Edith prayed every night to all the gods so they might listen to bless her and her husband with a child. Many moons passed but each cycle her bleeding came. Every pregnant woman she encountered in the village was another tear in the seams of her soul. While out in the market one day, a slightly older woman recognized the desperation in Edith’s eyes when she looked at the children playing. She stood next to Edith and with the slightest of whispers, she told her to visit the woman in the woods.
That evening, under the cloak of darkness, Edith made the trek through the woods to the witch’s hut. Upon opening the door, the witch immediately said, “You’re here for a child.”
Edith nodded, surprised to find the woman looked so ordinary. The woman was of average height, a little stout, and with hair the color of straw and skin turned pink from the sun. If Edith had passed her in the market, she would not have given her a second look. Snapping out of her thoughts, Edith followed the woman inside.
“You must chop the head off of a crow, save its blood, and bring it back to me on the night of the next blue moon. You came at a good time since the next one is three nights hence.” The woman narrowed her eyes at Edith and asked, “Are you prepared to do whatever you must?”
Edith simply nodded. She would do anything to have a child of her own. She spoke not a word to her husband about what transpired that evening. On the third day, Edith slipped some valerian root into her husband’s mead at night to make him fall asleep early. He often took the herb when he had trouble sleeping.
Sneaking up on a crow proved to be challenging. Edith searched in a nearby farm, away from the road. It took several attempts, but Edith managed to grab hold of one. She hesitated for a moment, feeling squeamish, before chopping off its head with a butcher knife and throwing it into the bucket. Then, before anyone could notice or ask any questions, Edith set off for the woods.
“I’ve been waiting for you, ” the woman called out as Edith approached her hut. She took the bucket from Edith and added some powders and herbs into the blood. “You’ll need to rub this on your stomach.” Edith turned away from the witch, lifted up her dress, and did as she was told.
“There’s some water outside for you to rinse your hands.”
“Thank you,” Edith said, unfazed by her crimson stained hands.
“You can thank me with some vegetables from your garden.”
Edith snuck back into bed with her husband, his body radiating warmth on the cool night. She dreamed about her child. When her husband did not rise with the sun, Edith was not concerned at first. The valerian root must have worked even better than she thought. When she checked on him again, he was now cold. Only then did Edith notice his chest was not moving.
What have I done? she thought to herself. She never imagined he would suffer any ill effect from the valerian root. When she looked at the bottle again in the daylight, she realized she used the wrong bottle, accidentally poisoning him with nightshade. Edith grieved his death, barely able to eat or drink. She did the bare minimum to survive, feeling so utterly alone. After the passing of the next full moon, Edith realized she had not bled. The knowledge of her pregnancy gave Edith a new focus and reason to take care of herself. She forced herself to get up, do the chores, and eat, even when it was hard to leave the bed she once shared with her husband. Her whole life became about her unborn child, despite the pregnancy being tainted by death.
Eight months later, the neighbors heard her screams and sent for the midwife. After the baby was safely delivered, the midwife noticed the baby’s eyes first. They were almost completely black with slight crescent moons on each side — slivers of light cutting through the darkness. She stood speechless, holding the silent, small baby girl.
“Is there something wrong?” the mother implored.
The midwife handed the girl over to the mother in horror, but the mother felt only love. She looked deeply into her daughter’s eyes as if gazing up at the night sky. “I shall call you Luna,” she whispered to her daughter. Only then did Luna let out her first whimper.
Luna truly was a miracle to her mother. She was beautiful in her own way, with a deep tan complexion and tiny white freckles scattered like stardust across her face. Her hair was a deep midnight blue that looked jet black after the sun had set. What drew people’s attention most though, were Luna’s haunting eyes. Some kept their distance, but this did not bother Edith. She continued to dote on little Luna and treated her like a fragile doll. Her strange health ailments, however, were disturbing. Instead of crying, the child often coughed before she could get a sound out as if something was always stuck in her throat. On more than one occasion, she coughed up shredded black feathers. They reminded Edith of Luna’s unusual conception. As she grew older and became aware of being shunned, Luna began to feel isolated and alone, despite her mother’s constant presence. Luna loved her mother, but it was not enough; she yearned for time with children her own age, who spoke the language of youth.
