Through Earth and Sky
If they listened, they’d know your people don’t live in pointed tents. Some don’t live at all, invisible like ghosts, reduced to kitschy feather knickknacks kept on mantles.
If they listened, they’d know you and your sister have no mantle or anything else besides a loan on a mattress more rust than springs, faded linens the color of urine. You don’t even own the clothes on your back. The women do, the ones with tight-knit mouths and rulers always ready to smack wayward fingers. They own you too and own the other children who saw their parents vanish, dead before their time. The way it goes with people like you.
If they listened, they’d know you like magic, the same magic all kids share—secrets you keep, wishes you make, silly incantations you recite to the darkness where no one can hear.
But here inside these walls where lonely children live, you aren’t supposed to care about spells or magnetic sand or dream catchers in windows. Magic can’t be yours. That’s what the unsmiling women tell you.
“Besides,” they say, “it’s a cliché that your people like magic. You don’t want to be a cliché, do you?”
Yet magic is all you have.
If they listened, they’d know what happens when children have nothing else. What they do have becomes more powerful, more potent than it would be in a happy child’s hands, a child with two parents and a pretty house and a baby doll that cries ‘Mama.’ You and your sister have no baby dolls, but you have each other, and together, your words, your wishes, your secrets become real. A sunny day when you say so. A ruler broken in two before it reaches your cheeks. Little things, insignificant things, the only things that matter.
Soon you grow older and can’t recall what your childhood secrets were, but the wind remembers for you. The wind is your companion, and it never turns you away. It always listens.
And the wind is a good listener.
If they listened, they’d know why two girls with no family except each other marry the first men who will have them. The cruel women give you no other choice, but matrimony brings a different kind of rules and rulers. In this mining town, faces and hands and men become hard and weathered, and the black ash of West Virginia blankets everything, inside and out.
On your wedding day, you can hardly see the men’s faces—they’re caked too thick with dirt and dust. Not even your magic can fix that.
If they listened, they’d know love cannot be captured in a potion, no matter how hard you try, and when your hair is a gloss of black and skin a perfect copper, love will only come after years of marriage, if it comes at all.
Even once they claim they love you, the men won’t let you forget how you’re lucky to have them, lucky to bask in the glow of their pale skin, however sullied from years of work. Being near them will make you whiter, won’t it?
If they listened, they wouldn’t wave you off when you rail against your sister’s husband.
“He goes to work, day after day,” they say, “and that’s enough.”
But the glint in his eye—that wandering eye—says it’s not enough, not when he quaffs a bottle of cheap whiskey instead of bringing home his pay, not when that whiskey boils inside him, coursing through his veins like fire, not when he raises his hand to your only sister and brings it down again and again until her skin is a constellation of welts.
Together, your magic could overwhelm him, but she won’t make a wish against her husband.
“I’m his wife,” she says. “I can’t betray him.”
If they listened, they’d try to help you. But they don’t listen. Only the man you loathe notices you, how the wind wraps around you as you fill your sister’s pockets with smoky quartz, desperate to protect her.
“Witch,” her husband says, and you smile.
If they listened, they’d know magic is imperfect. Sometimes, it fails, especially when a spell needs two. And you no longer have two. Your sister disappears into the night without a word. There is no body. He hides it well.
The hills of West Virginia hide it for him.
“He did this to her,” you tell them, but they don’t listen. She’s just another tally mark, vanished with the rest, dead before her time. The way it goes with people like you.
If they listened, those with the fine carriages and finer lace, they’d know justice is more than a gavel and a courtroom and a man yelling ‘Order!’ Here in your house no more than a shack, justice is a pot on a stove and the remnants of a chicken. You ate the meat last week, but that doesn’t mean the leftovers—the blood and the bones—can’t still do some good.
If they listened, they’d know the recipe you use to raise your sister’s bones, bring her through earth and sky, bring her home to you. While your husband and children dream their lazy dreams, her bones sit with you at the rickety hand-me-down table. Her bones tell you secrets. These are secrets you and she will never forget.
Her husband runs because he knows those secrets are no longer safe. After all, a witch can’t be trusted.
If they listened, they’d know magic pays distance no mind. It doesn’t take long for the wind to find him, and a little bit at a time, his ulcerated guts tie into knots. He must suffer as you suffer, slowly and without end. At night, you can hear him scream, over blue-green mountains and valleys built from coal and sweat.
If they listened, they could hear him too. But they don’t listen, and this time, it’s probably good. Because if they heard him scream and knew you were to blame, they’d burn you on the nearest pyre.
If they listened, they’d know you leave that mining town. Your husband earns a good job by the sea, and while you’ll miss those hills that brought your sister back to you, albeit for one night, you won’t miss the stink of death and the cinders that permeate everyone and everything there. Before you leave, you drive past the building, the prison, where you and your sister stayed as kids. It’s converted to offices now.
If they listened, they’d know your children grow and have children of their own, but your mind never strays far from the place you left behind. Where others smell the salt of the ocean, you can remember only the acrid stench of smog. Your sister should be here with you instead of in the earth where you laid her bones. She rests but you cannot. The wounds inside you never close.
Faraway, her husband’s guts remain in knots, but his life continues, and he eyes another young wife whose face his fists will mar. He never changes, so you must be the one to change him. It is your duty to protect those like your sister, those who can’t protect themselves. You muster every bit of magic left in you and ask the wind to cross a thousand miles. A stalwart friend, it obliges. Her husband screams out a final time and then retreats to silence even blacker than coal. The past is bones now and nothing more. In your fine house, no longer a shack, you recline in your rocking chair, smiling to yourself. At last, you feel complete—or as complete as you’ll ever be without your sister. Your partner in magic lost forever.
But a new partner is waiting, his chestnut eyes staring up at you.
If they listened, they’d know about your grandson. Whenever he misbehaves, you laugh and put the evil eye on him, your gaze narrowed, your gnarled hands suspended in the air, but you don’t scare him. He just giggles and scurries away. It never occurs to him how strange it is his grandmother’s a witch. He accepts it like the wind and the sun and the color of your hair—bolts of nighttime hidden inside the gray. His grandmother is gray and she is a witch. These things are the same in his eyes, and neither one is wrong.
If they listened, they’d know that little boy with the ornery grin gives you hope. You watch him speak to trees.
You watch the wind protect him. You protect him too, but you won’t always be here. The earth and the sky will, and they’ll care for him well.
If they listened, they’d know all these things and more, a world beyond, so much greater than them and greater than you. But they don’t listen. And they never will.
Your secrets remain with the wind.
Gwendolyn Kiste is a speculative fiction writer based in Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in Nightmare, Flash Fiction Online, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye Magazine as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology. As a regular contributor, she writes for multiple travel and entertainment sites including Horror-Movies.ca, Wanderlust and Lipstick, and her own 60 Days of Halloween, a collection of humorous essays chronicling her autumnal misadventures. She currently resides on an abandoned horse farm with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts.