These were the sort of things that turned women into witches.
The little mound of earth within the cut-grass circle transfixed me: it was over the grass, not under it, and it was a different color than the rest of the local soil in any case, and it was of a shade and texture I was intimately familiar with- confound it, it had most certainly come off of Kezia. So I was close, after all; Crina had not led me wrong. But why was a little piece of Kezia lying there in the first place? Somehow, that forlorn little pile was filling me up with the worst sort of anxiety.
The light beneath the trees was weird and stilted, what with red leaves above and green grass below, and a thick silence all around that made me feel as though I’d slipped underwater. I could no longer hear the vegetable lambs bleating, which was just fine with me; yet it also felt a little like a warning. Inexorably my eyes were drawn from the dirt pile to the thing at the center of the clearing- that vast, reddened flowerbud. It projected from the meager branches of the bush beneath it almost obscenely, shooting up nearly to the height of my chin. There it was: that strange shadow, almost like a human hand, pressing against the petals from inside. Had it moved? No, no, surely not. I swallowed.
I had slipped from deer to human in my assessment of the situation, and now I went back into the cervine shape, twitching my wet black nose in the direction of that little dirt pile. It was not large enough to be all of Kezia, just a piece of her; and I repeated fervently in my mind the thought that if she had gone and gotten herself disassembled, I would just murder her.
There was no particular reason for me to skirt the shorter grass, but I did so anyway. (I had a glimmer or two of self-preservation left.) The ground around the circle, formerly flat, seemed rather rumpled, as though some giant had picked up the grass like a blanket, shook it out, and smoothed it back down badly. I scanned it for large footprints, but found none. I did, however, notice some other peculiarities: a few spots where the grass seemed to have ripped, exposing a dark maw of earth beneath, some scrapes on the sides of a few trees, and then…
A crack. A great big crack in the earth; it stretched the height of two men, and was as deep as my waist, and the earth puckered at the edges as though something had thrust its way up from beneath.
I had no idea what to make of it. It looked old and yet not old- the grass grew all the way to the edges, the jagged contours were sharply defined and not smoothed by rain. My deer-shaped self sprang lightly over it, slender legs neatly hitting the grass on the opposite side. The earth sank a little under my hooves; there was a hollow space beneath. But now I was interested more in what lay before me, and I resumed my human shape to better examine it.
It was a box, half covered-over by dirt and grass. The wooden corner of it peeped out of the earth at an odd tilt. I stalked over in half a crouch- the canopy was not quite closed here, and real moonlight was mixing in with the weird light generated by the trees. It seemed much too exposed for my liking, and who knew what Kezia might have to do with a wooden box? Still, I crept up to it and scraped away at the dirt and grass with my fingernails until I was able to grasp the latch and pull the top up with a rusty squeak.
Within, it was surprisingly pristine, but then again I hadn’t seen a single slug or insect in this part of the forest. The box itself was nearly empty, aside from a white handkerchief in the corner that was covered with seeds, and a single brown egg.
I frowned at the egg, which was chicken-egg-sized, and picked it up. To my surprise, it felt hollow and light, and when I shook it, something rattled inside. My curiosity piqued, I crushed the shell at once in my palm, and then swore loudly. Something had stabbed me! Embedded in my hand was a silver needle. Who on earth would hide a needle in an eggshell?!
I removed my tiny skewer and tossed it and the bits of eggshell away in contempt. As mysterious as that had been, it left me no closer to finding Kezia, and I was anxious and impatient. I prowled around the dim clearing for a few more moments before I stumbled upon something a bit more promising: here and there, within the grass, were shorter patches growing from earth that looked different from the rest- lighter, more reddish. Evidence of my golem, surely… I rolled up my skirt in one fist and got down on my knees, probing, searching for some better evidence, something that would tell me what had happened to her. And then I bumped my head right into it.
I fell back on my arse with a curse. In my crawling and poking I’d managed to run my head straight into another one of those odd bushes, all tangled prickly branches with that gigantic bud on the top. Though, this one was a lot smaller than the other one I’d seen, and lighter in color, too: a more delicate pinkish hue, like a maiden’s blush. The earth around the base of it was almost entirely Kezia’s color, and it smelled sweetly familiar.
