The first lamp was lit in the dying light of the day. Swinging from a branch of a birch tree it cast
its shuddering shadows on the ornate bannisters of the balcony as it was pushed by the wind. From there
the next lamp was lit, this one a little brighter that the first and resting on the branch of a sycamore a few
feet away. The groundskeeper continued to ignite the lamps, his movements brisk and efficient from
practice, a third lamp, even brighter than the other two, then a fourth, and on and on they went. The
bobbings lights of the lamps continued through the grounds, past the pool and the gazebo, around the guest
house and through the herb garden, leading farther and farther away from the house. Creating a glowing
path into the thin forest that grew on the edge of the property. It is a trail of light and the farther the lamps
are from the house, the brighter they get. Into the forest they go, illuminating the mossy rocks and
protruding roots that makeup the floor of that pathless wood, until, quite abruptly, they stop at nothing, the
brightest lamp resting high the bough of an ancient oak.
Nothing less than the peace of the house rested on those glowing lamps, Mrs. Tordy thought as
she watched them come to bright life. Everything that she had worked and sacrificed for rested on the thin
wires that held those lights aloft. Mr. Vincent, her daughter’s husband and the true owner of all she
surveyed, was quick to anger and quicker to action, and if he found one more moth in his room when he
awoke, he might begin to seriously question where they came from.
Turning away from the window Mrs. Tordy began to ready herself for bed. She removed her
layers one by one. First her jewelry, a long string of pearls with matching earrings, a diamond encrusted
watch, then her makeup, wiping away the layers of foundation and rouge and mascara, and finally her
clothes, her custommade dress and her pristine undergarments. Slipping into her nightgown she sat in
front of her vanity and squinted over a mirror, bringing a pair of tweezers to her chin where she began to
pluck at the stray hairs that had grown there.
Spread out in front of her was every last item needed in the attempt to preserve her youth, or at
least cover up the marks of her age, the wrinkles and spots that had taken over her face. There were
many women of the town the same age who would go see her, the witch who lived up on the hill to
preserve their youth. But not Mrs. Tordy. She knew better. That woman did not think like everyone else,
she did not concern herself with right and wrong, the witches body may reside in this world, but her soul
lived somewhere else, a different place, a darker one.
Besides, Mrs. Tordy had already paid the woman a great price, and she would pay her no more.
That price had inadvertently bought her everything surrounding her now; her daughter’s husband with all
of his wealth, this house and the grounds, the jewelry, the parties, everything she had always wanted, they
now had. But it had been a painful price, and even now, sitting in this fine room surrounded by luxury, even
now Mrs. Tordy wondered if the price paid had been worth it.
Lyndon, Mrs. Tordy’s daughter, was a very beautiful girl, but they hadn’t led an easy life. Mrs.
Tordy was not rich and she did not marry well and any money they had Mr. Tordy quickly lost. Gambling,
drinking, foolish ventures that never panned out, money left quicker than it came in. When their daughter
was born, their perfect and beautiful daughter, Mrs. Tordy hoped her husband would change his ways, but
a leopard cannot change its spots, and destitute they became.
There was always something different about Lyndon. She was an uncommonly beautiful and
happy child, but strange things always seemed to happen around her. There was a girl at the school, a vain
little thing, her nose always turned up, always a snide word or a nasty insult on the tip of her tongue.
Lavinia was her name. She was neither pretty nor bright, but she was rich, which counted for quite a bit
indeed. One day, in the coolness of the fall, Lavinia came to school wearing a gold ring with a beautiful
bloodred ruby in the center, encircled with diamonds.
“Look,” she said to the other girls extending her arm, “Look what my father brought back from
the East. Isn’t it beautiful?” She showed off that ring for days. Sometimes she would let some other girls
touch it, or even try it on, but never Lyndon.
“Not you, Lyndon,” Lavinia would say. “You always smell like onions and I’m worried your smell
will stick to it and I’ll have to throw it out.”
Mrs. Tordy would never forget that day when her daughter came home, crying so strongly she
could barely breath. She put her head in her mother’s lap and wept and wept about how all of the girls
made fun of her, of how she hated Lavinia and how she never wanted to see that ring again. Two days
later Lavinia lost both of her hands in a terrible accident and the ring was never seen again. And then
there was their dog, Bruno, who died after getting into a fight with another animal. Again, the little girl
wept and begged for her friend to be alive again, to jump and run and play and sleep next to her at night.
