The cat thrashed and yowled as the rings drew something invisible, but bursting with being, from his center. The moon clamped her hands over her ears, but she didn’t miss the wink the cat gave her while he pitched a fit over losing his lives.
The magic in the clearing burned hot and bright, yet to the moon, it felt like something else altogether. Cold and ancient and riddled with holes.
The cat caught her eye again before he twisted in on himself and disappeared completely.
“Good riddance,” said the first when she noticed he’d gone.
“Now, silly child,” the second one brandished the shears, “all I need is three hairs from your pretty little head and you may go free.”
“My-my hair?” Out of all that had happened over the last few hours, it seemed odd that they would ask for something as normal and mundane as three strands of hair.
“The finishing touch.”
“The thing that will join all together.”
The third just stared at her, silver shears in hand.
It was the third witch that caused the moon to snap. “You can’t have them,” she said. If there was one thing she knew about stories and magic, it was that for something to work as intended, it must be given freely. That, or stolen, but it was a little late for them to try anything crafty like that.
Collectively, the witches drew in a breath, their eyes wide.
“She wants a trade.”
“Or perhaps a bargain, yes?”
“What do you want?” the third witch asked, irritated. She opened and closed the shears, and the moon winced at the sharp snickity-snack sound they made. It was the sound of bottomless hunger that was getting impatient.
“Why are you doing this?” the moon asked instead. “What are you going to do and who is your spell going to hurt?” The rumors of the Babas Yaga had been replete with gristly tales of woe and fear.
They glanced wordlessly at one another before throwing back their heads to howl with laughter. Their sharp, pointy witch teeth gleamed in the sunlight, far from reassuring the moon that everything was going to be all right.
“Our spell is our own and will hurt no one.”
The third glared at her with a directness that was beginning to grate. “We are old, older even than the stars, though possibly not as old as you.”
“Perhaps.” The second giggled.
For a moment, the third Baba turned her glare on her sisters before returning her attention to the moon. “These skins are worn and tired.”
“Yes, they are.”
The other two nodded solemnly.
“What does that have to do with anything?” the moon demanded.
“We simply want a chance to rest our skins.”
“To travel without our joints creaking or our bones cracking.”
“You’re—you’re making new skins?” The moon had heard of mortals doing such things, but only rarely did they manage such potent magic, and generally not without a tragic end.
The witches nodded.
“Of course,” the third drawled, “we could always take your hairs, but spells work better when we’re on our best behavior. So we’re asking nicely. Three hairs, and you go free.” She brandished the shears again.
“And if I refuse?” the moon asked, certain to the center of her being that the third was lying.
“Oh, silly, silly child. That wouldn’t do at all.”
The third only shrugged. “I’m sure we could spell ourselves a cage to keep you in.”
“Oh, yes!” The first clapped her hands with delight. “I’m sure we could.”
“And think of all the candles we could save on,” the second said with a speculative gleam in her eyes.
The moon glanced at the sky again, aching with the need to go home. What would it be like to be a prisoner of these witches? She had no doubt they’d place her near the window where home would always be in sight, but always out of reach. And why did she care what they did with their magic anyway? She was the moon and above the concerns of what happened on earth.
“You will hurt no one?” she said, her eyes on a wisp of cloud, the doorway home.
“Not with this spell,” the first witch said.
The second Baba giggled behind a gnarled hand while the third simply waited, as steady and implacable as night itself.
Still, the stories all warned against trusting witches too easily, especially when they appeared to be offering exactly what you wanted.
The moon held out her arms. The golden threads caught the sunlight and winked at her.“Remove my bonds first.”
The first two Babas glanced at the third, disappointment and regret sharp on their faces. The third, without taking her eyes off the moon, simply nodded.
With a sigh, the first took the strand connecting the threads binding her wrists and ankles between a finger and thumb.
“We’ll never have an opportunity like this again,” she said.
The second nodded sadly.
“Time is but a circle of seasons and stages,” the third Baba intoned.
The first witch frowned and twisted the pinch of thread. The bonds fell away silently. The moon rubbed her wrists, but the bonds hadn’t left so much as a mark.
“Three hairs,” she said, plucking them from her head. She held them out to the third Baba who took them without comment. Then, before any of them could have a chance to change their minds, the moon allowed the sky to call her home.
She sighed with relief as the weight of the world fell away, even though she stepped among sunsprites and sunlight. The sun blinked at her in surprise, but she was already running as fast as her sun-weakened limbs could move toward the door that led to the rest of the way home.
The moon paused at the threshold, breathing in the sweet air of the sky. Home lay beyond the door, and the stars would be eager to hear of her adventures, but she hesitated. Warily, she turned around and studied the earth until she could make out the shapes of three witches in the middle of a clearing.
They were chanting as they wove her long, white hairs through the circlets each wore about their wrists. With a triumphant cackle, they finished their spell in a splash of magic. But rather than turning into three black cats as they ought to have, the witches cawed in surprise as beak and claw and night-dark feathers sprouted all over their bodies. They circled the clearing, cursing cats in general and one in specific.
The moon hid a smile as she watched them flap around like moonstruck sprites while they tried to accustom themselves to their new wings.
“So that’s what he wanted with the ravens,” the moon murmured. “Clever cat!”
Somewhere in the dark shadows of the pine forest, two specks of yellow light gleamed with laughter before winking out as the cat went about his business.
© 2014-present by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved. Originally published in Curiosities of the Moon.
And so concludes Moon Bait. I hope you enjoyed the story. 🙂 If you would like to see other short stories, please leave a note and let me know. 🙂
Have a great weekend!