Too sweet. I jerked my head back as the scent triggered horrid memories: unimaginable pain, flesh exploding into blisters into branches in syrupy slow motion, chest constricted, lungs constricted, hearts constricted as the binding squeezed tighter and tighter…
I took several deep gulps to calm myself, nauseated. This thing before me was no white tree; it was a plant of an entirely different nature. Even if it did smell a little something like blood. No, no, it was not going to burst into seeds and assault me- at least I hoped not. Gingerly I reached out and touched that pink bud, which was larger than my head- it was cool, as an ordinary plant ought to be, and quite hard to the touch. It seemed this flower was not yet close to blooming. I felt brave enough to try and prick the succulent side with one fingernail, but the flesh was too firm.
Each new discovery I made only seemed to yield more questions, and in frustration I moved away from the flower and went hunting around the clearing again, searching for some sign of something, anything! But the only clues I found were those scattered patches of redder earth, and they didn’t appear past the clearing. I followed one little trail of them inward, like dollops of cream that had slopped from a milkmaid’s bucket, and found myself before the flowerbud. And then I saw a glint of silver within the twisted branches.
A cry ripped out of me, and I fell to my knees. O, god! Like the bloody fingers from a corpse, I saw the two silver letters and the tarnished silver coin nestled deep within the core of the bush, all caught up in vines and branches, tightly held. There were smears of reddish clay all round them, and I brushed one with my finger, and trembled at how cool it felt. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw it: an explosion had occurred here, somehow: clay had gone flying outwards from this central point, from around the place where the branches grasped the silver letters.
“But why?!” I shouted aloud, incautious in my distress. “Why?!”
I did not understand, I did not understand any of it- what had happened, how it had happened, why Kezia had made a deal for my miserable life!
I cursed and struck my fists against the earth, unable to tear my eyes away from the glinting silver: surely it was another witch’s trick! Baba Yaga had been malicious enough to pretend to murder Kezia before, and surely this was that again- or even if not, surely I would find a bit of her, small but still animated, running to tug my skirt and tell me all was well- surely, surely, surely the big lump of clay was not really destroyed! How could she be? How could she be, especially after I had come all this way to find her?
My eyes felt uncharacteristically hot and prickly, and I grasped my own throat painfully, trying to pull back what was threatening to become a sob. After all- after all the attempts my cursed self had made to destroy her, all the times clawing for her silver letters- I had thought her safe, warned against the danger of the white tree, and yet it was still because of me that she had ultimately been destroyed.
I remembered words she had spoken to me once, like an admission of guilt: I am afraid of being killed by you.
Oh, and hadn’t I done it! Hadn’t I! Selfish, nasty wretch that I was, this was only to be expected; this was what I did, this was all I did, and it was why I had never deserved to be near someone as good as her.
I did sob then, a great ugly sound that shook me, and lay on the grass on my side, cursing myself, cursing her, cursing the witch- cursing everything that had led to this moment.
The earth was cool and damp beneath my cheek, and only got more so as my voice grew thicker, my eyes wetter. Even within my misery there was still a tiny, flickering hope that some last-minute miracle would come swooping in on bright wings, that I could hear Kezia’s voice again at least once…
“Oi, you, get up.”
Both my hearts seized up at that moment, but then I realized that not only was the voice profoundly masculine, the words were ones Kezia would never use. But the voice was familiar. I pushed myself up and turned: there, standing a few feet behind me and rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, was a young brown man: Pascha.
I trembled with several statements caught simultaneously just beyond my lips- “What are you doing here?” “What do you want?” and “Go to hell, thrush-hooves!” among others. Pascha used my indecision as an opportunity to speak.
“Never expected to see you here,” he said. “Weren’t you just in the mistress’ garden, becoming a tree? Did she send you back here to suffer more- is that why you’re lying down crying beside a bush?”
He still had his hand on his neck, and he kept flicking his eyes away from me with obvious discomfort. Perhaps my tears unnerved him- well, good.
“If she hasn’t told you anything, why should I?” I spat at him. “And I could ask you what you’re doing here, except that I don’t care. Go away!”
His brow furrowed at this, and he put his hand down, and said rather tightly, “I’ll be going nowhere. I’m assigned to be here, unlike you. Where is the golem you’re always hanging around with?”
I did not like how flinty his dark eyes got at this.
“None of your business! Piss off!”
“It is my business,” Pascha growled, suddenly leaning closer. “After the way it misused Zakhar- I mean to have a talk with it.”