While walking through the village on her seventh birthday, Luna noticed a group of small children running around and playing. She wandered off towards the children, but her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her back.
On the way back to the house, Luna saw a scarecrow propped up on a wooden cross in a field of corn. Staring at the scarecrow, Luna suddenly saw herself reflected in the scarecrow. Her heart reached out to it: a kindred, lifeless spirit. I’ll never get to have real friends, she thought.
Suddenly, Luna felt short, stabbing pains in her stomach. The world around her started to spin. She tried to let out her first real scream, not of fear, but of frustration. She lifted her chin up to the sky, opened up her throat, but instead of words, a dozen crows flew out of her mouth. It took Luna a few moments before she realized she was looking down at her mom from many different angles.
Flashes of images came to Luna like lightning, and she had no power over them. Edith kneeling on the dirt road, sobbing and clutching her daughter’s discarded clothes. The children playing their game down the road. An image of the scarecrow kept coming in and out as well. After what felt like only a few moments, Luna’s loneliness and anger subsided. The crows flew towards one another, and began to spin in unison, until finally returning to the form of a human girl once again took their place.
Edith held on to Luna tighter than ever. As soon as she had her wits about her, she scanned the area for other people. “You must never tell anyone about this, Luna. Never.”
At that moment, Luna noticed the eyes on the scarecrow had been pecked out. She shuddered, not knowing whether it was fear of herself or the crows inside that caused her unsteady movements.
As the years passed, Edith became increasingly paranoid about the townspeople discovering her daughter’s secret. Even inside their cottage, Luna’s mother never gave her any space, physically or emotionally. Her love blinded her from truly seeing her daughter. Feeling like a caged bird, both in her home and in her own body, made it hard for Luna to breathe and there was a constant cacophony of cawing in her mind. It was not long before Luna became unable to keep the crows inside. They began to shoot out of her throat. Her mother would try to hold on to Luna, but unable to wrangle a dozen crows at once, they would escape her grasp and soar through the air. Each crow held a part of Luna, so Luna was able to experience the world through them. Edith began to hear murmurs throughout town about crows that appeared to deliberately peck at certain people or purposefully destroy certain property. Often tiny holes or bigger dents appeared suddenly overnight on barns, doors, and wagons, as well as other items. As Luna’s temper and frustration worsened, the occurrences happened more frequently. The townspeople were perplexed.
Edith began to lock the windows. This only caused the transformation to happen more quickly, with the lack of fresh air inhibiting Luna’s ability to breathe. The power of the cyclone of crows broke open the windows and tore a hole in the roof. After helping to repair the roof, Luna implored her mother to allow her to walk into town or explore the fields. Her mother’s fear had become so great that it tainted all of her thoughts and feelings. Yet, she knew she could not contain her daughter. She had made the connection between the murder of crows and her daughter’s volatile emotions, so she began to acquiesce to all of her wishes.
On the first day Edith let Luna out into town it was under the guise of independence, but she decided to discreetly follow her just in case. That day, the Maypole was prominently displayed in the center of town. A bunch of girls were dancing around it and Luna tentatively approached them. The girls recoiled when they locked eyes with Luna. Her mother tensed as she began to see the beginning signs of a wail. Then one girl around Luna’s age grabbed her hand and pulled her along with her, smiling and laughing. The girl had an apricot complexion with sun-kissed strawberry hair and eyes the color of fresh spring grass.
Once she had been accepted by that little girl, the others stopped paying attention to Luna. After a few minutes, the two girls ran off together still hand in hand. Edith felt her body begin to relax. This was exactly what her Luna needed, a friend.
When Luna returned home, she could not stop talking to her mother about Ciara, the friend she made. Ciara kindled a fire inside of Luna; she finally had the freedom and acceptance she desperately craved. For the first time, the crows ceased their continuous flapping inside her. Luna began to run out to meet Ciara each day, but she never mentioned the crows. Ciara wouldn’t even believe her if she did. The crows did not seem to be a part of her anymore, and inside Luna felt a joy that she had never before known. With each touch — a braiding of hair, a hug hello — a meteor shower of emotions flooded Luna’s core.
Lying in the meadow, Ciara gently traced the constellations on Luna’s face with the tip of her finger. Luna exhaled the slightest of sighs.
