The old woman looked up from her rocker, a toothless grin on her face. “Granny feels an ache coming on.” In truth, at her age there was never a time without an ache. “Be a dear and make me some fresh tea?” She went back to scribbling on her papers.
“Yes, Granny,” the girl said. Agreeable though she was, she didn’t feel half as eager as she sounded. She’d been promised her service would last until the end of the war, then her mother would come get her. Still, she knew better than to grumble. The knowledge she’d gained was worth twenty years of servitude, and she’d grown fond of the batty old woman’s talk of angels and holy magic.
That part of her was fast losing ground to the part which feared her apprenticeship would ever come to an end. Perhaps America would lose the war to the Nazis, and she’d never leave this swamp. She yearned for the day she could return to her family and show them the skills which she now possessed. She distracted herself from the walk to the patch of Black Cohosh by imagining her future as the most skilled midwife in the world, save for the witch herself. She knew she’d never be able to give justice to the legacy of Granny Greenwitch.
Despite the darkness, she felt no fear in the swamp. No animal would harm her, and no plant would bar her way, The Greenwitch had sworn to that when Mamma set her apprenticeship with the Witch before father joined the war for America, and the ancient medicine-woman kept her word. She’d even tested the promise by walking naked through the rose bushes, and came through unscathed. That’s how she knew the witch and her power was real, and when she swore she’d do her best to serve and learn.
Halfway through picking the plants which would sooth the pains of old age, fire rained down on the small hut they shared. For a moment, she stared in disbelief as the swamp lit up like high noon. Above the conflagration hovered a being of fire which could have been angel or devil.
The fires went out almost as fast as they began, consumed by earth and mud as the land itself came alive to defend the Greenwitch. She was no Mystic, herself, but she could swear the soil roaring in outrage as it hurled blades of stone and spears of live wood at the enemy in the sky.
It didn’t seem to faze the attacker, who burned away the attacks as they came, and sent another burst of flame down on the hut.
She tried to act, to run for the hut to rescue the old woman inside. For the first time, she tripped in the mud and found herself struggling against a swamp which chosen now to betray her. She screamed and pleaded and wept as the swamp fought against the burning monster, her cries drowned out by the clash of powers far greater than her. For some time, the pair traded blows, but it didn’t take long to make it clear who would win this war. The vines holding her back stilled, and let loose their grip as the swamp ran out of strength to hold back even her.
The Greenwitch’s murderer hovered above the forest, looking down on the devestation like an old testament angel.
It’s not fair! She wanted to scream, but her voice had long lost that strength. You can be strong, you can bring Justice. She froze, the enormous weight of ages untold pressed down on her very soul. So much power, it will cost me everything.
She looked up at the burning man in the sky through tears she’d thought had run dry. He can’t be allowed to get away with this. Not now, not ever! She embraced a power more ancient than the world itself like it was her best friend. In many ways, it was, as the last remnants of Granny’s mind and soul came with the vast alien power.
It will be years before I repay the debt incurred this day. The child who was now a woman look at the burning crater of her old home. Granny took the first step with her own life, but it’s far from enough to compensate for this Blessing.
She reached out, with the new strength and senses. She could see the nature of the soul before her, the man who wielded a weapon forged only for revenge against the Greenwitch. His power was born for no reason but to take Granny’s life. The old Greenwitch was helpless against him, for he was Fated to destroy her.
The new Greenwitch found it trivial to return the favor. With a thought, she reached into the mind which claimed mastery of hell’s own flames, and made him forget his power. If she’d had her way, he would have died screaming in his own fire, but she had no means to block the automatic parts of his power. Instead, she’d have to content herself with his screams as he plummeted to the earth. She sang as she counted the five seconds it took for him to hit the ground.
Now Mistress of this demesne, she ran for the scorched earth which held the remains of her dearest friend and teacher. She knew there was nothing to find, but not making the attempt felt like a betrayal, somehow. The house was burned to the foundation, and revealed even more foundation than she’d known existed. Memories not her own offered images of a mansion, long taken by time and the events of the prior Greenwitch’s own death. The wine cellar, however, should still be nearby, and within Artifacts left by the Greenwitch who built this swamp a century ago. Horrors that Granny had left locked in darkness, hoping never to unleash on the world, were now hers to command.
On the ground amidst the ash sat a journal, on which Granny had stored all her doodles and knowledge of plants. It was mere paper, yet survived where even soil had burned away. It was also cool to the touch, and she looked at the first page. The letters were so unfamiliar, she wondered if anyone living would recognize the language, but she read it nonetheless.
The Greenwitch Must Endure.