I sprang to my to my feet to meet him eye to eye- eye to chin, rather- and cried, “Don’t you dare call Kezia an it! And don’t you dare pretend that Kezia didn’t have any right to behave as she did!”
This sent him reeling back a few notches, and then his glare sharpened and he pulled forwards again.
“Don’t think I haven’t heard what you’ve done, too, you dirty bloodsucker! You tried to trick Kazimir and capture him!”
“SO WHAT? He went back to the bloody witch anyhow!”
“Zakhar still hasn’t recovered from that brutal beating your clay thing gave him!”
“Don’t call her a THING!” I screamed, and a moment later my teeth were deep in his arm, and he was howling and swearing and dragging me back by my hair. The roof of my mouth was singed- hot flames were licking out of his wounds- but I could hardly feel the burns for my savage satisfaction. I made another snap for his shoulder, clawing at his chest, but he shoved me down hard on the ground, one hand grasping my neck.
“You’re no match for me,” he said, his lip curling despite the fact that he was breathing hard. I tried to spit at him, but my mouth was too dry; he cocked an eyebrow and squeezed until I gagged. Then, unexpectedly, he released me.
I scrambled backwards until my back hit the scratchy branches of the bush, panting and gripping my throat. It ached, and I felt sick, and weak. My hot anger was turning tepid.
“You really are nothing without your clay tough,” he said, which stung far more than he must have intended. I drew my knees to my chest and glowered over them.
“Kezia could have crushed the three of you to dust,” I said, choking a little on the past tense. He noticed it.
“Could have? What do you mean, could have?”
“Oh, just go away!” I looked balefully at his unmarked arm- the bite wound had already closed. “Don’t you have things your dear mistress wants you to do?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said Pascha. “You happen to be sitting against one- I’m supposed to burn that bush.”
“Burn some other bush!” Now I felt positively cold- with fright. It was only the silver letters, but- “This one’s mine!”
“What on earth is the matter with you?” he wondered aloud, as I backed further into the scratchy branches like some sort of strigoi shield. “Did the branches of that tree perhaps penetrate your brain? I don’t care if it is your favorite bush, Baba Yaga has asked me to burn all the fadua in this forest to cinders.”
“Well you aren’t getting this- what’s a fadua?”
“You don’t even know what you’re leaning against,” said Pascha, and there was a glint of his old grin in the way he bared his teeth. “Didn’t you notice all the vegetable lambs? A fadua’s a human version of that, only it isn’t human at all, and it certainly isn’t an herbivore. I don’t think it would balk at eating even something as nasty and smelly as you.”
He waited patiently as I ran this information over and over in my head, trying to process it. A vegetable human? I had never heard of such a thing, and I’d thought I’d encountered most every ghostly oddity there was. Perhaps Pascha was pulling my leg. But then, there was that queer hand-shaped shadow I’d seen in the other flower…
“This one has barely sprouted,” he continued, “so I should think you’ll be safe sitting there for a while. But they grow rather fast. It would be in your best interest to move aside and let me destroy it.”
“And it would be in your best interest to go away,” I replied, clasping my knees. A strange little prick of hope had wormed its way back into my breast- perhaps it had never really been extinguished. A vegetable human? As in, something that looked like, but was not, a real human body? With Kezia’s letters tangled in it! It was so stupid to dream, but-
Pascha extended a hand towards me, almost as though he was offering to help me up, then with a twitch of his fingers, fire sprouted in his palm. I shot to my feet with an angry hiss.
He neatly sidestepped my lunge, and held his burning hand just beside the flowerbud. I caught my balance again with a stumble, turned to strike at him again, and then sucked in a breath.
Pascha’s firelight illuminated the bud from behind, so that it was suddenly translucent, and floating in the center of it I could see a tethered figure. It was slightly blobby and indistinct, but if I squinted I could definitely make out the shape of a large, round head distinct from a small body, and one small arm curled outwards. A baby, that’s what it looked like- a shadow of a baby in a womb.
“You see it now?” said Pascha, closing his fingers, so that fire and shadow vanished together. “I’m not going to let it grow any larger.”
“How- how long does it normally take them to grow?” I stammered, my eyes still dazzled by the vision I’d just seen.
