Based on the idea from the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Three Snake Leaves”
PART ONE: “ANYTHING”
Abex was starry-eyed and in love, the son of a farmer who could barely afford to feed him. He came from a family where milking cows was a far more prosperous trait than wooing women. And yet somehow, he had caught the fairest girl around. Sure, she was rumored to be involved in witchcraft but jealous talk breeds fantastic stories. He wasn’t worried in the slightest. He loved her more than he’d ever loved anything.
Sabitra was older, wiser, and very much into a broad subject which we shall just call the dark arts. She did not love Abex but rather knew how to keep him fooled, after all he was as naive as a suckling calf. She had strung him along for six long months now and she was anchoring for the question that would seal his fate: she wanted him to ask for her hand in marriage. It would be easy, she knew, because he bought every lie she told him. It was all a matter of timing.
One fine spring day they were sitting under a magnolia tree in the town’s cemetery and she was talking about her spells- something he found enchanting, when the very thing she had been planning for happened. He took on a glow only people in love exude and the words rushed out of him in a quick breath, “Sabitra, marry me. Please, I beg you. You know I love you. You know I’d do anything for you. Make me the happiest man in this town. Say you’ll marry me.” His eyes pleaded his case.
She forced a blush, easily accomplished by imagining the tongue of a toad she had hidden in the pocket of her dress, and batted her eyelashes.
“Anything?” she asked, and his brows furrowed.
“Do you really mean it when you say that you’d do anything for me?”
The tension in his face eased and he smiled a beautiful smile; punctuated by his poor teeth. “Anything.”
“Alright then, I’ll marry you,” she said.
He jumped up and grabbed her by the waist, swinging her up in the air and spinning her around and around. Finally he set her down and kissed the top of her head. He had never been so happy in all his life.
“Just one thing,” she said and he said “Anything,” once more.
“If I should die before you, you must be buried with me.”
And in that moment he felt a flash of doubt that dissipated like so many raindrops on a roof. Head in the clouds and his heart in a whirl, he barely saw the evil in her eyes and whispered one word over and over, almost as if saying it like a mantra to convince himself. “Anything.”
PART TWO: NEVER MARRY A WITCH
They were married the next week. The whole town attended and many people sought to warn him of the extremity of marrying a witch but poor Abex believed with all of his big heart that she was a good woman and therefore a good witch, casting spells to help people- a “white witch”- if you will. He thought everyone must be jealous for Sabitra was, indeed, the most beautiful girl around. His mother and father were happy to see him married but Sabitra gave them a bad feeling in their bones and they’d wished their son would have chosen someone else. Nonetheless, Abex and Sabitra said their vows and escaped to the neighboring coastal town for a few days of honeymooning.
While in their little one-room shack decorated with tacky seashells and horrendous paintings of the ocean, Sabitra refused to eat the dinner of deer meat her new husband had labored over for her. “Dear, I don’t feel so well,” she said, hand to her forehead, feigning a sickness she was secretly inducing.
Abex rushed to her side, concern etched on his tanned face. “Whatever is the matter, my love?” He too felt her forehead and was even more worried to find she was, in fact, burning hot to the touch.
“I feel as if my insides might be melting,” she said dramatically. But she was actually right. She had cast a spell the night before, saying an incantation the wiser witches would have advised against, that was literally going to melt her internal organs, killing her from the inside out.
“We must get you to a doctor, immediately,” Abex pressed, but Sabitra flat-out refused.
“I won’t go to any doctor, this will pass quickly. I just need to lie down for a moment and rest.” So Abex let her, tucking her in to a cool sheet and kissing her gently on the side of her face.
“Feel better, my love,” he whispered, and she smiled. To him, the smile was the essence of sweetness but to her, the smile was a secret being kept.
She was dead the next day.
PART THREE: PROMISES
Of course Abex pined for the lost love of his life, but not once did he worry about the promise he had made to her only a week before. At first, he didn’t even remember it. It wasn’t until a group of women approached him the day of the burial that he was reminded of it at all.
“We represent the dead,” they said in unison, voices high and rasping.
“Do you speak for Sabitra?” he demanded, hope suddenly etching itself on his worn face.
“Yes, indeed we do,” they chimed.
“Does she have a message for me from beyond this world?” He was suddenly on his knees, tears in his eyes.
“Oh yes,” they practically sang. “She says there is a promise you must keep. A dark and secret promise. We are here to certify that you fulfill that promise.”
Abex stood, full of a dumb courage he had seen others in battle take on. He may have forgotten the promise and he may have been a complete fool, but he would not go back on the word he had given to his love.
“Of course,” he whispered, steady and ready for death. Then, right there in front of everyone standing around the grave, he dropped himself into the hole and laid down, hands folded across his chest.
PART FOUR: THE THREE SNAKE LEAVES
The group of women (witches, they were truly) were no doubt impressed by this sacrifice. You see, the dark magic of the spell Sabitra had cast was so that should Abex break his promise (as she had thought he would) everything that belonged to him, including his life, should become hers. She would rise from the dead and not only that, but acquire his farm and what little money he had.
Three of the witches dug in their long, gray robes and each pulled out a snake leaf. The first witch, tall and scrawny, dropped her snake leaf into the grave. “For blind love,” she said. “That got him into this mess.” The second witch, short and plump with tight curls on her fat head threw her snake leaf into the grave as well. “For difficult promises, which bound them together.” The last witch, small and looking all but twelve, gently placed the last snake leaf in the grave. “For courage, because it takes courage to fulfill difficult promises made out of love.”
And although the people gathered around the grave were horrified, they heard legends of this very group of women and the powers they possessed. Not a single one there was prepared to help Abex if it meant they would cross paths with a witch. And after all, just about everyone had warned him of the dangers when marrying Sabitra in the first place. As the grave digger began to throw dirt over the bodies, Abex breathed in the salty air one last time and shut his eyes.
Once the bodies were completely covered, the crowd started to dwindle. No one wanted to be that close to a man six feet under who would slowly die next to his wife. But in just minutes, a hand came up out of the dirt, unburying the body it belonged to. The witches stood by, in the near distance, and watched Abex slowly start to climb out. In his other hand was the tongue of a toad.
He looked like he had just woken up from a long, long sleep, and as the witches approached him he nodded his head in understanding.
“Sabitra cast a spell that would only work if you broke your promise. She thought too little of you, for you kept it heartily. Because you were true to your word, you not only kept your life, but sealed her fate. She will not be rising up from the dead,” they chimed.
He held out the toad tongue. “And what of this?”
The youngest and smallest witch stepped forward. “It is the essence of her witchcraft. You have her magic now, and by all the power of the world, we hope you use it more wisely than she.”
Abex smiled. A beautiful witch had cursed him but three snake leaves had saved him and now he could cast spells of his own.
“What can I do with this magic?” he asked, ideas spinning around his head.
“Anything,” they sang, “Anything.”