“For the spell to work, enter the garden and cut a rose for each man you’ve made love to,” Darcie requests.
Outside our cabin, I cut two roses at the bud eye, then, observe Jillian shear every other cane from the bush, naming the men aloud. My hands clamp the prickles and blood drips down onto my yellow sundress. Jillian’s sex life is a bouquet, shadowing my measly pair of faked orgasms. I question her petals, having never forsaken the mountains.
Every town harvesting a miracle claims there’s something in the water, but here in the jagged hills of Kentucky, it’s true. The three of us sisters were born with fingers ten inches in length, an extra joint to bend and wrap around necks. We hide in fists, balled up ready to unleash.
“Place the roses in the fireplace,” Darcie says, between drags off her cigar comprised of dark air-cured burley grown hillside. I’m scared to ask why she doesn’t contribute. Jillian cracks her knuckles like lighting up a glowstick when she gets antsy. She is reluctant to donate, but always obeys Darcie.
With the stub of her cigar and a splash of Heaven Hill bourbon, Darcie ignites the wet stems. She closes the fireplace damper and allows the smoke to fill the cabin. We test who can hold their breath the longest as we play Light as a feather, stiff as a board.
I feign death. Their long fingers slide beneath my thick thighs and sore back, almost undoing my bra strap. They cough the name of the game over and over until there’s floating. Except, it isn’t me that leaves the ground. I dare peek, glancing outside through the billowing smoke, the surrounding oaks have vanished from the windows. The cabin is escaping the forest.
“The spell wasn’t successful,” Darcie says, a rare confession of fault. Magic isn’t science — it is an art. Her grimoire is dwindling possibilities.
The cabin continues to levitate but fails to sail in any direction out of bounds. I had my doubts our curse could be lifted, yet I agreed to help in promise of exploring the world. I thought I was in love once, but love requires wind for progress.
Living together, locked within the mountain’s borders, Darcie vowed proof the three of us could flee the forest. Proof as in a measurement for bourbon. How humans used to barter and carefully cheat, diluting strength when trading. The only way to guarantee a bourbon was at least 50% alcohol was to pour some into your palm and light it on fire, a blue flame would arise, giving 100% proof to the buyer.
We begged the heavens for freedom. We were deceived.
Jillian considers our movement a triumph, retrieving tumblers and pouring two jiggers worth of bourbon in each. She passes glasses out, accidentally dropping one. It slips through her slender fingers, crashing onto the floorboards.
Darcie’s bony index finger shoots out in accusation, appearing like a wand whittled against knobs of knots, ready to turn Jillian into vapor. “Might you be a little less incompetent,” Darcie snaps. “Close the windows and retrieve my spell book.”
Whether frozen in fright of displeasing Darcie or in shock of spilling the precious liquid, Jillian’s hand remains outstretched. It begins to morph. Her long fingers turn green and thorny. I raise my hands into eyeshot and witness my epidermis shading too. Our bodies are blooming.
Darcie stands there grinning, same as she ever was, watching Jillian and I mutate. “So the spell did work.”
My first time having sex was in high school, young and dumb like a drama club.
My second time happened this summer. My sisters and I haven’t left the county we grew up in since Mother died. The curse was her last will and testament, restraining us here until we prove ourselves worthy of more. I thought this second man contained love. He wished to sweep me off my feet and carry me across the threshold, into the restricted section. I learned patience has been weeded out of humanity.
Darcie is sapping our power for her gain. She concentrates on Jillian, claiming there’s more power to harvest from the amount of men Jillian has possessed. Being controlled, Jillian inhales all of the lingering smoke. Her sharp thorny fingertips press into a record spinning on the turntable, cutting into the vinyl and digging trenches. Extending her head out the back window, her mouth opens and wails like a phonograph horn. The sound is a physical burst that propels the house forward, dispersing a vapor trail of ethanol fumes in our wake.
I’m planted — rootlets creeping through the floorboards, searching for soil, only to hover with the house above the oaks.
Darcie pilots from the attic. I longed to break free from the county and seek companionship, but not on her terms. I focus my strength on growing farther below the cabin for entanglement — to stall Darcie’s plan. My roots swipe the tops of red maples, white oaks, and blue spruces.
The cabin quickly approaches the invisible fence Mother constructed to cage us. The air at the front door is a force-field, rippling like a puddle.
I’ve lived my life reaching. Always wanting what’s out of my grasp. I compare myself to others, their normal-sized fingers, and I understand that even having the tools to go further doesn’t mean you’ll be satisfied once obtaining your goal.
My roots stretch and search. All my energy harvested from the sun. It works. I grow throughout the cabin. Photosynthesis converting my blood into chemicals to seep into the earth. I bury into the ground and pull us back. We stop moving.
An attic is the brain of the house, containing every memory. Darcie machetes through my stems and tosses down our childhood: her sketch pads, my stuffed elephant, Jillian’s tap dance shoes. Each memory finds its way into the fireplace, burning more fuel that Jillian sucks in and screams out as kinetic energy.
Darcie turns to me and my shrubbery. She knows killing me would do no good. The roots remain after cutting the head of a plant. My threads tear from the earth like a baby blanket, stitch by stitch unraveling me.