“A week or so, depending on I-don’t-know-what, but I hope you’re not planning on sitting here that long-”
I grabbed his arm with such speed and force that he yelped.
“That is exactly what I am going to do. And you’ll help me, Pascha!”
He attempted to pull free, his expression rather horrified. “What makes you think I’ll-”
“Shut up and listen to me. You see this bush here? If I’m correct, that’s a fadua planted and grown by your vile mistress. D’you think she’ll be happy to hear you burned it? She’s set me free and got rid of my problem now just so I could warn you not to touch it.”
He reached out and squeezed my wrist until I let go, and massaged the place I’d held his arm.
“Come off it,” he said. “You didn’t even know what a fadua was before I told you. Her orders to me were to burn every one I see, and I’m bound to follow them if I don’t want my eyes boiled in their sockets. Anyway, why would she plant one if she’s trying to destroy them all?”
“How should I know the way a witch’s mind works!” I cast around, a bit frantic. “Look! You see that box? Isn’t it hers?”
It was a guess, but when Pascha grudgingly looked where I was pointing his expression changed enough that I felt I’d hit the mark.
“I might have seen something like that in her house before,” he allowed. “You’re not saying you brought it here, are you? Because that still doesn’t prove you planted the seed for her.”
“I didn’t plant the seed, you ninny! Someone else-” Abruptly things all clicked together in my mind. “Kezia did it, in exchange for my freedom.”
“The golem planted…?”
“Yes, she did, and then something terrible must have happened to her- if you still want to find her, she’s here, all in pieces.” I pointed to the reddish clay patches on the ground, watched his eyes trace the spiral of them on the ground.
“You’re saying it’s- she’s- you’re saying Kezia is destroyed?! By our Baba?”
His jaw had gone slack, and I felt fierce satisfaction at the sight, even though the acknowledgement of it still left a deep ache in my chest.
“It seems that way.” I left out the silver letters, the fragile hope I still nursed; no need to inform him of a golem’s central weakness.
“Impossible,” he said, but he was definitely getting dubious: his eyes raced across the clearing over and over again. “She kept a fruit from the tree that grew from your arm, but-”
“What?!” Compulsively I grasped my forearm. “That’s sickening!”
“I know; I cannot imagine how awful it would have tasted,” said Pascha, shrugging, the ghost of a grin passing over his face. “It seemed to me that the whole reason she kept you trellised in her garden was to get that. But you say she had Kezia take it and plant it here…”
I said nothing; the mental image was noxious, and my gut churned. Worse still that the thing which had blown my golem to pieces had grown from my flesh.
“I suppose you wouldn’t be here if the witch didn’t want you to be,” Pascha said, after a pause. “I shall have to go back and check with her about this one.” He grimaced mightily at the prospect.
“Go, then! And no need to bother coming back.”
“Ah-ha, but I will be. One way or another.” He looked again around the area with a frown. “Strange, this isn’t like her; but she’s been strange since Zakhar came back with poison in his gut. This place has done something to her, and possibly to us.”
“Speak for yourself; I haven’t changed,” I said, to which he rolled his eyes skyward and shook his head.
“Guard that bush, I suppose, or don’t- it isn’t like anything else in this place will cause it harm. In fact, perhaps you ought to go have a snack; you look a bit peaky.”
“I won’t be moving,” I said, resuming my seated position. “Hurry up and go.”
He snorted, then changed into the brown horse with an even bigger snort. As he began to walk out of the clearing, he turned his long face back over his shoulder.
“I am sorry about Kezia, Gabi. It was a cruel thing for the witch to do.”
“Go,” I repeated, hugging my knees. He swung his head around and went.
As soon as his flick-flicking tail had gone out of view between the trees, I sagged, the branches of the bush creaking as they bore more of my weight. I was suddenly indescribably weary. I suppose it could have been relief, or the fatigue of going from horror to rage to hope, or- most likely, in fact- the meager drips of witch’s blood Muma Balaur had given me earlier had already exhausted their usefulness. Pascha was right, I ought to feed. But the nearest food source was miles out of these trees, and I wasn’t going that far away anywhere soon.
I closed my eyes a moment, then with effort forced them back open. Whatever he said, I could not trust this forest- among other things, there was a murderous golem wandering about. That made my chest give a tight little swoop; the memory of her ordering the seed to be crammed down my throat was still jarringly fresh. I would do near anything to stop that happening again. Well, anything except give up my post now, it seemed.
