Caitlyn settles in the space she has made for watching, nestled down deep by the trunk of the rowan. Over time, she has worn her own path to the house, through the ferns. Tonight the woman and the man are at home. They are eating in the dining room, placed opposite each other at the table, the window lit like the windows of the pretend, plaster buildings in the folk museum. From this distance, their movements remind her of the motion of the museum’s mechanical dolls, leaning forward or back, their arms raising with a glass or loaded fork. Their mouths open and close, telling nothing. All the time she watches, her air pistol rests snug against her back pocket, sitting in the holster she made for herself in sewing class. It hangs from her belt under her coat and allows her to feel like a cow girl.
Since the time last year when she first found the place, when the police were called out, she has been visiting the house in secret, making her own route that loops down into the valley and up again instead of using the road. That first time, she’d been too obvious, she’d settled herself in the barn where the owls live. To hold a baby owl is like clutching a goblin – she would like to do it again. But the barn doors are shut fast now with a fist of a padlock and a gleaming chain, especially to keep her out.
What they’ve not done, though, is padlock the house. The back door has only one deadlatch cylinder lock and the key for that is kept under a stone frog on the third step.
Caitlyn has taken to visiting the house when they are out, letting herself in, pretending it is her own home, that she lives there by herself and never has to go back anywhere else. In the bedroom, she likes to put on the woman’s lipstick, wild pink colours that make the inky patches under her eyes stand out darker. In the kitchen, there is always an open bottle of something sweet, port or sherry or orange liqueur, and she likes to pour herself a generous measure into a coffee cup. She’ll sip her drink slowly, striding about the hyacinth-scented living room, running her fingers over the furniture. Licking the stickiness from her lips. Sashaying. When she has finished drinking, she always rinses the mug out with lemon liquid and leaves it back on the dish rack, untouched.
Tonight, the couple are in so there is no visiting the house. The wind is up and she is cold already, crouched by the rowan tree. She may pick up tics and have to pluck them out later, obese little full-stops clinging to her ankles and midriff. But the rain has stayed off. A white owl swoops and flies into the barn through an opening near the roof. She pulls out her air gun and dusts it with the sleeve of her coat.
Readjusting her position in the ferns, she takes aim at the window of the dining room, first at one bright face, then at the other. She imagines that if she assassinates one of them, gets a good clean shot to the forehead, she will take their place. The house will be hers, and so will the bulky car, and the shining bottles of nectar-drinks, and the barn where the owls live. She will never have to go back and the oil-coloured bruises on her thighs and biceps will vanish permanently, exchanged for clear, unblotted skin.
She stands up, exposed, and straightens her arms out in front of her, both hands clasping the gun, posing like a hit man in a film. The faces in the window turn towards her.
There is a second where all gazes meet and then without naming her intention to herself, she pulls the trigger. Her eyes squeeze shut at the same moment and there is a bang and a scream and the sound of cracking glass.
She opens her eyes and finds a white spiderweb of lines has appeared in the middle of the lit window and the two faces are still there looking at her. She’d thought the pane would shatter and fall like sleet but she has not broken through the glass at all, the faces behind it are still intact.
They stare at her for a moment and then they are moving from the dining room, the hall light is on, and then the back door is open and she can hear the woman shouting, ‘You witch, you little witch.’
She runs down through the ferns, into the slope of the valley. She moves blindly, trusting the ground not to break her ankles. She thunders into the woods, evening-birds flapping out of her way. She keeps running, her heart and her feet beating at the same pace. The wind has become wilder, the trees hiss and shake. As she gets deeper into the woods, she begins to grin and she keeps going and she knows for sure that the woman is right, she is a witch, and she is making the trees bend and snap to her own will. The woods bow and tremble to her power. She must be a witch; she has been all along.
ROSE MCDONAGH has had work published by BBC Wildlife Magazine, Gutter, SmokeLong Quarterly, Labyrinth, Fairfield Review, Mslexia, the Guardian online, The Eildon Tree, Brittle Star and New Writing Scotland. She read at Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2017 as part of their Story Shop programme. Her literary agent is Sarah Williams at Sophie Hicks Agency. She is on twitter @rose_mcdonagh