The night loomed like a blanket of opportunity, the dying sun snuffed out hours ago to make way for the moon and mischief. They had all been called, they had all answered in their own ways. Creatures carrying messages, slithering in the dark spaces so the people of the village would not see. The answers quick and decisive. It had been long enough; they had waited too long. Now was the time.
They came like puffs of brown smoke, the dirt and the earth puffing out in a cough. Misshapen things with rough hands and suspicious eyes. Dark features with tongues that clicked, the idling hands of late, eager to begin. Twenty of them in this seemingly small space, yet they seemed to suck the world in further in their placement around the barn. The horses were outside, braying and huffing to the activity which now disturbed their night-time.
They had come with one intent, one thing only brought them together. Their coven strong, but usually displaced. This power concentrated for too long brought about strange energies which alerted many to their location. They had been hunted of course, many of them escaping the iron wrath of the witchfinder general which pummelled the land. It had taken a lot of their power to evade him, and they were cautious to gather in such a mass, their own limitations to the power they craved ever evident; for Lucifer gave only what he wanted and never too much to be disadvantaged. His kisses were tinged with a poison which held the knowing and forgetting of all. Which is what many sought. To forget.
The candle hissed and three loud knocks on the ground quietened them all. They were gathered in a circle, as was customary, the croaks and silent screams of their souls hushed as the caller of the event moved into the centre.
“We know why we are here. And we know what we must do.” She breathed, a coldness hanging down now from the rafters where two little eyes watched.
“About time!” A voice came from the group, flicked out from a forked tongue.
“Time is no consequence. But it is indeed the hour in which they must fall. He has said to me not to be afraid.” She said, to which the group reacted loudly.
A disgruntled ripple came from these words. The two eyes in the rafters watched on, belonging to a little boy no older than eleven.
“You are fools to not be afraid. We have given the souls of our being, but there are dangers which lie in an empty vessel. Do not let it flood you now, do not waver from the road into the woods. They will pick you out, they will trap you with their words of heaven. He has warned me that some of you are weak in this regard. Be afraid of this and be guarded.” She said, her eye scanning the barn as if knowing the weaker links. This seemed to settle them though, some nodding in agreement.
As he watched, Jacob ran his finger around and around the red string on his wrist. His eyes alive, but his hand fidgeting in fright. He had known they would come here, being close enough to the village but hidden by the clump of woods which curled around the north side where the church was. He tried not to breathe as he watched those below, swaying and naying like the horses which usually stood in the same spot. He had come, because he had known. Watching one of the witches for some time, her best efforts on protection falling to his superior senses and cleaner soul. He’d trapped her familiar, a horrible grey cat with one eye which prowled the village, extracting what he needed and releasing it, none the wiser, to carry on its deceitful deeds.
Now he was here, and despite his good intent; he was but afraid.
“We must bind ourselves first, it has been too long since we have all been present.” One of the witches offered, her crippled hand reaching out into the space in front of her. The witch in the centre nodded.
“So be it, come.” And she knelt down on the spot, and reached her hands out, the others quickly following suit. As the words tumbled out of her mouth, the candles around them seemed to grow low, a horrible sense of death and despair creeping inside the barn, swirling around like the breath of a corpse. A vine, thorned and rotten, sprung forth from the outstretched arms in the centre, quickly ensnaring the witch directly in front. It coiled around her arms and leapt to the one next to her, doing the same and proceeding quickly around the circle. The words came in their awfulness and the binding of the witches seemed complete as it plunged into the ground, making the spot where it entered dark like soot, and evaporating from around their wrists.
“This commitment to the coven binds us all, so tread warily. Our deeds are pure in their deceit, but do not stray from the black blood which now binds us. If one falls, we all shall. But as we rise and grow more powerful, so too will all of you. It is done.” The centre witch said, concluding the spell and standing once more. She clicked her neck awkwardly, the sound of broken twigs cracking around the barn, and she began to stretch upwards, growing slightly larger than she had been previously. The bones in her hand cracked and she pulled at her fingers, breaking them and stretching them forth abnormally. The sound was horrible to Jacob, it reminded him of his grandmother cracking nuts by the fire. That awful woman.
“They come and go with their sheep like minds. They breed and die, bringing others to our land. They swill the poetry from the trough of that church, washing it down into the land. It tries to bleed into our bones. The othering that we chose, the distancing of self is always besieged by their self-concluded righteousness. Sisters we have seen hang and burn. Stripped naked for them, poked and violated. Our ways are dark and dangerous, but they are our own. Yes, he has his plan, but it is all written, even in their own books.” The voice seemed more human this time to Jacob, despite the abnormal appearance of the witch now in the middle of the group. He noted their names of course, all but her; she still alluded him. She was someone he did not know…. yet.
“Agatha. You know whom I speak of.” A large exhale seemed to come from them all. The reason they knew they were there.
“Agatha. They took her, as you know. They did not burn or hang her. The fools who think that destroys us inside. They took her, and she was strong, she told them nothing of us. They tried of course to trick, to tease the information out of her. Beauty in their eyes is betwixting. Agatha’s bones do not lie in some place, scorched and dismissed. They took from me….” Here her voice cracked. “…us, a sister who they keep to themselves. In the house beyond the rise of Drample hill.” At the name, many of those present spat on the floor.
“She will return to us; we will bring her back. We have the means.” Said a witch who stood close to one of the candles, the silhouetted figure seemed to dance in the candle flame. They all hissed with agreement.
“Yes, she will. And yes, we do. But we must go beyond retrieving our sister this time. We must come out of the shadows, into their awful light of delusion. We must teach them this time that we will not be plucked, fucked or destroyed. This time, this land will all be ours to come and go freely. This is the time for our great aftermath.” She said, her hands rising upwards much like the preacher would in the church not far from where the barn stood.
They all cheered in their own witchy ways, some thumping the floor with their feet bringing up dust and disorder. The noise startled one of the magpies which had sat quietly on a beam next to his master, the familiar took flight suddenly up into the rafters, coming to rest on a beam just by Jacob. It’s eyes finding the boy, it’s call yet to cry out.