The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Karen Soutar
She always came back here, to the sea.
It wasn’t a beautiful spot. Just rocks underfoot, and towering above too – strange, misshapen things; brooding faces in the cliff. The villagers said they were creepy, like the rocks were always watching them. Mind you, they said that about her, too.
She had always loved the cliffs. And the birds.
The sky was full of them. Gannets, cormorants, gulls. Greedy fish eaters who thought nothing of dropping fish guts on unwary wanderers. Another reason that people hated to go there. Once, a gull had dropped something slimy right on her head. She had laughed and laughed, dragging the entrails through her hair along with the salt spray, tangling her dark locks themselves into a bird’s nest. That night, trying to detangle her hair ready for another day, she wished she were lying at the edge of the sea, washing her hair like one of the sirens in the old tales. But the waters here would pound anyone trying to lie in them against the shore, until they were no more than the entrails the birds were so fond of dropping.
Nevertheless, she always came back here.
Today, she had to decide.
The word had been whispered. The word that Mother, Grandmother, and so many others had heard before her.
It had only been a matter of time. Women who were different didn’t last long. Reading. Using medicines. Walking alone. Talking to animals, and plants. Talking and singing to yourself. Having an opinion. All could be, and had been, a death sentence. She wondered if that would ever change.
The word had been spoken – only by one, at first, but that was enough. Then it had been uttered by many. They had come, with their instruments of sharpened steel. With their Bibles, their crosses, their cold, cold hands. As they had come for her mother – except she had fled. Now the daughter was grown, they were owed a body, a life, a soul.
But her mother had left instructions.
She stopped under the rock they called An-Aghaidh. Risked looking up at the birds wheeling overhead. They were silent, for once, no screams and cries as they chased each other across the sky. Expectant, waiting.
The spell left her lips easily. As easily as it had travelled from Mother’s pages to her memory.
The waters rose, wrapped around her like a blanket. The cliffs leaned over her, sheltering. The birds dived, whirled, until nothing could be seen of her but a maelstrom of feathers, white, brown, grey, black. When they dispersed, she was no longer who she had been. The ancient powers of water, earth and air had transformed her into someone else. The someone she was accused of being.
The Bhuidseach arose, shook herself, stretched. She withdrew her gaze from the sea and sky, looking back across the land at the village in the distance.
Mother had left, wreaking no revenge on those who had driven her from her home. So had Grandmother. No revenge for those who had been unable to flee, who had died in water and in fire and by the rope. No revenge for those who had fled with nowhere to go, who had been robbed and raped and had starved to death in ditches all over the land.
She gazed once more at the ocean, at the sky. They were hers for the exploring, now. But they would always be there. They could wait.
She turned, and ran towards the village. The birds wheeled and followed her. The ground trembled under her feet. Overhead, it began to rain.
Scots Gaelic words:
An-Aghaidh (an-eye-ee): The Face
Bhuidseach (bud-shuch): Witch
Fiction © Copyright Karen Soutar
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com