The slow trickle of memories widened, deaths which went on forever until they blurred into a single endless scream. For all she knew, the Greenwitch had existed since the birth of the human race, perhaps even longer. Choosing vessel after vessel, moving to the new with the murder of the old. She now understood Granny’s crazy ramblings about angels; within her lived a god.
Some day, my death will see it to the next vessel.
She saw her own father’s face, before he left for the war. Through the eyes of the Greenwitch, she recognized the spark of power within him, a lesser god. An archer? Keen eyes who can take life from further than any mortal is allowed.
“You have Granny’s vow. With this, you shall not die while the war goes on.” She watched as hands not her own held out an amulet. “Test it not against the archangels, for some are Granny’s equal, and even the Greenwitch’s trinkets have limits.” Granny had kept her oath. Granny’s future-sight ensured the man would die the day after the armistice, in a minefield he’d volunteer to scout, believing himself safe.
Granny would carry the weight of vengeance for her actions, and his son would-
“Timothy!” she dropped the book and ran for the dead man in the swamp. Trembling, she turned over the man. She was twelve last she saw her brother’s face, before the war, but it was unmistakably his.
She discovered a new source of tears.
“Rose!” Her roommate’s head stuck her head into her office. “C’mon, girl, we’s goin’ ta church!”
She didn’t bother to hide the look of skepticism on her face, knowing full well that neither of them were the church-going type. For a moment she remembered Granny, who was zealous and more than a little senile in her faith, and had to bite down on her emotions, lest her disguise falter. “The hell you doin’ goin’ ta church fer, Maddie? Don’ they frown upon yer career?”
“Turn th’ other cheek, an’ all that,” Madeleine brought a hand back to slap her own rear. “An’ they like mah cheeks. ‘Sides, ah heard they’s got a young new pastor, an’ he’s a looker. Ain’t nutin’ a righteous man loves more than ta git a sinner on ‘er knees. Y’ gotta come, too, maybe find yerself a man to take care of ya.”
Rose ignored the slew of information the Greenwitch offered about the insecurities which drove Madeleine’s behavior. She kept her powers clamped down tight; the less she knew, the less she had to care. “I don’ need no man, I have a career ta worry ’bout.” More, she didn’t want a relationship. The power held within her would bring nothing but tragedy to anyone she loved. Granny and her brother had been enough to lessen her debts, not repay them in their entirety.
“C’mon, Rose, yer career will be there fer ya when yer old an’ grey.” The woman’s voice took on the high pitch whine that she’d learned from a young age made other people do what she wanted. “You’s already in yer twenties an’ ah bet you ain’t even kissed ah man. Now c’mon, we’s gotta git there early so’s they see us. Or are ya like them weirdos out west? Girls kissin’ girls an’ all that.”
Rose almost told her roommate to go to hell, but something deep within her writhed.
The Greenwitch Must Endure.
The urge was more powerful than any sexual impulse she’d ever known, undeniable and bordering on the painful. “Fiiine, but if’n ah git the chance, I’m takin’ tha’ pastor jus’ ta teach you a lesson.”
“Hah! You kin try.” Madeleine ran off before Rose could retort.
They made it to the church in record time, before the sun had even begun to rise. Rose knew there was something wrong right away, as the two crowds faced off. The one in front of the church was the blacks who Rose assumed made up the congregation, let by a tall, strong looking man in front.
The other side had several men dressed up in white cloaks. Rose had heard about them, in hushed whispers, but she’d remained aloof enough that she couldn’t be certain.
She reached out with her sight, into the minds and souls of these men. The fear they inflicted on the congregation was to be expected, though the tall pastor kept an impressive lid on his own.
The seven members of the Klan radiated something quite different. Rose anticipated the hatred in their hearts, but was surprised in the end that it wasn’t the source of the violence. If she were to pick a single word, it was weakness. She’d expected Evil Incarnate, instead she found the pathetic insecurity of schoolyard bullies, children in the bodies of men.
Once she got over her surprise, this revelation disgusted her. She understood Evil, the Greenwitch had done far worse than these men could imagine, hideous acts inflicted not of hate, but because it was useful and the victims were convenient. Evil was nothing but a word used by lesser beings. What she could not abide was this childish cruelty done out of cowardice.
“We gotta git outa here!” Madeleine went to stomp the gas and drive off, but Rose made her mind slip, causing her to shift her car into neutral and flood the engine. She altered memory, forced all those present to forget one another, if for minutes at most. She needed to act fast, before her concentration broke.
“Aww, you useless piece of trash!” Madeleine smacked the steering wheel.
