You are well aware of how to procure an accurate prophecy. You’ve been doing it for years and this year is no different.
You cycle into outer space. It is a warm June night in England and a cold, unnamed never-time everywhere else in the universe. When you find the prophecy, it has been circling a distant sun for a millennia. It looks like gold and feels warm, the temperature of skin. You tuck it under your tongue and it tastes like raw egg yolk.
On your journey back to Earth you will be cat-called by a false god. Don’t turn around. The pale boys that dance on the surface of the nameless moon will pull the blue ribbons from your braided hair as you pedal past. Your hair will tumble upwards: wild like sea-spray in a weightless ocean.
Don’t turn around. Don’t open your mouth.
You spread a circle of salt around yourself and let it hang there in fragile orbit whilst you pedal onwards.
Halfway between Mars and your home planet, you hear the strangled cries of hungry ghosts approaching from behind.
Don’t turn around.
You think of your grandmother’s cottage in Southern England and you shiver at the memory of the lime-green wallpaper in the kitchen, mottled and moulding and safe.
You feel the ghosts nip at your ankles. You panic. You spread more salt around yourself until you cannot see in front of you.
Everything is white. You think of Christmas. Everything is too white. You think of bone.
You lose your sense of East and West and, by accident, you turn around. It happens within seconds: your body turning to salt.
The prophecy slips from your lips: your white, crystallised mouth. You crumble into tiny pieces of grit that burn up when they reach the Earth’s atmosphere.
Mortals don’t burn witches, they burn bodies. You’ll be just fine if you can keep calm: remember, you’re not the first in your bloodline to meet death this way and win.
After the embers have died, and the crowds have dispersed, dust yourself off and walk home smelling of bonfire.
Then, knit yourself a new body. The yarn is in the cupboard in the guest bedroom. You must thread the needle twice, once with the red yarn and again with that strange, sticky string you can never quite see without your glasses on. You will find some woven around a tree branch at the bottom of the garden. You will find a cocoon hanging from it, seemingly suspended in midair. This thread must be woven in underneath the yarn, concealed like the third section of a tight braid.
You will sew until dawn and when you slip into your new body, it will fit perfectly, though your limbs might itch slightly as you walk.
You will go to the police station to report your own execution. You will be told not to tell such tall tales. You will be told that there was no fire. It will be insisted by everybody present that you do not even exist.
You are having a dream in which you are perched in a fruit tree and peeking through the dense branches. You can see a man and a woman and their dark skin is reflecting light. When the woman’s left shoulder catches the sun, you see a flash of red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and violet. You look away for a moment – or you blink – and when you look back the man is pulling a slender bone out of her side.
You will wake up with a deep ache in your ribs. You will look down at your body which once held so much colour, and you will suddenly feel so very old.
One day, you will meet the man from your dream at a party. You will ask him – in a quiet voice, at the back of a noisy room – if you can have the stolen rib back. He will look disgusted, and accuse you of wanting to steal his entire ribcage. Then he will convince everyone in the room that you are there to steal all of their ribs, too.
When you bump into him several years later, he will have convinced himself that you once wanted to steal his entire body.
The ache in your side persists.
Your hair is red and, in the sunlight, it flickers like a flame.
You are a woman but you’re certain you were never a girl.
You swim in the North Sea but only in December and only completely naked.
You bake: scones and cakes and apple pies. You do not eat any of this but leave it outside on your front doorstep for hungry travellers or mice.
You live near a big city and you go there to drink whiskey in a small bar every year on your birthday. You do not like to fight but once you had to. You could not see your opponent, he came like a shadow. The punches you threw did not land.
In the morning you woke up covered in bruises – strange bruises that change as the light does.
Your grandmother’s grandmother was a good cyclist. She died in outer space, with a prophecy in her mouth. You, like her, find yourself drawn out of the house at night, especially when the moon is full.
One Spring night, you will ride quietly through the streets to the clearing in the woods where most people are too afraid to venture. There, you will meet her – the girl who haunts the clearing – in the darkest hour of the night.
You will dance strange dances that are known only by your body. You will lay in the grass together and share secrets. You will press your lips to her soft stomach and let gravity drag the kiss downwards.
When you cycle home, the wheels of your bike will not touch the cobblestones of the silent village streets.
Though you try for years afterwards, you will not be able to find the clearing again. When you ask people in the village about it, they will shake their weary heads and tell you that there’s never been anything in that part of town but a burnt-down building.
One day you show up for work and the building has moved two inches to the right and there is a gap there, next to the wall, which wasn’t there before. You don’t know how you noticed this, but all day you feel off-balance.
You expect the feeling to fade but it doesn’t, not for the rest of your life.
You have a habit of momentarily forgetting the month you were born, but you remember it comes in-between May and July.
You fall in love when you are 32, and you move into a house that has bugs. You know they are there but whenever your partner enters the kitchen the insects scuttle away into cracks in the plaster.
You don’t say anything, he will not believe you, but you hear the whisper of their wings echoing through the hallways at night.
She is born in the thirteenth month, weighing 7 1/2 lbs, and you name her Eve.
She grows up to be a strong woman. Her presence is arresting. People listen when she speaks. She loves outer space and she wants to be an astronaut, but eventually, she becomes a painter instead. Her canvases are quietly powerfully: assured brushstrokes bringing oil-painted men and women to life.
Before you know it, you are old and spend most of your time in bed. You remember a story you heard about the women in your family who could knit themselves new bodies whenever they needed.
You do not have the strength to pick up knitting needles, but your daughter does. She sits at your bedside and sings to you, and brings you soup and knits for you.
By Autumn, the yarn has run out. You are weak now, and you have started to sense the presence of spirits in your bedroom: an omen. You know all too well what it means.
Your daughter kisses you softly on the forehead.
“I see you,” she says, and she looks around the room. “I see all of you.”
The spirits you sensed are coming into full colour, as though they are flickering images on an old TV. Your daughter fades from view as though she has just dropped over the edge of a horizon.
You realise you are dead.
The women surrounding you look strangely familiar, as though they are long-forgotten friends.
That night, each of you tells the others her story, and all of you know that all the stories are true. You have known since you were a girl that the witches in your bloodline cannot lie, even if they want to.
Bio: M. R. Massey is a second-year Creative Writing student. Her writing centres around people and places which are slightly off-kilter, but can be found if one only dares to search for them. In 2016 she was placed in the top five young poets in the UK by Young Writers, as part of their competition The Poetry Trials. She lives in Camden Town and can usually be found conjuring worlds or haunting various local libraries.