Zasha felt the first brush of the clippers like frostbite. Nip nip nip. Her exposed skin prickled and crawled under the crescent moon. Her neck felt slick with blood, but when she reached back to caress her neck, it was dry and smooth, silken hanks of hair sloughing off her fingers. She was reborn.
This would be a transformative moment, Manya had warned. Their power had settled in the roots of their hair, and now their full manes would be shorn. Zasha would have to reach deeper, pull forth the power of her predecessors. Mentally swap out the smooth wood of the broom from between her muscled thighs and replace it with the soft, pliable skeleton of her two-seater canvas and plywood Polikarpov Po-2. Without her hair, she was naked, exposed, but far from powerless.
She was Nachthexen and this work spelled death to those who opposed her.
Tonight, her nerves crackled like a live wire. Zasha kissed the ruby on her finger, missing the feel of Manya’s mouth, the jeweled bud of Manya’s tongue pressing into the seam of her lips. She missed the spark of Manya’s fingers incanting forever, forever against her cheeks and waist and above the small of her back.
She swallowed her anger and her grief like cold tea, earth and salt, and moss and ruin. Manya meant “sea of bitterness,” and her name was the draught that Zasha drank.
This was forever. The chill of midnight air and the shriek of wind in her exposed ears. Eyes closed against the rush of gravity. The Nachthexen all wore oversized uniforms and shoes stuffed with newspapers so they could press the pedals under their callused toes. There was no extra money for goggles—for anything—so they flew blind.
She juddered over the town, low enough to see a smattering of lights and the plumes of chimney smoke that tickled the belly of her plane. Zasha knew her presence was more vexing than exterminating, but she took pride in delivering the horror of constant, consistent sleeplessness. And sometimes she’d get lucky and her cargo would scatter limbs and lives to the four corners of the wind, a crimson canvas displayed against the landscape below. Perhaps more abstract than the stiff, realist works that were popular, but these images were art to her.
Knowing the right moment to strike was no different than knowing when it was time to boil rags for their cycle. Killing was like bleeding; it used the same muscles. In the air, intuition felt like that involuntary inner squeeze, an expulsion of unneeded cells. She fumbled her fingers across the crude metal jut of the lever and waited, extremities humming. A cloud passed over the wink of the moon. She felt rather than heard her sisters hovering in the air around her. Ten seconds. Five.
With a scream from the engine, the grinding of gears like the low moans of ecstasy, or agony, she threw the switch, unleashed death from her wings, and let it fall.
“Я мщу за сестру, любовь моя.”
Zasha tipped her head back to scream along with the stutter and howl of her plane. Her voice was mostly swallowed by the frigid night air swooping into her open lungs, icing her guts and steeling her nerves. From across the sky, she heard her sisters join in, their ululations birdsong and blood in the mercy of night. It felt like validation, like vengeance.
For all the air was keeping her awake, Zasha could feel exhaustion pull at her bones, soft hands wrapped around her ankles and wrists, wrenching her to the ground, coaxing her to lay down her weapons. Death won’t help you sleep, it whispered. It won’t help Manya rest.
Zasha gritted her teeth. Resisted. Manya shouldn’t be resting; she should be fighting. She should be here, flashing her sharp teeth at Zasha, half challenge, half comradery. She should be laughing at the fit of Zasha’s uniform and promising, in scarlet undertones, to unwrap her mannish shroud later, to rub her frozen toes by the fire.
Her payload hit the town below with the grim chuckle of warfare. The thundering transformed sound waves into motion, smoky ruins billowing upward. The air tipped and tilted, and Zasha hugged the steering column to start her climb. Her teeth chattered as she chanted the words they’d practiced over and over again in the sparse confines of their makeshift barracks:
The blood of our sisters
The power of our ancestors
The innocence of our children
The revenge of our people
The sky was cold and unforgiving, but it was hers. She built up to this moment from the very second she’d met Manya. She joined the cause in a rush of love that felt more like spellcraft than the tinctures and tisanes she’d sluggishly sold from a cart in her village. She was destined for more. She was meant to hover above the earth. She was an angel of death, more a creature of gunpowder and steel than of mugwort and sage.
“We fight like men; we win like women.” Manya had winked at her, bitten a corner of her lips and then sucked to soothe the burn. Zasha took those words into herself now, allowing them to further transmute her, alchemize her leaden body to gold.
Zasha shifted, her backside frozen and aching against the unpadded seat. Three more passes and she’d be done for the night. She’d glide fifteen hundred pounds of wood and flesh to the ground, her fingers peppered with chilblains, and then limp home. She’d crawl under her scratchy blanket, feet encased in three pairs of woolen socks, and dream away death with a slug of whiskey and the memory of ruby lips at her ear: “my love, my blood, my life.”
Sadie Fox Curtis is a modern witch with an ancient heart who writes about deep magic, light mischief, and hot makeouts. She lives with her partner, two cats, and eleventy-hundred hula hoops in the Midwest (though she dreams of smelling salt water in her hair and picking lemons from her backyard tree someday).
That Crimson Flight by Sadie Fox Curtis is the winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine March Flash Fiction Challenge, which was based on the historical badass for March: The Night Witches