The Great Migration

*”The Great Migration” was written in response to a Reedsy.com prompt:

“Write about a group of witches meeting up on Halloween night.”

I woke as some people fall asleep, drowsily, and then completely. My mother said that’s how it would be my first time. I had dreamed of flying and falling all night. I wondered if that was what it would feel like, all at once exhilarating and terrifying.

As I came to myself, the dreams were still flitting over my awareness. The light was streaming through my Venetian blinds, and a chill touched my skin. It finally felt like autumn. It wasn’t only because of the cold. Something in the light was more yellow or orange, even this early in the morning.

It slowly dawned on me what today was. I pulled myself farther under the covers for a moment and tucked my blankets around me like I do on my sad days. Only this time I was so happy. I wanted to soak in the morning for just a moment before we all leaped into final preparations.

Our coven always held the great migration on Samhain. This was my first year joining the migration. My sister told me that it felt like being reborn.

Stretching, I pushed out of bed and padded to the bathroom. The excitement filled the air. It vibrated almost as thick as magic. My mother’s whole family was here.

 “Sarah, Sarah, Aunt June just got here.” I felt the tug on my shirt and looked down at my little brother.

“Tell her I’ll be right down.” Joey was too young for the migration, and I knew that he was somewhat disappointed that he’d be staying with Dad. Still, the excitement was contagious.

In a way, our family was separated into two flocks—those that traveled and returned and those that waited. My mother once told me that I had to find a patient partner. Our relationship wouldn’t last if they didn’t mind living their life when I wasn’t around.

We live in a small town, full of its own peculiarities, and we’re only one of them. The other locals know that we’re witches and don’t ask anything else. Our family protected them a long time ago. Their children were taught to respect us, although they don’t remember what we can do. We were taught to do the same. My Aunt June says that respect is safety.

No one asks what we do at our home, nestled on the far side of the lake. They don’t ask about the flocks of birds congregating here every year, and we don’t tell. We don’t share our secrets unless we know you’re here to stay.

For my parents, it was marriage. For my sister, it was her partner Marisa, long before they were allowed to marry. My best friend, Kara, has known about us since we were ten years old. Commitment comes in many forms, some thinner than blood or law yet stronger than iron.

Most of the people who know are either from our family or our coven. Many will fly with us tonight. We taught them. Mom said that was another part of creating safety for our family, creating bonds that would protect, showing others how not to be afraid.

I think that we’re not the only ones that are changed every year. It changes the people we love too. There is a quietness at times to our relationships and intimacy of secrets. Other times there is an urgency and passion. And then there is the interconnectedness and interdependency at its core.

My father once explained the difference between interdependency and codependency. He said that interdependency meant that everyone does their part and contributes to the whole. Each life is intricately woven together, made stronger by their bonds.

But Codependence was different. It was parasitic and degrading at its core. Yes, it tied people together but undependably and erratically. Codependency would sever a bond. It would fray and isolate.

As I watched everyone work, I saw the interdependency for myself. Like roots beneath the grass, each action enhanced the others. And when someone needed to walk away on their own, no one was harmed or hindered. We were all birds at heart. We wanted to be loved, not restricted.

I heard my mother’s laughter. It drifted on the air like glitter, sticking to everyone, pulling their attention. I smelled cinnamon in the air and saw her stirring a large pot. I tried to imagine her as a caricature of a witch, nursing a bubbling cauldron of potions.

 I shook my head at the silliness. I couldn’t see anything but her hot cider. She made it every year, along with the cranberry almond muffins that she knew were my favorites.

Joey and our cousin Timmy were finishing up the last of the Jack O’Lanterns. They were in charge of lighting them all before the rite. Wards were essential, and none were more potent than those made in love and joy. Those lanterns would protect us, but they would also guide us home.

The excitement began buzzing beneath my skin. I looked for something to do. My mother smiled at me as though she knew.

“Want to help your sister and Marisa knead the dough? It could use some nervous energy.” She winked, and it calmed me, despite the few awakening butterflies in my stomach.

I quickly moved into the flutter of preparations. Some were finishing their last-minute preparations for the rite, but my mother wanted me focused on the dinner. Dinner was a huge undertaking.

When we all finally sat down, at sunset, it felt like a celebration. We would eat this food as a family, as friends, and as a coven. It would give us strength for the flight and later renew our strength when we returned. It would also remind us of our bodies.

I’ve heard it can be unsettling after the transition back. This helped. It anchored us to our lives, to the ones we loved, to the ones we seemed to lose.

