This story is by Ahja Fox and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The moon only called to Hazel once every year, after the autumnal breath of a deity brushed the fiery locks of hair from her face. She was a self-proclaimed witch. A dealer of souls. Her eyes were spiraling green orbs, the kind that could tell you about your heart’s condition and when you would die. She knew a great deal about those things – the future and the dead.
She knew what her mother would do once her father left them in the cabin without wood and without a way to get out. The snow fell heavy like iced fists pounding on the roof over their heads. Her mother sobbed into her hair, leaving barrettes made of gem-like DNA before she stalked off into the other room. Hazel held her breath. She believed in a God back then, and she asked Him to reverse time. She wanted to go back to when her parents would hold each other’s faces under a starless sky. That was when love wasn’t shattered dishes and low whispers that echoed ‘I hate you’.
Hazel stared at the door in hopes her father would walk back in with words that would save them all, but the clock inside her head ticked forever. She stayed on the other side of the wall until light dissipated and only darkness peered in through the cracks, etching transparent scars onto her frostbitten hands and feet. She never went into the room. The image of skin furled up at the edges, knife-stricken, and pooling red revealed itself in her exhale.
She also knew not to trust the man with the glass eyes. He swore that he loved her as he took her small hand and led her out of dark alleys and into a maze drenched in the scent of heaven’s flowers. Hazel had never seen such care and admired the way he tended to his garden every day with gentle hands and careful eyes.
Whenever it rained, he would set pots outside of the trees green reach and whisper to her that Mother Nature’s tears would heal her scars, make her grow. Princess, he would say. That is what she was and after the spring tide, Hazel would become a queen. In those coming months, she matured as he promised, baring her soul to the earth with a smile and laughter in tow.
The night he deemed her fit for ‘coronation’ was the night he crept into her room. He removed her tightening garments and preached about her womanly duties with his teeth gnawing at the flesh around her hips. He claimed to be showering her naked ness in primroses, daffodils, and scillas. She laid there numb to Persephone’s beauty, seeing nothing but black.
Over time, Hazel gained confidence in the gift of knowing. She truly believed in the phrase ‘nothing is new under the sun’ and so she thought refracting light was a gift. With a basket at her shapely thighs, Hazel strolled the beach in search of broken shells that mirrored her heart. There, she found a smooth-talker, a soldier just fresh from war. The hand of pride stroked her neck, exposing twisted insides and needle pricks on the skin. She asked him about his fears and revealed the fix in the crevice of her breasts. They only met when she asked to. Only when she demanded it.
She crawled into his mind and knowingly danced with the devil. The flames were overbearing, blinding anyone who stared too long. She was the victim. The soldier allowed every girl to have a dance. Their brains became singed tissue in the wake of him and his never-ending daylight.
Hazel lived a life of ritual and routine. Her past chased her down like a stray black cat haunted by superstition. Years passed and with each tragic anniversary, Hazel let her form become dressed in depression and anxiety. She lived alone in a taiga that bore the marks of every season, as she did. She read the lines on her palms and decided the world just didn’t care to love her. She thought that a long time until autumn stood upright like a man in one of her dreams. He was a withered body made strictly of nature. He didn’t have to speak. Hazel knew that he was her liberator. A ghostly imitation of freedom.
He always came with the moon, a titillating entrance of swirling leaves and pressurized wind. The moonlight guided her past the steps, pulling the heavy robe of sadness from her shoulders. She walked his skin barefoot, dirt encasing the shape of her toes. With small licks of lust, high grass twisted around her ankles, guiding her through his metamorphosis. Hazel imagined that the trees were his eyes, every shade of beautiful darkness and glinting light. Crimson lashes and heterochromatic pulse pulled her body to his without flesh or bones. She felt the wet cement of the path weigh her in, and she gave into its draw, letting herself drop down into a land of crickets who gossiped about forbidden love. It was not peculiar to her that a season could love a person. Why should it be when a person is free to love a season? She massaged tree stump scars with her fingers until they smoothed out, bathing the cracks and wrinkles in milk. Her lips pressed against naked bushes, aging hands too weak to go on and her arms found solace in their shedding trunks every night.
Hazel repeated this love journey every time the moon was high, disregarding the chimes that circled the forest. Their noise grew incessant. Each vibration chipped the existence of her ecstasy riddled solitude. It called for the sun to come each night which also brought time with it. She never got to stay. Once the last night came, she crawled out of her forested oasis on hands and knees in search of ashen rocks. The heart of fall. Pine clawed at her face, tangling her heartstrings in their branches. The wind carried his voice to her. It hollowed out the curves of her ears with whispers of a coming storm – the heartache which she had to suffer again until his return. Death was something she thought about often, even more so when fall was within her grasp. She wanted to bleed his colors. She wanted to be autumn, too.
Once inside, she dumped the rocks into a tub of scalding hot water and stripped naked. As she stepped in, blood from her new wounds brimmed the surface. The water teemed with a mixture of grass, wood, and dirt which fell from her long tresses. She relaxed her body, submerging her head under the rippling waves. The rocks below moaned in response. It sounded like the dead dragging their feet or the upwards movement of a balancing scale weighing sins. She listened, and in the tiny sliver of silence, she could hear families chewing, pine cones falling into the base of a hollowed out tree, and broken teeth rattling in a jar.