After Bruno had dug himself up, Mr. Tordy had to dismember him, but even then his limbs twitched and
his jaw opened wide as if it were breathing, even though his lungs were across the yard. She could still
remember the smell of burning hair and flesh from that night when they had to burn the body.
Other things happened as well, the events began to escalate, in scope and damage. The school
was destroyed in a flash flood the day after Lyndon said she never, ever wanted to go back. Then, of
course there was the removal of the president by coup after a spirited and drunken rant from Mr. Tordy
about the government being the cause of all the families woes. So Mrs. Tordy sought to control it.
“Wish for wealth, for us to be showered in gems,” Mrs. Tordy hissed to her daughter. “Wish for a
huge mansion and servants, wish for money, we could have anything.” Three days later the old abandon
mansion which sat on a small hill by their house slipped off its foundation and came to rest in their
backyard, releasing a thousand shining grenn beetles that had made residence in the dilapidated walls.
“Gold,” Mrs. Tordy whispered in her daughter’s ear at night, “Wish for money, piles of it,
mountains.” The next morning her husband came home whooping and rejoicing, “look what I have found,”
he cried to his family. From outside he pulled in a large bag, so heavy that it threatened to tear at the
bottom, he grunted and lifted and slammed it down on the scratched and worn kitchen table. “Wait until
you see,” he cried, “it was just sitting by the side of the road, our problems are over!” He opened the bag,
his eyes shining with pride as golden light reflected the sun and made patterns on the wall.
“Gold?” Lyndon asked. But before Mr. Tordy could get a word out Mrs. Tordy was picking up
the heavy rocks and aiming them at his head.
“Fools gold, you idiot,” she screamed, “feel how heavy it is, it’s not real, it’s not real!” It was
never real. The things that Mrs. Tordy ordered her daughter to want never materialized, it was all tricks
and cruelty, a locked treasure chest that when finally pried open, revealed nothing but rot and waste.
Every day and every night Mrs. Tordy pestered her daughter, convinced that she could find a way
to control it. That if Lyndon wished for money and jewels in a certain way they would materialize. It was
always so close, a wish for money brought a dying thief, his pockets filled with loot, to their doorstep only
to be quickly followed by the angry men he had robbed. But Mrs. Tordy would not be dismayed and never
for even a moment would she relent, she constantly pestered her daughter, told her to wish in a specific
way, a different wording, and Mrs. Tordy would grow furious when the inevitable outcome brought them
nothing. And so Lyndon began to detest her mother, and though she never spoke the curses out loud, they
were always on the tip of her tongue.
“I wish you would just go away,” Lyndon screamed after her mother had made her spent the night
writing down a list of things she wanted and how they could wish for them without the consequences. The
entire day Mrs. Tordy paced the house, wringing a dishrag between her hands. How would it come, would
she be kidnapped, would she die? Mrs. Tordy should have known, but it was still a shock when the police
came knocking at her door, it seemed a necklace had been stolen and Mrs. Tordy was the prime suspect,
would she mind if they looked around? Of course not, Mrs. Tordy said foolishly, she had not stolen, and
yet the necklace was found under her bed. She spent eight months in prison.
Two days after she was released, she drug her daughter up to see that fetid old demon in her cave
at the top of the hill.
“I can’t make the power leave her,” the witch said. “It is in her bones and her blood, it will only
leave this body when your daughter’s spirit leaves it. But I can do something else,” she said slyly looking
out from under her hood and across a table made of stone. “I can make it so the child will be forced to
think before she speaks.” Her price? A useless husband that gambled the families money away, a selfish
and lazy man that Mrs. Tordy would well be rid of. It was a gift, really, the witch assured her, she was
taking Mr. Tordy off her hands. What was done with him, Mrs. Tordy never discovered, but after that
night he was never seen or heard from again.
It was a moonless night when the three of them stood around a fire atop the hill and a stream of
noises poured from the witches mouth. They were like almostwords, words that had been twisted and
drug through filth and feasted upon on by vermin. Dark corrupted guttural sounds, shrieks and screams like
the curse an angry sky would throw to the hateful ground. Beings without names were mocked, God was
reviled, the saints were desecrated, every good thing was poisoned, every sweet thought was turned to
horror and gore and all the while the fire grew brighter and stronger, though no new kindling was put on it.