We didn’t talk about the rite once dinner started. We didn’t speak of it after either. We moved from laughter to silence as the moon rose high, and then we all stood and went outside. Aunt June was expecting a baby and had decided to stay grounded. She stood with the others, but she wouldn’t shift. That was her decision. It was always our decision.

The rest of us undressed as though we were going skinny dipping in the ice-cold lake. My mother anointed my head with oil, and everyone nodded their heads down and to the sides, twisting their necks like swans. If only. It made me smile. I might have laughed if it weren’t for my nerves. Those butterflies had multiplied a hundredfold inside of me.

As one, they all turned and faced the bright moon, high above the lake’s surface. I stood in the middle. My mother, typically leading the charge, stood beside me.

“Remember what you are.”

So I stood there in the cold, surrounded by my family. The gooseflesh rose on my skin, but it was only the ordinary kind that came to cold girls in the dead of night.

I watched the ones in a front shift like the moonlight over shadows, and then lift off the ground. Others flew past me. As they began their flight, the fear awoke. My mother must have seen it because she turned me toward her.

“Are you afraid of the flying?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“What if I’m broken? What if I can’t do it?”

“You can. It is what you are. We’re simply born asleep.”

I turned my head and saw the lake, cold and black but covered in the silver reflection cast by the full moon. A cool breeze blew past us, my long hair whipping over my shoulders.

“If it’s what I am, then why do I let it go?”

“You’re only letting go of what you think you are. Take a breath.”

I closed my eyes and did as she said. And then I felt something. It was like dissolving slowly into everything, and then I saw all around me, and the sure compass in my mind pointed me onward. Running forward, I leaped up into the night.

Then I was flying fast, trying to catch up with the others. The exhilaration of flying so fast overwhelmed me at first. Then my mother was beside me, a beautiful Canadian Goose.

I didn’t ask what to do next. Knowing clicked into place, and we were not separate geese but a flock. We pressed into formation long before I reached them. We took up the rear and headed toward the great nest.

Other covens would meet there, much more secretive than ours. Those covens were distant, and yet they still belonged to us. The cold that had touched my skin before was now covered with warm feathers. We were headed somewhere that the others couldn’t go.

The exhilaration filled my body as we flew. And yet, my body was not my own. It moved in tandem, both reflexively and responsively, with the whole of our flock.

I wanted to weep at all I saw. Because for a moment, I was not even the flock flying through the sky. I was the sky. I was everything.

Time meant so little, so I can’t say how long it took, but eventually, we reached a mountain, and the cave nestled in its arms. We landed but didn’t shift. We didn’t want to. And here amid all the other covens arriving and waiting, it was easier to communicate without our human bodies.

Humans saw everything so separate and couldn’t remember that minds were joined. It was the first thing we knew coven members had to learn before they could fly. All was one mind, and we were not our bodies. It was also the first thing to unlearn when we wanted our bodies back.

Here there was no miscommunication, only understanding, and appreciation. We were both humans and geese, and something else that we weren’t ready to remember. That was okay.

It was Samhain, and so we also remembered our dead. But it was so different in these forms because they were not gone from our minds. They were simply not able to be here in bodies. They told us stories, and we shared our own. But there were no words because it wasn’t necessary. It was more like an experience. It was a glimpse behind the veil, a hand through silk.

When we finally left, they went with us, but only because we realized they had never left. Our dead were not gone but were as close as our thoughts.

All through the flight home, they flew with us. While the Geese held a strong formation, the spirits dipped and twisted among us all, sharing their elation.

I knew when we were near home because I saw the lights, the countless number of golden lanterns flickering around our house. They were a tender glow, coloring the dark grey of early morning.

The ones that stayed kept the Jack O’ Lanterns burning strong so that we could find our way home, and so we remembered who we were returning for. Because, of course, you couldn’t arrive home if you’d never left.

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You can now read "The Great Migration" for free on J.M. Elam's blog as well as Reedsy.com
The Great Migration – Read for FREE on J.M. Elam’s Blog and Reedsy.com

Spring Cleaning

The first day of spring arrived, rainy and full of thunder. Spring always sparked a strange excitement in the town of Haverston. The widow, Gloria, re-opened her shop today. She was open each year from the first day of spring through Halloween. Outside of Haverston, no one believed the hype, but the locals swore by her.

