[In the coming days, we will be presenting teasers from the upcoming Issue No. 10: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales.]
THE WITCH HAD
MADE HER CHILDREN
WHAT THEY WERE
BUT WHEN HER BLOOD
CRIED OUT FOR REVENGE,
ONLY ONE HAD
THE WIT AND COURAGE
TO UNDO HER MURDERER.
Cats went in and out of the witch’s house all day long. The windows stayed open, and the doors, and there were other doors, cat-sized and private, in the walls and up in the attic. The cats were large and sleek and silent. No one knew their names, or even if they had names, except for the witch.
Some of the cats were cream-colored and some were brindled. Some were black as beetles. They were about the witch’s business. Some came into the witch’s bedroom with live things in their mouths. When they came out again, their mouths were empty.
The cats trotted and slunk and leapt and crouched. They were busy. Their movements were catlike, or perhaps clockwork. Their tails twitched like hairy pendulums. They paid no attention to the witch’s children.
The witch had three living children at this time, although at one time she had had dozens, maybe more. No one, certainly not the witch, had ever bothered to tally them up. But at one time the house had bulged with cats and babies.
Now, since witches cannot have children in the usual way — their wombs are full of straw or bricks or stones, and when they give birth, they give birth to rabbits, kittens, tadpoles, houses, silk dresses, and yet even witches must have heirs, even witches wish to be mothers — the witch had acquired her children by other means: she had stolen or bought or made them.
She’d had a passion for children with a certain color of red hair. Twins she had never been able to abide (they were the wrong kind of magic) although she’d sometimes attempted to match up sets of children, as though she had been putting together a chess set, and not a family. If you were to say a witch’s chess set, instead of a witch’s family, there would be some truth in that. Perhaps this is true of other families as well.
One girl she had grown like a cyst, upon her thigh. Other children she had made out of things in her garden, or bits of trash that the cats brought her: aluminum foil with strings of chicken fat still crusted to it, broken television sets, cardboard boxes that the neighbors had thrown out. She had always been a thrifty witch.
Some of these children had run away and others had died. Some of them she had simply misplaced, or accidentally left behind on buses. It is to be hoped that these children were later adopted into good homes, or reunited with their natural parents. If you are looking for a happy ending in this story, then perhaps you should stop reading here and picture these children, these parents, their reunions.
READ, IF YOU DARE, THE SKIN-CRAWLING CONCLUSION, AVAILABLE ONLY IN McSWEENEY’S MAMMOTH TREASURY OF THRILLING TALES.
Kelly Link’s short stories have won the World Fantasy Award, the Tiptree, and a Nebula. Her collection, Stranger Things Happen (Small Beer Press), was a Salon Book of the Year and a Village Voice Favorite. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Gavin J. Grant, co-edits the zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and is working on Trampoline, a forthcoming anthology of fantastic fiction. She once won a trip around the world.