The firelight of a thousand souls burned like stars across the island’s gut. As the raft drifted up the last of the swampy channel, a young girl looked into the water’s dark whisper. She could hear its fingers reaching up to the raft’s side; trying to claw its way up or drag her down. Its song was deadly as the lone resident of the little swampy isle.
There, through the trees and the plants with fan sized leaves, was the well-kept house. She felt herself swallow and pull back, but her mother had a firm hold on her arm. Her mother glanced down in a disregarding manner as she pulled back, but did little else. The little girl could feel the way the swamp seemed to know she was there. The hairs on her arms rose as though her body was warning her.
Her fear-filled eyes turned around to their guide, who pushed his long stick into the body of the swamp to propel them forward. To what end she wasn’t sure, but from the fervent look in her mother’s eyes it was nothing good. Her fingers dug into the child’s skin.
As they glided up to the blackened dock the man announced in a thick accent, “She knows you are here and I go no further.”
Her mother nodded and, without as much as a thank you, stepped onto the deck. Her toes hesitated but she found it as sturdy as any floor. Her mother marched them up the deck and into a small hut. The girl could see the larger house behind it in the twinkle of the firelight. When they entered the first one she tried to hide behind her mother but she would have none of it. Her mother nearly hauled her feet up the stairs into the second level as torchlight cast eerie shadows at the edges of the room.
“Why have you come?” said a woman with a thin lacy veil as the witch stepped into the light.
Her mother thrust the girl forward and declared, “We heard you were looking to trade a favor for a girl’s eyes.”
“You heard true,” the witch said, rising. The girl noticed the witch’s her skirts were layered and old.
The girl looked up at her with fear as she tried not to whimper. It would do no good to beg; her mother had never been the loving type. She knew her tears were more likely to incite anger. The witch caught her chin in her hands and she turned defiant eyes upon the veiled lady.
“You have fire, little one,” she said, tilting her head but still the girl could not see her face.
“I’d like you to make me young again,” her mother insisted hopefully, “Eyes for youth.”
“I can only take and give from the same person,” the witch explained and her head tipped up as she released the child’s chin. She tossed a sack down in front of her, “But here is the gold, of course.”
A few coins slipped from the bag and danced across the floor. Her mother’s foot shot out and stomped a loose coin to the ground. Her eyes sparkled with greed as she reached down and picked up the sack. Her fingers caressed the silver and golden coins, coins stamped with kings that the girl didn’t even know the names of.
Her mother considered her decision for a moment as the witch waited patiently before she finally declared, “Eyes for beauty, make her beautiful.”
The witch tsked at her and glanced down, “She must decide. It is her sight.”
The girl fidgeted nervously and said, “I would choose to keep my eyes.”
The witch laughed a laugh that would melt hearts it had such hidden power. It was layers upon layers of power and heat, deeply rooted around them and in this island beneath their feet. The girl could feel it and glanced down to look at the wood beneath her toes. When she stopped laughing the witch held out her gloved hand, “Clever little thing. Give me your hand.”
The girl’s mother made an angry little sigh as the girl held up her hand. The witch took it and smoothed it open before looking upon it. The soft silk of the gloves felt like whispers of rose petals upon her fingertips. Despite the situation the girl could not deny the beauty of the gloves nor that the hands they covered were gentler then her mother had ever been.
Her eyebrows rose as she tipped her head to look at the girl again. The girl could only see her lips as they moved and no more of her veiled face. “There is potential for greatness in you.” The witch informed her.
“Do we have a deal or not?” The mother asked impatiently.
The witch held up a hand and the woman fell silent; it was not wise to cross a witch. Especially not a Swamp Witch with an island to herself. There were so few that could light as many torches as they saw with a single flick of her wrist. It takes great power to see into the future; all of the possible futures one might have were like drops of rain in a monsoon. The fires burned as a constant reminder of the witch’s power.
“I must have your sight, I need it for something important, but I will give you something in return,” the witch informed her, “Whatever you wish.”
The girl slowly tucked her hair behind her right ear, before crying bravely, “I want to be able to defend myself from everyone!”
The witch smiled again, the girl could just make out the curl of her red lips as she spoke, “I shall give you all that you desire. I shall grant you intelligence to outwit any man, I shall enhance the beauty you already have, and a pistol that always finds it mark. Lastly, I shall give you something that shall ward away men. ”
The girl shifted uneasily as the witch pulled one hand free of its silk glove, “What?”
The witch put that hand over her chest and whispered, “The mark of a witch’s curse.”
The girl screamed as her chest burned and she fell to the floor. Her skin felt as though it was on fire as she writhed in agony. With every blink her world became darker and darker. Her sight was failing and all that would be left was darkness. She would never again see the one thousand and one islands of her planet, nor her mother’s cruel face.