13 May Sire
“Sire”Written by Meagan J. Meehan Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 15 minutes
I keep hearing them crackling; I can’t see them, but I hear them. At first, I thought it was just a distant wolf howling or my imagination playing up, but now I’m certain that they’re here — somewhere amid the trees — maybe watching me, maybe not, but aware of me nonetheless. Them hags are aware of everything that goes on in these woods and I love ‘em for it in spite of myself. Their presence makes these nightly camping excursions more interesting, I’ll give them that, but I wish I could drag my nice soft bed out here with me. Sleeping on the rooty ground with nothing but a few wooly blankets and a little tarp tent gets really old, really fast. One day, the devil will take me for the things I do for the girls. Until then, my aching body will do the complaining every morning.
I’ve played out most of my life in these woods, alongside the things that dwell within it. I’ve lived in fascinated fear of them most of my life, which is funny considering that I started out being enchanted by them. Bone truth is, deep down, I miss them in a strange way. I think about them every day and wonder what would’ve become of me had I stayed on with them. I suppose it’s only natural; man’s a curious creature.
I knew they was running around in the woods since I was a boy growing up in a rickety wood cabin on the edge of the trees. We had a small farm consisting of one donkey, ten chickens, two goats, and a cow. We also had a big old hound dog who couldn’t herd for nothing but was a darn good watch dog. If anybody came anywhere near the house, old Hank would start barking like he was possessed.
Hank saw them before I did, or sensed them anyway. As far back as I can remember, Hank would stand guard right on the edge of the woods line. He’d stare real fixedly and snarl and growl… not just at nighttime either. Even in broad daylight he couldn’t look into the forest without being on high alert. I reckon they was sneaking around even then—probably had been for over a century by that stage — but I only recall seeing glimpses of them here and there. My very first recollection is seeing one staring out at me from behind a tree. She was old and withered and raggedy and sharp-faced; glaring at me with coal-black eyes. I’d screamed and cried for my momma and she reassured me that it’d just been my imagination. We were on our own out there; we had no neighbors and town was about an hour’s walk each way. Surely, there couldn’t possibly be no woman in the woods. Momma then turned all angry on my pa and blamed him for telling me the story of Hansel and Gretel and the scary old witch. She said he’d put ideas in my head. Truthfully, he just allowed me to put a name to what I’d been seeing long before I ever heard that old fairy tale: witches. Them things in the woods were witches.
Back then, I didn’t know exactly where the coven lived, but I knew they wasn’t far away, and they had a real fascination with our farm. We’d often lose chickens during the night. Mostly they just disappeared but a few times, later on especially, some blood and feathers would be left behind as if in ritual.
Pa said it was foxes, but he never sounded none too convinced of that. Looking back, I reckon my father was well aware that bad things lurked in those woods. My momma did too; she’d get all jittery if we was outside and she heard as much as a twig snap. I don’t know if she ever got a glimpse of one, but she never missed as much as one Sunday church sermon. I suppose all that praying was her way of seeking protection from a threat she couldn’t describe or explain. My folks might’ve had their suspicions, but they ain’t never said nothing to me. Of course, they didn’t have to say anything to me. I knew more than anyone else because I had seen more than anybody. Those hags had a fancy for me from day one.
They was always lurking around the woods, but when I was five, they got bolder and started staring in at me from the window. If I had the poor luck of waking up in the middle of the night, I’d get a nasty shock when I looked over at the window to see several of those raggedy women staring in at me, grinning. I woke up screaming more nights than I can count. Momma blamed the fairy tales but I knew them women were as real as the moon. The old hags could move fast too; they were always away from the window when my pa and momma burst into my room.
To be honest, not all of them were hags. Some of them were young — and later several were beautiful, which is really how the whole mess started in the first place — and occasionally they seemed kind and friendly; more akin to angels than witches. I was about four the first time I really took notice of the one who called herself Blythe. She looked to be only a few years older than me and she had a soft smile. At night she’d come to the window closest to my bed (she always seemed to know when I couldn’t sleep) and we’d make funny faces at each other — she standing outside and me lying in bed — until I got sleepy enough to doze off. Sometimes she’d hum lullabies to me… just loud enough for me to hear but she never woke my folks.
I liked being an only child and when I found out my momma was expecting I was none too pleased. I went up to the window the night I found out and I tearfully told Blythe about how I didn’t want no brother or sister. She nodded at me with sympathy in her eyes and took my hand in hers. She listened close, even though she didn’t say nothing. Blythe was as quiet as a spider. I was elated a little while later to hear I wasn’t gonna have none, although I was sorry to see momma laid up in bed crying. I understand now that she had — and then kept having — miscarriages and she didn’t know why… although I did. I’d willed it without even understanding that I’d done so.
