Enjoy an excerpt from Jacob Butlett’s “The Eastern Lights” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
“Excuse me,” said the young girl. “May I ask you something?”
“Of course,” said the old woman. “Are you lost?”
“No. I was wondering, Are you a witch?”
The old woman smiled. “What gave it away?”
As the girl looked up at the domed ceiling, as though thinking of an answer, the woman sat down in the waiting area near Terminal 66. Her flight was running late, but she didn’t care. Around her, children in green bowlers laughed while they played with their dirigible marbles, and to her left, in the open granite corridor, businesswomen in crimson robes gathered in packs, soldiers in feathered jackets marched to a nearby waiting area, and typical zeppelin flyers in golden caftans or pigskin tunics sprinted to their terminal gates. Some of their trunks and suitcases trailed behind them on their own—like large cats following their masters.
“What if I’m wrong?” the girl asked.
“You can say my hat, sweetie.” She stroked the rim of her large, pointy sunhat. Her outfit as a whole—her velvety tier cape and billowy pleated skirt—gave her away. Everyone in the kingdom, as far as she knew, could identify standard witch apparel, which hadn’t changed in over a hundred years. Now in her late-sixties, she remembered her tenth birthday party, where she’d worn her first pointy hat and black cape. Her late father, a renowned wizard, had knelt down beside her. You’re a beautiful witch, he’d said. The outside world may think you’re wicked, but you’re not. You’ll become a powerful witch one day, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.
The girl’s eyes brightened. “You’re a witch!”
“All my life.”
A tincture of despair flitted through the woman. She was a powerful witch, but her father hadn’t always been with her, as he promised. Many years ago, a family friend—a young wizard—had barged into her childhood house, his eyes full of tears. He witnessed an officer and his trained canine stop the witch’s father, and before her father could reach into his robes for his citizenship papers, the officer ordered the canine to attack.
The canine tore apart her father’s throat, killed him before the young wizard could do anything.
She cried when he relayed what happened to her mother minutes later, and an hour later, she and her mother went to the police station, where they had to identify the father’s body in front of the same officer that ordered the slaying. He broke K.O.N. 33, the officer explained, and they nodded without saying a word, trembling against each other. When they returned home an hour later, they hugged each other and wept.
Kingdom Ordinance Number 33: “Any wizard, witch, or warlock behaving with general hostility in public is subject to disciplinary action.”
What kind of disciplinary action? she asked her father when she was a kid, and he said, Deadly action. If they want to kill you, they will. They want you dead because you’re different. Because you’re a witch. But don’t worry. I will always be with you…
A voice erupted from the sound system, alerting everyone that the Terminal 66 zeppelin would arrive in the next ten minutes. Relieved by the news, she invited the girl to sit down and asked, “Going to the Shallow Lands, too?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “We’re gonna see the lightshow.”
“You don’t want to see the Eastern Lights?”
“Doesn’t matter. You can enjoy the Lights when you’re seven or seventy-seven.”
“All the red and yellow and blue lights dancing among the stars—it’s exciting. You’ll love it.”
The girl flashed a smile. “Are you going to see the Eastern Lights?”
“If I have time. I’m going to see a friend of mine.”
She wanted to be honest but knew better. After years of riots and peace marches, the oppression against the magical community—the Great Segregation—ended. She’d just turned twenty when the Judiciary Masters of the High Court abrogated all of the kingdom’s discriminatory ordinances, including Number 33. The officer who’d killed her father later quit the force and disappeared without a trace—though now, having discovered the former officer’s current home address, the woman planned to visit him. Show him pictures of the witches, wizards, and warlocks he killed. Discuss how his actions ruined her childhood and the families he targeted. Chastise him. Forgive him, or kill him with the wand she kept in her bottomless handbag.
“Where are your parents?”
Jacob Butlett is an award-winning gay storyteller with an A.A. in General Studies and a B.A. in Creative Writing. In 2017, he won the Bauerly-Roseliep Scholarship for literary excellence, and in 2018, he received a Pushcart Prize nomination for poetry. Some of his work has been published in The MacGuffin, Panoply, Rat’s Ass Review, Cacti Fur, Gone Lawn, Rabid Oak, Ghost City Review, Lunch Ticket, Fterota Logia, Into the Void, and plain china. He was selected as a finalist in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards residency competition of 2019.