Rain streamed down the edges of Ava’s red umbrella, as she reached the storefront. The only indication that it was more than a house was the white sign on the lawn. It read, “SPRING CLEANING – Declutter your home, declutter your life.” As Ava opened the door, a bell sounded above her. It looked even less like a shop, on the inside.

 “Hello.” Ava turned her head toward the voice. The woman was young. She couldn’t have been older than forty. Her face seemed to glow a bit, but that was probably only a trick of the light. Ava wasn’t sure what she’d expected.

“What can I do for you?”

Ava felt lost for words. She’d planned a speech, but it was gone. There was no way to recover it now. Gloria seemed to understand. Smiling quietly, she led Ava to a side room. A sturdy table held a china tea service. Ava hated tea.

“Don’t worry. I have coffee there too.”

Ava smiled gratefully as she settled into one of the over-sized armchairs. The silence drew out between them as Gloria filled their cups. Gloria smiled and glanced out the parlor window, as though they were only two friends, enjoying a quiet moment. Despite herself, Ava fell into the comfortable silence. Amidst that stillness, the courage became more substantial than her fear.

“I need to move on from my Ex.” Gloria smiled kindly but didn’t respond immediately. Ave continued, “One of my friends told me, that what you do…helps. She said that one visit from you, and her uncle never touched another drop of liquor. She told me about her parents and how you saved their marriage. Kayla said that they’re happier than ever, and they were about to divorce. She said that you can do anything. I need anything.”

Gloria looked at her for a long time. Ava started to open her mouth again, but an unusual peace fell around her. The way that Gloria looked at her was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day. All of her thoughts disappeared, and the quiet deepened, as Gloria sipped her tea.

“I didn’t save their marriage, you know. I just helped it along. I’ll tell you what to do to start the magic, but you’re the one that’s going to make it happen. That is if you really want to move on.”

 “How much?”

Gloria seemed to consider the question. “However much you want to give. No more, no less.”

“Okay, what do I do?”

“I want you to go home and clean your house. When you’re finished, go get your hair cut.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep.”

“Does it always work this way?”

“Nope.” Gloria chuckled.

Shrugging her shoulders, Ava paid her and walked toward the doorway. A man was waiting inside the foyer when she entered. She’d barely reached the front door when he said, “I need to get some vermin out of my flower beds.” By the time she’d crossed the street, he was back on the sidewalk.

*

When she arrived home, the heaviness and loneliness hit her like a brick. She didn’t waste any time. As she vacuumed and scrubbed, Ava thought about the life that she wanted to build in Haverston. She imagined herself washing all of that pain away.

Ava started to notice things in her house that she didn’t need or want anymore. As she packed up the items in a donation box, it felt like she was curating her life.

When she reached her bedroom, her eyes went straight to a single unpacked box by her bed. She didn’t have to ask what was in it, but she opened it all the same. A few things went into the donation box, and some went into the trash. Satisfied, she headed to the salon.

“We don’t take walk-ins. Would you like to make an appointment?” The older woman asked when she arrived.

“I guess I’d better.”

The woman looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”

Ava didn’t know why the woman had bothered to ask or why she answered so honestly. “Gloria, from ‘Spring Cleaning,’ told me to.” Ava shrugged.

The woman’s entire face changed. “Well, then, I’ll make an exception.” A bell sounded, and two older ladies seated themselves. “Tonya,” A young girl with pale pink hair walked over to them.

“What’s up?”

“Will you take care of Ms. Lathum and Ms. Harris? This lady has a prescription from Gloria.” All three women perked up their ears, and Tonya nodded eagerly. “I’m Charity, by the way. Follow me.”

As Charity washed and massaged her scalp, Ava felt something heavy wash away with the dirt. Strangely this special treatment made her feel connected in a way that she hadn’t managed since she’d moved to Haverston.

“Are you new here?”

“Sort of. I moved here over the winter, but…” Her eyes welled up with tears that choked her throat.

“Hmm…say no more.” They didn’t speak again until Ava was in front of the mirror. “How do you want it?”

 The thought came to her in an instant. “Cut it short. I want it all gone.”

Silently Charity cut away. Ava’s glasses sat on the counter. Although she couldn’t see, she felt it all drop off. It felt as though he was dropping away too.

Charity handed her glasses back to her. As they slid onto her face, her new image slid into focus and new feeling beside it. It was then that she decided that she was going back to “Spring Cleaning,” and she was going to give Gloria more money.

