On a balmy summer day in the middle of August, two bluebirds sang while crossing a painted grey sky. I remember the moment well; it was when I received your father’s letter.

Dearest Juliet,

I’ve been wrapped up in daydreams about you, ever since the war began. Your sweet Virginian smile and sparkling blue eyes kept me alive during those long, lonely nights. I regret the fact I never asked for your hand and am torn to have discovered the marriage between you and brother, Earl. 

Please consider granting me the pleasure of your company one last time. I’ll be under the Magnolia trees, beside Switcher Pond.

Cordially,

Ben

And that’s how our life began; with that letter. We never anticipated the perilous set of events that’d follow. God forbid who I became, but I loved him—even more than his brother: my husband.

I turned to my slave, “Martha…”

“Yes ma’am…”

“When did you receive this letter?”

“Not long ago.”

I fretted that Ben was nearby. I looked out through the tall lemon grass swaying in front yard, thinking I was going to see him out by the fence.

“Martha…”

“Yes ma’am…”

“Did you recognize who gave you that letter?”

“No ma’am.”

I turned around quickly to hide my smile.

That night, I slipped out unnoticed and headed off to meet Ben. I was nervous; the last time I saw him was over two-years ago; autumn, 1861.

I arrived out at Switcher Pond around half past midnight. It was cold, and a light fog hovered over the still water. 

“Ben?” I whispered, looking over at the row of Magnolias. They grew perfectly tall all around the pond.

“Where are you Ben?”

“Over here…” I saw nothing but a shadow come out from behind the tree. Ben appeared with warm and doting smile on his unshaven face. He thrust his firm and muscular arms forward and engulfed me in one big bear hug and then lifted me right off my feet—making me feel like an angel with wings.

“I am so happy to see you,” He whispered softy in my ear. I smiled at him as he sat me back down on my feet. He took off his hat and with one stroke of his hand; he parted his curly brown hair to one side. He looked nervous.

“So…Earl became mayor?”

“Yes—how’d you find that out?”

“A strange woman I met along the way here told me. There was something weird about her too.”

“What was it?”

“It was as if she knew you, me and Earl.” Ben took a few steps back, picked up a twig off the ground, put it in his mouth and sucked it like a peppermint stick. 

 “Why didn’t you just come up to the house?—you know Earl missed you.” I bit my lip, waiting for his response.

“Earl?—oh I doubt that.” 

“Well, I did…”

“Yea I know.”

Ben found a stump just to his left, sat down, and continued to chew on his twig.

“Did yawl have children?” He folded his arms, while looking out at the pond.

“No.”

“Look…about the letter, Juliet—

“Ben, you already know the answer!—why did you wait?” He looked down. I reached out to touch his hand and he moved it away.

He got choked up with his response. All he could say was, “I—I was—

“Ben Truwilder…ever since we were kids, you and I were inseparable. That damn war changed everything! You never even told me you were leaving—you weren’t honest with me!” I pointed my finger right up into his face. I felt a tear roll down my cheek, knowing I had a secret too.

“What is it, Juliet?” Ben got up off the stump; this time to hold me.

I pushed him back and quickly turned around. I heard whispers in the woods. Filled with panic, I forced Ben down to his knees and ordered him to stay quiet.

“What’s going on here?” Ben was getting upset.

The only words I could come up with were stuttered in a strong whisper, “Earl’s coming.” 

That fear provoked familiar tingles, which trickled down my spine. Like all the other times before; first, I’d lose control of my feet, then my hands and then my whole body would convert.

“What’s happening to you Juliet?” his voice softly faded away as my hair turned into thorny vines and my eyes black as beetles. I tried to run off as my feet became two heavy wooden stumps, but Ben kept right up behind me.

“Leave me—leave me!” my voice became a terrible unearthly whisper.

Ben grabbed hold of my wrist, tried to drag me to safety; right before my elbow and forearm sprouted into a green leafy stalk. As I budded into the ground, my lips turned to bark, yet I warned him with my hallowed voice that I what I was about to do next, would save his life.

 “This is for your own good Ben...”

I hurtled forward and plunged my black tongue down into his throat, unleashing the poison from within my body to his. I hoped it’d be enough to trick Earl into believing he was dead. Ben passed out and fell forward; meanwhile, I materialized back into human form.

Before I could grab my clothes, Earl showed up, gratefully still human. At the site of Ben, he grew irate, spat on him and then back-handed me across the face. It stung something fierce. I glared at Earl and shook my head.

“You shouldn’t have done that to Ben.” 

Earl let out a vile cackle, “I should just bury you both here.” He pointed out at the pond.

Ben suddenly awoke, coughing up dirt, trying to get to his feet. Earl got behind him and went to snap his neck but instead, I snapped his. Both fell over at the same time. I barely caught Ben before he landed face first into the ground; my head was against his chest. His heartbeat was gone.

I was horrified. I ran forward, cursing at the pond. “Mark my words, witch, I will find a way to exact my revenge upon you. I swear it!”

