Collecting the blue delphiniums proved to be the hardest task for Ramsey. Ignoring the protest of the muscles in her legs, she walked all the way back to her village to the place where she knew the blue delphiniums grew. The witching hour had fallen upon the land by the time she reached the village cemetery and she was more than sure that her feet were now bleeding red from hours upon hours of walking. But she merely bit her lip and and swallowed the protests on her tongue as she walked past the cemetery's iron gates.
In one of the darkest corners of the cemetery lied several plots that had no names to them. On one them was a bush of blue delphiniums that had been growing there since before Ramsey's father was born. By the time she was finished collecting her fill of the blue delphiniums, Ramsey's arms were full of flowers. Had she the time, she would've put effort into assembling a bouquet as well but the night was not growing any younger and she had to talk with the witch before the night came to an end.
White lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums. They were certainly not the easiest flowers to find in the woods but Ramsey's father had always told her from the very beginning that all the trouble would be worth it in the end. She could only hope that he was right.
As Ramsey made her way back to the witch's home, she felt like she was walking down the path for the very first time again. In a sense, it was her first time for it had been so long since she last found herself in such a position - marching down the path toward the witch's dwelling with her favorite flowers in hand, all on her own during a new moon.
In all honesty, Ramsey never learned why it was a practice of her family's to bring the witch her favorite flowers once a month. She knew not of when or where the practice began and why her family even bothered doing it when she knew that none of them ever made any wishes. Much like the rules of her village, Ramsey had always just accepted this practice of her family's until it became nothing but a habit to her. She never asked her father and her father never explained it to her. It was not until that night that Ramsey finally found her curiosity awakening after a long slumber.
She had so many questions and tonight, she would make sure that she would get all of the answers.
When the fall of Agnessa was finally erased from the memory of mankind, the goddess took on a new identity that served to help her turn on a new leaf while still venerating her old identity. Outside the village where the trees edged on a clearing, there she erected her new home - a crooked hut of an auburn color with polished walls. There, she created a new legacy for herself, one that would not resonate throughout the pages of history with benevolence alone but vengeance as well.
Gone was the goddess of protection, replaced by the witch who either granted luck or misfortune upon those who were brave enough to ask her for a wish.
One night, she met the bravest soul of them all as the sound of heavy rapping on wood pierced the silence of the night.
She opened the door only to be met with the tear-streaked cheeks of a face she knew so well and loathed most of all.
"Please," Emile began, his voice a horrendous crack. "Please, you have to help me."
The woman who stood before him had a shadow cast over her pale face, her features desolate as her dark eyes pierced his soul. The witch heaved a quiet sigh as she simply stared back at the man on her doorstep, a silent plea blazing in his eyes.
"Help you? With what?" Her tone was as cold as her features when she spoke.
"M-my children," Emile sobbed. "My son and my daughter . . . They're both gone, taken by the f-fever. Please, I swear I'll do anything-"
The witch raised a slender hand to stop his words and Emile fell silent, his throat growing dry as he waited for her response with bated breath. She looked to be deep in thought as she refused to tear away her gaze from him, stilling Emile as he felt himself burn under the intensity of her scathing stare.
"Two of your children are gone?" she queried.
Emile gave a furious nod of his head.
"Good. Now you'll just have to worry about your third child."
Ice shot up Emile's veins as he found himself stumbling over his words, a sob strangling its way out of his throat. His mind raced with the many implications of her words and as the witch turned to return inside her hut, Emile's hand shot out to lock her wrist in an iron grip. Her withering stare should've been enough to send him running back to the safety of his village but Emile saw that he really couldn't care any less at that moment.
"My . . . My third child?" he echoed, his voice barely above a whisper.
The witch pulled her wrist away from his grasp as she snapped at him, "Yes, your third child."
"No, no, no, no. Please, no! My wife, she's - it's only been four months since she conceived! Please, what did I do? Tell me!"
Her eyes flashed dangerously with venom as she gritted her teeth. Emile fell to his knees on her doorstep as the witch's voice grew low and grating, burning every clear-cut syllable of her words into his memory.
"What did you do? You denied the existence of the divinity, a higher power above you. You denied my existence. I, who selflessly gave my children in service to your kind so they could watch and guard over you when I could not. And what did you do in return? You shot an arrow to my child's heart while your son did the same to another of my children. You threw a spear to the head of my youngest, tainting the river of this forest for over a year. You spilled divine blood, the blood of my children. And now you have the gall to ask me for help?"