I turned slowly and parted some of the spiky branches with my hands. There, nestled within like treasure, were those silver things. Kezia’s entire existence, made so small. If she even still had an existence! Likely not, how could she-? With no clay body to bind them together! It was impossible… wasn’t it?
I gnawed my lip. I didn’t know nearly enough about how golems worked. The next time I happened upon a Jewish learned man, I would have to interrogate him on the matter before having his blood. But, well, did it absolutely have to be clay- the body?
Had I not been afraid to dislodge them from their tenuous position, I would have reached out and stroked coin and letters, to see if they somehow gave me some warmth, some sign of life. Stupid, really; it wasn’t as if Kezia had ever had her own heat when I had known her. Only a magical construct, animated clay, dust to dust, as they said… oh, but in that case, what was any man but dust?
I had worried my lip to the point where it became painful, and with a soft curse I forced myself to turn back around. All the signs pointed to Kezia as being really and truly gone from existence. Better to grieve for her now that have my hearts broken later. Curse it, if I stayed much longer in this place I was almost certainly going to loose my own fragile grasp on life.
“Kezia,” I muttered, and like a fool, put my hand on the cold flowerbud. “Kezia, Kezia, if you’re in there…”
I trailed off. What message would I, the cause of her death, have for her?
I withdrew my hand, and in the motion spotted a figure standing within the trees.
Gooseflesh rippled up my arms before I recognized who it was; the eyes- or lack of them, rather- were unmistakeable.
“Crina! How on earth did you creep up on me so quietly?”
For there was the pale girl, eyes empty, standing in the shadows between the treetrunks. At first she stood so still that a prickle travelled down my spine, but then suddenly she took an audible breath, and turned her blank face towards me.
“I can hear the golem calling for you,” she said, and a second, more electric thrill tingled through me. I scrambled to my feet.
“Can you really– what is she saying?”
“That you should not grieve,” said Crina. “She is not yet gone.”
I took a step forward. She took one backwards, so the shadow fell directly over her face.
“I can’t stay long,” she warned, clasping her hands together over her stomach. I recalled how she had been drawn to the heart of the forest before before- she had said then that she doubted she would ever come back, and yet. Well, no matter, I could not help but hang onto her every word.
“Then tell me,” I urged, “tell me how to resurrect her! Is she really- the thing, the fadua, is it really growing out from her-”
“The seed,” said Crina, “which came from outside this forest, rooted itself in the earth that made up her body, and consumed it. But the letters that hold her essence still stayed tied together…”
“How do you know all this?!”
“If the plant has absorbed some of the earth that was her flesh, it can be said that her body is still intact, though the connection is fragile. When the fadua emerges from the flower, it could bear the memories of the golem… or it could not. But it will not matter.”
“What do you mean?” I took another step forwards, and again Crina retreated.
“You do not wish her to have the body of a fadua,” she said. “She would never be able to leave this place. A true fadua will die if their connection to the earth is severed.”
“So you must give her the things that fadua do not have. I have brought them to you.”
She raised her hand, and somehow there was a cloth sack there that I had managed to miss seeing before. It looked quite old, the fabric damp and rotted, and stank like river water. For a split second I thought I saw the bottom twitch, but perhaps that had only been the water dripping from it.
“What’s in that?” I asked warily, for I was beginning to get an exceptionally bad feeling.
“Bones,” said Crina, without batting an eye- well, I suppose she really couldn’t, could she. “Human ones. From the bottom of the river.”
“You mean- from the ghost that possessed Kezia?”
Crina gave a jerky nod, and tossed the sack my way. It landed with a squelchy thud near my feet, and I had to work not to jump away from it. The smell was even worse this close.
“There is one other thing in there,” Crina said, “but don’t open the wrappings around it. Otherwise it won’t work. Bury that and the bones around the base of the bush.”
“And that will do… what? How do you know this will work? How do you even know any of this?” I looked down with the wet sack of bones with extreme misgivings; nothing good ever came of disturbing human remains. “And where did you go before? Did you meet Mother Forest, or not?”
“I did not,” said Crina. Her voice, I noted suddenly, was a bit odd; deeper than I remembered. “She still sleeps deeply and cannot be roused. But I was able to learn some things in any case. I learned, for instance, where I came from.” She gestured at her own navel.