I walked back to Earl’s corpse and with great effort, rolled him down through the fallen leaves and into the pond. I then propped Ben up against a tree, while I looked around for a proper place to bury him.

I should have been honest and told Ben what happened to us all. It might have saved his life.

I found a burial spot for Ben; a large mossy pit, filled with bones of other animals. I trembled inside as I dragged him over, pushed him in, and began to spread dirt over his body.

“I wanted to leave with you Ben!—I swear did—Oh, I wish you could hear me now.” 

Tears poured down my face, “Those damn Yanks messed with our water supply and killed that witch’s daughter. Her mother cursed Switcher Pond, saying whoever drank from any water around it, would meet damnation.”

Cough, cough…

“Ben!”

His hand poked through the dirt and shockingly, he crawled out from the pit, shook himself off, and then looked over his body.

“What have you done?” He looked at me; his eyes were once like mine, black as beetles.

I was at a loss for words; I was just so damn happy that he was alive that I started to laugh and cry at the same time.

 “What in the hell is so funny?” His voice was bitter. “I’m still trying to figure out whether I’m alive or dead.

“Ben…you’re alive!” 

“Am I?” he turned to me. I didn’t tell him about his eyes.

“Did you hear anything I just said, Ben?” 

 “I heard it all, although I’d never believe it, seeing as I just crawled out of some crypt.” He shrugged his shoulders and parted his hair off the side again; he hadn’t noticed it turned all white. 

 “Uh…Ben…”

“Yea, I know already, Juliet. You had to do it. That son-of-a-bitch had it coming anyhow.” Ben turned away sniveling. I pulled him back.

“Look at me… once the town finds out the mayor is dead; they’re going to come after us. If we’re going to survive, we must go see the witch.”

“Why would we?—She’s the one who turned us into what we are.”

“Ben…she holds the cure.”

Meanwhile, back in town, Martha, my slave, stood outside the sheriff’s office frantically yelling, “The Mayor’s dead—the mayor’s dead!” She had followed me, out of curiosity and saw me murder Earl.

All the townsfolk were in a rage, after she told them what I had done. They headed out after us, down to Switcher pond. After a thorough search, they couldn’t find Earl, but they did pick up on our trail leading right to the witch’s house.

Somehow, the townsfolk arrived there before we did. A haze of torches burned brightly, upon the rocky bluff that lead to her home. In a set of full-bodied iron cuffs, they marched her down the bluff, back to Switcher Pond with one thing in mind: to kill her.

Ben and I followed carefully watching from a distance as all the townsfolk surrounded the pond in a ceremonial like circle. Long-wall John, the town’s sheriff swam the witch out to the deepest part of the water, and then went back to shore to join the others.
“You will all pay for this!” she screamed.

Upon hearing her voice, Ben knew he had met her before. The witch was the strange lady who told him about me. With no hesitation, he dashed out towards the pond, yelling at the townspeople to stop. 

“This is madness!” he screamed. They all stood as silent trees, mingled amongst the Magnolias.

The witch noticed Ben too, grinned at him and proceeded to lower herself into the pond. 

“No!—don’t do it!” He pleaded with her to stop. She continued to sink.

Ben dove into the pond, in one last attempt to save her. Right as he made it out to the middle, the witch abruptly re-surfaced, hovering there, a few feet above the water. Like raindrops, the water trickled off her body and down into the pond.

She let out an ear-splitting moan, and ground her teeth together so hard, she shattered them like shards of glass. She then licked her lips, spat out some leftover pond drool and bellowed out the following curse, “From these dark waters, I take those who are to blame, back into the water in my daughter’s name, H-i-l-d-a-b-r-e-n-n…” 

Then with an eerie shriek, she grew into a huge blighted monstrosity. Her arms sprouted into fiery tree limbs. Her long black hair hurdled outright and sizzled like lightning. With legs like charred stilts, she trenched through the pond after the townspeople. In fear for their lives, they tried to flee, but were trapped when the witch summoned the roots of the ground to entangle them all. One by one, they were dragged out to the pond and then violently doused into the water.

I stood by, scared for Ben as he swam back to shore.

Once the last of the townspeople were dead, the witch floated back into the water, reached down and then slowly lifted out Earl’s corpse and carried him back to shore. She looked over at me and Ben and then smiled.

“From this pond, you made a rightful sacrifice, one that will deem you both a new life.”

She then beheaded Earl, and threw his remains back into the water. As they sank, bubbles started to form in the middle of the pond. 

“Come to me Hildrabren,” said the witch.

With a flash of bright light, the witch vanished. Ben and I found ourselves pressed together, naked; we were cured. Then two blue birds flew off into the night sky, out from the deepest part of the water; the witch and her once deceased daughter.


Two cursed souls were left to rot; yet in their hearts, it seemed they would not. No ends, only beginnings: loves immunity for even the damned.

This is a story told by a mother, to her daughter, shortly before she dies. It is a confession littered with lies and horror, yet at the end, is graced with a silver lining.


THE END
BLIGHTS IN THE NIGHT
Author: James A. McDonnell
50 WORD STORY
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, Editor: Suzanne Davidovak
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