Our memories are destroyed and propel us onward into the force-field, our childhoods fading from existence. I forget who I am as Jillian fuels the cabin through with ease. When I approached in the past, I’d zap and bounce back.
Darcie had done it.
The unfamiliar nature washes over us. My vision is different here. I see in X-ray, peering into life, black and blue lights. Deer flies and New World Warblers reveal their atoms. The Red River Gorge takes its name seriously now. I perceive what makes a life.
I behold Darcie in her true form. Her eyes glowing. Instead of bones inside her, there’s piles of teeth lined up in grins.
We begin to sink, memories depleted.
We nosedive with the cabin. Jillian and I have lost every ounce of magic we may have contained while in captivity. Now, our magic diverts, stolen by Darcie.
Jillian plucks my petals before I transition back to human form. She arranges a new bouquet. The only name she drops is mine, “I’m sorry, Imogen.”
Darcie creates moth wings on her back. She flutters away before the cabin crashes. I have no choice but to brace my rose bedding for impact. A cushion, soft and forgiving.
The cabin collapses, folding in like a house of tarot cards with Jillian inside. What was once our home — a place to learn, to love, to bleed — has become Jillian’s grave.
Now that the veil has been lifted, I question which world is real. Perhaps Mother was protecting us?
I could venture onward, live my life, escape Darcie and reverse polarity like the magnet that was home. But she’ll reassess her goals. She’ll advance to boss humanity. She’ll continue to drag victims.
When we turned twenty-one, Darcie, Jillian, and I drank bourbon older than us. Drunk Darcie was unfiltered, raw emotions overflowing, remarks to build funnels of doubt within Jillian and myself. Darcie’s sly wit moved chess pieces when we weren’t observing.
I search the forest. The resiny pine needles mark me, tagged like a migrating animal. A clearing opens up to a massive rickhouse. Slim windows, oxidized metals, and mildew speckled lumber. I enter, thumped in the face with bandage phenolics and cherry esters. Stacked bourbon barrels numbered as inventory. Stocked as ammo.
Darcie awaits down the center aisle, predicting I’d come to finish her.
Darcie’s wings are symmetrical, dots of eyes Rorschached like blood splattered on a cocktail napkin. Mother watches over us, not wishing her offspring to fight.
“Imogen, let us be civilized. Come with me,” Darcie says. I see inside everything. Her stomach brimming with burning bush and jumping worms. Invasive species. Her bones are grinning. “Besides, I’ll need a new sidekick now.” There’s an invisible shackle on both of our feet, one connecting the two of us, the other shackle broken from where it once bonded us to Jillian. I close my eyes and peer into Darcie’s future: annihilation. My future defogs. Love will be buried.
I’m primitive. I have stolen dry branches from the forest. They must be from the same family tree to work properly. I rub them frantically together, digging the stick into the trench of the other one, creating friction.
Darcie recognizes my possibilities. Her wingspan too behemoth for the aisle — she sprints for me.
I have enough embers, draping my hair into the young flames, singeing myself on fire. My inferno builds rapidly. I breathe flares onto a barrel and a blue flame erupts. It spreads like a crossword throughout the barrels organized like a library.
Darcie arrives, choking me. She chants for control. I use what strength I have left to cover her mouth with my palms. Blocking her incantation.
Fire, like alcohol, sterilizes. Killing every organism with a 0.01% disclaimer. Making safe against harmful beings.
The rickhouse concaves before tumbling in upon itself. Upon Darcie and me. Dying together must have been Mother’s desire all along — never separating. Pieces of glass disintegrate into tiny grains of sand. I wish I could have visited the beach at some point during my life.
The world will continue to spin without us. Without this force of power. No one will know the harm I prevented. No one will pass me along their lips. Drool me down their tongues. My name ends here like a tree falling in the woods.
They’ll find our bones, teeth scattered, sowed in rows like crops planted to germinate, produce, then feed. Our bodies will decompose and nourish the soil. Worms chewing holes through our belly fat, questioning who the real invasive species is.
Us sisters always maintained a garden. A weed is considered any wild plant growing where it is unwanted, usually in competition with others. They spread throughout the world by wind and water. Their seeds can survive the gaseous hot compost.
I picture our cabin flying, carrying us out of our zone. I picture us moved and fueled by bourbon.
The ash from the white oak buries us dormant, an intermission to evolution, waiting to poke through and peek at our surroundings.
Joy Alicia Raines is a graphic memoirist based in Atlanta. She is primarily interested in non-traditional forms of storytelling and comics. Her illustrations range from abstracted shapes and colors to full scenes, and often include bright and unexpected color palettes. Raines graduated with honors from Parsons School of Design in May 2019 with a BFA in Illustration. Her work has been published in Desert Island’s Rescue Party, Ever Eden’s Literary Journal, Comics Workbook, and exhibited at Yui Gallery, The New School, and SMUSH Gallery.
Corey Miller was a finalist for the F(r)iction Flash Fiction Contest (’20) and shortlisted for The Forge Flash Competition (’20). His writing has appeared in Booth, Pithead Chapel, Third Point Press, Hobart, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere. He reads for TriQuarterly, Longleaf Review, CRAFT, and Barren Magazine. When not working or writing in Cleveland, Corey likes to take the dogs for adventures. Follow him on Twitter.