The Witch’s Moon

Doctor Singer surveys me, adjusting his spectacles before smoothing his moustache. His suit looks out of place with me seated before him in rags.

“Admit to your insanity,” he says.

We’ve had this conversation over a hundred times since the war ended, and my answer has never changed. At first I was surprised by his persistence. That was before I learned Doctor Singer has a penchant for human suffering and this asylum is little more than a prison using outdated practices to treat the mentally ill, or those like me sent here to be nullified and silenced.

“What would be the good in that? I do not belong in this institution simply because England branded me a traitor for helping a German. The war is now four years gone,” I say evenly.

“Acceptance is the first step to healing,” he insists. “No person in their right mind believes magic exists. Just admit you are insane so I can help you.”

“I am perfectly sane, and you know it. My abilities,” I say, watching him for any reaction, “do not constitute insanity simply because you are too entrenched in your dogma to accept them. Besides, you have no honest reason to keep me, but if I have in fact lost my mind and go so far as to own to it, then you would have real reason to detain me here.”

“You are such a smart girl, Sophia. It is a shame you make me punish you so.”

My face is relaxed, but this familiar combination of cajoling and unveiled threats makes me seethe with repressed rage. All I have endured these past six years, the beatings, the ice baths, the shackles, the withheld meals, stoke the fire within me.

I know Doctor Singer sees the fury and abject hatred in my eyes. I watch him savor it, wishing I could wrap my fingers around his neck, drain the life from him, and show him how utterly powerless he really is. Even with my wrists bound, I could do it. As easily as I fed life back into the German soldier, I could sap the doctor’s energy until none was left.

But I am not ready. If I kill him now, the guards will catch me, and I cannot subdue them all. I must bide my time, wait until my spell is complete and I have a safe means of escape.

I do not have to wait much longer. The full moon is tonight, and I finally have the last ingredient: foxglove pressed for thirteen days to add a touch of trickery. A few hours are trivial compared to the years I’ve suffered and the bargains I’ve made to get my hands on every component for this spell.

Soon, nothing will keep this vile man safe.

“Fine,” I say, a sly smile playing about my lips as I meet his gaze. “I’m insane.”

“Like you mean it, Sophia.”

“You should be grateful to hear those words after all this time.”

Now I detect his anger in the twitch of his left eye.

There is a knock on the door, and a woman in uniform enters with Doctor Singer’s lunch. Freshly baked bread and a bowl of savory stew steam on the tray, the scent tantalizing, and I cannot keep my mouth from watering.

“You know if you did as you were told, you could enjoy a good meal,” says the doctor, tearing off a piece of flakey bread and sopping up some stew before bringing it to his mouth, content to torment me himself rather than hand me off to the staff in punishment for my insolence.

“I’ve been eating lumpy porridge and mouldering bread for years now,” I say. “I can manage a while longer.”

I am nothing if not patient. During the war, I learned the conventional ways to do things. I sutured and bandaged the wounded just like any other combat nurse, even though using my power would have been easier.

And I’ve not yet ended this detestable man’s life.

“Perhaps seeing what you are missing will encourage you to make better choices,” says Doctor Singer, slurping a spoonful of soup.

I watch him eat, pretending I yearn only for the meal before him. When he is finished, he dabs his mouth with a napkin that does not hide his smug smile, and a nurse comes to escort me back to my room. She unties my hands, shoves me inside, and locks the door.

I am plunged into near-darkness, but I am giddy as I wait for night to fall. When I know the moon is overhead, I gather my ingredients from their hiding places and begin my spell.

A glowing portal opens its jaws, and I stalk to the other side.

Doctor Singer snores peacefully in his bed, still feeling himself the predator even as I stand over him in his slumber.

I wrap my fingers around his throat and watch his eyes pop open, enjoy the moment realization dawns.

“How?” he gasps, clawing at my wrists and hands to no avail.

“Still feel like you’re in a position to be asking the questions?” I chuckle. “You already know the answer to that, but I’m feeling generous so I’ll allow you to choose another.”

“Did you love that filth more than your own country?”

I press my fingers more firmly into his neck, until his face begins to turn purple, and lower my nose to within a few centimeters of his. “Look what ‘my country’ did to me,” I spit, baring my teeth as he wheezes in my grip. “I have no love or loyalty for Mother England. But no,” I admit, loosening my hold slightly so he is coherent enough to hear my reply. “I just didn’t want to see anyone else die.”

The flash of hope in his eyes is comical, and I laugh.

“That was a long time ago, doctor, and thanks to you, it seems I’ve had a change of heart.”

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