Welcome to Project Unicorn–a fiction project over the course of one year by both me, author Sarah Diemer, and my wife author Jennifer Diemer, to put out, twice weekly (Mondays and Fridays!), free YA stories with lesbian heroines.
Today, we release the VERY FIRST short story, “Witch Girls.” <3 We're glad you're here--enjoy! <3
"Witch Girls,” by Sarah Diemer
The wild witch girls lurk at the edge of the woods, waiting to snatch away any girl who’s less than good. Gran’s warnings are the same every day: be good, or the witch girls will take you. But what if you want to be taken?
(photo by Bhumika.B)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Sarah Diemer
If you’re bad, the witch girls’ll get you. Gran tells me that so often that I already know it’s coming when she opens her mouth with that one eyebrow raised, already know that, yeah, they’re gonna get me if I’m bad. I know.
They come from the dark woods, she says, as she leans forward in her rocker, eyes narrowed at me ’cause I’m staring at the sewing in my lap, and I’m not paying attention; I know this story. But she clears her throat and glares and won’t stop glaring until I listen—so, yes, I’m listening; I know that they come from the dark woods, know that they’re witch girls, wild girls. They dance in circles in the forest beneath the full moon, and they throw back their heads and howl at the night sky like wolves. Sometimes they even become wolves. Sometimes they make magic charms and sing the stars down to earth, and they’re always looking to catch more bad girls. They watch for bad girls on the edges of town, wait in the shadows beneath the leaves, watchful for the bad girls, girls bad enough to snatch up and take away with them and turn into witch girls, too.
Be careful of the witch girls, Gran tells me for the thousandth time. Don’t be bad. Be good.
She doesn’t know I watch for the witch girls on the edges of town. It’s only a story, but I still squint and peer beneath the trees, longing to see them with their lush, dark hair, their black skirts and pointed nails. I want to see their cherry-red mouths and their eyes flashing in the moonlight. They’re wild, yeah, but powerful, fierce. And lovely, I think.
I want to see something lovely.
I’m not bad. Sometimes I trail the hem of my skirt in the mud, and sometimes I daydream and miss a stitch in my sewing, and I used to think too much about Anna from the village; I’d get all red when I thought about Anna, about wanting to kiss her. She’s not like me: tall, gangly legs and arms, too-short sleeves. She’s the merchant’s daughter, and she’s beautiful, wears her yellow hair in fine bonnets, lace-edged. Once I almost told her. I almost told her that I think she’s pretty, almost told her that I want to kiss her when she smiles, when she opens her mouth to laugh, but then she started to laugh at me because I was stuttering, because I was red top to toe, and so I mostly stopped thinking about Anna.
I’m not bad, but I’m slow at feeding the cows, and I don’t pick the lettuce fast enough, before the rabbits gnaw on the ends, and Gran’s temper is short to begin with, so there’s nothing but talk of the witch girls morning, noon, and night. But whenever Gran starts in about them, this little curl of thrill starts at the bottom of my spine and snakes upward, uncoiling. It isn’t fear. It’s something else.
It’s late, later than I should be out, but the moon is so beautiful, and I feel like walking, so I skirt around the edges of town, holding out my hand to brush against the prickly branches.
And then I see a shadow under the leaves.
The woods are everywhere; we’ve carved out little places for houses, for gardens, but you can’t borrow too much land from a thousand-year-old forest with trees tall enough to scrape against the stars. I’m used to the shadows of animals passing through, recognize them on sight—possum, squirrel, deer—but this shadow isn’t an animal’s, and the villagers never come this way, always take the path… This isn’t the path.
On the edge of the town, beneath the prickling boughs of a broad-sweeping pine, she crouches. She’s ducked back in the shadows, but I still see her, her dark outline; the long, frayed edges of her skirt; the mass of black curls that tumbles over her shoulders, some of the hair caught up in the green needles like strands of a spider’s web.
She watches me with her head to the side, and her mouth is cherry-red and smiling. There is a strange shock when our eyes meet, a spark of recognition, though I’ve never seen her before.
