WITCH'S HAIR by G. D. Watry
Witch’s hair, a great delight,
Slithery, sandy, tight as a vise,
Can you keep a secret or two?
Follow us to the eternal moon
Can you keep a secret or two?
Follow us to the eternal moon
Cassie extended a hand to her brother.
“Trust me,” she said. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Caleb stood at the mouth of the corn maze. The six-year-old looked at Cassie with a squinted, concerned gaze. Rubbing teary eyes, the boy took some steps forward, then stopped. He glanced over his shoulder. Behind him, children snaked across a gravel parking lot, a merry band of follow the leaders, their backdrop stacks of hay bales.
Cassie mentally followed her brother’s gaze to their parents. Though she couldn’t see them, she heard their voices. Their squabble rose in intensity, as if somebody had turned up the argument’s volume dial. Barbs floated over the cornstalks and swooped down into the maze.
“Shut up. Why are you even bringing this up now?”
“When were you going to tell me?”
The amplified voices—overlording and cacophonous—streamed straight to Cassie’s ears. A familiar tune. She heard it nearly every night from beyond her bedroom door.
The stitched jack-o’-lantern on Caleb’s wool sweater grinned wide, despite its brutalized mouth.
“Caleb, don’t look at them,” Cassie said.
The boy turned back to his sister. In an instant, Cassie read the message that flashed in her brother’s mind.
“We won’t get in trouble. They won’t even notice that we’re gone. They’re too busy…”
She mocked quarreling puppet parents with her hands and scrunched her face into an inflated snarl.
Caleb tittered, a brief vocalization that made Cassie smile. He resumed his approach and took his sister’s hand. For a moment, Cassie thought, we can escape.
We grow by the vine,
Roots as red as wine,
Ensnaring all within our grasp,
A dreadful moment, your last
The maze is always larger than the children anticipate. And that’s part of the trick. Perception is malleable, susceptible to twists of the tongue. Spoken words. They can bend reality. Often times, the spell comes in waves. It burrows, invisible and undetected, planting itself in the brain. And from that seed, a trickle of uneasy feelings grow. One gets a sense that this is not what it seems. Panic blooms. The seed blossoms, impossibly, into an invigorated garden. Nothing is right at all.
But for you, our special few,
A choice is given, will you hold true?
Not to what you cherish the most,
But to your nature, abandon mortality's post
Sister and brother were officially lost. Turned around. All alone.
The herds of passerby families had thinned out of existence. No human voices, nor hustled footsteps remained in the maze. The cornstalks swayed, chittering murmurs in the gust. A splinter moon haunted a magenta sky, the former too eager to wait for daylight’s end, as if unsatisfied with only holding dominion over the night.
For 20 minutes, Cassie dragged a sniffling Caleb through the maze. They followed hairpin turns but they never found the parking lot and the all too familiar sight of their parents at each other’s throats. Cassie tried cutting tracks through the cornstalks. But the field was endless, and she found that the faint sounds from the pumpkin patch faded further if they wandered too far. Even their shouts went unheard.
They always returned to the maze.
Caleb continued crying.
Cassie felt like crying too. But she didn’t want to further scare her brother.
The children stood at a crossroad, dizzy, their senses fuzzy like in a dream.
Suddenly, a whisper emanated from the rising moon path to the east. The voice curled from around the bend and sang a promise to Cassie.
Her eyelids grow.
Caleb yelped. Yet the cry was distant and muffled to Cassie’s ears, as if the soundscape was gelatinous. Dark feathers beckoned from the peripheries of her vision, an occulting blur.
Roots as red as wine grew from the soil.
The spell’s words sharpened in the haze, crystallized, clear.
Vines coiled around Cassie’s inert body. She was aware, that much was certain. She was also on her back.
Overhead, the sky darkened, but the shift wasn’t just natural, it was emotional. The sky became one of sorrow, of constant pain. Bloody and harsh. The moon was full, bulbous, almost glutinous in its appearance.
Cassie knew that wasn’t right.
She wriggled in the vine’s clutches. It tightened in response, its answer to Cassie’s stimuli animalistic. The vine slithered across Cassie’s forehead, creeping towards her brow. It entered her sight. Knobs dappled the withered root’s surface. They exploded in puffs of green dust, a contained, miniature smoke bomb. The remnant craters were rimmed by needle teeth, which clutched open and closed. The mutant haustoria nipped at Cassie’s face, the sensation like a myriad of paper cuts.
This time, Cassie couldn’t blink them away; the tears flowed.
She managed to roll to her side despite the suction cup constriction. She saw her brother.
Comatose, Caleb lay buried beneath a mound of vines. The writhing mass atop him trembled, like tired lungs respirating.
Bending her knees beneath her body, Cassie rose to a seated position. The vines strained. Some snapped from the weight of her contortions. What wasn’t broken loosened and receded, relinquishing its hold on her slowly. She ran to her brother, throwing herself atop the swelling mound. Caleb’s face was pallid, encased by a branch-like, oval frame. The devil weed’s teeth fastened tight, slurping directly from his veins.
Cassie tore at the creature, but it was lodged deep in her brother’s vascular system. Her fingernails loosened from the skin. The searing pain forced her to let go.
She knelt at her brother’s side.
“I won’t let anything happen to you.”
A hollow promise.
The disembodied voice stemmed from the vines’ source. Cassie visually followed the roots, her eyes tracing knotted intricacies. They zigzagged along the straw-covered soil and were lifted, rising towards the moon. But their lunar journey ended prematurely at the head of an anthropomorphic silhouette.
Though he feeds us, his light never truly dies.
Through the root layers, Cassie felt Caleb spasm. A final death throe?
Eyes the color of dying stars glinted in the now night.
He always exists within us.
More figures entered the maze’s center from the cornstalks. They were small, child-like in size. Cassie read their pain. Estranged. Forever young.
Another figure entered the center. It joined the shadow brood forming around the root mother. Cassie immediately recognized it as something once belonging to her brother.
She wouldn’t leave it behind.
G.D. Watry is a writer from California. His work has appeared in Pantheon Magazine, Hinnom Magazine, Horror Tales Podcast, OCCULUM, Third Flatiron Publishing, and The Molotov Cocktail, among other publications. He can be found on Twitter @GDWatry.
Cover: Amanda Bergloff
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