The Witches

by Emily Wu

In a land lost to time, long sunk beneath the waves or burnt to ash, there was a tale of women with unearthly beauty and eldritch power. Their legacy has been reduced to merely a story, so I will tell it to you. Listen carefully, child, for this is no tale of ordinary women.

For the people called them witches.

Long ago, the witches were mere women who walked the earth. Pious and pure and hollowed out to be as silent and subservient as the others. Women were the harbingers of life, yet they were treated as objects. And soon they were forgotten.

One day, humankind fell to waste. Nobody knows what triggered it. Earthquakes tremored in every city of every land, burying civilisations in endless rubble and detritus. The tides swallowed entire islands, the wrath of the sea endless. Bitter ice raged through the northern steppes as the mountains crumbled, even the tropics buried under unforgiving snow. And there was fire. Fire ripping through the land, leaving scorched trails of ash. Where it burned, life fell.  Where fire had once cleansed and brought warmth, it only sought to destroy.

All of it—the remaking of the world—lasted for just one day.

It receded the next morning, and the sun was shining again, the birds chirping. The tides had flushed waste out of the towns, and the ash became the foundation for new life. The surviving cities began to rebuild. It felt like a new spring of budding hope and birth. But there was something different. Because when it was all over, the women were no longer women. They had decided together that they would not let themselves be forgotten ever again.

You see, they had learnt to cloak themselves in the darkness they were forced into and wear the shadows like jewellery. From the crude words flung at them, they fashioned their own weapons. From the silence thrust down their throats, they listened, feeding on the secrets of the wind. They wove ropes twisted from each forbidden word they spoke. From pain, they forged themselves anew, and from fear, they crafted their shields.

The women learnt to fight back.

The women learnt what they were; for there was something buried within them, an ancient injustice sung into their blood and bones. They realised that they belonged to themselves, that they were more than objects, that they, the creators of life, deserved more. They knew that they had been pushed to the edge of an unyielding cliff, but they saw that in the pit below, there was not encroaching darkness and obliterated dreams and shattered hope, but instead light and harmony and all things good about the world, and they knew that they were the building bricks they could use to pave the future generations a way forward. And so as one, they let themselves fall.

The day the world was remade, the women bound the earth with ropes made of secrets. Chaos ensued. But too late, every one of the people who had hurt them realised that their overlooked, god-fearing slaves had become more.

For it was not a band of women who walked out of the carnage of flames and tsunamis and crumbling mountains on the wind. It was witches.

The witches vanished within days, scattered to the deepest corners of their land, satisfied that they had given their tormentors a message they would never forget. As man and woman and other walked hand in hand, the witches were sated, and finally found peace. Although they faded, their power spent, their lessons taught, the aftermath of remaking the world lingered. As long as people walked the path they paved and went through the doors they opened, liberty ruled above all.

You understand, child? Humankind has in the ages since strayed far from the witches’ road, and women in places where the road has been cleaved are reduced to objects again. There is no need for pain, for suffering and the song of blood and vengeance. We need only find their half-buried path again, and freedom can reign once more.