The Necessary Witch


Jacob Bettany

Curiously, the bells are quieter now; there is a layer of ash, fine as dust, over everything and at noon the sun falls heavy as rain.

Silhouettes, like great black holes, sink into space at twilight and read like clouds - a monster, a cartoon, the princess.

Even the silence is chaotic; glass for a moment then marble, mordant, morbid - every fine distinction you can think of - then snow. The silence is between the bells which call every twelfth hour.

I am clasped in a jar which is watertight and I am curled up with the sensation of cold glass against my back; it is very cold, but there is no room to shiver. The jar fits me like skin and is fastened securely to the floor..

In the picture I keep of her I see rainbows as if for the first time, and they dance. She stands and there is a waterfall behind her. There are rainbows in her eyes, there is the suggestion of contemplation and a fine bawdy sense of humour. I am in love with her though she has already been where I am: Her tears are frozen, are the tiniest most elegant crystals, sculpted ice and heavy too. She smells of soap and skin, and tastes of roasted almonds. Her back, arched against me, my hand on the small, her kisses flickering, butterflies against my neck, my eyelids, and then I wake with a start.

There is a beast in the catacombs below this castle; at night in the winter when all the water is ice, my mad old mentor pretends that there is no unearthly noise howling far away, and always it quiets. Until bedtime when I am alone and it becomes a whistle, a high pitched shriek - continuous and pained. My childhood is filled with this and though my mind has turned the aching yell into wind, still the mines contain something I am afraid of.

High up into the tower the bells take me - through ivy and decomposing vegetation, birds nests and the violent flapping of wings, a perpetual dripping, an emptiness composed of anticipation and a thrill of fear.

"Violently, smashing glass and spinning in space and always becoming, never become. Life is becoming." my mad old mentor would rave. I sit there in his laboratory with wide eyes, listening to the bubbling in his boiling tubes, the clicking of his false teeth, "And do not forget this my boy, you are the last... you are the last."

And then there is my glass vessel, my Kingship, my immunity. Time stops, at least there is an instant of darkness before I wake. A moment has no beginning or end and it is there I get lost, in a falling eternity, safe from the magic which covers the world like ash.

The necessary witch who cast her spell is one of only four corporeal beings left here.

Where did the ash come from? I can only guess. My mentor tells me that the world is made of cardboard and that the edges are on fire but I do not want to believe him. He looks like a rat and besides, he is consumed by fire at night. His theories have always got fire in them.

My darling is stone by day and always has been. Her great eyes seem to follow me though as I pace up and down telling her stories until I imagine her voice calling me and kneel on the grass at her feet. She loves me too, in her silence, though lately when I find her curled up beside a tree, stretched out by the lake, running through the dusty streets, she is more disheveled than before, her face is smeared with grime, her bones are showing.

Curiously, the bells are quieter now, and the silence in between is louder. I worry they will go away forever and then how will I know when to return to my glass jar?

The Necessary Witch is my older cousin; she is perfectly white and once claimed to have bathed in the moon. She yawns and every candle in the kingdom is silently snuffed out. She smiles and the air is filled with light! She is exceedingly thin. Before I was born, I was once told, the four winds converged on her in an ambush, but she fought them off and made them pull her chariot. She is sometimes a boy about my age, but mainly she is only a voice and then usually a whisper.

Sometimes the whisper is all I can hear and when my mad old mentor raves it is her words which come out: She offers me conceit and love, a circus of men, a hundred million bodies she can be. Power and escape from my glass tube. Her offer is compelling, but she is destroying everything I love to win me and I could never forgive her.

All the spells are cast. I am captured in a jar when the bells ring, my darling turns to stone when I wake up and my only friend shrieks as inextinguishable flames mock about his beard. The witch is obsessed but curiously, the bells are quieter now.

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Copyright © 2000 Jacob Bettany. All rights reserved. Published by permission of the author.
This page last updated 4-24-00.

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