In the Woods, My Voice
by Rati Mehrotra
Read by Alethea Kontis
Listen to the audio version
When Grandma died, she left her two most precious possessions to my sisters. To my
older sister Jeet--the plain and clever one--went the magical flute that could charm any listener.
To my younger sister Jamila--the pretty and brave one--went the protective stick that could
fight off unsuitable admirers and monsters alike.
And to me, Jerri, the graceless middle one?
"To you, best beloved," said Grandma, "I give my voice." She pushed a small velvet box
into my hands. "And now, since it is exactly midnight, I shall die." She fell back on her bed with
a huge sigh, closed her eyes, and pretended to be dead.
All three of us stared at the clock on the wall, and then back at her. She was still
breathing, but none of us dared point that out. At last, after fifteen minutes of ferocious pretence,
Grandma succeeded in dying. Her face, so grim and formidable in life, relaxed into a peaceful
smile. That's how we knew she was really dead.
We buried her in the backyard as she had instructed, under a silver crescent moon. The
next morning, my sisters left our crooked little house in the valley of Carou, as they were meant
to. Jeet went off with her flute to the Court of Kings in the capital, and established herself as the
foremost musician in the land. Armed with the protective stick, Jamila fought her way through
the infested woods beyond our fields and arrived at a neighboring kingdom. She married a duke
and became a high society lady, famous for her tournaments.
But I don't want to talk about them. Can you imagine how I felt when they left me alone
with nothing but Grandma's buried corpse for company? We didn't even have a cat. "Too
stereotypical," Grandma had said when I asked why we couldn't have one.
If you haven't guessed by now that Grandma was a witch, you haven't been paying
attention. Or you don't know your stories, which is even worse. Anyway, I'm telling you now,
she was a witch--a gifted one. She kept the whole valley in a healthy state of fear. We never had
to buy anything; farmers left vegetables on our doorstep, the chicken woman brought eggs, and
the baker's boy came by with fresh buns every Monday. Never a wedding, birth or funeral went
by that Grandma wasn't invited to. Her presence guaranteed that nothing worse than ordinary bad
things would happen. Her spells kept the nastiest of the wood creatures away from homes and
fields, including our mother. That's what she claimed anyway, and who was going to be stupid
enough to ask for proof?
Grandma had been getting old, even for a witch. In her last few months she told everyone
who was unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity the exact day she would die, what she would be
wearing, and how she would be buried. People got used to it after a while. I suppose they all
assumed one of her three granddaughters would take her place. Only one problem with that: none
of us had her gift. Not even me, the middle child--not that I could remember. It didn't drive
Grandma as crazy as you might think, and she never pushed us. She'd learned her lesson with
Mother, I suppose.
One morning, soon after my sisters left without so much as a backward glance, the
baker's boy came huffing up the lane to our cottage. One look at his expression confirmed my
fears: it wasn't buns he was carrying, it was bad news. And hadn't I been expecting it ever since
Sure enough, as soon as he was within earshot, he blurted out, "Miss Jerri, she's here.
Eating the bailiff."