I was twelve going on thirteen when the Civil War started. I was too young to get called up and my pa was too old so we just continued life as if nothing was wrong; our neck of the woods saw no fighting and the soldiers didn’t descend on our little town, neither. I suppose you could say we was real lucky, or we had a little extra “protection.”
As the war raged on around us, near but distant, boys only a little older than me was losing their lives every day. As for me, I kept my life but gave my soul to something much worse than soldiers.
Blythe was the start of it, of course, as I always knew she’d be. Her visits to me had become more frequent and they wasn’t only confined to the nighttime anymore. It had started when she took to peeking at me from the woods, in broad daylight, as I did my daily chores. Now, they’d always been there, creeping and peeking, but Blythe got close. She wanted me to know she was there. Hell, she was my friend.
I was about seven when our kinship initially started up and over the course of the following five years, we took to playing hide and seek and tag whenever I could sneak away. As usual, Blythe never spoke a word; I don’t think she could. Her sisters — I suppose that’s as good a thing to call them as any — could speak, rave even, in my language and tongues far older, but Blythe was mute. She was also beautiful and seemed to grow up right with me, except lovelier and lovelier the older I got.
When I was twelve, I started to notice her piercing blue eyes, jet black hair, and magenta lips with increasing interest. She was lithe yet curvy in all the right places. When I was thirteen, I went down to the river to get some washing water for my momma who was having one of her bad spells, a day when she did nothing but lie around the house. That happened more and more after she started losing all the babies. Anyway, while I was down at the water, Blythe crept out of the woods. I smiled at her, thinking she was just gonna stand on the shore and stare at me like she so often did — she never helped me with the chores — but instead she descended into the water, way past her knees, up to her thighs. In the process of doing so, she lifted her skirt high enough to give me a full view of her long legs. I stared and she stopped and looked right at me. She smiled coyly and then she giggled — which was the most noise I’d ever heard her make when she wasn’t humming some strange tune — splashed some water in my direction, and darted off back into the woods, leaving me standing there by my lonesome and wishing (yearning) for more of her legs and laugh and company.
I saw her again two days later and that’s when she offered me the apple. A rare sort of red, savory and juicy; I can still feel it on my lips. I suppose that was the day of my indoctrination, since my absolute obsession with Blythe started then. I thought about her constantly, even dreamt about her, and as if she knew it, she started getting flirtier with me. She would still meet me in the woods to play like we had when we was kids — or when I was a kid and she looked like a kid — but she started flashing her legs at me more… Well, at first it was her legs but, over time, she let me catch flashes of other, more intimate parts of her, too. Always from a bit of a distance, mind you, she wouldn’t ever stand still long enough to let me touch her — not as if I’d the nerve to begin with, mind you — but she’d taken to touching me whenever she could. She’d jump out at me from behind the trees and stroke my hair, or run her palm down my chest — which drove me wild even with my shirt on — and she’d even reach out and squeeze my leg on occasions when we was sitting next to each other. But if I tried to touch her, she’d stand up and run off into the woods, giggling like the tease she was.
She was driving me crazy and it only got worse when she started bringing her friends — or sisters, or whatever the hell they were — with her. One was more succulent than the next. There was the busty blonde named Anne who wasn’t shy about complimenting me and looking me over in a way that made my heart hammer in my chest. Joan was a brunette with black eyes that were as pretty as Blythe’s blues, and she was the really touchy-feely one. But no matter how much they surrounded me and fawned over me and hand-fed me impossibly fresh apples and grapes, they never let me get too comfortable, and they never let things go as far as I wanted. And whenever we was out in the woods together, I’d always spy other shapes creeping about; the old ones lurking. I suppose they were spying on us, making sure all went according to plan.
I’d become so enthralled by the woods that I started neglecting my chores. On a few occasions, I’d wandered home late and my pa had given me a heck of a belting while my momma screamed and cried and begged him to stop. She was disturbed by how thin I’d grown; I hadn’t been eating on the regular. My only appetite at the time had nothing to do with food.
Hank, the dog, went first. My pa and I found him all ripped up on the edge of our farm. My pa thought it was a fox, but I thought the slashes looked more like claws or talons — like a lady’s fingernails — more than teeth. I can’t say I was angry; I couldn’t prove them women of the woods had anything to do with the old dog’s death and it was one less mouth to feed.
