We stood with our toes aligned. Barefoot, on the brink, at Black Bread Lake (the oldest books call it Black Dread Lake), where legend said a witch had once lived in a tiny cabin, dark and shunned.
If it had ever been there, it wasn’t now. Only a ring of stones remained. Ten “Goodmen of the Village” had gone with pitch and fire, set fire to the shack, and to the anonymous woman inside, never named. “A wizened Crone, of ill repute,” her only epitaph.
Gone, like Weetamoe, drowned in some other lake, to make the land safe for black-clad pilgrims. All we knew of history: costumes at class presentations, turkeys traced around fingers.
Our sympathies lay with the losing side, history’s vagrants, the unrecorded.
In the lushness of that summer day we held hands and jumped into forbidden black water. In our minds we lined that lost cabin with asbestos; in our hearts we conjured rain.
You will know the night to go. Be ready.
Wait for the moon to rise. Wait for the owl to call.
One who has gone before will guide you through the green-lit woods. Is she benign, with her cake and her wine, or is she the crone who burns and devours? Perhaps she’s both, perhaps she’s more. Little Red Cap, grandmother and wolf, all in one.
She will ask you for your trust.
If you want what she knows you want, you will give her your trust. You will walk to the shores of Black Bread Lake (the oldest maps call it Black Dread Lake), you will walk into its black waters, shivering with cold, minnows and water-snakes twining about your feet, and you will be afraid, but you will embrace its eldritch waters, open yourself to all this lake remembers and dreams, feel your fear fade.
Deeper and deeper until you emerge laced in algae, coughing brackish water, reborn, fecund.
Lie down under your quilt of stars, under the moon’s blue blanket. Let them tuck you in. Nor may you leave that place until the red-faced sun wakes you with a nudge and a leer.
Do not bathe or eat until a full day has passed: this is as she said. Lie in your stony bed, wrapping yourself around yourself.
Nine months later, the child will come.
Kathryn Kulpa’s micro-fiction chapbook, Who’s the Skirt?, was published by the Origami Poems Project. She is also the author of a short story collection, Pleasant Drugs (Mid-List Press) and has published work recently in Carbon Culture Review, NANO Fiction, KYSO Flash, and The Flexible Persona. She is flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine. Her last reported sighting was in Rhode Island.
–Art by Rona Keller