Witches

 

Witches

By Avital Gad Cykman

It is night when the witches stretch in their waterbed, the lake of Florianopolis. The lake is stirring in a circular and vertical movement, like milk in a glass held by an unsteady hand.

Blizzards are rare in the region. Florianopolis is located around the corner, out of the storms’ way.

The witches sniff the night air with their cashew-shaped noses. A hundred years have gone by. It is, indeed, time to wake up.

Gray vapor rises from the middle of the lake, widening its circle until it dresses the witches in cloudy dresses. Their minds are filled with isolated noises: wind, thunder, words of command. They are loyal like dogs, but they have to find an owner. They care for themselves like cats, and they should go out for food.

They whirl in the blizzard’s arms, creating lumps of smoke when they try to blow into the vaporous tube. Their dresses caress and tie, and their stretchy long hands finally find the tube’s mouth from which they reach out, horrid and graceful as newborns. The wind now pushes at their backs, and they are at the head of the storm, and they are looking for a home.

The houses overlooking the lake stand pale and quiet uphill. Such blizzards have never hit them. The people stay still. They hope the destruction can’t take hold of frozen bodies. And, somehow, the storm rushes around and not through their houses.

But then, one little woman approaches her computer to hit the keyboard with a story.

“There!” the witches shriek.

They freeze against her house with the wind in their backs, the clouds around their bodies. They circle the house until they surround it with their arms. They tighten their embrace so the roof gives in and it rises in the air and is snatched by the mouth of the storm.

The woman at the keyboard raises her face and sees the green faces of the lake. Long tongues set out at her with the dedication of dogs, long nails pull at her for food. She is still banging the last words as she rises in alarm and tries to blow them out—to no avail. She is their feeder and their food, their storyteller and their story. They lick words and more words inside her, a whole book, then they rise—sweet, fat witches—and signal to the storm that it is the end of the woman’s story. So, probably, this is the end.

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I love Avital Gad Cykman’s Witches, my pick for the year 2006. It is a microcosm of the features that draw me to longer-form fantasy literature. It is imaginative, a small, dense swath of storm-grey fabric glittering with mysticism and mystery. It’s both visual and tactile: I could see the rising, vaporous witches with cashew-shaped noses; I could feel the wind, and the “little woman’s” panic, battling her fever to stick to her keyboard for one last word. And it has a beautiful ambivalence: while I was warned of the witches’ potential for destruction, I was also nagged by the feeling that they build, construct—that they’re the force and the product of their work, and that there is something as positive about it as birth.

Most of all, I love the ending, the infection and draining of the writer herself. Because…isn’t that the way it works with writers, and those “sweet, fat witches”?

Avital is an Israeli who lives in Brazil: we’ve published a number of her stories throughout our 18 years, but this early piece remains my favorite.

Susan O’Neill