Story Witch, by Emilie Anding
Now, the ghost in the mirror in the hall closet is sweet on you, but she’s sweet on everybody
who looks at her right. Her beveled edges hug your curves and she shows you off as tall and thin as she is. Cheeky, that one. You’ll find a run in your stockings if you look at her too long.
The pair of them exchange little gifts like this, trade trinkets through travelers like courting doves. She’ll dress you down and he’ll make you hurt, and if that isn’t love you find in their cold reflections I don’t know what is.
The house has a heartbeat, but you won’t find it behind any mirrored doors. No sir, although you’ll hear it echo in the china as you walk by the hutch and you might hear a breath catch in the upstairs windows. She has a rattling cough in the winter as the wind whistles straight through her panes. In the summer she doesn’t breathe at all.
She doesn’t like all the fuss with comings and goings, that house. The back door sticks like you’d swear it was iced shut and the front doorknob is always rattling loose and falling all over anyone who leaves without promising to return. The kitchen door is stuck open and more often than not the cellar door is stuck shut – and for good reason.
Everyone keeps their secrets somewhere dark, damp, and deep. Hearts are fine, but cellars are best–they leak less. Anything that spills gets soaked up and bleeds out into the rest of the world where it began, silent as a grave–well, silent as some.
The thing about secrets is that they pile up like coats of paint. Blink and the walls become an inch thicker than they used to be, and wherever you walk you can feel the whispers and the watching. That cellar holds more secrets than there are stars, and the door stays shut lest those secrets get a mind of their own and up and walk out the front door.
People say houses have bones, and this one has rheumatism. Everything creaks and moans; she’ll stretch out when she’s good and ready, thank you very much. The upstairs windows dropped their lead decades ago and swing open wide when they like and those in the living room stay shut (as long as you’d like to keep your fingers).
The only comfortable living thing in the house is a tabby cat, more white than brindled with a perfect striped circle on his right shoulder. He lounges in the upstairs sills, carries love sonnets around from one ghost to another. If you’re kind, he’ll come when he’s called. If you aren’t, well, I’m sure you’ll find him in the rose bushes out back with plenty of thorns between you.
A witch lives here, with the cat and the ghosts. She’ll trade you anything you want if you surrender the right articulation. She’ll cock her head and tilt her chin up, eager and empty-handed. All she wants is your words; it’s a simple enough trade.
You never quite know what the exchange rate is. You’ve heard of superfluous stories about trips to the supermarket fetching fortunes while gruesome novellas are worth no more than a dime. Not that she deals monetarily, of course. Prices run differently on her corner.
The story goes that once there was a woman who fed so many tales to the witch she lost her voice. She unraveled until she had nothing left to tell and her voice petered out, just like that, never to be heard again. People say there’s nothing to show for it. You can’t help but wonder if she’s happy. Curiosity gnaws at your stomach, hungry and painful until you can’t take it anymore.
The house towers over the corner of the block, surrounded by century old trees with twisted branches, guarded by an iron fence. If you look closely enough the posts look like skinny little soldiers with their arms outstretched and entwined, but upon closer inspection you’re sure it’s a trick of the light. Ivy and climbing roses twine around the portico like lovers, and you swear you see a cat’s tail twitch beneath the brambles.
She’s here, leaning against the trunk of a peach tree. She puts out her cigarette as though you’ve kept her waiting. And so you ask the story witch for a story. “Give me words instead, child,” she laughs. “You don’t want mine.”
“I loved someone who pretended to love me.” The words have always been daggers, and they cut your tongue as they leave your mouth.
“There,” says the witch as she gently tilts your chin in her fingers and runs her thumb across your lips. “Can’t you taste the iron? How can you breathe through the armor?”
Armor? Could she not see the blood in your teeth? Could she not hear the way the words shredded your throat on their way out? Protection? This was vulnerability! You step away, but her hand hovers in the air in front of you, expectant.
“I only see what I need to,” she says as if she can hear your thoughts. Her opalescent eyes shimmer as though she’s laughing at you without having the decency to be forthright about it. You shake your head as tears brim and blur your vision. Your mouth twists in a grimace, trying to stopper the words, the blood, the weaponry. You swallow it down again and turn away, leaving her to laugh alone on her corner.
Deep inside the house, the cellar door creaks open.
Emilie Anding is a Psychology and Religious Studies student at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, MN. She lives and writes in a haunted Victorian house in Minneapolis where she cultivates a small garden and a large collection of books and teacups. This is her debut fiction publication.
Gordon Skalleberg is a Swedish artist known for his paintings of faces and people. Expertly capturing gesture and emotion, he muses about “trying to see beyond the surface...we can recognize joy and sadness, maybe even a subtle lie–but are we really aware of what we are seeing?” A native of Arild, Sweden and now a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, Skalleberg transitioned to full-time artist after years in the family’s business. Handling the firm’s visual promotion planted a creative seed. The transformative life shift - a painting course at the Swedish art school Gerlesborgsskolan.
Skalleberg paints in oil on untreated wood. The naturally unique patterns of wood grain are visible beneath the paint, providing appealing movement and texture, and often serve as pictorial elements. The mercurial process delights him and his viewers. A recent relocation to Santa Fe, with desert landscapes and open skies, inspired new imagery in a semi-abstract landscape-style that draws on the quintessential Southwestern features, with his distinctive twist. His oil on wood lends itself strikingly to these works. Shown in galleries and esteemed juried exhibitions in Sweden since 2007 and more recently in New York and Santa Fe, Skalleberg has been part of the prestigious annual Studio Tour in southwest Sweden since 2015. Occasionally he accepts commissions - a recent example being Netflix engaging him to paint portraits of Uma Thurman and Tony Goldwyn for a production. The global press has begun to take note. Skalleberg is represented in museum, corporate and private collections in Sweden and the United States.