October 7, 2013

The Witch in the Story, By Fanni Sütő

Detail from "A Visit to the Witch," by Edward Brewtnall, artmagick.com

Editor's note: At last, the catch-up begins with a big batch of stories and poems. Fanni starts us off with an intriguing tale of what happens when we "fall" into a story. 
The old witch was almost feeling the witch hunters' angry panting on the back of her neck. Their heavy ironed-boots were squeaking on her porch and their arrows were trembling impatiently in the quiver. The witch was staring into the orange flames in her fire place and was seriously contemplating giving up escaping. The log on the fire was slowly turning black and the teeth of the flames bit golden runes on its body. On the pyre, she could be like that log; peacefully sleeping, warm in her heart at last.  Her soul would escape the cage of her body and soar to the sky with eagles. These were all futile phantasms. She couldn't run away from her fate and couldn't hide for much longer either. 

Though she wanted to stay dead silent, a bitter laughter escaped from her throat. Strangely, it was not the crooked snigger of an old hag but the silvery giggle of a young maid. It came from a memory from a long time ago.  She was an apprentice and on a lavender-scented summer day she wandered into the labyrinth of the library. She had not been so happy before: The smell of mahogany and parchments, the ancient paintings on the ceilings and walls and the whispering books which spoke of great deeds, dark secrets and the promise of immortality. She was naive back then, a girl of seventeen. What did she know of the treacherous workings of the world? She stroked the velvety spines of books and marvelled at the golden lettered titles. She was looking for something, following the call of a sweet voice whispering in her ears. 

"Come to me, dear Hecate and I will unravel to you the mystery of your life and the flow of your future." 

She found the book in the furthest corner of the library; it was sitting alone on the shelf and the title page read "The Grimm Tales of the Truth Brothers." She sat down leaning her back to the bookshelf and began reading. As she turned the first page a frantic whispering began behind her begging her to close the book and run away until she still can. But she laughed at the voices; no harm had ever come to anybody from reading and she was captured by the tale:  A beautiful princess, her skin as white as snow and her lips as red as the blood, springing from your fingers if the needle of a spinning-wheel stings you. Or as red as the coat of a girl who is taking crispy bread and white wine to her grandmother and doesn't notice the danger eying her from the shadows. The words and sentences were reaching out to her, tangling around her as the tendrils of briar rose or the sun yellow hair of the girl in the tower. Hecate's heart was floundering in her chest because she felt her soul was there in the stories. It was about her. She was to be a princess rising from the ashes to wear dresses of glass and shoes of lace or to be woken by the first kiss of a prince and rule over a kingdom. The books behind her back were already screaming and screeching but she didn't hear them because she was charmed by the song of a piper. She didn't know how much time had passed by the time she reached the last page. There was a letter addressed to her which talked about her fate, which she sealed by reading the book. She wanted to run but the spindles of stories were twisted around her wrist, ankle and neck. She was lured into a trap by promises of happiness and riches and a royal marriage.

"We promised you nothing, silly witch, just a role in the tales. And your role you shall have. Nothing more and nothing less," whispered the pages.

Hecate found herself standing in front of an aquarelle castle in a black wedding dress holding the hand of an old king and feeling the hate burning her from the eyes of his motherless daughter. Hecate wanted to love the child but her words were stuffed into her mouth and her movements were pulled by strings. She tried to kill the girl with an apple, but she failed. 

The witch hunters were after her but just before the first arrow reached her, she dived into the book which she always had on her. She was inside and outside of the book at the same time, a little Chinese box of stories and illusions. When she opened her eyes she was wearing a rich silver fur and was living in the resin smelling pine forest. She was a witch and she was a wolf. She was lurking among the trees and watching a girl and her grandmother. She wanted to like the old lady, because she reminded her of her grandmother who she will never see again. But hunger was roaring in her mouth and her movements were pulled by instincts. She tried to kill the old lady with her teeth, but she failed.The hunter threw her in a river but she managed to open the book before water rushed into her lungs. 

She took a deep breath and her nose filled up with the sweet smell of gingerbread and the sticky scent of cotton candy. She saw a boy and a girl wandering in the forest. She wanted to love them because they were driven away from home just as she was, but her words were baked for her and her movements were pulled according to ancient recipes. She tried to kill them with her sweets but they ran away and the witch hunters were on her trail. They were already rattling with the lock. She had no more time to lose. It was written that she had to climb into the book again and again to play all the roles she was given. The lock fell to the floor and the biscuit door flung open with a creek. The witch had a last message which she wrote on the floor with melted chocolate just before she threw herself into the pages. The leader of the witch hunters arrived in the room with the bow ready in his hand. The old hag was nowhere, but there was a strange sweet smelling scribble on the floor. It said "Burn the book!' and there was an ancient volume lying on the floor. Her codex of witchcraft, he thought but when he looked at the cover he saw a beautiful young girl of midnight-hair reading, her back to a bookshelf and the magical touch of words was weaving their fetters around her. 

"This is wonderful," he sighed "but of course that pitiable old hag is trying to destroy all beautiful things. Why should I destroy it? Maybe it will explode if I threw it on the fire or who knows what evil trickery might happen. No. I will take this book home to my daughter, my little princess, she is always delighted with presents and anyway no harm has ever come to anybody from reading."

Fanni Sütő is an enthusiastic young poet/writer who enjoys experimenting with magical realism, urban fantasy and reused fairy tale materials.


Teresa Robeson said...

What a fascinating tale - reminds me a bit of Neverending Story and Inkheart - with a nice bit of circularity at the end! :)

Laura B. said...

Wondrous tale that sucked me in with a devious ending. Well-done!

Lissa Sloan said...

Stories do have a will of their own...I loved "The Grimm Tales of the Truth Brothers"!

Anonymous said...

I fully enjoyed this insight into the witch of fairy tales and it made me think how awful it would be if the witch never wanted to be a witch in the first place. This is a sad story actually, especially with the full circle that it takes. By the end, the reader knows that the same fate is bound to fall on the witch hunter’s daughter. It was clever of the author to incorporate stories that the audience would know so well: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. This, along with the great descriptions, made it very possible to visualize every jump that the witch made throughout the book. I felt like I was traveling through stories with her. I must give the author props for making the witch relatable, as I have never read another story where I felt so sorry for an evil witch.