Final Harvest

Wind chased the moonlight with a touch of frost and whispers from the grave. The fallen leaves swirled over the cold ground and crackled into the silence. From deep within the soil, blood seeped to the surface and screams reverberated in the air; the echoing pain from forgotten spirits of the dead. Tendrils of mist, grey and damp, drifted from the ground and the forest throbbed with a faint rhythm, a hint of an ancient heartbeat.

From the dark bowels of hellfire and damnation, a figure arose; a crone dressed in ebony robes and wielding a skull-topped staff made of bone. She thumped the cane three times; the skull trembled, and the wind swirled in angry gusts. The earth cracked open and a green miasma hissed forth, carrying a siren’s song that played underneath the edge of the world. The mist snaked along the trail leading to the village, searching.

The old witch smiled, placing both hands on top of her staff. Around her ghosts drifted from the trees, compelled to bear witness. Above the forest came the hoot of an owl. Then the night cloaked itself in silence and the moon hid behind the clouds.

The witch and her spirits waited.

***

“Come on, Sandra! I don’t want to go hiking in the woods this late. You said you wanted to go to my place. That’s why we left the party.”

“I heard something.” Sandra waved vaguely at her boyfriend, Harry. “Something… I don’t know.” She moved closer to the trees. 

“Sandra, come on! What the hell are you doing?”

She ignored him, walking faster, her ears filled with a sweet strain of music. She smiled, a strange euphoria dancing in her head and she broke out in a run. She never heard Harry’s shouts or the sound of him chasing her. She only followed the song into the trees.

The green mist greeted her and wrapped itself around her body, pulling her deeper and deeper into the forest, to where the old witch waited. 

As the tree cover thickened, Harry’s screams finally penetrated her perception, and she turned her head. She smiled at his thrashing body and happily watched the mist drag him along the forest floor. Her feet scuffled through the leaves and dirt and an errant breeze ruffled her hair, but her glassy-eyed stare barely saw her surroundings.

At last they arrived, stopping a foot away from the witch, and the mist loosed its grip, retreating into the earth. 

Harry scrambled to his feet, bleeding from dozens of scrapes. “What the hell is going on? Let’s get out of here.” He grabbed Sandra’s arm, but she pulled away, moving closer to the old witch, a contented smile on her face.

“She’s mine now.” The crone cackled. “You weren’t part of the deal, but I never reject a gift.” From beneath the folds of her robe, she pulled out a knife and handed it to Sandra. “Kill him, my dear.”

Sandra rushed forward and slashed a shocked Harry across the throat with the knife. He gurgled, clutching at the gushing wound in his throat, stumbled and fell. His blood flowed into the soil as he bled out and died.

Sandra turned back to the witch, the knife slipping from her fingers.

The old woman smiled at Sandra. “Now it’s your turn.”

The witch stamped her staff three times on the ground. Thousands of ghosts swarmed from the trees, the air, the soil, surrounding Sandra. The ghosts snatched at her hair and clothes, beat her with fists, kicked at her, each touch burning, searing into her skin and soul.   

She welcomed them with a shriek of joy, throwing her arms out wide as the ghosts surged closer. More hands tore at her, scorching her skin until it blistered and peeled away, until her blood flowed, until her body collapsed to the ground, still and cold. 

Then the spirits parted, leaving a path for the old woman, who walked forward. She lifted her staff and tapped it three times on Sandra’s body, and then on Harry’s. Two spirits rose from the corpses and joined the host of other phantoms. 

The old witch stepped over the bodies. “It’s time.”

This time she drove her staff into the soil. The earth quivered, vibrations racing across the woodland to the tops of the trees, and the air shattered with the howls of the damned. Red blood bubbled from the ground and flowed up the cane, twisting lines coursing into the skull, filling its hollow insides and spilling out past the bony rims of its eyes. The staff glowed in crimson energy and the horde of ghosts moaned. 

With a whispered word from the old crone, coils of energy lashed out from the staff, seeking the captive spirits, each soul pierced and drawn back into the witch’s talisman. When the last ghost vanished within the skull, the trail glowed red, following a winding path towards the village. 

The old witch took a breath and moved forward, walking down the trail and past the edge of the woods for the first time in two hundred years. She hummed a faint tune and wondered who she would kill first.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

Black Widow

The street is alive with festivities but my house is sombre and silent. The neighbourhood knows I am a widow in mourning, that I want to be left in peace, but that doesn’t prevent those roaming little brats from ringing my bell.