My father went next; then my mother. Both were taken by fever. They came down sick without me noticing too much at first — I was mighty distracted most days, after all — but when I saw them sicking up and feverish, I instantly ran to the woods. I screamed for Blythe and the others and I begged them for help; I somehow knew they could make potions. Yet I was just calling into the trees. No one came. I thought I’d been forsaken and walked home feeling sick and panicky… only to find a pretty green glass bottle at my doorway. Relief washed over me like rainwater. See, I still loved my folks dearly and I would’ve done anything to save them. I made sure both my parents drank from the bottle and then I took a swig from it too. I don’t know why I did, I wasn’t ailing none, but it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
It was sweet yet it had a sharp aftertaste. I ain’t never tasted nothing like it before or since but I ain’t never forgot it or what it did. As soon as I swallowed it down, I felt completely relaxed and at peace with everything, which is pretty goddamn weird considering both my parents were dying, but I slept like a baby that night. Within a fortnight both my folks had passed on but I didn’t cry or make any fuss at all; it’s like I was incapable of feeling sadness. I calmly walked outside in the light of day and started digging two graves. I had no desire to alert the town or set up a church Mass… My parents had been happy living on that farm for nearly two decades and they’d be happy staying there for eternity.
As I was digging, I heard branches crack behind me. I turned around and saw Blythe standing there, her big eyes looking at me not with sympathy, but with a kind a longing — a yearning — that I ain’t never seen in her before. Anne and Joan followed close behind her and all three of them helped me finish the burials and mark the graves with rocks. Then Blythe, who was still my favorite of all, took my hand and pulled me into the woods with Joan and Anne following. Them two was giggling but Blythe was just smiling. Back then I thought her grin was soft and sweet, but looking back now I realize that there was something wolffish right under the surface.
That was the day my life either began or ended, depending on how you look at it. It was certainly when things got weird, though.
Blythe led me by hand through the woods to a cabin that was nestled between a grove of trees and a mountain rock. They took me inside and gave me another sip of something — this time out of a blue bottle — that sent my head spinning in the nicest possible way.
They led me to a tub of nice warm water, which was a rarity back when I was sixteen, and all three of the young ones stripped me naked before scrubbing me down with fresh soap and getting all the dirt and grime off my skin and outta my hair. Blythe was just smiling, but Anne and Joan were commenting on how nice and muscular I was. After my bath, they dried me off with a towel as soft as velvet and led me to a nice soft bed. Each one of them took turns making me a man. I was happy Blythe went first because she was special, although as I watched her face contort in pleasure I couldn’t help but notice that it was changing, altering… At times it looked like she was about a thousand years old, which should’ve disturbed me, but I was too wrapped in euphoria to startle.
And that’s how things went for some unknown length of time. I stayed lying in that bed all day, drinking their potions and eating their food, sleeping soundly entwined in their plush blankets with my head resting on their soft pillows, and making love to the young ones every night. At first it was just Blythe and Anne and Joan, but then there were others, and I couldn’t keep track of anything… and I didn’t care that I couldn’t.
I was aware of the older women being around. They looked like hags, but they cooked well and didn’t try to mess with me so I didn’t mind them. Occasionally, I’d have a nightmare about sharp-toothed, gaping-mawed, demon-women chasing me through the trees and I’d wake up in a cold sweat, startling all the girls (coven) lying around me. Then they’d give me a swig of one of their potions and it would all go away and all would be well again.
Occasionally, I’d come out of my pleasure-stupor enough to notice that some of the girls’ bellies were extending; swelling like pumpkins in autumn in a way that could only mean pregnancy. They were growing my children inside of them. That realization initially horrified me so much that I physically recoiled and let out a little scream. They laughed and surrounded me and let me feel their bellies — something was moving inside them, but it felt more like a festering nest of ants than a baby — as they poured more of that sweet potion down my throat and sent my hazy head back into oblivion.
As blissfully out-of-it as I was back then, there are some things I recall. I suppose the war was still going on ‘because I’d occasionally hear the sound of lost soldiers roaming around the woods. The ladies would throw a blanket over me to keep me (their treasure) warm and hidden (safe) before leaving the cabin. I’d sometimes just be able to make out vague voices; conversations that went from chatter to panic to screaming. Afterwards, the ladies would use the scraps of their uniforms to sew themselves new dresses — and prettying the garments up with shiny brass buttons and the occasional ring — and one of the old hags would cook up a nice meaty stew and share some with me. Over the years, I can’t count how many times I’ve had a hankering to taste that delicious meal again.
Other times I’d hear babies crying or gurgling. Some sounded right, like what I assumed a human child should sound like, and others didn’t. The crying always stopped, sometimes by itself and somethings after I heard a good hard sickening THUD, but it always stopped eventually. Then I’d see the ladies busying themselves around the caldron, brewing up a skin cream that made them all look younger (fresher), even the old ones.