Autumn Songs

Josephine stepped out her door, and a crisp wind tugged at her dark curls. The late afternoon sun intensified the trees’ rose gold tones. The forest seemed to hold its breath in anticipation for the night ahead.  

The entire town of clover took part, but the seniors were always in charge of preparations. It was a rite of passage. This year it was Josephine’s turn. She quickened her pace when she remembered how late she was.

“Jo, over here!” Josephine turned her head in time to see her best friend, Kelsey, running ahead. She laughed and followed after her.

The dappled light shifted quickly. When did she get so fast? She’s so far ahead. She pushed herself to run faster, but Josephine couldn’t seem to catch up with her. She halted only a moment to catch her breath. When she looked up, Kelsey was long gone, and so was the path.

She didn’t bother searching for the luminaries lining the pathway. They wouldn’t be lit for hours. Turning around, she began retracing her steps.

Her mind wandered as she did. It became a haven for plans and a flurry of thoughts. When she finally turned her attention back to the present, she was more lost than ever. Her fingers were growing numb, and the forest was quickly growing dark.

An uncharacteristic rage overcame her. She screamed. She screamed louder than she ever had before. It wasn’t a call for help. It was pure frustration.

When she realized what she’d done, she clamped her mouth shut. Josephine glanced around, but there was no one there to offend. It had felt really good, so she did it again. She felt a lot better until she heard the crackling and crunch of leaves behind her.

She turned quickly. Standing there was a thin man. He was covered head to toe with mud. It seemed to be caked-on him in sections. Random leaves and twigs, stuck to the mud, and twisted in his hair. Pale skin peeked out, from beneath the dirt. He cackled loudly before charging at her.

Something shifted inside of her and reverberated outward. It echoed beyond her body. Before he could reach her, the man burst into countless embers, their light crackling and drifting toward the sky. With no consideration for direction anymore, Josephine ran. She ran and ran until light began to show in the distance. She hoped it was the clearing.

Josephine pressed through the tree line and found herself standing before a large bonfire. It was ten times larger than the bonfire that they built for the Singing. It billowed, as a thick branch collapsed into the scorching flames. Josephine stared at it, hypnotized.

“So you killed him, then? Well, that’s lucky for you.” She was instantly dis-enthralled. For the second time that night, she whirled around to confront a stranger. “No need to get defensive with me. I don’t mind that he’s dead. He’s not really dead. Nothing really dies, now does it?”

Josephine didn’t know what she meant but was far too overwhelmed to ask. “I just want to go home. The Singing is bound to start before long, and I haven’t even dressed yet.” As the words left her mouth, Josephine considered how trivial she sounded.

The woman cocked an eyebrow and smiled as if she knew. “Well, you’ve done your part for the night, and the autumn songs must be sung. Follow me.” Josephine looked at her hesitantly, but the lady only laughed and walked into the night.

Despite her reservations, Josephine walked back into the darkness. The lady’s dress seemed to twinkle in the dark. It was a subtle beacon, leading her forward. Josephine wondered if she should feel regret for whatever she’d done, but didn’t feel anything at all. She said he isn’t really dead. Whatever that means. A shiver ran through her as she walked onward.

They stopped after a time, and the woman turned toward her, holding a slip of fabric in her hands. “You’ll need this.”

Josephine reached out and caught a pale dress. Warily, with an eye on the stranger, she changed out of her clothes. The dress slid over her body in one smooth movement. It shimmered, even in the darkness. It was paper-thin, yet warmed her better than the layers she’d worn all day.

She reached to pick up her jeans and realized that all of her other clothes had disappeared. “What the…?” She swept her hands over the ground desperately, but the woman only sighed.

“Don’t worry. It’s all back at your house. It’s the least that I could do, since you did my job for me tonight. Come along.” She walked forward with purpose.

Josephine seethed until the lights began to show through the trees. The town bonfire came into view. She turned to thank the stranger but found herself alone. The drums were already beating a steady rhythm. She took a deep breath and entered the fold. She quickly found her friends.

“Where have you been? We did everything already, and it’s about to start.” Lara hissed angrily.

 “I got lost in the woods.” Lara rolled her eyes and motioned for Josephine to take her place. “Where’s Kelsey?” She whispered as she scooted next to Lara.

“She’s checking on the feast preparations. She’ll be right back. She’s been here since noon.” Josephine felt her body run cold, with those words.

She remained paralyzed until everyone was assembled. Then something in the air shifted, and she with it. As one, they lifted their faces to the bonfire and to the sky.


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