by J. J. Roye
The villagers slapped their palms against the clay water jugs and howled in celebration the day The Sisters came. In the grey dawn they came over the fallow land, three columns of darkness, rags obscuring their bodies, red veils covering their mouths, each following their own path that hadn't existed the day before. Their eyes were crusted with the dust of the salt flats. The hollow, deep reverberations of the cisterns woke the children. They shivered in the dry cold, knowing one of them would be gone by nightfall.
Margaret, the matriarch, came forward and greeted the Weyward three. She held out a bowl of water, spice leaves floating on the surface. The Mother produced a hand and took the offering. Margaret watched, giddy as a child, as the Sisters turned inward to one another, turned their backs on the outside world, and drank.
The appearance of the Weyward Sisters meant that a flood was coming. Soon, the villagers would not have to scrape by, subsisting off of goods traded for harvested slabs of the salt earth beneath their feet. A flood would make the land green and fertile. One child was not a high price. Nobody knew whose child it would be. Every parent thought it would be someone else’s.
A young girl, only seven years old and gangly, approached the Sisters with a docile hen in her arms. She shivered. Their skin was as pale as the ground. She handed the chicken over, and when they turned inward again, she rubbed her forearms. She savored the rich brown smoothness of them. If they take me, she thought, will I become so pale?
Some hours passed, but the village didn’t dare turn away from their guests. When the chicken had been consumed, and the red veils fixed back in their places, the Sisters approached the crowd.
The Beauty spoke, her voice high, the weirder tones of it blurred by the veil.
“Celebrate! For you know what we bring!”
The Crone spoke, her voice a crow’s screech. Her veil could not conceal the mechanical scraping under her words.
“Mourn! For you know what we take!”
The villagers had spent too many years under overcast skies to be worried. They looked at one another and smiled.
The Mother, silent, moved forward and wound through the crowd, examining the children.
She put her hand on the shoulder of a boy. He was the chicken-girl’s brother, two years younger. Still young enough to think that the Sisters would only take girls. Cheers erupted around him. He picked at the grit under his fingernails. Her hand was cold.
That night, the village slept well. The boy stood outside the ring of huts with the Three. His fidgeting soon got the better of him.
“Peace, child. Look at your home. You will never see it again,” said the Mother. The boy looked up in wonder. Her voice was precisely the voice of his own mommy. He nodded solemnly.
“We’ll never come back to visit?”
“The flood will destroy the houses. Soon thereafter, disease will spread. I doubt anyone will survive.”
The Crone’s hand snapped down on the child’s wrist when he tried to run. The Beauty walked gracefully toward the village. She found a place in the center by the main cistern and curled up under it like coiling insect. The Mother put a red piece of cloth over the boy’s mouth, tying it in place behind his head.
In the morning, the villagers were perplexed. The Weyward Sisters had vanished. The only trace that remained of them was a jumble of bones beneath the main cistern. Not a mere human skeleton. The villagers picked through the bones of hyenas, the bones of lions, the bones of vultures. The rags and veil were gone. The paths thaty had come by vanished.
A rushing sounded on the horizon. Rain began to fall.
I live up a long, gravel driveway in the mountains of southwest Virginia with my husband, daughter, and various cats. I have thus far written a horror novel and many pieces of short and flash fiction.
This picture inspired me to write a story that capitalized upon the tone of the image, while attempting to invert some of the tropes associated with the Three Sisters. I thought that contrasting the joy and hope of a drought-striken community with a bleak landscape and the classic foreboding that lingers around the Weird Sisters would be interesting. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'I Can Sleep'
'A Twisted Path'