Her Book of Shadows whispered secrets in the dark.
Spirits had been tapping the top of Eudora’s head all week, demanding her attention. She sat up in bed, took several shallow breaths, pushed her energy outward. Sleep, she commanded, go to sleep.
They were most active in summer, when the storms riled them up and the heat kept them disoriented and irritable. By August they were as thick as cotton batting; Eudora could feel them gathering as the thunderheads did, a shiver of specters caught in a cloud above her cabin. So needy, she thought, so narrowly focused on what they wanted. It was exhausting.
Nestled inside the wild woods of Mossy Hollow, Virginia, Eudora was a beacon to the newly dead, a lighthouse among the pines.
She slipped back into an uneasy sleep until dawn, when the Book began whispering so forcefully that for a moment she was sure someone had tiptoed into the cabin and was hiding in a darkened corner. She shifted the quilt and swung her legs out of bed, staring at the cupboard in exasperation. It had never been this bad, not even in the days before Chester died.
Eudora’s Book of Shadows held all the spells she’d created, every enchantment and concoction and homebrew recipe she’d come up with over the years. The spine was cracked, the worn leather cover split in sections; Book had aged along with her and had almost as many fissures and seams on its face as she did. She held it lovingly in her hands and felt her heart contract once, a distant throb tattooed with Chester’s name.
Twister, twister, twister, the book whispered. Watch the clouds, mark the ground.
In the week before Chester died the previous summer, Eudora was nearly suffocated with spirits, all looking for a way in. They swirled above the bed like fog and purred warnings of a great storm, one with enough force to rip her cabin from the ground and toss it into the woods. Eudora had built her house with her own two hands; she’d turned a small plot of land into a safe haven after the Great Depression. By the time she married Chester, it was a home filled with comfort and the smell of fresh lavender. It was hers, and she would not see it demolished if there was a way to negotiate the damage.
She’d planted geraniums along the margins of her property for protection, filled a cauldron with water and left it in the corner to confuse the rain. She used her best charms to enchant the cabin and keep it in place, and when the storm arrived, it passed overhead without doing harm, as though her home was caught inside a giant bubble. Chester’s heart stopped that evening. It was always that way with the craft; there was no way to use alchemy without nature taking something back.
Eudora spent the next day preparing. The oak tree at the edge of the forest–the largest, the oldest–was struck by lightning the summer before, so she chopped off the lowest limbs and smashed them with the ax handle. Distributed among the four corners of the cabin, they would provide some measure of protection from lightning. A scattering of acorns tossed onto the roof would deter hail. Finally, she took her sharpest athame and buried it, blade-up, in the southwest corner of her property. When the tornado came through, it would be cut and divided so as to miss her cabin completely.
Chester sometimes said that Eudora loved the cabin more than she loved him, that she would sacrifice for her home in ways she wouldn’t do for her marriage; she had, after all, declined having children out of the desire to devote her time to the house.
She sat back on her heels and surveyed her work, both magical and non. The knife blade gleamed dully in the day’s blue light; clouds were already moving in, building an army overhead. She was about to stand up and move inside when the chirpy bark of a fox stopped her.
Eudora stood still, rooted to the spot as she watched the mother lead her kits through an adjacent field. Three of them, creating a splash of rust inside all the green. They romped and caviled when their mother shepherded them through tall grasses, clearly irritated that they weren’t allowed to explore.
And as beautiful as they were, Eudora couldn’t help but worry at what felt like an omen.
When the storm wound up it roared and whistled between the boards of the cabin walls.
Eudora, it murmured against the door. Step outside.
Her legs carried her woodenly to the door, and when she laid her hand upon the handle, it flung back and nearly knocked her down.
Chester stood on the doorstep, a ghastly grinning specter with two silver coins for eyes.
“No,” Eudora whispered. “It can’t be.”
“Hello, dear,” he said. The wind whipped around him, blurring his edges.
Eudora shoved past him, running full-tilt into the yard. The tornado was on the horizon, a massive funnel made of silt and energy. She looked over her shoulder and found Chester standing just behind her; above him, the spirits whirled uneasily. She recalled the foxes and her feeling of pending doom and stepped backward, holding her arms out to keep Chester at bay.
In her haste and terror, Eudora forgot about the knife buried in the soil.
She fell squarely on the blade and felt it bury itself between her ribs, an anchor holding her captive. When the first breath came, it was made of smoke and salt.
“Chester,” she sighed, an accordion sound.
“It’s okay, Eudora,” Chester said as he stood over her, made ten feet tall as she lay in the grass. “There’s just no way to use alchemy without nature taking a sacrifice, isn’t that what you told me?”
She could feel the tornado edging closer, blotting out the sun in its intensity; in a matter of moments, it would overtake her property, her cabin. Her. She realized, with a sudden burst of clarity, that the spirits’ warning wasn’t truly about the storm, but about what would come with it.
As the wind buffeted everything around her, Eudora tilted her head back and began to laugh.
Amanda Crum is a writer and artist whose work has been published in Barren Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, The Hellebore, and others. She is the author of The Darkened Mirror and Where Wild Beasts Grow, forthcoming from Fitzroy Books in 2022; she is also a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net Award, and Indie Horror Book Award nominee. Amanda currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children.