The Alphabet Witch

She’d eaten all the vowels, but everyone knows they’re the most delicious. The O rolled around her mouth like honey, sliding down her throat without her even swallowing. The E dissolved like spun sugar, leaving a few granules to crunch between greedy teeth.

The K, however, had hooked its sharp corner into her gums and put up a fight. She’d managed to dislodge it with her tongue, but it had given her the hiccups for an hour. No-one likes a fricative, she told herself with a frown.

The Alphabet Witch wasn’t a talker. She was a nodder, a smiler of tight little smiles, a listener with the words left unsung in her chest. She knew the words were there, felt them stirring and stretching, dancing along the bones of her ribcage more and more each day. What she didn’t know was how to send them soaring up her throat and out her mouth anymore.

Silence is a stealthy beast. One solitary day becomes two, becomes ten, becomes twenty, and then you open your mouth to buy vanilla beans and paraffin, and you stare in surprise at the farmer and the empty air between you. And then you close your mouth, place coins silently in his weathered palm, and walk away.

And so it began.

The Alphabet Witch knew spells for all manner of things. She knew beeswax in the shape of a crescent will bring the rain clouds, and red silk sewn through egg shells will make the fertility goddesses smile. She knew not to cast spells on the black moon, and to grow her pennyroyal in the shade so it burned a darker smoke. But the spell to bring her words back takes three winters to arrive, and when she wakes with the knowledge, she wakes with the fear her tongue has withered in her mouth.

The Alphabet Witch was a nodder, a smiler of tight little smiles, but now she’s a hunter. Each morning she pulls on her sturdiest boots, fills her pockets with cold plums for nourishment, and goes hunting for letters.

The M fell into her lap, as M’s have been known to do. The limping fisherman, started to see her on the dock before the frost had melted, threw out a cheery “Morning there!” And so the task was set: the M was the first knot in the cord that would connect her to the world again, and send the words dancing up her ribcage and out along her tongue.

M, she decided, would be marmalade, swallowed back into her vocabulary through thick slabs of blood orange choked with peel. When old Sigrun Elvarsdottir pressed the rye loaves into her hands with a warning bark of “Hot!”, the Alphabet Witch swallowed the H greedily through chunks of plump haddock from the morning’s catch.

The consonants tickled her throat; the R even tried to escape but she washed it back down with mouthfuls of raspberry leaf tea. The vowels were sweeter and slid down with ease, though the U flicked her tonsils on the way. “Cheeky”, she thought with a smile.

The V came to her easily – “Very cold today” shivered the mead maker – but it went down with difficulty, flooding her mouth with the sharpness of vinegar. When she considered the other V words she understood why, feeling vexation, vicious & venom make her mouth curl.

But the S…ah, the S was divine, the sibilance making her lips tingle and hips sway as she thought of the sultry silken seduction she could weave once the spell was completed, and her alphabet swallowed.

Day by day, she rebuilt her words. Each letter was a knot in the cord that brought her closer to her first sentence, her first act of intimacy in three long winters, and she thought deeply about who would receive it. Perhaps Björn the Elder with his salt and pepper whiskers, perhaps her neighbour Einar who gave her hen-warm eggs, or maybe even her beloved cat with the smoky eyes.

Or maybe she would walk through the twinkling snow to the top of Þingveilir and with arms outstretched, thank this most pagan of lands for bringing back her words and their beauty.

On the last day of winter the Alphabet Witch woke with wide eyes. She pulled on her sturdiest boots, filled her pockets with cold plums, and flung open her door with force and faith. Only one letter remained to connect her to the world, but today would be the hardest knot to tie.

Today she needed an X.

© bellmusker 2008

The Alphabet Witch

bellmusker

Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

Iceland on Hallowe’en does strange things to a woman’s ink……….

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