10th April

Allison Gross

from an old ballad

Ah, well, she is dead at last, the old witch. I for one will not mourn her passing. By the end she was nothing to be afraid of, a tottering crone with a wandered mind, but once she was feared and hated in equal measure. Just to hear her voice made your gorge rise. To look on her brought blood to the eyes.

That time I was up at the tower – her place – I did not mean to go, but she beguiled me with her promises and I lingered. There was something fascinating about her, repulsive though she was.

‘You can be rich,’ she said. ‘You can have anything you like and you can have it now, you can own everything and owe nothing. All I ask in return is that you be my lover.’

I couldn’t do it. ‘No,’ I told her. ‘Get away from me.’
‘But you came to me,’ she said. ‘You must want something.’ And she promised me more, the fat of the land, the jewels of the sea, and the secret knowledge that would conjure fortunes from the air. And I was sorely tempted.

Yet I refused her. Sure I did. I could never have kissed those ugly lips, not for all the gifts in the world.

Then her honeyed words turned sour, and she put a spell on me. I could do nothing to resist. My strength left me, and I fell senseless to the ground.

She made a monstrous worm of me, long and thick and foul – as foul as she was. I was sick and ashamed at what I had become. She laughed as she watched me drag myself about. ‘You should have kissed me when you had the chance,’ she said. ‘You could have had it all.’

Later, the spell she’d cast was cancelled by the Queen of Fairies and I was restored to my proper shape. You can believe that if you like. I do. I have to. Rather that than the alternative, which is that I became so used to my new self that I stopped noticing.

Anyway, the witch is dead and can do no more harm. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Reader: Jimmy Hutchison
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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