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"Casting Spells on the A47" by Rachel Canwell

On the drive to see my mother, the transformation begins. By the time we hit the bypass the change from A-Grade student to underage witch is well underway.

Around two junctions from complete.

I catch my reflection in the wing mirror and watch in fascination as my eyes slide from sea to emerald green. In the time it takes our car to pass a caravan, my hair has grown dark, sprouting so fast I have to tease out the tangles. Raking through knots with beetle-shimmer fingernails.

Only stopping when the footwell fills with spiders, snakes and other creeping things.

Yet Dad’s face stays Sunday-set, far-away and flinty. His brow stamped Do Not Disturb.

Focused on the road. Busy looking the other way.

I try to speak.

But the words creak out in cackles, fringed with maggots and frills of purple steam.

Dad sniffs, sneezes.

Then cranks up the air conditioning and puts the radio on.

Chewing on newts and sulphur, I shrug my newly sharpened shoulders and turn my pointed chin away.

I press my fresh, scarlet mouth hard against the window, sucking at the glass.

My black breath yanking at beautiful, stolen sights. Pulling each one in.

We wait at the roundabout, where I harvest three matching smiles in an estate car, a metallic balloon tied to a pushchair and a tree, russet in flaming symmetry.

Small, rare flashes that I push high against my palate. Breaking and rolling them across my lizard tongue, before spitting them like dragon’s teeth into my palm.

Amulets to string around my scaly neck. Layers of cool blue enchantment, to lay against my flaking skin.

Ready to ward off white gowns, floral curtains and endless paper masks.

Pushed up against the window my breath turns hot and froggy. I shift and take jagged bites of frosty silence. Before throwing my face hard, back against the glass.

Long teeth jangle. Soft gums shrink.

A black cat darts out of nowhere.

My father swears. And the car, just slightly, spins.

We move on. And I inhale rushing but perfect hillsides. My lungs glowing green, then furious purple, as they rip at the roots of wildflowers, icy streams and velvet moss. All of which I stuff into cushions, ready to strap beneath my horn-rimmed feet.

All the better to hush drumming footsteps during hasty corridor retreats.

We pull up at traffic lights and through the vents seeps a heady scent. Cut grass, fresh bread and the dark midnight of tarmac; as if conjured to order. Ripe for mixing, ripe for casting. The very essence of magic, ripe for breathing in.

I lean forward open-mouthed, probing the tastes, as they crawl toad-like upon my tongue. Categorising them by colour, texture, slime and shape.

Then I snort them up, one by one, into the gingerbread cottage of my brain.

Where they sit in candy-covered rooms, waiting to coat the smell of sympathy and antiseptic. And spit cooling fires of poison on hot dry air and earnest updates, quietly given.

Behind closed eyes, with frantic wizened hands, I start to uncork sapphire bottles, pop smoking corks and tap on granite lids with willow wands.

Tipping, pouring, stirring, shaking; I keep on lining up the jars.

Hundreds of different shapes and a thousand shifting sizes. Yet all labelled just the same.

Each engraved with her many faces, the ones that smile. The ones that wink and laugh. The ones that play.

Enchanted vessels; impregnated and animated by the magic of the past.

Before sliding doors, rainy car parks, whispered weekly visits.

And sinking cheeks that, despite my spells, refuse to stay the same.

Rachel Canwell is a writer living in Cumbria. Her debut flash collection “Oh I do like to be” was published by Alien Buddha in July 2022. Her fiction has featured in Sledgehammer Lit, Reflex Press, Retreat West and Pigeon Review amongst others.


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