“I need to stop drinking. For the baby.” Lost in shame, Gilly tried to force away the image of her newborn daughter’s face.
Mother June gave her a comforting shoulder squeeze. Across the room, the Eldest gestured to the other women who stood clustered in the corners of the low basement.
Eleven witches, one coven.
“We’ve all struggled.” The Eldest soothed as she shared a look with Mother June. “We must seem old to you. It’s hard to attract younger women to the ancient arts. So few believe…”
The coven looked more like gray-haired grandmothers than powerful conjurers, Gilly thought. She would pass these women in the grocery without a second thought.
“I’m not sure I believe in magic,” Gilly confessed, “But nothing’s worked. I don’t want to live like this.”
“We will cast a spell for you, child. For your baby. Our magic is old and secret. You can’t tell anyone what we do and you can’t seek help until the spell is finished. Our price is silence.”
Gilly nodded, grateful.
Mother June retreated to a corner and withdrew yards of purple cloth from a sack. Another witch pulled out pruning shears and an amber decanter, which smelled of apricots.
The coven began a tuneless hum as Mother June wrapped Gilly in layers of cloth. Initially, Gilly found herself lulled in the swaddle, but as the women droned on, waves of claustrophobia crashed over her. She struggled against the unyielding fabric.
“You are caught like a fly in a web. We offer a cure. Drink and by the new moon you’ll never swallow another drop of booze,” The Eldest intoned.
Mother June poured the sticky juice into Gilly’s mouth. It overflowed, choking her as she frantically swallowed. Someone cut at the fabric until finally the pruning shears loosed her and Gilly could move her arms again.
The droning halted. The spell was cast.
Walking into the night, Gilly basked in the full moon.
The Eldest called after her, “By the waning of the moon, you will be free of your burdens.”
During the waning gibbous, Gilly was unchanged. She tried for sobriety and sometimes succeeded. Every night, she would rock Sophia to sleep whispering, “Soon I will be a good mama.”
At the quarter moon, Gilly began to worry. Something was happening in her throat. There was a tightening, a stiffening.
Three days later, when the moon became a crescent, Gilly panicked. Her throat was raw and swollen. Alcohol burned and Gilly couldn’t swallow more than sip.
On the last day of the waning crescent, Gilly came to a terrible understanding. She could neither eat nor drink. Breathing was laborious.
From her porch, Gilly could hear Sophia inside, crying to be held. Gilly searched the sky for even the tiniest sliver of moon. The waning moon… She sucked air through her constricted throat. Too weak to talk, she texted her mother and sister. Someone would need to fetch Sophia when the new moon arrived.
She tried to suck in another breath, but this time, there was only suffocating stillness. Gilly sank to her knees in the cold night air. As the darkness crept in, she realized the baby was quiet.
Witches poured out the front door, Mother June carrying Sophia cradled in the black velvet of her robes.