It dawned on me rather like a brick to the forehead.
“You’re a fadua!”
“Almost,” she said, and her voice, which had been nearly monotone this whole time, took on an edge of sweet sadness. “A husband and wife brought the remains of their daughter to this place and buried them at the base of one of these flowers. They had heard that doing so would bring them back their child… only slightly changed.”
Now I had to shudder. That… was rather horrible. Excluding, of course, my own self, I was of the opinion that dead things ought to stay dead. I certainly had good evidence that they would not return kindly.
“So what are you, then?” I asked. “You seem to have been able to leave the forest just fine. So are you human?” I didn’t give her time to answer; I’d already made up my mind. “No, you most certainly aren’t. Those eyes- my god, will Kezia also have those flower-eyes when she emerges?”
Crina seemed to take no offense to my unkind reference to her anatomy.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That seed didn’t come from this forest.”
It did more than she knew, I thought, but I didn’t say that aloud. Another thought had just occurred to me: Baba Yaga. It was all part of her game, after all. What was she hoping to achieve? Had she really meant for all this to happen to Kezia?
…Would Kezia really be able to come back, in a body of flesh, no less? Plant-flesh, yes, but…
I had started gnawing on my sore lip again without even realizing it. Crina was pointing to the bag.
“Hurry,” she was saying. “The fadua-flowers normally grow quite slowly, but the earth here is so very rich- so well-kept- that they bloom in a matter of days. You must bury the bones before it is too late.”
I nudged the sack gingerly with my toe. “And where will you be during all this, Crina?”
“I told you,” she said, “I cannot stay here very long. I must go back to the white grove.”
“Really? What is so pressing that you’ve got to do there?”
She merely smiled in a way I did not like. Something about her was really itching me the wrong way, but I really could not put my finger on it. If she would just step out of the shadows…!
“Please,” she was saying, walking backwards yet still managing to make it look rather graceful, “take care of her for me.”
“I’ve always done that,” I said, chancing a few steps after her, “and not for you. Really, what have you got to do?”
“See my mother,” she said, which stopped me cold. “If I were you, I would not follow. It is safe here, and few other places in this forest are.”
“I know that,” I said, which made her give a slight laugh, as she kept gliding backwards. With a muttered curse, I retraced my own steps back to the flower, and when I chanced a look back over my shoulder, of course the girl was no longer anywhere to be seen.
The whole thing was giving me a really bad feeling, a real gut-twister, and the smartest thing to do would be to chuck the wet sack off a cliff and fly south for somewhere warm to spend the winter. But of course I was going to do as she’d said, of course I was; I would have done practically anything to see Kezia again, because I was an utter fool. Things simply no longer felt right without her. I sidled carefully around what that all meant and focused on the present.
Well, it was only burying bones. And some other mysterious object I wasn’t to unwrap. The worst that could happen was that Kezia would become a fadua, or not reappear at all. I didn’t think I could possibly cause any extra harm by doing it.
(How many poor saps had died thinking that very sentence, I wondered?)
I picked up the sack. It was lighter than I expected- so much so that I overestimated my own strength and had the sack whip around and smack me wetly in the legs. I muttered some unpleasant words, and peeped inside. Well, there were bones in there, all right, as well as something that seemed to be wrapped in somebody’s old shirt. The lot of it didn’t feel heavier than a large cat, though; were bones really so light? I had always thought of them as rather solid things.
A ripple of ill feeling passed over me as I suddenly considered something: these were Kezia’s bones. True, they had come from the ghost and not the golem, but the ghost, when I had encountered it, hadn’t seemed particularly willing to go ahead and pass on. And now, I was messing about with her remains. Had she really agreed to give my Kezia her bones?
And there was the matter of the thing wrapped in the shirt, too. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought- maybe- yes, it was pulsating very slightly. It was alive. And it smelled like blood.
I might have been a strigoi, but that was only by circumstance; this was dark, dark power to dabble in, the sort I would have steered pretty well clear of in life. These were the sort of things that turned women into witches. The sort of the things you were warned (whether by a priest or an imam) not to do unless you wanted your soul to take a neat pirouette away from heaven.
Oh, well, it wasn’t as if I weren’t neck and neck with Satan anyhow. I lugged the sack the short distance over to the base of the great flowerbud and began to dig.