She is beautiful just as the crows are beautiful: not very, but in sharp, shining, curved ways.
I gasp and trip and blink, and she’s gone without a rustle. But I know I saw her.
A witch girl.
When I come home, Gran tells me I was bad for staying out after dark, tells me the witch girls are going to come take me away, and my heart skips, and there is that thrill again, twirling around inside of me.
I want to see her again.
It’s twilight, and I’m weeding a stubborn patch of potatoes, and when I look up and straighten with my hands at the small of my back, she’s staring at me from beneath an evergreen, the witch girl, watching me, and she puts a finger up to her mouth, shh, but then she’s gone before I can think or take a step.
Witch girls are wild girls, says Gran that night, shaking her head as she sits in her rocker, and she’s rocking so hard over the floorboards, thump-thumping. The witch girls, she says, spin charms and dance beneath the moon, and they do not obey the rules of anyone but themselves.
I want to be a witch girl, Gran, I almost say then, but don’t.
I’m finishing up my chores for the night, folding the clothes, five folds for shirts, three for skirts. The house is heavy with heat; sweat glides down my back, and my long braid beats against my breasts when I rise and lift the clothesbasket. I balance the basket on my hip and take it up to Gran’s room, open the trunk at the foot of her bed. Humming a little to myself, I put away her things, and I’m about to close the lid when I spy a bit of dark lace, a garment I’ve not seen before, that Gran has never worn, buried beneath a pile of stockings. I tease it out, tease out the thing it’s sewn to, stare at the impossible fabric in my hands.
It’s a black gauzy skirt, just like the one the witch girl wears, the smiling girl I saw beneath the trees.
Gran’s asleep in her rocker, and I tiptoe past her, go outside, and it’s not dark because there’s a full moon overhead, and the witch girl is there, under the pine. I worry that she’ll vanish again, disappear before I’ve crossed the lawn and plodded through the garden, but I take slow, steady steps, and when my boots pad over needles, she’s still watching me with a half-formed smile, chin tilted up.
Hello, I tell her, and my voice shakes, because it’s fragile, this moment, could shatter with too many words.
She says nothing, just keeps watching me, and when I step forward toward her, carefully, silently, she moves forward, too, and then she reaches down, angling her face toward mine until her lips brush against my ear, until her chest is against my chest, and her hand presses five fingers against the base of my spine.
Come find me is what she whispers, and then, like smoke or dreams, she’s gone.
Witch girls are wild girls, untamed girls, are powerful and strong girls.
Breathing deeply, I turn around, and I go back into the house, back upstairs and into Gran’s room, and I kick off my skirt, brown and coarse-woven, let it fall into an untidy pile on the floor. Then I take out the skirt from Gran’s trunk, step into it without a moment’s pause, and the old, tattered thing flows around my legs, fits snug over my hips.
I don’t think. I don’t tiptoe. I just walk down the stairs and out the door, over the lawn and through the garden, and there beneath the trees is no witch girl, but Gran.
We can’t hide what we are, I am, you are, she says, and she kisses my eyes with her lips, presses her palms against my cheeks, her eyes wet, weeping. Witch girls are wild girls, and I thought…I hoped…I could save you from the wild.
We can’t hide what we are, I repeat to her, and she sighs and nods, stepping away, letting me go. I shiver at the absence of her nearness, but I lean forward, kiss her cheek, too, and I walk into the woods, because I must.
Come find me.
In a circle, they dance beneath the night-dark trees, hand in hand, laughing, charming, conjuring.
My witch girl stands apart from the others, her smile luminous under the moonbeams, and holds her hands out to me.
I kiss her cherry-red mouth, wild.
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
How can I support the project?
If you love what we’re doing with Project Unicorn, the two greatest things you can do to support it is to talk about it on your social network, blog or web site, and purchase each eZine as it comes out. Project Unicorn is a very large undertaking, but we’re deeply dedicated to giving queer-girls stories they can identify with. Thank you so much for being supportive, and please consider purchasing an eZine to help us continue with this project! <3 (You can also show your support by buying our other books, or simply donating to buy the authors a cup of tea. <3)
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