Emile wept. The dam broke as his tears spilled freely on his face while he wept before the witch's feet. He didn't know. He wanted to say that he didn't know but the words were stuck like thorns in his throat. He could neither swallow them nor spit them out. His heart pounded furiously in its cage as his chest constricted with every breath he took. His vision began to blur as he dared not to raise his eyes to the woman before him while he connected the pieces of the puzzle.
"My goddess, please forgive me," he cried like a child.
Emile's mind barely registered her next words as sorrow and remorse pulled at the edges of his mind.
"You're forgiven. But three children from each of your line's next three generations will die before they each reach their prime. For the lives of my three children, this is the price you have to pay."
She didn't think she'd meet someone braver than Emile after that night.
Until a girl of seven began visiting her once every month, during nights when a new moon reigned in the sky, the same moon that bore witness to her fall. And the girl of seven always came bearing white lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums - the flowers that grew on the graves of her children - continuing the practice that Emile began after the death of his third child.
Then the girl stopped visiting after she turned eighteen.
Until tonight, as the sound of gentle rapping on wood broke the silence of the night, the girl returned with her arms full of the flowers that flourished from the blood of her children. The girl of seven, the fourth child of the fourth child of Emile's fourth child.
"Please, my lady," Ramsey whispered. "Why is this happening to me? Is it because I failed to give you your favorite flowers for two years?"
The witch said no.
"Then please, tell me why this is happening to me."
And so the witch did. The witch told her everything, the witch gave her all her answers. She told Ramsey of the children of the goddess Agnessa, how she tasked them to guard mankind in her stead. How Agnessa fell, tearing the heavens as she did so, with the new moon as one of her many witnesses. How mankind created a temple to honor the gods on the place where she fell after her presence ignited their faith. How the flames of their faith burned out not long after that, as Agnessa also saw the darker side of mankind's nature. How after the temple of the gods fell, Agnessa built her new home upon the dust of the temple. How the witch in the woods came to be. How Ramsey's great-grandfather and his eldest son managed to kill all three of the goddess' children.
The witch told her last of the curse she had placed over Ramsey's line, of her third child's inevitable death because of the sins of her fathers before her.
Ramsey fell on her knees as she laid all of the flowers before the witch's feet. She felt the woman's calculating stare on her.
"Please," she said, tears pricking her eyes. "I've been mourning for your children long before I realized the significance of the flowers that I've been plucking from their graves. I do not want to mourn for another child ever again, whether they share your blood or mine."
The girl's words were like a stab to her heart.
"But how did you know of the flowers?" she asked.
"I was only told that they were your favorites. Not only me but the whole village knows about them too. And now that you've told me your story, I have reason to believe that Emile searched for the graves of your children until he finally found them and saw the flowers growing upon them."
Well, the flowers weren't always her favorites. It was only after the deaths of her children that they became her favorite ones. And the girl was right about her reasoning.
"But why give them to me beneath a new moon?" she queried.
"Because my mother once told me the story a goddess who fell from the sky, and how it happened when the moon was at its darkest and the stars their brightest. Many forgot about Agnessa's fall but my mother's ancestors didn't."
The slash that scarred the face of the heavens never healed. But the wounds in the witch's heart did.
Ramsey knew that this was the truth for were it not, she wouldn't be playing with her daughter right now. Her sweet, little girl Agnes, with her bright eyes and her toothy smile. Her third child, who had just celebrated her sixth birthday and whom Ramsey would teach a year from now about their family's practice of bringing the witch in the woods' favorite flowers - white lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums.
She never really knew the reason why the witch decided to grant her wish without a price, her wish of allowing her third child to survive the goddess' curse on her family. But Ramsey had a feeling in her gut that it was because she was a mother first and a witch second - she could sympathize with the pain and loss that Ramsey felt. All she needed was time to get over her own losses and to let go of her hurt.
Indeed, whether a month or a century was needed, all wounds were eventually healed by time.
As Ramsey walked along the edge of the woods with her daughter's hand in hers as Javier trailed behind them, Agnes' laughter enveloping them in an embrace of bliss, she examined the three colors that dominated the once-blank canvas that was her life. Blue, for the sorrows that she went through when she was faced with the death of her two eldest children. Red, for the zeal, something that she had lacked for most of her life, that ran in her veins on the night she finally met the witch. And finally, white, for the state of peace and serenity that she was currently enjoying and would, hopefully, continue to do so for the remainder of her days.