Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English.
The Forest Witch
The lights below were mesmerizing. Though River knew that she shouldn’t be flying above the trees so near the mortal world – and so far from her own home – she couldn’t help but be drawn to the brilliant lights emanating from city. They contrasted with the darkness of the surrounding forests and seemed to beckon her to them. She felt spellbound by their promises of a life filled with freedom and excitement.
This wasn’t the first time that River had ventured so near the mortal city. She came here to observe the mortal’s ways after dusk whenever she got a rare chance to break away from performing rituals with her mother and father. Through the darkness River could see lights twinkling and moving below. Oh how wondrous it must be to live in a city like this. There must be so much to do, so much to see, and so many new people to meet. The mortals were not bound by the endless cycles of nature. Their artificial lights meant they could move around and live their lives as they chose, without the restrictions set by the sun and moon.
Even as the city lights called to her, River knew that she must turn back. Her mother and father were waiting for her in their cottage deep within the forest. She was still several moons away from becoming a fully independent witch and still had much to learn before setting off on her own.
Moonlight, River’s familiar spirit and closest confidant, had been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the trip. She let out a gentle purr as River turned her broomstick around and headed back into the forest.
River returned to the cottage in the forest, where she lived with her mother and father. She knew that they would be upset that she had stayed out so late, so she snuck into her room through the open window as quietly as possible. With any luck, they would not notice.
“You are late.” The familiar voice of River’s mother boomed through her small bedroom. She quickly materialized in the corner of the room. “I was worried sick. You ran off so quickly after the setting of the sun. I feared that you had forgotten the waning moon. Come now, it is time to perform the new moon ritual and welcome the moon’s rebirth.”
“I am sorry, Mother.” River had no interest in performing the same meaningless ritual again. Every new moon and every full moon required the same elaborate rituals. Likewise, each rising and setting sun required its own simple ritual as well, every morning and evening. She was beginning to wonder if the rituals had any effect on anything at all. Would not the sun still set and rise without the rituals? Would not the moon continue to wax and wane forever without their involvement? “But is this ritual really so important? What if we skipped it? Just this once.”
“Hush now, child. We must perform the ritual, just as we have since the beginning of time.”
River didn’t bother to argue. It would get her nowhere. She instead followed her mother outside to the family altar where her father was waiting. He seemed cross but didn’t say a word. River’s father had never been one to let his true feelings show.
Moonlight followed close behind River. In the darkness River could see that the altar was already set up for the ritual.
“Every moon is the same. Every day is the same. I need something more out of life.” River collapsed across her bed. “If only I could live like the mortals do. They have conquered nature in a way that I can only dream of. They are not bound by the rising and setting of the sun or moon.”
Moonlight jumped up onto the bed next to River. She gently rubbed her face against the young witch and purred. River ignored her.
“I’m tired of being stuck here in the forest. I can’t remember the last time I met another witch my age. These solitary rituals have lost their charm. I need something else! I need to see some new faces.”
The small black cat let out a quiet “meow” and continued nuzzling River.
“At least I have you with me.” River reached out to pet Moonlight’s head before turning in for the night. “You will never let me down.”
River spent the next two moons preparing for her coming-of-age ceremony. She would soon officially become an adult and would be permitted to follow a path of her own choosing. She had been thinking more and more about leaving the forest – and the solitary life of a witch – behind to travel to the mortal world. The life of a witch in the forest was so constricting and other witches were few and far between. She longed to be free from the confines of nature and to live amongst other people.
River had long admired the hustle and bustle of the mortal world. In the city, mortals lived and worked amongst others like themselves. They weren’t bound by ancient rituals and traditions and had the freedom to follow their own paths. Though they had no magic powers, they had the power to live their lives as they chose, without concerning themselves with the cycles of nature.
River looked at Moonlight, who was curled up in the corner of her bed. She knew that she was going to have to make some sacrifices if she left the forest to live in the mortal world, but she knew that this was the path she wanted to take.
“I would like to live in the mortal world when I come of age,” River blurted out. She and her mother were preparing potions for the coming full moon ritual. “This quiet life of brewing potions and performing rituals in solitude isn’t for me.”
“That is your choice to make,” her mother replied without emotion. She didn’t move her gaze from the cauldron she was mixing. She had always known that the day would come when her daughter would have to choose her own path. It wasn’t her place to stop her. “But make sure you understand what you would be giving up.”
“I understand it all well,” River replied. “I know what I’m doing.”
“You will not be able to use magic in the human world,” River’s mother said. “And Moonlight must stay behind. Our world and the mortal world must remain separated.”
“I understand,” River reiterated. “I will miss my Moonlight, but there is so much more to gain out there in the mortal world.”
“Very well,” the older witch replied matter-of-factly. “I have always hoped that you would follow in my footsteps, but I know that I cannot hold you back. I will find a way to tell your father. You may set off on your new path after your coming-of-age ceremony.”
The day had finally come. River was about to set off on her own for the mortal world that she had admired from afar for so long. She turned around to take one final look at the cottage that was the only home that she had ever known. Her mother stood in front of the door holding Moonlight. Her stern face hid her emotions well.
River’s father was nowhere to be seen. He hadn’t spoken a word to her since she announced that she would be leaving for the mortal world two moons ago. He didn’t take the news that his only child would be leaving soon well, though he refused to let her know. River barely even saw him anymore. He had taken to enacting vanishing spells upon himself to avoid speaking to her whenever she was near. His suddenly distant attitude toward her only cemented her decision to leave the forest and live amongst the mortals.
Moonlight let out a gentle “meow” as if to beckon River back as she turned away from her childhood home. River had already said her goodbyes. Her choice was made. The sparkling lights of the mortal world awaited.
Continue Reading: The Forest Witch: A Short Story - Part 2
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber