Thursday, 21 September 2017
The timbers crackled and popped as the flames licked the blood that had soaked into them; there was a sweet smell of roasting meat, and, as the last of the supports gave way, the cottage crumpled in on itself. Marta and Ingel smiled; their childhood was now behind them.
Marta had been hailed as the miracle baby. She had been born premature and had survived in an age where there was no such thing as premature death. The majority of babies died and so did many of their mothers. The facts of life were few; the facts of death many. All hailed the miraculous except her mother who now feared for what the birth meant, and what price they might all have to pay.
For when she was thirteen weeks pregnant she met with a woman in the woods who promised her that Marta’s life would be spared. ‘But at what cost?’ the expectant mother had asked, for she knew how such magicks worked. However, this was surely a small magick, and her need was so great.
But there is no such thing as small where magicks are concerned.
And when the baby was born all marvelled at the miracle, pushing all other thoughts away; but then the baby never cried, never wanted feeding and she had the blackest eyes you ever did see; and then, oh, did the fear start to grow inside her mother.
‘Oh, what is it that I have brought upon our family that I have done such?’ she wept, though all presumed it was due to the torture and torment of such a perilous birth.
Marta was not the first born, and nor was she the last. Mathew and Ingel were both happy births; but she was the most troublesome; but not in a way that her mother could put her finger on (though she tried).
For six years Marta kept her own company, and that of her sister; but of Mathew she wanted nothing. Marta and Ingel played deep in the woods, far deeper than even Mathew would dare go, even though he was three years older.
One day the mother, who’s dread and curiosity had got the better of her, ventured herself into the woods and followed her wayward daughters. Underneath a twisted Elm she saw Marta sitting hunched down, her arms cradle something in her lap. Being very careful not to be heard, the mother edged round so she could see more of what was happening.
And what a sight met her eyes that she shrieked with disgust and fear; Marta was suckling Ingel not from her breast but from a third nipple in the middle of her chest. All back then were well versed in the lore of Witchcraft and knew the signs, and this was unmistakable; but not her daughter, not her own Martha!
She ran to her daughters who were startled by such a sudden noise, and tore Ingel away. She then tore open Marta’s dress to verify her worst fears. Woe then when she could not see any sign of the third nipple any longer; not even a scar. But it was there….
She dragged them both home in silence and if she had dared look back then she would have seen the glances of malice and reckoning pass between her daughters.
“But I did see something. You weren’t there, Papa.”
“Trick of the light, Ma. That was all it was; you’ve always been tense around Marta, and all can understand why. You’ve always been superstitious but not around Mathew and Ingel.” And it was then that she poured out her soul to her husband; all that had been bottled up for six long years.
At first he had looked at her with sympathy, then concern before feeling that maybe there was something more serious wrong with the woman who had borne him three children, The first seeds of doubt are often sewn carelessly but only one needs to root for it to spread like wildfire.
Just as he now paid more attention to his wife, so she paid more attention to Marta. The bond between Marta and Ingel was unholy; more akin to mother and daughter or worse.. but her husband put it down to healthy curiosity; yet even Mathew was ashamed and embarrassed by it. One day his mother found him crying in the cellar.
“Why cry, Mathew? What can it be that ails you?”
“Marta and Ingel; they torment me so.”
“Are you sure it’s not the other way around?”
“I knew you’d never believe me. They said you wouldn’t.” At that his mother hugged him very tightly and apologised, kissing his tears away.
“I’m sorry, my pet. Of course, I believe you. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
“We were playing dares. She said that she had something that I didn’t; so she showed it to me.. a third teat… it was disgusting; she asked if I wanted to suck at it. When I said no she asked to see my… my..”
His mother was horrified, so she hadn’t imagined the third nipple, after all. She softly encouraged her son to continue, fearing what she was going to hear next.
“Well, they goaded me; said that I wasn’t man enough; so I showed them. Then it got hard when they touched it and Marta took hold of it; then took a rusty blade and cut it. I couldn’t flinch else she would’ve cut me deep and she said that she’d cut it off if I said anything. But you’ll protect me, won’t you, Ma?”
“Yes, of course I will. Your Pa will hear of this as well, mark me.”
But of course, the father wouldn’t have anything harsh said about his Princess, not the miracle baby. Mathew was simply making it up for attention.
And when Mathew went missing a week later it was seen as another attempt at attention seeking. He was hiding out in the woods somewhere, but his mother knew; oh, she knew something was wrong and so did Marta; and though butter wouldn’t melt when she was with her father (for she was all sweetness and pudding) she reserved her scorn filled gazes for her mother.
And when Matthew was found later, his insides were where his outsides were meant to be.; everyone put it down to wild animals for his body was barely recognisable. Most of his organs had been mangled completely, partly eaten except for his manhood which looked as if it had been cut off.
The mother knew that she would be next. There was her side of the bargain that was due and there is only ever one payment: a life for a life.
Early that morning, when she knew her husband was in his deepest slumbers, she crept into her daughters room vowing vengeance. Ingel looked so innocent; she could still be saved if Marta’s life was ended quickly. Grabbing a pillow from poor Mathew’s bed she placed it on Marta’s face and held it down hard, despite the struggling and muffled screams.
Ingel woke with a start and screamed herself, trying to tear her mother away from Marta’s prone body, scratching red furrows into her flesh.
The blow came from nowhere and hit mother hard on the back of the head. She collapsed and fell against the dresser. Her husband stood over her, his face ashen with shock, eyes streaming with tears at what his wife had tried to do. He hit her again, aghast that his own wife was still trying to get to his daughters bed. After the third blow she did not move any more.
He then cried out himself feeling a tearing pain in his ankles. He fell and clutched at them and was horrified to find gushing blood. His Achilles tendons had been cut through.
“Thank you, Ingel.” Marta said, getting out of bed and into her nightgown. Ingel held the knife and watched the first rays of the morning sun dance on its blade.
“And thank you, Father, I was most afraid that Mother would go through with it; she was far stronger than I had anticipated But, you see, she was quite right. And now it’s far too late for you, just as it was too late for Mathew –but don’t worry; you’ll be joining them both.
“But before you die you’ll be offered as the final sacrifice and the covenant that was started with my birth will be completed, and we will go back to him. Goodbye Father.”
From underneath her bed Ingel took two large torches, walked into the kitchen and lit them; there were stacks of wood in each corner of the cottage –each had been placed there the night previous.
Once satisfied that the cottage was ablaze, the daughters walked to the closest hill and watched their childhood burn away to nothing, before turning their back and walking whence they came; into the darkest depths of the wood.