This story is by Yubany Checo and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
When the summer solstice coincided with the “strawberry moon,” Betty Biskup was ready.
This occasion was the signal for a type of woman who lived in the mountains of Wilmore. They allowed the magic inherited from their ancestors, hidden in their genes be demonstrated in a singular competition.
In the last contest, Betty had failed to make her spell. She had practiced capturing the beam of the moon but when she tried to use it with the rest of the ingredients of her spell, something went wrong.
Verna was one of the master witches of the Spell Grand Jury. She was respected for preserving the magic arts of Wilmore for centuries until one day she fell in love with a compromised man: Betty’s father.
According to the rules of the contest, the penalty for failure fell on the oldest member of the family who would lose all magical powers. Betty’s mother lost her powers. She was supposed to live without them until the next competition but Verna made her life a hell on earth.
Betty had come to compete again. This was time to honor her mother and redeem herself in front of the jury, although none expected anything spectacular from her.
“I have lived for centuries and nothing in this world has captivated me. I do not have heart, I do not believe in love. But this man has something that makes me burn from inside” said Verna to Icarus, her pet, that was watching her closely with his coiled tail. “But that man will be mine”, she added one last time as a reddish light appeared in her eyes.
Without magical powers, Wilmore women were like humans except that they lacked reflections if they stood in front of a mirror. If this secret was known, they were in serious danger.
When Betty’s mother lost her powers, it was the opportunity that Verna took to get the path clear to her father.
That night while her parents had dinner, someone knocked on the door. Betty looked at the torches from the second floor windows.
“Who is it?”, their parents asked.
“Open!” The witch hunters came in. Betty heard the discussion coming from the first floor. There were struggles. Her mother was crying. She came out her room and walked cautious not to be seen. One of the men walked up to the second floor. Her heartbeat quickened. She looked around and took the family spell book in her hands. She jumped with it through the window of her room and ran to hide behind some big trees. From there, she looked how the crowd took their parents.
During the nights that she was hidden in the forest of the Dry Trees, an owl that rested on a branch began to hoot. Betty looked at it and fell asleep.
Betty spent nights studying family spell book. She learned her mother’s family came from the north side of Europe and worked their spells using the viscera of birds of prey. Traditional recipes suggested the eyes of a newborn as the main ingredient to capture the beam of the moon. Once the light was trapped inside, it could be combined with the rest of the ingredients.
At times, Verna’s image bounced in her head. Betty pursed her lips, breathed and exhaled to block her tears. She thought that if she had not failed that spell, her mother would be alive now.
Some people remembered Betty parents’ trial. After many questions, the court received a note from the hands of an old but cheerful woman. Immediately Betty’s mother was placed in front of a mirror and when the crowd did not see her reflection, they shouted: bonfire! bonfire! bonfire! Witnesses saw Verna motivating the crowd. In the case of his father, the court judged that by the time that man lived with the witch, procreating even a girl with her, the strength of the spell had left him without soul.
Verna tried to convince Betty’s father. She whispered into his ear but when he saw his wife burning, he ran and threw himself into the flames. After that Verna hated the Biskup family and promised to do away with all of them including Betty.
Icarus was Verna’s pet. It was a chameleon, inseparable companion, and a dishonest creature capable of assuming human form to please his mistress. There was a time the Spell Grand Jury was investigating a sabotage complaint the Biskup family had presented when Betty failed in the last contest. They found no evidence to prove any wrongdoing.
Betty woke up with a strange feeling. She looked up at the branches of the tree but the owl was not there. In her dream, the eyes of the owl showed when Icarus, changing its color, had slipped through the window of her house and, extending its tongue to the book of recipes, had erased one of the ingredients of Betty’s spell.
Some people thought that her failure was due to her impurity as the daughter of a human. But they ignored something important. Betty was born with the blue aura reserved for creative children and with the birthmark of clover on the right wrist.
The night of the competition was the most brilliant of all. The moon seemed to approach the land as the hours passed. In the forest of the Dry Trees, the creatures of the night were expecting a great event. The murmur of the people arriving, seated around the stones of the valley, silenced every chirp and crowing.
The Master of Ceremonies presented the Grand Jury. From left to right: Ilma Klaus and her dog Lubis, Verna Itbus and Icarus and the irreplaceable Alfis Detrus Blanc and her bat, Litas. There was scattered applause, but all eyes were on Betty.
The sound of the hammer hitting the stone called everyone to attention. The competition started. It was Betty’s turn. She walked to the front, and stopped between the pot of hot water and the Grand Jury table. She looked around and confirmed that these were the very people who had seen her fail the last time. They were still skeptical. She could hear their thoughts: «Now she will fail again». But she knew, now more than ever, what her real purpose was.
The wind blew through Betty’s pants. A medallion with a clover hung from her neck reaching close to her naked belly button. She knew contest rules mandated wearing a long-sleeved dress and a black hat, but she was uncomfortable following orders.
Verna pursed her lips as Betty approached. The last time she saw Betty was through the eyes of Icarus collecting the ashes of his parents in a small box of lead. She felt sorry she had not killed Betty when she had the chance. Verna looked at her and remembered what she could not have.
“Do you know all the rules, Betty?”
“Yes” she replied confidently, hands closed and eyes with an imperturbable look.
“We assume you know also consequences in case you fail as well.” The master of ceremonies flashed a mocking smile. Betty assented and let her own smile appear slowly from behind a lock of hair that came down from her forehead to her lips.
“You can start right now,” confirmed Alfis. “You have one try, just like the other participants,” she added.
Betty snapped her fingers and her book of recipes flew through the air, approaching her. She raised her arms and thought about her mother. The clouds moved away, letting the moon shine clearly in the sky. The wind quieted down. People looked at her thin, long hands. They were empty: no pupils to capture the beam. «How is she planning to capture it..? » the people started murmuring.
Betty moved closer to the pot and dropped in the bowels of the black vulture. She whispered: “Ignis luna meus et mater mea, caecus iudicium”
She took a little box from her pocket and threw ashes into the air. A green smoke came out of the pot, taking the shape of a stinger. Betty blew it to where Icarus was. The smoke went directly to the creature’s eyes, pulling them out. Both eyes fell to the ground and moved wildly. People were looking in shock. Icarus writhed in pain. At this moment, a beam from the strawberry moon came down, firing Icarus’s eyes and turning them into two balls of fire that flew into Verna’s hands. She shook herself, trying to rid herself of them. Verna became water, but it was too late. She cried as she slowly evaporated. Her mist lingered in the air for a moment. A burning smell remained in the noses of all those present.
Betty took a deep breath and bowed to the Grand Jury. Then, without another word, she walked off into the forest of the Dry Trees. An owl hooted.
That is why this competition is no longer spoken of, and instead they speak of the revenge of Betty Biskup.