THE FLOWER WITCH by Ellen Huang

The lady laughed, and her hair spread
about the room like a spider's web...

Do you know what it's like to starve so much you'll eat anything? My brother and I were going a long way, and we couldn't look back. Our parents said we weren't human and we'd eat them out of house and home. So we sought to find another house and home, one that would love us to death. We were so tired and hungry, we started to joke about eating each other. But we knew it was a joke.

Then we saw the house with the magnificent garden.

You'd have to forgive us if our voices break or growl or our ears twitch every now and then. We don't know how long spells take to wear off. And the cabbages in her yard were so good.

We were so hungry, we got down on our hands and knees and gobbled the vegetables raw. We dug like rabbits and devoured like wolves, and barely looked up to see each other changing.

Then the lady came out of the house. She had long, long hair you could climb a tower with, and it lifted and flowed in the air as if of its own accord. She was dressed like the spring, like her garden, in bloom in the dead of winter. She said she could see what we really were, and kindly opened her door for us to come inside.

Would you believe we saw roses—roses!—there in the winter? Black as night, white as swans, and red as blood, arranged like cards at her windowsill?

"Look," I whispered to my brother. "That one's see-through."

My brother turned to me, and I noticed he was growing sharp teeth again. He whispered back, afraid, "There's a little girl in the flower."

Curled up like a fetus, there was a miniature girl sleeping in the transparent flower. The flower pulsed and breathed like lungs and heart meshed together into one.

"Pay her no mind," said the lady of the house, fondly. "Let my darling girl sleep."

We figured fairies and witches came in all sorts of sizes, so we immediately felt bad for worrying.

The lady saw my brother's scars and offered to heal them. We laughed, braying like donkeys, and said many grown-ups have tried but nothing can fix us. But the lady took my brother aside and healed the mark on his neck. Astonished, we sat there like knickknacks in the house.

"I have no scars," I said quickly. (It's true, my twin brother always gets all the fun.)

The lady's hair flashed in waves of white as she laughed. "Sweet child, you can't fool me. You ate from my garden. I see you as you are. Hidden away beneath the skin, in the dark of your mind, there lie scars. And I can make it better."

I looked to my brother to share confusion, but he was now entranced by the flowers at the windowsill.

Then we smelled something baking, and the lady said warmly, "You must stay for supper."

Have you ever starved so much you would take anything?

The lady laughed, and her hair spread about the room like a spider's web. Suddenly I tripped backwards and landed in her hair on the floor. It was like landing in a field of flowers, soft and golden. My head started to feel warm and feverish, but that was soon soothed away as she pulled me into another room.

But then the wolves howling cut through the quiet. I recognized them, somehow, one of the howls in a voice like my own. I jolted awake and struggled with the hair, rough as rope, now choking me. I started to growl and bark, snap and bite. The lady, irritated, snapped back, "Stop fighting, or you'll spoil your soul! I am only trying to help. But if you're going to be so difficult..." She took a pair of scissors hanging at the wall. They shimmered in silver, and a wave of silver flowed through her hair.

"Not to worry, whatever punishment I make, I can heal it back later. But I will cut away those memories that scar you," she said. "If you keep fighting, I could cut the wrong thoughts."

"What did you do to my brother?" I growled, thinking of the mark on his neck, disappearing. Thinking of the fetal flower girl, unscathed but unconscious.

(You'll have to forgive me if a growl comes through now and then. I did not let her cut that away.)

"You are the most difficult one," the lady said, and I thrashed and she stabbed her own hair by accident.

She shrieked, and her hair recoiled as if alive. It shrank away and seemed to retract closer to her head, releasing me. I scrambled up, suddenly noticing everything in this room seemed so much taller, looming above me. But I could run faster this way, too, and I bounded into my brother's open arms.

He trembled. "I tried to howl like you," he said. "I had to warn you. There were others."

"We ate them. We didn't know," I barked.

