Author: Shelly Jones
“The witch tricked me,” I explain to the wardens of the bog as my feet sink further into the muck. The bog witch has wandered back to her hut. She needn’t watch me drown in her trap. There is no escape; my fate is set. But still I plead to the wardens.
“All things must die,” a voice gurgles from the mire.
“And here you will be preserved, become part of us,” another voice moans through the reeds.
“How did you all die?” I ask, the mud now up to my knees, my toes unable to move.
There’s a roiling in the mire beneath me. The water chills as the wardens confer with one another, preserved brows permanently furrowing.
“Many of our lives were taken by the witch,” comes a voice.
“Sure lured us in with promises to teach us – but instead we were tricked, forced to enter the bog like you.”
“Giving her more power,” I realize. The bog is her archive, her grimoire. Each warden preserves a spell the witch taught them long ago, magic pickling in the peat.
The muck is up to my waist now. My mind races through the witch’s lessons, combing through what little I’ve learned about the nature of the bog. I close my eyes and feel the thick, cloying mud closing around my ribs as I breathe. I listen to the thrum of a frog, the soft flutter of a thrush shifting in the sedge, the whine of a fly as it whips by me. I open my eyes and search for a plan. Tendrils of green twist up from the fen like the witch’s own crooked fingers.
“Wardens, will you help me defend the bog before I die?”
Bubbles break along the surface of the muddy waters, and I wonder if there will be enough time.
I peer up from the bottom of bog, the acidic water burning my eyes, my lungs. In the distance I see movement along the bank: the witch inspecting her work, scanning the bog for my preserved body. My arm is raised in a final plea, the tip of my finger still breaking the water’s surface, exposed. And it is enough. The wardens surround me, all their knowledge preserved, concentrated, and suddenly a surge of magic crackles through me. My finger points to the unsuspecting witch and with one last spasm of my body, I cast my first and only spell. My eyes close as death swells over me. But a new sight takes hold, connecting me to the wardens. We watch as the witch shrivels, her bones cracking, wings unfurling. The tiny fly panics and flits unsteadily to the nearest plant: the sticky tendrils of a sundew. Feeling the delicate pressure of the fly on its limbs, the bog plant begins to secrete its sticky mucilage.
From below, we can hear the witch-fly scream, struggling to free herself from the carnivorous plant, until at last there is silence, and the bog is still once more.