The witches laughed as they stepped out of the shadows the cottage cast upon the clearing. The sight of their hooked noses and bright eyes would haunt the moon for a very long time, provided she survived whatever witchery they had planned.
“Silly child,” the first chided. “Silly, silly child.”
“It wouldn’t have been a very effective spell if you’d heard it,” the second said.
The third said nothing. She just gave the moon a sweet look that hid sharp things like teeth and claws and rusted knives, and somehow that look said everything.
“You cannot kill me,” the moon said with more surety than she felt in that moment. “I have no blood to bind my death.” Never before had she appreciated being immortal.
“Oh, we didn’t call you here to do that,” the first said with a sickly sweet voice that pretended to be shocked.
“No, no, no,” the second agreed. “That would be a waste. A sad and terrible waste.”
“Then what do you want with me?” the moon demanded before the third could speak.
“A story,” the third said, an amused smile darkening the corner of her lips.
“Yes,” the first clapped her hands, “a story.”
“A tale that we couldn’t find anywhere else.”
The moon frowned. Something was off. They were telling her the truth, and yet—“If you wanted a story, then why not ask? Mortals have plenty of stories.”
“But none can tell them the way you can.” The first pulled a small hand spindle from her sleeve.
“No, indeed.” The second pulled a bobbin out of her pocket.
Wordlessly, and with her mouth in a grim line, the third pulled out a pair of silver shears. The sunlight glinted off of the impossibly sharp points and made the moon catch her breath in her throat.
“There, there. Tell us a story, silly child.” The witch flicked the spindle with an expert hand and sent it spinning into the space between them.
“What sort of story?” the moon asked with a hoarse voice.
“The story of a mortal—“
“—Who is not quite mortal—“
“Who steps between the shadow of day and the splinter of night—“
“Growing long here—“
“—And short there.”
“The story between magic—“
As the witches spoke over each other, the cacophony of their words drew out images in the moon’s mind. Darkness and light. Change and becoming. The space between space. Transitions. Stories flashed past her vision, bits of them tearing away here and there.
“What do you need this story for?” she demanded. Above her, the sun broke free of the horizon and glared golden from his seat in the sky. His light burned her eyes and made her head dizzy while a thing like doom pounded behind her eyes. But none of that compared to the pain of the emptiness of the missing pieces of story.
“Ah,” the first witch held up the spindle that was full of translucent thread, “this will do nicely.”
“Such a pretty story,” the second remarked as she took the thread from the spindle and threaded it in the bobbin. “My turn.”
“Let me go.” The moon tugged uselessly at the threads binding her to that spot. “I will return at nightfall to tell you any story you wish.” Oh, she’d tell them a story, indeed. One of three mortal witches trapped forever in between the folds of night. If she were lucky, she’d be able to reclaim the fragments of tales the witches had stolen from her.
The first witch giggled while the second rolled her eyes. “I want a story of secrets. A story hidden from sight. A story that no one can see but those whom the story chooses.”
The moon pinched her lips tight, but despite her best efforts, the witch spun the bobbin between her hands at a dizzying rate, but not so fast that the moon couldn’t see the yards of lace spilling out of it as if by magic. Again, spots of darkness appeared between the images in her mind, marking the place where the stories had been torn away.
Though it pained her, the moon glanced at the sky again. The sun was still too far away to hear her call, and the stars had gone from the sky completely. She pulled at her bonds again, grimacing as the threads cut into her wrists, but gently as though in warning.
The world tilted this way and that, and it was all she could do to remain standing.
“Please,” she tried, “please let me go.”
A yowl cut off her entreaties as the third witch, who had been mostly silent, twisted her wrist, forcing a cat the shade of midnight to appear. She held him away from herself by the scruff of his neck, a look of distaste marring her unpleasant face.
“The story you will tell me will be one of joining.” With no further ceremony, she dropped the cat at the moon’s feet.
“Hello,” he panted, scrubbing at his neck.
The moon stared at him as things started to click into place. “You knew they were waiting for me.”
“I never said otherwise.” The cat curled his bright pink tongue around his paws, cleaning every bit of witch from his fur. “And to be fair, you never asked.”
A thousand stories, red hot with a hundred different emotions formed on her tongue. It was, she supposed, useless to be angry with the witches, because they wouldn’t care. Then again, the cat probably wouldn’t either. With unsteady feet, the moon navigated from fury to grief to something that wasn’t quite either one of them.
The cat stopped cleaning himself and blinked up at her. “I did warn you, you know. And even with all that, you still have witch and familiar tangled up.”
Two of the witches held up the lace while the third cut it into three pieces of even length. They each tied the ends to make three different circles, and the power quietly humming through the thicket surged with sun-bright strength. The moon winced as the shimmering places of the stories they’d stolen from her gleamed in the morning light.
“What are they going to do?” the moon murmured as her fear turned cold and stony. She didn’t need to rely on the vast space of her stories to know that the witches were up to no good. That whatever they were creating would likely spawn terror, along with all the stories that were sure to be born.
New stories, yes, but they could never replace the ones she’d lost.
“You have it lucky, you know,” the cat said. He examined his tail and found it satisfactorily free of witch. “All they want from you is a few measly stories.”
“They weren’t measly.” And the loss of them ached.
The cat raised his brow. “At least they aren’t after your lives.”
The moon turned cold. “They’re going to kill you?”
“Hardly,” the cat chuckled. “I have at least seven and a half left, but that doesn’t make losing three of them any less pleasant.” Yet the way he grinned suggested he was laughing at a joke that only he could see.
She wanted to question him further, but the witches had finished whatever it was they’d been doing and had turned their attention back to her and the cat. Each held out a ring made of the story lace.
“Three lives,” the first intoned.
“For three skins,” the second said.
“And a story to join the two and give each life,” the third finished.
© 2014-present by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved. Originally published in Curiosities of the Moon.
Come back next Saturday for the fourth, and final, installment!