This story is by E.C. Sullivan and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
No one was ever kind to dearest little Marge. She was not harassed, ever hit, nor hated. Oh, her assault was far worst. She was hardly noticed at all.
As a child, the most delicate time, when soul seeds are watered, a shy Marge was spoken over and talked down to. She was undermined and interrupted until her ideas and voice became vapor.
As a teen wallflower, a timid Marge was dismissed as a non-starter, walking the corridors of the Academy unnoticed, until her gaze became so weak, it stooped and drug across the floor.
As a dispirited bride, Marge married a boastful wizard, who cared only of his appearance and his hollow success, until the last of her hidden dreams were drained and lost forever.
It was not until she became a mother that she found some semblance of power—the power over little eyes.
Little eyes looking up to her for care and comfort was the closest she had ever been to love. It could have grown into the truest love, a healing love, but tragically, Marge’s injury was too great.
For the isolation and cruel rejection had taken its toll. The dark seeds of bitterness held root in her soul, branched outwards, pierced her heart, and darkened her magick. Her love grew twisted, and her affection prickly. She stretched it generously around her obedient children, only to shrivel and take away its nourishing fruits at the smallest perceived slight.
The threat of these little eyes realizing dreams of their own, the sweet dreams she was deprived of tasting, birthed deep jealousy within her, and a most spiteful fury. Their growing independence exposed her deepest cracks.
She reprimanded her children for their ungratefulness, for all that they had was from her motherly sacrifice. She shamed them for their selfishness; she had nothing because she gave all of herself to them. And now, her ‘life was shit.’ If a good thing happened for them, never had such goodness happened to her. If their day was hard, hers was harder.
Of course, none of these teachings were true, as no child can be blamed for the past of their parents or be held to account for their parents’ present condition. But Marge bloomed her fullest when little eyes begged for forgiveness and yearned to be in good favor. For in her sickness, this was love.
With little hearts blistered and bruised, wary of more pricks from their mothers’ thorns, the love-starved children kept close to her as she wished. They appeased her by keeping their lives smaller than her own and their spells feeble, offering reassurance to never seek more happiness or love than she.
That is all but one little witch.
Vesper’s scrappy legs stretched upward against the dated soap scum tile wall, balancing a twig between her elevated, mudded toes. She floated her upper body in a bathtub filled to the brim with once warm water, now turned cool. Her choppy dark hair buoyed outward, like a sudsy crown, in the dingy yellowish cocktail of rusted tap water, sweat and grime from an evening of hard play in the trees.
For some time, Vesper lay motionless in a deep meditation, her eyes and mouth closed tightly and submerged. Her breaths were slow, careful to avoid the unpleasant sting of small waves rolling up her nose.
The trees were Vesper’s truest home and friends. She shared with them her dreams of adventure and deepest secrets, and they whispered back warm words of acceptance, extending the protection of unconditional love—a love her mother, Marge, was too cursed to give her. The weeping willows shed slow tears for Vesper’s heart when it ached, and the giant sequoias offered disguise from a harsh world. Vesper found healing from the maidenhair trees and quiet courage from the dragon tree. She shared jokes with the evergreen oak, sought wisdom from the longleaf pine, and learned to follow her heart chasing magnolia blossoms caught in the wind.
‘Mom says it’s my turn and it’s time to get out,’ Greta whisper-squeaked through the bottom gap of the bathroom door, cautiously relaying the message to not upset her older hero sister.
Though Vesper could not hear her sister’s words with water-plugged ears, she anticipated the disruption. She felt the muted vibration of the call, let out a sigh and breathy reply. ‘I’m coming.’
Vesper drug her right foot down the slippery tile, letting the twig fall inconsequentially. She pointed her toe downward, completing a perfect hallux dive with minimal splash towards the drain. She felt for the rubber plug, wrapped her foot around the chain like a fist, and gave it a yank.
Now bored from completing a mundane task as a simpleton would, the little witch mischievously grinned and thought, ‘this is a time for magick.’
She let the water drip off her bony frame and pool around her feet sloppily onto the stone tile; she summoned a towel with an intention and wink, stretched her arms upwards, and spun into its warmth. With a delicate hand wave, she levitated the water droplets off the floor and asked them to glisten and dance across the room until she was no longer entertained. With an instructive nod, she sent them swirling back into the tub, causing a collective splash and a surprised gargle from the drain as it choked on the sudden swoosh.
Vesper’s play was interrupted when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. She paused and ran her finger across the small mole centered on her left cheek, glaring at its existence as her mind drifted and recalled the problems it caused her that day. ‘Moley, Moley Guacamole!’ her school peers chanted as she walked through the lonely corridors of the Academy.
Like her mother, Vesper was shunned by peers. Though she could never understand the dismissive cruelness, she accepted that it was because of her plain nature. Though the truth was—and what everyone would soon come to learn—that Vesper was not plain at all. For she would save the world.
Vesper pinched her pale cheeks hard hoping the pink color would make the mole less noticeable, only to see the temporary flush fade as quickly as it rushed in. She sighed, slicked back her wet, matted hair, and opened the door for her little sister. ‘Mom wants to see you,’ Greta warned.
Vesper slowly approached Marge’s bedroom, hoping that she was asleep. ‘Come closer, Vesper,’ her mother coaxed. Marge had already heard about Vesper’s day from Greta, who was pained to keep secrets from her mother. However, Vesper’s bad day was no surprise to Marge, as she was well aware that the long days at the Academy were taking a toll on Vesper’s spirit. She recognized, with wicked satisfaction, the same quiet and defeated look in her daughter’s eyes that she too endured as a young spellcaster.
‘You didn’t touch your dinner this evening,’ Marge inquired sweetly. Vesper knew that her mother wanted her to confess the difficulties of her day, seek sympathy and holy advice. But Vesper was wise to the fake concern and the sting of her mother’s lack of empathy. She attempted to avoid the trap, shrugged, and said ‘I wasn’t very hungry.’ Marge, sensing the strong will of her daughter, grinned, and in a most condescending tone said, ‘I know what is wrong with you. You expect life to be fair, and it never will be. Run along now and keep feeling sorry for yourself.’
As Vesper’s eyes began to droop towards the floor, at the pleasure of her mother, she had the thought that her mother was wrong. As she stood in her mother’s shadow, the thought grew into a seedling of truth, took root in Vesper’s heart, and bloomed with her other truths. Her peers were wrong to discount her, she did not belong at the Academy, and she was not destined for her mother’s sad fate. She had greatness within her. With each truth blossom, Vesper’s magick strengthened, and a branch of faith wrapped around and shielded her heart.
Vesper lifted her eyes and looked straight into her mother’s. And for the first time in her life, Marge was seen. ‘No. I feel sorry for you’ said Vesper. For Marge, this betrayal was unforgivable. But for Vesper, the curse of isolation and its unforgiving bitterness was broken. For now, her spirit was freed from the toxic grip of her mother, and she was born anew.
No one really knew why the Academy mysteriously shut down for the summer. Rumor has it that an unusual illness spread amongst a few of the students who consumed contaminated guacamole.
Vesper happily swapped her mediocre spellbooks for a sturdy and twisted walking stick, and a summer of play in the forest. She vowed to begin a new path and start a new school for misfits like her. She could not have foreseen that it was the beginning of so much more.