Welcome, dear guests of Magaly’s “Witches in Fiction” blog party! I am glad to have you, so pull up a chair, take this apple cider and enjoy a short scene that may or may not become part of one of the next “Magic behind the Mountains” books…
The elevator took us up to the 9th floor. Its floor was carpeted in a rich milk chocolate brown. But for the mirrors on the walls, I might have thought I was alone in the tiny cabin. My gaze flitted over the nervous face of my secretary. Her hands kept creeping up to the golden cross at her neck, always forced back into her lap by sheer willpower. When the doors PINGed open, she grabbed the handles at the wheels and maneuvered herself down the hallway. We had never been here before – at least I hadn’t, and I didn’t think Maria had had any business with the Voodoo Queen, either – but the string of dried chicken feet at the door told us which apartment we were looking for.
We advanced slowly. I knew better than to offer Maria any help with her wheelchair. She was at least as stubborn as I was. The doors to our left remained closed, and no sound could be heard except for the quiet groan of the wheelchair material.
As we approached, the door swung open. The hallway remained quiet. A hint of booze and decay wriggled into my nostrils. I felt queazy. Now I regretted never having taken that college course on New Old World Voodoo. Might have been nice what to expect when talking to the most powerful Voodoo Woman of Europe.
Stepping over the threshold felt like walking through a curtain of jello-shots. My head spun. The sound returned with a PLOP. Someone was talking Dutch on the phone, too fast for me to understand. I had never been good with languages. The smell intensified. There was something besides death and magic in the air – chicken soup? Bile crept into my throat. Please don’t let her ask us to join her for dinner.
Maria’s wheels left clear lines on the floor. The carpet was dark red instead of brown here, with stains I did not want to know the origin of. Worn wicker furniture covered every inch of the floor, overflowing with bright-patterned quilts and cushions. The room was at least as spacious as the ground floor of my house in Riverton, still it felt tiny and crammed. A bead curtain separated it from what I assumed to be the kitchen, where the woman was still talking. I welcomed the opportunity to adjust and look around. Especially the view from the windows was breath-taking.
Until I realized what I was looking at. Then my heart skipped a beat. My blood swooshed into my ears.
Dead faces were staring at us from the windowsill. Some looked as if they had overslept and missed leaving together with their bodies, others were just bones and globs and maggots. Their mouths hung open in silent screams. While I looked, a crow descended from the dark blue evening sky and started pecking at a rotting cheek.
“Good evening, you must be Miss Willow. Enchanté.” The voice in my back was sweet and thick as molasses and made my skin crawl.
I turned around, smile nailed into place like a shield. “It is too nice of you to meet us at such short notice. This is my personal assistant Maria.”
We shook hands. Madame Santé’s hands were dry and rough, as if she had spent her life working. I knew for a fact that her practice was indeed hard work, although nothing you would have to get up for at the crack of dawn. For some reason voodoo was mostly celebrated late in the day. Not that I would complain if I had her working hours.
“I see you are admiring my gallery.” She made a sweeping gesture to include the gruesome decoration at the window, beaming like a proud mother.
“Yes, it is… impressive.”
Maria made an effort not to turn her head away from the display, still not really looking at the dead. I didn’t blame her. To fill the silence, I asked, “I wonder why they are not facing away from your flat. Does this have a special meaning?”
“Why, of course there is”, Madame Santé replied politely. “It’s so nice of you to take interest in my humble work. These died at my hands, and their terror feeds the Loa. But surely you have not come to talk shop.”
There were hundred of questions I could have asked her. This side of Dutch legislation fascinated me. People found guilty of severe offenses involving the use of magic could be sentenced to death at the hands of a practitioner – most often Madame Santé. How had she gotten this job? Had she ever doubted a decision or refused to execute someone? And did the dead trouble her at night?
Well, at least to that last question I probably knew the answer already. But all of this was not what we had come here for. I produced a photo from my coat pocket. It looked slightly worn from all my worries. “This is my other assistant, Falk. He disappeared here in Amsterdam a few days ago. Do you happen to know what fate might have met him?”
And now I am just as curious as you to know what happened to Falk, although he is not a witch. Just because I had to know what kind of witchy place would have the dead peaking inside in terror…
Writing witches, I feel, is difficult at times, maybe even more so for witches who are writers. You need rules. You want your magic to feel real – but it also has to be something new and exciting for the reader. Magic cannot be your “deus ex machina” solution every time you have a plot point. Don’t you, too, hate it when all of a sudden the protagonist has a new wand that is just the right kind of wood to fight the blazing basilisk? But still the magic has to be used. Who would want to read a book about a witch who does not use her powers and becomes a mediocre chef instead? And talking of basilisks… bringing mythological creatures into the mix has its ups and downs as well. Plenty to choose from – but not just when it comes to creatures, but also when it comes to specific lore. No, you don’t get to change the rules simply because this is your story. If you want bloodsuckers, they need to be predators. If you want sparkly, stick with fairies.
And, last thought – promise! – you can’t make your witches, good or bad, all-powerful just because you can. If they have nothing to fear because they don’t have any worthy adversaries, the story will be boring. Still we want to read about exceptional witches. Could be exceptionally bad, of course, but they need to be special…
So, before you continue with your blog party fun: What are your favorite witches in fiction? What makes them stand out from the ever-growing crowd?
And don’t forget to head back to Magaly for a chance to win a copy of “All Souls’ Children”