Yadra is part of the series ‘Tinder Sacrifices’ by Vanessa Levin-Pompetzki; a amazingly majical and weird look into the lives of a coven of witches living in modern times, fitting our theme of feminist horror perfectly. Click here for the first parts, News at Five and a Bump in the Night
She was sitting in her favorite chair when Persephone arrived. She felt the girl approach her house, knew where her feet landed in the overgrown grass, felt the softness of her walk, practically a tip-toe. The girl knocked twice, quiet, hesitating. She was a day late, and when her girls were late it usually meant they done something they shouldn’t have.
She waved an arm, heard the door unlock and creak open. A few birdlike steps later and Persephone stood in front of her, holding a basket. Her hair was just at her shoulders, all soft brown curl, her gray eyes flicking around the room. She was smaller than the others, a wee thing, but the dark lipstick and smeared charcoal around her eyes made her look just as fierce.
She knew what was in the basket—she could feel the sausage, spiced with sage and made from chicken and man. There was a metal brand, seasoned now. Fresh bunches of dried smudge sticks, a candle that would smell like rain when it burned. And then there was something unusual—a thick, black braid, tied with a canvas bow.
“Here you are, Yadra,” Persephone said. She was well-practiced but her voice shook despite herself. Yadra didn’t like fear in her girls, but a little healthy fear of the mother, that was acceptable.
“Persephone,” Yadra said. The name passed her lips with a mocking tilt—she couldn’t help it. Persephone was a stupid choice for a name. “Put it here,” she said, placing a hand on her lap. Persephone did, jerking her hand away but keeping her shoulders back and head high.
Yadra pulled out the thick braid of hair. It stunk of raw meat and iron.
Yadra lifted the braid to her nose to inhale—normally, she’d leave it at that, but something was different this time. Gunpowder and linen, sweat and voices, chattering. White and blue lights flashing, the soft, pale dew of Ariadne’s skin. She let her hand drop, looked up at Persephone, who was twisting her hands and shifting from foot to foot, waiting.
“What’s the new witch’s name?”
Yadra waggled a finger at Persephone, drawing her closer. The braid in her hand hummed, and Yadra let go of it to reach into the basket.
Her hand snapped out to grip Persephone’s chin, fingernails digging into flesh. The girl’s fear smelled like rust.
“At least it’s a better name than Persephone,” Yadra hissed, and her other hand brought out the brand, the end glowing red like the tip of a cigarette.
Persephone screamed when it went into her eye. The sound of her scream felt soft on Yadra’s ears, the scent of burning flesh like a familiar hand in the small of her back. Eyes always resisted more than Yadra thought they would, and she had to press hard, to sear it properly, though the symbol wouldn’t be visible after Yadra was through. She chanted, short and quick, the words low in her stomach and scraping up her throat and out her mouth. Smoke began to ooze from Persephone’s eye. Yadra twisted the brand and yanked it out.
Persephone fell backward, thudding onto the wood floor, still screaming.
“It was Ariadne,” she sobbed.
Yadra lifted the braid—it smelt of dirt now, of gentle rivers. She had righted the wrong Ariadne had made: Calypso’s human life for the eye of a witch.
“Doesn’t matter,” Yadra said.
Persephone scrambled to her feet, chest heaving. Blood ran through her fingers and dripped on the floor—the wood absorbed it hungrily.
“Tell Ariadne that she’s drawing attention to us. And remind her of what carelessness can cost us.”
Vanessa Levin-Pompetzki’s favorite thing to do is weave together imaginary worlds (often with magic), but she also frequents used bookstores and enjoys a good cup of tea. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and a very inconsiderate cat. You can find her on Twitter at @vanessalevpom
Here’s a list of all the excerpts in the series Tinder Sacrifices now in sequential order, for your reading pleasure