“C’mon, Maddie, le’s git out there an’ see all th’ men you promised. Ah bet one o’ them will help out a couple girls havin’ car problems. Men love doin’ that, right?” She nudged the other woman, tweaking the insecurities that drove her roommate’s need to validate herself by finding a husband.
They walked into the congregation group seconds before Rose lost grip on the subtle mind control she’d been maintaining. The brains of those in the crowd would smooth over the strange behavior they’d had over the last few moments, find ways to justify what wasn’t forgotten as a dream.
The pastor, she noted, recovered faster than the others. He was not amongst those who had Power, but he was a strong willed man who’d served in The War, and came back strong rather than broken. He took a step forward, sensing a weakness in the Klan as they recovered from the power of the Greenwitch. “Now I ain’t gonna tell ya again. This is a house of God. What would Jesus say, to see you put on masks and attack his flock?”
Rose thought he might have a chance to get through to them, in part from his natural charisma, and in part from the suggestive state her power put people in. Rose was educated enough to have heard the term ‘hypnosis’ before, and imagined that was similar to her power. It turned out to be the opposite impact, and their moment of doubt only fed the insecurities which fueled their hate.
“You ain’t got no right to invoke God’s name, nigger!” The man who shouted stepped back in in the same moment. Others would have seen it as an act of retreat, and it was, but it was also what let him get an angle to bring up the gun he had in his robes.
Rose tapped into her power again, this time forcing the man to forget what he was aiming at. He emptied the revolver into the wall of the church, well above the heads of any of the congregation. Rose ignored the screaming congregation, some of whom ran. She had her hands full preventing the others from remembering they carried their own weapons. If this came to violence, they had the manpower to take lives even with her running interference.
Her pressure on their minds was too blatant, however, a grip rather than a guidance, and they began to break free.
With no other choice, she gave up on simple tricks and invoked the true power of the Greenwitch in all its glory. In everyone’s minds, she created an image of herself- her true self, green skin and hair and eyes- standing nude before them.
“You are pathetic.” Her illusory copy of herself spoke with perfect diction, as Rose herself sometimes did when she forgot the lie she projected to the world. “Know now that you face the power of the Greenwitch. Beg forgiveness of your God, for only his mercy can save you now.”
They stumbled back, confused and afraid. Some parts of the country had begun educating the public on those who were becoming known as Imbued, but here in the south they were regarded as almost mythological, seen as hoaxes more often than reality. The Greenwitch more than most; amongst the families who’d been here for generations, she was spoken of in whispers and awe.
They didn’t fall to their knees and beg, though they did run screaming away from her. Under another circumstance, that might have been enough, but Rose was livid. How dare these worms act as if they’re gods to decide life and death? As much as they love lynchings, they should appreciate this.
She bid her illusory Greenwitch extend its hand, and all the Klan members fell, gasping and grabbing at their necks as if struggling for breath. They were breathing as well as one would expect, but she’d convinced them that they were suffocating. As they struggled to pull the illusory nooses from their necks, she manipulated their minds so they undid their own hoods and revealed themselves to the community they wanted to terrorize.
“Oh, God!” One of the crowd recognized someone, so Rose allowed him to speak. “Bill, how could you!?”
“That’s enough!” the pastor shouted. He stepped up to the Greenwitch, imposing himself as well over a foot taller than the woman. No one witnessing the event would expect such a terrifying and powerful being to be intimidated, but the man did his best. “You made your point. If you need someone to be an agent of God’s mercy, then let it be me. I beg you, let them go.”
Rose blinked; she had expected praise or fear, not for the pastor to beg for the lives of those who’d tried to murder him just seconds ago. She felt tears welling in her eyes.
“As you wish,” her avatar said. The illusion of strangulation ended, as the men struggled to their feet. “Know that the Greenwitch has declared this place under her protection. Let all who defy it do so at their own peril.”
Rose reached into the will of her territory, to find one of the remaining relics her predecessor’s predecessor constructed; the still-living skulls which were batteries of suffering turned into powerful tools, twisting and perverting the world with their own insanity. They could do almost anything imaginable, though in a small area only. Seven of them exploded in their clay jars. Their fermented agony infused the men, who hunched over in pain, collapsed to their knees, and began to vomit on the street.
Rose smiled, gleeful at how justice would be served in the most beautiful and circular way imaginable. When they could pull themselves up, their pretty white robes were covered in filth. More than that, their features had changed. Where before had been the pale skin of white men, now stood features which could have come out of the heart of Africa. To cover her own laughter, she bid the Greenwitch cackle as they retreated.