Though lifeless, the onyx eye of the mourning dove reflects dawn’s sunburst. My sister Vera discovered the bird, and she wants to know what I think of it. We sip from mugs of instant Folgers and regard the dove. She lies belly down on the doorstep with her neck bent back as if trying to glimpse us. There’s no visible blood, and her fanned feathers are smooth. “Pretty. Like the ones Cat used to leave,” I say. Vera nods. Cat arranged the loveliest specimens on the cement step. The others—the bashed, the bloodied, the headless—those were left in the truck bed.
We live far from town, past where the gravel road turns to a dirt path and morphs into a rocky trail meant for horses and four-wheel drives. There are no others here. Cat’s been gone for two years now. He told us that the coyotes ate her. He lies. We’re feral girls. We share an understanding with the creatures that surround our little house.
There is no such agreement with him.
He stamps out power whenever he senses a spark. Cat knew entrails were for interpreting and saved them for us. Her prowess and loyalty were palpable. She spoke her mind with a rotting lizard tail left on the Ford’s dash. The next day our fiery feline vanished. Vera smelled the decay. I discovered the tread of his boots congested with clumps of fur. We mourned. Now, it seems Cat has returned to bring us a gift.
“Is it the sign?” Vera asks. We turn the dead dove over. Her belly is open and spilling. Among the jumble of bowels and jellybean organs are two pink worms coiled together.
We speak each other’s names in unison and giggle like we are still girl children and not near-women. We’ve had little reason to be giddy. Now… a darling harbinger has shown itself.
Today the truck is gone.
Tonight the moon will be full.
Tomorrow we will be free.
After gathering supplies, we venture deep into the desert with our hearts exposed and our feet bare. Bloody soles will be a show of our devotion. Six minutes my elder, Vera claims to know the way. An hour ago, she said we were close. Each passing minute drops like a stone in my belly. Momma called me her worrier. Vera was always the warrior. Momma said we struck a fine balance, that we were once one. A single form couldn’t contain our power. Momma—a woman so full of fire her eyes burned like embers—taught us all she could. Still, we couldn’t save her. Momma shone too bright.
On our pilgrimage, we sing like Stevie Nicks, whisper Momma’s stories, and chant home-school rhymes about the desert. “King snake. Red touches black. Safe for Jack. Coral snake. Red touches yellow. Kill a fellow.”
“There,” Vera says, gesturing to sun-bleached bones. A sharp-toothed jaw and femur set in an arrow points the way. “Time to test our mettle.” Her pace quickens. The twilight breeze is laced with pungent earth.
We find the place of the great crested saguaro, on his head a frothy crown of baby arms. He is a mutant. We can relate. Vera kisses the three swirling scars—brands from the Ford’s lighter—that mar my cheek. He wanted to be able to tell us apart. He marked one of us. The other held the glowing orange coil to her skin.
We remain identical.
Split from a lone ovum and grown together in that same saltwater womb, ours is a shared pain. I place my lips on Vera’s glistening forehead. To the crested saguaro, we give offerings of seashells from the near-mythic ocean and pour out every drop of our water supply—shaking the canteens for certainty.
Powerful rituals require a blood sacrifice. We slice our palms and press our bloody prints onto yellow rocks, appeasing the ancient deities. We strip. We drape diaphanous shawls about our razor-sharp clavicles. We dance. In the distance, cicadas chirp, harmonizing with a band of yipping coyotes, welcoming an over-full moon.
There are no manmade laws against the impossible—things like murder magic. Though justified, we will be culpable. Consequences will find their way to us. For now, we sing songs from the innocent times, the ones written in our twin language. We no longer remember what the words mean. Just that they belong to us.
Our cauldron is a stainless steel pot bubbling on a camp stove. Though we are modern witches, we make the most ancient of the dryland brews. Cholla, prickly pear, milkweed, stinging nettle, oleander, a stolen bit of him, and the potion is complete.
When the night is navy and the nocturnal creatures croon and stalk, the elixir is at last cool enough to drink.
“Bottoms up, Vela.”
My sister and I entwine arms to imbibe. It isn’t required, but our natural state is woven together. Pure poison imbued with enchantments, the concoction is thick and bitter. It muddles my essence, and I know Vera feels it too. It must be done, so we drink it gone.
A bolt of lightning cracks the sky. There is a boom, and the rain comes fast and as warm as blood. Our prayers heard and surely answered, it’s time to return. Humble and obedient to the ancient customs we crawl on elbows and knees. Our flesh is raw, bloody and pocked with rocks and earth, but we are joyous.
At the clearing, we see that the cherry red Ford has returned. Our palms join, and our fingers braid together. Vera blows out the moon. I snuff out the tiny stars. Under a blanket of black, we’ll commit our darkest act. After, we’ll tuck what remains into the truck bed. Some rodents are not suited for offerings, not worthy to be left on doorsteps. He is a pest destined for disposal.
L.L. Madrid lives in Tucson. She has an affinity for desert creatures and other feral things. When she’s not writing, she edits a peculiar little journal called Speculative 66. Links to L.L. Madrid’s works can be found at http://llmadrid.weebly.com/.