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“A Visit from the Hag” by Kate Hall

Nanny didn’t understand when Abigail tried to tell her about the corner monster. She sat, rigid, teacup halfway to her mouth, as Abigail described the cold, the pressure, the knowledge that something lurked in her room–

Nanny spoke to Mom, brow furrowed. Mom shook her head. “Slow down, baby,” she signed. “Nanny can’t follow you.”

Abigail shoved her hands in her pockets and shuffled to the kitchen door. When she looked back, Nanny shrank in her chair, hands silent around her tea.

***

The visits began when she was small. At first she only felt cold, a full-body chill. The pressure followed, a weight that pinned her to her bed. The corner monster – that hulking, four-legged silhouette – arrived later.

Mom called it night terrors, and took her to doctors who wore deep frowns and shook their heads. They couldn’t stop the corner monster from coming.

Now, she hated sleeping. Abigail switched on the flashlight she hid beneath her pillow and dove under her quilt with a book. She read until the words began to blur.

When she woke again, a smoky blue-black darkness covered her face. Breath squeezed from her crushed lungs. She tried to sit up, and the flashlight clattered to the floor. It rolled, beam bouncing and, in the corner, flashed over shimmering, iridescent scales.

“Go away!” Abigail’s hands flew, and her throat hurt as air rushed out of it. “Leave!”

The door whipped open, and Mom switched on the light. The corner stood empty.

Abigail gulped for breath as Mom gathered her into a hug. “How do I keep it out?”

Mom shook her head. “Nothing to keep out.”

Nanny walked in, wrapped in her green muumuu, and prowled the room. She paused in the corner, toed the carpet. She met Abigail’s gaze over Mom’s shoulder, and spoke. Mom twisted around, frowning. “What did she say?” Abigail signed.

“Nothing.” Mom’s fingers snapped, terse. Abigail pulled on her sleeve.

“What did she say?”

Nanny went to the night table, where Abigail kept her diary, and flipped it open. With the pen, she wrote: The Hag.

“It’s another name for night terrors.” Mom’s mouth thinned as she signed. “Not an actual hag.”

But Abigail watched the blue ink creep in veins across the paper, and felt the words settle into the space in her thoughts, where the corner monster lived.

***

Nanny went shopping the next morning, and when she returned, she handed Abigail a tattered, dog-eared book of folk tales. Abigail took it to her room, and read about the Hag: how some thought it was the spirit of an old woman, that it could be deterred by bright light, or milk. One line, underlined until the paper had torn, stood out: The Hag doesn’t harm. Abigail chewed on her thumbnail, doubtful.

She went downstairs to ask Nanny more, but Nanny’s mouth pinched and her eyes darted to Mom, even when Abigail tried to sign slower.

“She can’t keep up,” Mom signed, mouth moving in tandem. “She doesn’t understand.” Her hands tripped over the last word and Nanny flinched. Abigail marched to the door, book under her arm. If she wanted the Hag to leave her alone, she’d have to do it herself.

***

When she woke that night, her face felt laced with frost. She inhaled, and cold filled her mouth, squeaked between her teeth. She clenched her hands and felt the smooth curve of the flashlight where it lay on top of the quilt next to her, the switch under her thumb. The Hag doesn’t harm. The Hag doesn’t harm. Her thumb twitched and the bedroom flared with gold light. Gotcha.

She felt a ripping over her face, and the weight evaporated. Abigail shot up and swung the flashlight toward the corner, the beam crossing over light spilling through her open door. Nanny stood in the doorway and they both looked first to the corner, where the Hag wasn’t, and then to the floor.

It romped in circles, unaware of its audience, harrying a slippery-looking shadow. Its scaled skin stretched tight over prominent shoulders and hipbones. A spiny ruff framed an old woman’s face, wrinkled, thin, and gleeful. It tore the shadow in half with its square, yellowing teeth, and Abigail touched her face where it had clung a moment ago. The flashlight slipped from her hand, and clunked to the floor.

The Hag froze, darkness dripping down its chin, and Nanny stepped in. She set a chipped bowl on the floor, milk slopping over the side, and picked up the flashlight. Sitting down next to Abigail, she trained the beam on the Hag’s human face.

“Is that–?” Abigail stopped, chewed on her lip. But Nanny raised her free hand and spelled, like a child first learning the alphabet:

y-e-s-h-a-g.

She paused, looked at Abigail with hope in her face. Abigail’s heart jumped and she nodded.

The Hag bent over the bowl and lapped it dry with a long, purple tongue. Then, perhaps satisfied, it turned toward the bed. Abigail glared at the wizened face. “You need to leave me alone.”

The Hag cocked its head. Next to her, Nanny’s mouth moved. She turned to Abigail, fingers crooking: a-g-a-i-n.

“You need to leave me alone.” Abigail repeated, slower this time. Nanny’s mouth moved again, and the Hag padded up to them, sharp brown eyes shining. It smelled like spices and homemade bread. It stared hard at Abigail, winked, and vanished.

Frowning, she jumped down and circled the floor. “Did it work?” Nanny’s face scrunched and Abigail tried again, spelling each word.

g-o-n-e-f-o-r-n-o-w. Nanny paused, studied her fingers. a-t-e-b-a-d-d-r-e-a-m.

Abigail clambered back onto her bed. “Was it hungry?” She thought of those prominent hipbones, the weathered, ravenous face. “Will it come back? Will you be here if it does?”

Nanny smoothed the quilt, brushed Abigail’s hair off her forehead and gave her a kiss. At the door, she turned back and made a fist, thumb wrapped over fingers, and nodded it up and down.

“Yes.”

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About the Author

Kate Hall is a speculative fiction writer and graduate of the 2013 Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Penumbra eMagazine, Inscription, and will be forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine “Women Destroy Fantasy!”. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, a horde of pets named after various deities, cupboards full of tea, and a great many books (because there is no such thing as too many books. Or too much tea).

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