The smoke was thick and black and reeked of burnt flesh.
Mrs. Tordy looked up and above her and watched as the stars blinked out, their lights turning into
an ever deeper darkness, darker even than the night sky in which they hovered. They turned from stars
into tunnels to somewhere beyond. Star by dying star darkness overcame the heavens. In the town below
the warm glow of the fires seen through open windows were slowly being covered in a neverending
blanket of thick impermeable blackness. The trees around them cried and groaned, withered and died until
all that remained in the universe was Mrs. Tordy, her daughter, and the witch, the only light from the fire
that burned between them.
Then, from above, the hot breath of some fearsome God blew upon them, thick with stench of
rotten death and from somewhere past the empty darkness of the sky she could see other things.
Somewhere blacker than black, inside that place above them a thousand slithering monstrous creatures
writhed in answer to the witches cries, beings that God himself would flinch away from stirred and swirled
above them, always above, waiting for their turn to fall.
Then it was done. The fire returned to a normal size. The stars winked in their constellations,
protecting the little people on the little planet from the horrors above. The town below glowed again, and
her daughter still stood next to her, looking the same as always.
“Did it work?” Mrs. Tordy demanded of her daughter, “Say something!”
“I don’t feel any differ“ Lyndon began and then she grabbed her throat and began to choke, to
cough and gag.
“What happened?” Mrs. Tordy cried, had they passed through Hell itself only for her daughter to
die on the other side. But no. Slowly Lyndon stood straight, her eyes wide and white with fear. She
opened her mouth as if to scream and up from her throat a moth wriggled its way out. Breaking free of
her lips it spread its wings and flew away from her, hovering around the fire, it’s powderwhite wings
glowing from the flames.
“What did you do?” Mrs. Tordy demanded of the old woman.
“I made her bite her tongue,” the witch said and she cackled and laughed and danced a little jig
right there next to the fire as if it were the most clever thing she had ever said. “She won’t speak now, the
world is safe from her curse.”
And so it was. From that moment forward when Lyndon would open her mouth to speak, she
would think of the moths forming in her throat, wriggling their way out and she would think again. Her
voice quieted. She became known for her silence, a silence everyone confused with a demure, sweet
nature. Lyndon went from a feisty child to a quiet woman, a woman who opened her mouth to speak so
rarely that many of those who called her a friend had never heard her utter more than two words.
She became an object of mystery, the beautiful, silent girl. The mothers of the eligible bachelors
marveled at her silence, considering it politeness and good manners, the creation of good breeding, instead
of dark magic. Men from the best families came knocking at the door, and Mrs. Tordy, now a widow, or
so she told everyone, greeted them one by one. She sized them up to discover which would reap her the
most benefits for the price she had paid. She settled on a handsome bachelor, steeped in old money,
reputable and rich, everything she told herself that she wanted. What Lyndon wanted? It was hard to say,
she took little interest in the proceedings, keeping quiet and hidden away, worried the moths would erupt
from her throat and she would be driven from town for the nightmare she was. She kept silent and did as
she was told, giving her consent or denial with a nod or shake of her head. And the times when she must
speak, when she could not avoid creating the moths inside of her, such as to say ‘I do’ on her wedding
day, she would have to capture the moths in her mouth, chew them and swallow them back down.
But at night, as she watches the lighting of the lamps that lead to nowhere Mrs. Tordy wonders, if
there could have been a different life, a life without the money and without the moths. She wonders what
became of her husband. Late at night when Lyndon is asleep and old nightmares keep her mother awake,
Mrs. Tordy watches the timid, fluttery wings of the moths as they glide from lamp to lamp, away from the
house. At night, in her sleep, Lyndon cannot help but whisper out the words she is forced to hold back in
the day. The shimmering moths force their way out of her mouth and into the world where they float and
hover around her head, a halo of insects. It is the light of the lamps that lure the moths to the freedom that
is denied their creator. In the darkness they are born, and in the darkness they float from light to light,
dozens of them travelling down the trail of lamps and hovering around the brightest light hanging from the
ancient oak in the middle of the forest, on top of nothing. When morning comes with its bright daylight, the
spell of the lamps is broken, and moths are released to fly off into the world.