Last Days of the Bonneville Water Sprite

Alyssa Quinn

I am a witch witch witch witch. Two and a half million years I've lived here. Underwater once—prehistory, a lake. Those days I conjured spells in the deep and the jets from the magic bloomed pockets of air; I sealed my lips to them to breathe. Now, the desert is an obliterating force. It grows difficult to recall that turquoise cool. I dream ammonite and nautilus, bulbed kelp and oolitic sand. Recite these names out loud: brine shrimp, flattish crabs. A list of jawless fish. Extinct genera as the basis for a new occult, its power drawn from memory nearly-not-quite dead. When the tourists come and shoot the pronghorn down; when they pose with antlers gripped; when they drive their Jeeps in mineral billows; when they make the sagebrush burn; then I lurk in this maybe lakebed and curse them something dark. They will die of thirst in hotel rooms far from here. Will wake to an ancient lamprey sealed to sternum, rooting crazed for fatty heart. I know pronghorn better than anyone ever could. Knew this place before fauna, watched as the first mammals canyoned down in droves. I watched them morph with millenia, the antlers shrink, extend, shrink, watched the stomachs chamber, the white stripes splay over fur. Time the way I know it is like a slow note slowly sharpening. Twanging higher, higher, a Doppler blur, blueshifting far but never breaking from its past. I have watched many things nearly fade. Here's a spell: say a word four times and it tethers that thing to the earth. Gulo gulo gulo gulo. A law I once believed. At dusk and dawn when the horizon has that bluish glow I squint and imagine an aquatic sky. Sky sky sky sky. I I I I. There is a thickness to the air that never was here before. There is a mourning in the animal cries at night. I am a witch. But the spells—the spells—the spells—the spells—have stalled. I was birthed with the earth. I am tethered to it. I have learned to bask in heat after millennia of tide. I have learned to nurse my water-grief in slim beams of saguaro dark. But now the spells have stalled. Now I plume my palms to air, now intone the names of all the fossiled flesh. Oh how I loved to float in salt, the liquid such as you imagine air to be. Try to levitate a basalt chunk. Nothing. Try to believe in a reality other than this. Try. When the grief is bad I pack a poultice of creosote and damp it to my breast. In the hot night I sometimes feel I will not make it through. No magic to ease this thick thick heat. No trick to bright the black. But then the dawn. I wake to a rosebud scroll of sun and roam the cliffs where the shoreline still stays etched: rings and rings and rings and rings. Count them. Each striation a past self. A mourned life. If nostalgia is a sin, call me succubus, call me Beelzebub, call me witch. But I remember. I remember. I remember.

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Alyssa Quinn is the author of the forthcoming novel Habilis (Dzanc Books 2022) and the prose chapbook Dante’s Cartography (The Cupboard Pamphlet 2019). Her short work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Third Coast, Passages North, The Rupture, Hobart, Cream City Review,and elsewhere. A doctoral candidate at the University of Utah, she can be found at alyssaquinn.net.