“You have the most interesting face,” she told Luna.
“Most of the villagers find it odd.”
“No, it’s beautiful.”
Luna turned toward the sky as her heart beat faster.
“I love you,” Luna whispered to the clouds. Ciara squeezed her hand in response and untangled it from Luna’s. Then Ciara let go and took a piece of rope from her basket. She began to braid it and once complete, tied it around Luna’s wrist.
The girls were inseparable for years. As they grew older, they replaced playing with talking, often while doing chores. When their work was done, the two girls would swim in the creek on hot days, make spiced cider on the cold, and daydream about their lives year round.
“I can’t wait until I can have my own home, away from my mother,” Luna complained.
“Are you going to live alone like a spinster or settle down with one of the boys in town?” Ciara asked.
“Why do those have to be my only two choices? Why can’t we just get our own house and do whatever we please?”
“Oh! We’d never have to follow any rules or pick up after anyone else. We could eat lemon cakes for breakfast and get as plump as we please.” Ciara giggled and Luna smiled at the thought.
On the morning of Luna’s thirteenth birthday, Ciara was nowhere to be found. Luna waited for an hour at their usual meeting place. Worried something was amiss, she ran towards Ciara’s house. She caught a gleam of strawberry blonde hair with a crown of crimson poppies, and saw Ciara holding hands with a boy. He then tucked a loose strand of Ciara’s hair behind her ear and lightly brushed his lips against hers. Luna’s heart seemed to stop, burning with betrayal. How dare he take Ciara away from me? How could she let someone else touch her? The light inside of Luna began to fade and anger took over her body, awakening the crows. They took control and attacked Ciara and the boy, pecking at their eyes in a blind rage. When finally satiated, the crows assembled back into Luna’s human form. It was only then that Luna was able to see the damage the crows had done — the murder of her first love and an innocent boy.
“No! No, No, No…” she whispered, sickened by what she had done. Her body convulsed in sobs as she struggled to breathe. Eventually the tears stopped falling from her eyes; Luna felt empty aside.
Emptiness blew through the town like a breeze, gently touching the townspeople in different ways. At that same time, the woman in the woods heard a knock on the door. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see a young man shifting back and forth on his feet. Even through the messy brown curls hiding his eyes, the woman could sense the desperation and despair inside them.
“How may I help you?”
His eyes darted around the area outside her cottage as he spoke. “My wife is having trouble conceiving and I’ve heard whispers that you have some medicine that helps. I…we…really want a child. Please, I’ll pay you anything.”
“You’re the baker if I remember correctly.”
“I’d like some fresh bread or cakes each week for my wisdom.”
“That’s more than fair.”
“You’ll have to catch and kill a crow, save the blood, and bring your wife to me at midnight on the night of a blue moon.”
Luna lay despondent for days. Her mother tried to coax her to eat, bathe, or at least speak, but to no avail. All Luna did was rub her fingers on the rope bracelet Ciara made for her as if it were a talisman that could bring her back from the dead.
A week later, Luna woke up to find the bracelet cut off her wrist.
“What have you done, mother?” she asked.
“I couldn’t bear to see you in such pain, my love. It wasn’t your fault and you don’t need to be constantly reminded of your little friend.”
“You had no right. Ciara wasn’t just my little friend.”
As her pain weaved itself with anger, Luna felt a familiar flutter in her stomach. For the first time, relief washed over her instead of the typical fear. As the crows began to erupt from Luna, Edith ran outside. The sun was low in the sky, giving off just enough light for the silhouettes of the crows to be visible as they shot toward the woods.
The man knew it was the night of the full moon so went out in search of a crow to kill for his wife. He heard the screams of the crows before he saw them. There were several viciously fluttering around a woman. She sounded hysterical as she yelled out, “Please! Stop!” One was pecking at her ears. They did not seem to notice him approaching. He easily grabbed one, twisted its neck, and threw it into the bucket he’d brought with him.
Strangely, once the neck snapped, the other crows dropped dead immediately. The strange woman gasped in horror, picking up the crow corpses and holding them to her body. The man was perplexed by the sight, momentarily feeling guilt for the woman’s reaction. With each step to the cottage, his heart expanded with hope for a child, blissfully unaware of the woman’s despair over a lost one.