Other times, I’d catch glimpses of the women nursing babies at their bosoms. Anne and Joan used to do it right in front of me but they wouldn’t never let me see the children’s (my children’s) faces. I got a feeling they kept the girls only; they was replenishing the coven. I have no idea how long their kind lives — because I’m now certain that there ain’t nothing human about them — but some of the older ones had to be close to the end. Perhaps that’s why they needed me.
Blythe’s belly never grew. Even though she visited me in the bed most often, and most tenderly, she never grew my seed. I have no idea why that still makes me a little sad — given the horror of what was happening to those (my) youngins’ — but it does. Blythe’s special to me, always will be.
A few times a year, which I now reckon to be the two equinoxes and solstices, they’d leave the cabin and descend into the woods. I was so curious one night that I decided to follow them. I had to gather my strength to get out of the bed and my legs and feet felt cramped and sore since I hadn’t been walking in a while. I spied them just beyond the tree grove, all of them dancing stark naked around a big bonfire. I wasn’t able to take my eyes off them even though I was scared that they was gonna see me and get mad and crack my skull open like they’d done to most of the babes. Yet after about an hour, Blythe did spot me and did nothing but smile. Later, they all led me back to the cabin and Blythe loved me to sleep while Anne and Joan lounged nearby, lulling a sweet song in a language that only their kind could understand.
And so that’s how it was for years; maybe as long as a decade or more. I lived every young man’s fantasy and probably would’ve kept on doing it if they hadn’t evicted me.
It wasn’t as harsh as it sounds. I always figured that when they got tired of me, they’d simply kill me and eat me like they did to the soldiers and the occasional band of runaway slaves who had the misfortune of crossing the cabin’s path. Yet Blythe had other ideas. Although she never spoke, she was somehow the most commanding of them. Hell, for all I know she’s the oldest and is just real good at masking it. One day, when I was a grown man with a full beard and fuller belly, she dressed me, and helped me off the bed, and led me out of the cabin. We walked hand-in-hand out of the woods in much the same way that we’d walked into it so many years before. She brought me back to my childhood home. My parent’s graves were overgrown, the stones covered in moss, and the barn was barely standing, but a rush of memories came at me nonetheless.
I told her I didn’t want to stay here. I begged her to go back to the cabin (coven) and the warmth of her bed (body) but she shook her head firmly. She handed me a pouch full of sand — or what normal folks would mistake for sand — and pointed outwards towards the farm and the trees and what lay beyond them. Without one word uttered, I’d been given my instructions, assigned my fate. I would’ve compiled regardless, but I’m mighty glad that she saw fit to give me one final intimate kiss before she slipped back into the woods and disappeared among the trees.
It was strange going back to town. A lot had changed and most folks didn’t know me and assumed I was a hobo or a drifter; I hadn’t shaved in a while. Pa had been a poor man, but a savvy one, and he had saved some coins in a mason jar that he’d buried under the porch. I dug it up and had just enough in pocket to get a wash and a shave, some food and a paper. The old feller behind the counter at the general store seemed to recognize me, although he didn’t say nothing. It took me a moment to recognize him since, when I’d been there last, he was a man of thirty or so and now he looked like a granddaddy. I sure as heck ain’t aged that much. Whatever the girls put into those potions clearly worked.
The paper said there’d been a war, not the Civil War but another one, and now a third was brewing. The country was in trouble, everybody was poor. Money men in New York City were jumping out of windows and out west there was some awful freak of nature going on called the Dust Bowl. It sounded more like a hex or a spell than anything natural, but of course I didn’t say that to nobody. In fact, I didn’t say one word to nobody then, and haven’t much since. I’m sure my conversation skills are well and truly lacking.
With my foray into town over, I went back to the farm and spread the sand (ground baby bones) all over the edges of my property. I knew damn well it was a protection spell; a long-lasting one at that. I saw how the world was changing when I went into my once-sleepy village; people riding around on machines rather than horses and women wearing outfits that showed off more of their physiques than my momma woulda thought proper… and the town was bigger, a LOT bigger, than it had been when I was a boy. It’s only a matter of time before more people come and then folks start walking around those woods.
And Blythe knew it.
We can’t let nobody find them… or me. I’ll start fixing up my homestead, although I reckon I’m about eight decades old I don’t feel or look more than thirty-five or so. I can do it. The work will put muscles on me, just the way they like it.
If the coven needs a place to run to (sanctuary), I can provide such safety. And it’s not just because if I fail, they’ll tear me limb-from-limb and use my parts for potions — which they would, but that’s beside the point. There’s a reason I built that old farmstead back up. There’s a cause behind me camping out yonder every night just to hear the cold-comfort of their calls and rustling. There’s a method behind my unending diligence to their preservation.
I protect them, because that’s what patriarchs do.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available