It was noon. I could not distinguish the susurrus of the wind through the olive groves from the sound of the ocean below us. It tossed up the fish belly bottoms of the leaves, shoals of shifting silver in a white sun’s gaze. We were alone.
Far into the hills, I could see the concrete husks of an abandoned housing development. The windows were dark as mournful eye sockets; those gaping doorways were instead mouths, bereft of teeth. The sky was clear. I imagined the heat as a person, menacing storm clouds with tight-knuckled hands. It could kill, that heat. I’d have killed for rain.
Beth shifted, rubbing her scrub-rough carapace on my ankle. Both of us were thirsty, but as of then only I had the privilege of hands with which to pour, or a tongue with which to speak. I know I’m a worse person for it, but after her change I was glad for silence. Beth often raised topics I’d prefer to keep buried.
Very little stayed buried, in those days.
Beth nudged me again, this time with a throaty groan. Our water was almost gone, and I still wasn’t sure what we were looking for. Hours of languor outside had stripped any sense of time. I was slipping. My skin itched. I missed New England.
The breeze picked up. I poured the last of the water into Beth’s waiting maw, the inside of which was studded with ridges, rather than genuine teeth. Something stank. I pushed her away.
“Mmrrph,” She rolled onto her back, flailing her stubby little limbs in the air. Under the thickened pad of her foot, she strained her vestigial middle toe, formerly finger.
“Mmrrph you too,”
The worst part of the transformations was not when the body became entirely animal. No, it was the uncanny period of metamorphosis, when human features could yet be distinguished in the slope of a warping torso, the posture, or worse, the face. By the conventions of myth, our eyes should have remained human, maybe as a warning not to futz with the fringes of science. But even they had changed.
Mine had been brown. They paled as my sight sharpened. By then, my family was afraid for me. High schoolers don’t get glaucomas. Nor do they see better with them.
“Dammit, Rory, is it drugs?” My grades were fine. My body was not. That’s why I went looking for the witch.
Rumors spread for miles about that stretch of coast. There were scorch marks without fires, forlorn calls that echoed in the hills and vanished into nothing. A group of tourists claimed to have witnessed a genuine bacchanalian, three thousand years overdue. Strange sightings were so common, no one payed attention.
Unless they were desperate. Unless they knew that all science had, at one time, been called magic.
My first hints were the development projects. Many parts of the Greek coast had half finished buildings, stalled with the economy. But this was different. Time and again, companies had come with their trucks and scaffolding. Time and again they had left, citing some issue with soil, with roads, not originally noticed. The oldest husks were from the seventies, crumbling to dust among more storied ruins. As we walked further, I mused that they were reclaimed by nature much like my own legs, my own back, and soon, like my whole body.
Of course, one turned back eventually. That is the nature of cycles, and nature herself is cyclical.
But I’ve never been a patient woman.
I switched my bag to the other shoulder. With every step I listed to one side, so Beth leaned against my leg, balancing me. We still had to search the last cluster of buildings.
"Do you smell that?" I'd thought it was Beth, at first, but the stink was chemical. Something was burning.
She grunted in agreement and scampered ahead, sticking her snout in the air. If she could, Beth would have lectured me about chemical contaminants.
She paused, then moved a few feet. Then paused. I took my chance to catch up.
"Do you think we've found..."
As I said, I didn't know what we were looking for.
In response, she nipped my leg with her beaklike mouth. By then I knew the signal.
"Get down!" A stack of pipes sat feet away. I dove, pulling her with me.
Something popped inside my ribcage. I was breathing hard. I gestured to the stack.
I meant, "What's going on?"
Of course, Beth said nothing. I covered my nose with my shirt and looked out from behind the pipes.
At first, I could see only trees, which were low and bent with exposure. The buildings far behind looked...warped somehow, as if I saw them through a curved lens. As I watched, the silhouette of a body would coalesce from nothing. Then pieces would break off, wicking into the air like dry ice, and again there would be nothing. The effect was dizzying, as my brain tried to process how something could simultaneously exist and not exist. Or maybe I was dizzy from the fumes.
The figure turned. I was suddenly, consciously aware of my own powerlessness.
We'd found the witch.