“The Switch” by Alex Harper

All it takes to be a witch
is to repeat three times that’s what you are.
That is the law, as everybody knows.

So because I wanted to work with
birds and plants and animals and trees
and I wanted to be alone
I said it. And I was the first in the district
to wear the cloak and wield the wand.
I learned the deepest lore of all of nature,
the power of the earth and moon and stars,
I knew so much
but all anyone wanted to ask was
“Are you good or wicked?”

“Both,” I said.
They looked confused and ran away.

When a brave soul at a later date
asked me what my special weakness was
I told her, “I can only be bested by my opposite.”

At first no one put me to the test.
I doled out the expected curses
for the usual crimes and trespasses against me,
and blessed those who’d been hexed
by someone else. I was a useful nuisance
and thought to live out my days in peace.

Of course, the occasional dark knight
or cleric of the light came by, on royal orders,
to best me, but I saw them off
as they were not my opposite, not properly.

In time the king took exception
to his men coming back transformed into mice.

So at last he sent his one unmarried princess.

 

I knew at once his plan—we would fall in love,
and I’d be changed, made mild and safe.
But she didn’t even flirt.

She simply said, “I am your opposite.”

“But what is the opposite of good and wicked?”
I said.

“The opposite of both is neither.
I have no fire in my soul, no guiding star,
no passion to be woken, no spirit
you can break, no love for what is dark,
or light. My heart burns cold.”

I knew that I was beaten.

“Now what?” I said.

“Ordinarily of course you’d have to die
or be confined in the dungeon,
or be my servant forever,
but all that requires me to feel malice.
and I feel none.”

She hesitated. I could have cursed her then,
and won, but cheapness was never in my nature.

“Can I make a suggestion?” I asked.
She said I could.

“How would you like to be transformed,
with full consent?”

“Into what?”

“I think you might like life more as a cat.”

She thought about it for a minute
and then assented.

 

So: I have the familiar I never planned.
She likes the warmest places in the house
and will allow affection, when she’s in the mood.
She catches mice and brings them in as presents.

I wonder sometimes if they were once men
who dreamed of victory and lost.

I talk to her, tell her about my day
or bits of lore too interesting not to share.
I know she’s listening intently and I wonder
whether soon she’ll want to be transformed back again,
so she can be a witch who’s neither good or wicked,
healing none, and harming none,
content to watch the seasons cycle.

In turn I want to be her crow.
The lore of broomsticks is lies,
I discovered, but I still want to fly.

So I think this time of cat and witch is prologue
to the next act. I stretch my arms like wings.
Her tail flicks like a wand.

Soon hers will be the earth, and mine the sky.


Alex Harper‘s poems have appeared in Liminality, Mirror Dance, Not One of Us, and Rattle, as well as two previous appearances in Kaleidotrope. He lives in England, and can be found online at alexharperwriting.wordpress.com and on Twitter as @harpertext.
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