"She makes pies from the naughty ones," my brother said. "And flowers from—"

We could hear her shrieking, coming closer, and we ran for it. Me, more transformed, bounding on all fours. My brother, pale as a ghost, running beside me.

The lady shrieked again and the walls stretched, and the windows and doors meshed together into one large window. We nearly leapt through, but found that it would have been a drop from a tower height. The cottage had transformed into a tower, as if her home could grow out of the ground.

The lady came after us, insisting, "Stay with me, my little flowers! You will find no one else to feed you, to help you grow. It is only cold out there, and death."

"This isn't growth," said my brother.

"This is keeping alive," said the lady. "Do you know what it is to be banished, with only an extension of yourself to keep warm with?"

I looked to my twin brother, who was insanely gauging whether he could jump the tower.

"Loneliness is insanity," the lady said.  

"It sure is," I grumbled.

"You will be all alone in the world of seasons," the lady said. "Here it is always spring, and always in bloom. And you'll feel no more pain."

"My pain tells me something's wrong," I said, my voice coming back to me. Shuddering, I started to stand up again.

The lady's hair extended from her again, and my brother and I leapt out the window in fear.

It was hardly a fall into her field of flowers, a lush golden meadow filled with flowers of every color. They began to cluster around us, whispering in voices like children our age. And then we thought, it's not so bad here. She takes care of us, and she loves her pretty children.

But then a hint of excitement buzzed through the clustering flowers.

What weeds are these? What is that terrible, bloody smell?

I scrambled for my brother's hands in the field. We squeezed each other's hands tight, to keep awake. I turned my head and saw that the tower had shrunken back into a cottage. Or perhaps it was never a tower, only the illusion of one.   

They still have mouths! Oh, remember what it was like to eat?  Let's try once more.

The flowers clustered tighter over us, bowing their heads as if smelling us, bouncing their heads as if gobbling us. We would have shrieked but then we realized felt no pain, and we heard the lady storm outside and shout about, looking for us. She shouted about how only the naughty ones were made into pies, and the lovely ones—as she insisted we were inside—were planted as flowers. Beautiful, eternal flowers without a worry or hunger ever again.

Hidden among the clustering flowers, we heard her curse us as lost boys and slam the door.

The flowers finished their pretense of eating us, bowing their heads gently in the breeze. We got up, unscathed, and turned to run, knowing the blast of winter cold would hit us hard.

One last flower, a narcissus, tangled around my heel and tripped me. I heard a desperate voice gasp, I see myself! I see myself! A little boy, I was once a little boy!

My brother yanked me out of its grip and we headed for the dead winter ahead in the mist. Once through the mist, the sharp cold gripped us tight.

You'll have to forgive me if I continue to shudder. Sometimes my fur pelt is not enough.

The house disappeared into a snowy mist, but the memory flashes in waves in my mind. The scar on my brother's neck reappeared. The wounds in my mind never left.

"Do you think, then, we should be grateful for the cold?" I said. "And never expect healing?"

"Not for a second," said my brother, as we kept each other warm. "The next place will be better."

Our stomachs growled. We turned to each other with the immediate fear of starving. We joked about eating each other, so that one could carry on with the other's strength and memory.   

But then you found us and invited us into your home, and besides, we were only joking.

Ellen Huang is a recent graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University with a B.A. in Writing (and a theatre minor). While in school she built a reputation as the girl with the cloak, and the skeletons on her balcony, and a human organ lunchbox. She adores the blissful and the macabre in fairy tales. She has pieces published in As I Am; Our Daily Rice; Writers, Ink; Ink and Nebula; Rigorous Magazine; Whispers; Between the Lines; Quail Bell Magazine; The Folks; Hummingbird Review; The Driftwood; The Gallery; and Perfume River Poetry Review.


Cover: Amanda Bergloff
Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts about Ellen's story in the comments section below. She'd love to hear from you!
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