The spring high tides had arrived. The waves seemed ravenous this year, leaving streaks of deep green seaweed and jet-black shells high up the beach, almost to our front doors. The annual storms were coming, felt in a slow tingling atmosphere that predicts a storm’s arrival, and I could taste a freshwater coldness in the air. The moon was a sharp sickle cutting into the morning skies, dusted with pinks and blues; she was an ominous warning.
My grandmother said the storms were going to be powerful this year, so we were vigilant, and crushed our eggshells in anticipation. My grandmother had long held the belief that if we did not crush our eggshells every morning, witches would come and collect them in the blackness of the night. Witches watched our movements closely, like the eyes of God, waiting for their chance. They would sail out in the moments before dawn under a clear sky and a calm, flat sea, watching their reflections swirl among the soft currents. Once far enough out to sea, they would start a low chanting – a secretive whispering, mistaken for the hum of a restless ocean. They would stir their fingers in the cold waters, mimicking running blue ribbons between them. The water would broil and agitate. A fog would come down from the heavens itself, and a relentless rain would begin, heavy enough to flood small boats in minutes. The oceans would swell and great waves would rise from the depths. The last thing most victims saw was the lightning fork across the sky as it broke into pieces. They knew then that a witches’ storm had been whispered awake.
Few had witnessed a true witches’ storm. Fewer still had come home after meeting one out on the open seas. Most that came home did so physically, but left their wits within the fog.
Of course, there were those that said this was nothing more than a myth – simple nonsense. My grandmother always replied the same;
‘Some things we will know in time, but some things are unknowable… always keep a part of yourself wondering’
In the next few days the winds began to howl and the shifting black line across the horizon grew closer and darker. We were in its path, and nothing could be done except to lock the doors and windows and wait it out. The storm broke one afternoon. It was upon us in a moment; first came the rain, pelting the windows like a thousand grains of sand. The skies overhead groaned and roared in pain, the wind sounded as if a hundred souls were rushing past the house in their eagerness to escape the world.
My grandmother gathered myself and my brother around the struggling fire. It spit and shouted in great gasps of smoke. She said the witches could be out there right now, circling those floundering ships and boats, defying the waves, riding atop the highest ones, all the while shedding ivory fragments of eggshell – waiting to see their creation reach its peak and watch the sailors call out in fear. We lit candles and sent up a heartfelt prayer. The storm was reaching its zenith; I was doing all I could just to keep myself grounded.
I tried to sleep, fitfully. I drifted in and out of dreams and madness. The cold and rain gripped my sides and tied around my feet, trying to pull me from the house.
I dreamt of witches riding the air currents above the storm clouds, hundreds of them; air born in bright white eggshells, but the shells were fading and chipping away. The witches simply and calmly stepped out of their eggshells and walked across the air like it was nothing more than glass. They brought great birds with them, without feathers, and paper shapes of children and snowflakes that they cast to the winds. They looked straight at me, deep into my eyes, testing my soul. I found myself staring back, without fear. They saw something in me that they cherished, and I saw in them a freedom no one else could understand. They called to me, and I walked along the glass floor stretching along the storm clouds. I noticed the noise from the tempest below had stopped, and an all encasing silence surrounded me. They placed in my hands a jet-black sea shell and spoke to me in a chilling whisper;
‘Always keep a part of yourself wondering’
They handed me a blanket, a chequered one like I have at home. As I looked up to question their words and gifts I stumbled backwards, falling off the glass floor. Hurtling through the clouds, now a brilliant white, I felt myself fall through the roof of my house as if I were a wandering ghost. I awoke on my bed choking for air. The black shell I had been given was nowhere to be found, but those who witnessed the storm from the waves and the shore reported it had stopped suddenly, with an unseasonal light dusting of snow.
Jade Kennedy is a writer of poetry, prose, flash fiction and a collector of borrowed expressions. Her poetry has been included in various zines and she is now looking to find more homes for her flash fiction and prose.
‘Borrowed Expressions’ at www.jadekennedywriter.blogspot.co.uk / Twitter @Jade_JoAnn
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net