Hallo, Aro: Witch – K. A. Cook

Banner for Hallo, Aro Allosexual Aro Flash Fiction. Image features dark black handwritten type on a mottled green background. Diagonal rows of arrows with bands, heads and fletching in the colours of the green/light green/white/yellow/gold allo-aro pride flag cross the image above and below the text.

Hallo, Aro is a series of flash fiction stories about allosexual aromantic characters navigating friendship, sexual attraction, aromanticism and the weight of amatonormative expectation.

Contains: An allo-aro who discovers a magical shortcut on the road to freedom from their village’s traditions of sex negativity and amatonormativity.

To speak truth to a witch is to court danger, but honesty offers less grievous a hazard than falsehood.

Links: PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for download from Patreon.

Length: 993 words / 4 PDF pages.

Content advisory: Literal and metaphoric depiction of a human protagonist’s sexual attraction for a not-quite-human witch, as well as that entity’s attraction for the protagonist, in a fairy tale centred on allo-aro sexuality and reclamation of stereotype. Please expect references to aro antagonism, amatonormativity and sex negativity in terms of how they intersect to harm allo-aros as well as passing references to misogyny, queer antagonism and trans antagonism.

Note: Some readers may view this as an abbreviated retelling of Bones of Green and Hearts of Gold … or a story depicting another of an ancient witch’s many interactions with allo-aros in need of hir.

(This piece can be read as a stand-alone work.)

“Where go you, this wet-making morning?”

By the side of the road, a short figure shelters under a gnarled oak’s canopy. Light eyes and a freckled face peer out from beneath a pine-green cloak’s hood; wisps of blond hair cling to round, flushed cheeks. A basket of kindling rests beside hir bare feet and grass-stained skirts.

The villagers call hir the Forest Witch.

Nobody ignores hir hail.

Only one road, long and muddy, wends its way through deep forest before reaching the distant plains, towns and cities described by returning travellers. Most do, bringing home the gifts of strange story and stranger sorcery—such trinkets oft accompanied by an outlander consort and a babe swelling belly. Some don’t, mourned by the kin they left behind—or the kin they fled from.

Only one reason explains your travel given the sopping bundle strapped to your back and the winter’s downpour pooling inside your boots.

“Onwards,” you say, gesturing south. To speak truth to a witch is to court danger, but honesty offers less grievous a hazard than falsehood. “Anywhere. I can’t stay.”

Hir eyes rest upon yours in a gaze not yet piercing. “Why?”

Younger sons became the village’s first adventurers, defying ancient maxims and the weighty chains cast by forebear-dictated names. Later, daughters took to the road against fathers’ demands in marriage and mothers’ expectations in subservience, returning with love-chosen husbands from foreign climes. Over the years, yet more rebels put foot to path in search of proof against inflexible tradition: men who wished to wed other men, women who knew they weren’t men, people who scorned at gender too-neatly divided in twain. Over the years, many came back, blessed with the certitude that the village will survive their forgoing another tired law.

Returned wanderers purchased by their long journeys the knowledge needed to demand change.

The sky, thereafter, did not fall.

Why? You wriggle chilled toes, considering. “I may marry whomever I please, should they agree. Such freedom bears no shame. Seeking pleasure without union … that brings shame upon me and those who consort with me.” You search the witch’s shadowed face for proof of your gravest fear: this time, the rule is just. This time, you’ll find certitude no more than a murderer fleeing the village thinks to find celebration. “I don’t know how to be what I’m not.”

This time, you are only a lustful beast retreating from the innocent.

What happens to those too dangerous to return?

“You can’t forgo this … pleasure?” The witch teases out the last word, hir tongue darting between wine-crimson lips.

Some view the witch as a woman-like figure in skirts and lace, others a beardless youth in waistcoat and breeches. More sight a person in work-worn clothes and short hair, a person defying oft-gendered trappings. A rare few admit to a moss-dappled being bearing vines where locks should grow, an antlered, cloven-hoofed creature born from deepest earth.

Those few, in the days following, take to the road.

Perhaps some, great of wit and quick of tongue, can thread words like beads so that unspeakable truths lie concealed within honest phrasings, but you ponder for too long, the rain carving puddles about your feet.

“Or perhaps,” ze says, laughing, “you wish not to?”

Hir amused voice, unburdened by your family’s concern, lights hope’s fire beneath your skin, and you watch hir like a hunter watches a grazing buck. Desiring. “Some suffer more consequences after an unwed bedding, and we preach this as vulnerability, dishonour. Why don’t we work to better mitigate these problems? Why must indulging desire cause unfairly-distributed shame? Don’t our rules only disguise our unwillingness to support others?” You hesitate before voicing, to the witch and to the world, a long-carried, frustration-heavy truth: “I shouldn’t have to agree to keep house to earn my pleasure!”

The rules promise safety should you abide by them, but mortal cruelty prowls the village’s homes regardless—this failure ever resulting from one’s imperfect obedience, not the community’s imperfect reason.

If understanding this makes you monstrous, retreating beast you must be.

The witch raises a hand to hir cloak, tugging at its pin. “The tragedy isn’t that you walk this path, but that those who have returned forget their truths apply to other rules—law after shrouding law. What kindness lies in breaking one whilst cleaving, unquestioned, to others?” Slowly, ze pushes back hir hood. “Take, gladly, to the road, for why remain cursed by what is when you see clearly what can be?”

You see rough-cropped blond hair forming a halo about hir crown … and you see many-tined antlers, like the oak’s twisted boughs, taking root from an ankle-length mane of vines. Plum-coloured fruits, heavy and glistening, nestle amongst flat, broad leaves. A green shadow, like fresh-sprouting shoots piercing tilled earth, blankets hir jaw.

Delicate hooves trimmed with grey feather leave no print on waterlogged soil.

“Will you idle with me? You needn’t fear illness, violation, marriage or child. I swear to pass no limits.” Ze pauses; your heart quickens in frantic, terrible want. “Fear only that you may not leave, thereafter, as whom you are now.”

With a wry smile, the witch lets the cloak fall and hir skirts vanish.

Raindrops trickle down hir breasts to moisten a rounded belly above calves clad in sleek, spotted-grey hide. Verdant moss thatches hir groin. A swollen plum, disturbed by the cloak, falls from hir mane, breaking open against shoulder and chest; scarlet pulp smears hir mushroom-toned skin, the juice defying the should-be-cleansing downpour.

Human shame cannot lie upon a witch-god … or hir chosen partners in pleasure.

You step forwards, yearning to grasp the plum, inhale its fermenting sweetness—perhaps raise it to your thirsting lips. “Nobody awakens as the person they were yesterday.”

“Yes.” The witch tosses another ripe-to-bursting plum to you, beckoning with hir other hand. “Come and taste of all my fruits.”

You catch it, you taste it … and you come.

K. A. Cook is an abrosexual, aromantic, agender autistic who experiences chronic pain and mental illness. Ze writes creative non-fiction, personal essays and fiction about the above on the philosophy that if the universe is going to make life interesting, ze may as well make interesting art. You can find hir blogging at Aro Worlds and running the Tumblr accounts @aroworlds and @alloaroworlds.

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