Modern Witch Hunt

James Cato


The witch would be born in a hospital, perfectly formed like a mannequin. It’d be a boy, inverting the canon, and symmetrically uncanny, with nothing for the eye to grab, no freckles or dimples.

           His mother wouldn’t speak to the doctors—she’d have rights; she’d be the dark princess. A clickbait-y site might get a hold of the baby photos but the story wouldn’t catch on. So she’d take her son home to a mass-produced house and knit fifteen-yard afghans and stringy quilts that billowed over every opening in the house.

           The child would grow strange in this environment. The mother would fade and forget her son and her fingers would spin away like a spider on a stuck fly but leave ugly holes in her knits until the patterns bubbled away to a haze. The doctor would call it Early-onset Frontal Lobe Dementia because we love explanations. She’d die and the house would be found empty.


           Nearby there’d be a mall—it’s corporate America. A legend would nudge up among the custodians and night security about a boy with no face who was sighted in the clothes racks after hours. The modern witch would live here, slipping in and out of draped fabric. Some quality of his appearance would make shoppers aware of their own soft animal bodies.

           The manager of the night crew would hear none of it and offer no investigation. Close-cropped atheists, who’ve had no supernatural experiences, do not take stock in haunts. People now fuck their spouses the way frogs do, belly to back. It’s hard to believe in magic when you fuck like frogs. You need evidence.

           The mall witch would make the mannequins dance at night while he cooked out of a cauldron in the backroom of Macy’s. He and the mannequins would fuck like birds, with the even, equal, cloacal kiss. In the day he’d work in a knockoff brand store, selling fake Balenciaga and Tommy Hilfiger out of a plywood shack in the parking lot.

           The custodial staff would hunt him on On-Floor Scrubbers, engines whining. They’d find proof of his existence – a knockoff Gucci belt. Scrawled lists and formulas would be etched on the leather lip. There’d be symbols for iron and calcium and zinc. The lists would have bushels of names, first last and middle. Did you know that one human contains approximately 4 grams of iron, 1.5 kg of calcium, a handful of sodium and so on?

           So of course there’d be disappearances to note. Those bushels of names – shoppers. The police would uncover the cauldron that was used to melt humans into their elemental components. Camelbak bottles of iron, calcium, carbon, and phosphorous might be taped to curtains of shirts in the women’s section of Macy’s, and the unused remains (toenails, hair) left in tote bags in the returns.

           Everyone would quit work at the mall. Some would think that it looked like the mannequins were window shopping for shoppers – because mannequins sneer through the panes like sharp scoops of ice cream, never melting, only stiffening, while shoppers melt, bloating and aging and giving themselves away. How many shoppers would you need to melt to make a belt buckle? This is what others would wonder.

           It wouldn’t end there. Witches have a purpose. Shoppers would have swarmed the splinter-picked knockoff shack for cheap Marc Jacobs coach bags, Prada shoes, Louis Vuitton hats. They would have bought purses with askew branding over leathered human derma, zippers forged from bodily iron and carbon. They would have taken their new prizes home to grow bored of them and sell them on eBay or give them away—but not before the curses set in.

           You see, long after the satisfied witch would have collapsed in a plastic heap of parts, those who had purchased his wares would begin exhibiting symptoms. They would puddle their pants and shirts and roll naked the way weasels do in the berms. They would bend trimmed hedges into fox shapes and kiss bruises into their own bellies, contorting like fen trout. They would smell nothing but the peppery mildew of owl wings.

Meanwhile, the knockoff purses, shoes, and hats would spread house to house, passed in airtight cardboard. They’d be worn and displayed to make shoppers walk the way minks do, to make hair shiny as duckskin, to give shoppers a sprig of personality. The witchcraft would spread and side-effects would worsen until entire cities skipped bare into the wilderness, abandoning cement and brick for mud plugs between their toes, and they would fuck the way humans do, ankle-deep in the swamp.

For now, though, our cities are full. Where are the modern witches? We must find one soon.



James Cato writes in the daytime surrounded by people. Find more of his work in Montana Mouthful, Chrome Baby, and Brilliant Fiction magazines.