“Trick or Treat!” they shout, over and over again until I finally come to the door. In my black hooded cloak I look the part. No harm in playing along. I let out a deep evil laugh, throw handfuls of candy at them then slam the door as they plunge into a frenzy. I hope that is the last of them; it is close to midnight and I have work to do. The veil is thin.

I almost nodded off as I sat through your funeral; the monotonous voice of the priest was like a soothing lullaby. It is typical that you choose to be buried in an obscure, old cemetery on top of a hill. I’m sure you were delighted that we had to trek uphill through wet grass, as if we were on a pilgrimage to your holy grave. However, there were more important things on my mind than your egocentricities. My gaze was lowered but not with false humility. I was watching the lake. At the bottom of the hillside, the dark body of water lay silent. Surrounded by thick, long grass and shrouded in early morning mist, it was a festering pit of smoky gloom. I wrung my fingers eagerly as my plan fell into place. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty but some dirty work is below me; I would need allies.

I let you lie in peace for a while before I returned. Enough time for the worms to have feasted sufficiently, reducing you to rotting scraps. In the cold night, I stalked the bank of the lake, summoning the Fae. What kind of fairies frequent cemeteries? The ugliest kind, both in nature and appearance. They pretended they couldn’t hear me as they played in the fog. They provoked me with their foolish fire, bright sparks of blue and orange fizzed on the water’s surface. Their deceptive lights have lured many unsuspecting souls to misfortune. They are stubborn, petulant things but I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse and reluctantly they came forth. Their deformed little faces emerged from the shadows, wicked eyes glinting like polished emeralds at the promise of a feast.

I paced impatiently as they shovelled dirt with sharp little claws, grunting as they worked frantically. They squealed and scattered as I hacked open the coffin with an axe, then flocked around eagerly to see your corpse. Your suit remained immaculate, the blue satin tie and handkerchief straight and neat. You were still a little bloated, chest puffed, as indignant in death as your were in life.

I commanded the Fae to deliver me your head, which they did with glee. It made a pleasant sound as it was torn from your shoulders like the peeling of thick bark from an old tree. I held your head gently in my hands surprised by the lightness of it. Your face had sunken upon itself, black leathery flesh clinging to an empty cavity, your brains long dissolved into a festering mush. The remaining flesh was streaked with the meandering tracks of larvae; deep within the empty eye sockets tiny writhing creatures slumbered, breeding.

I wrapped your head in my cloak and left, not looking back as the orgy erupted. As promised, the Fae were free to do with your remains as they wished. Descending the hill, I noticed they were dragging you back with them, limb by limb, down into the murky depths of the lake.

Samhain. Day of the Dead. All Hallows Eve. All Souls Day. It matters not. The old ways are dead; they have merged and morphed into meaningless pageantry. People parade happily in elaborate costumes, a parody of darker times. They have not seen what I have seen. They have not survived the curse of incurable disease or the plague of devils in robes, travelling from village to village, burning, burning. They have not seen Nature stretching her jaws, unleashing her motley minions to charm and confound. Once the Fae, Pixies and Elves occupied their rightful place in the scheme of things; now they have faded from our eyes and I can hear their ghostly wails. The sacred thread of truth, carried through generations, is strained and weak but it cannot be distinguished completely. The old ways are dead. New ways will rise.

I can hear the faint rumble of music and laughter outside as I kneel within the circle. I recall the hush of the ancient forest, the collective intake of all breath, a pregnant pause. I long for an eternal night, deep, dark and silent. The pact is black. The veil is thin. I begin to draw the sigil; my own innermost blood is the medium. The blood drips and sprinkles and runs lines down the walls, glistening in dim candlelight.

Your head is where I have always wanted it, on my altar. I am not ready to let you go. An acidic hate burns within me; it spurs me on and fuels my ritual. An ancient tongue writhes in my throat and spits in a long lost language. I am shaking as the voice rises and terrified as I watch. Your dead skin changes colour, from rotting tones of black and green to fresh shades of pink. Slowly your face begins to grow plump, cheeks and chin fashioned from living clay. Glutinous grey balls form in your eye sockets, streaks of slime seep from the corners like tears of joy at your rebirth. A black sphere darkens in the centre, your iris. A thin translucent film of skin collects around the milky globes, forming eyelids. Your fresh eyes stare at me with the wild madness of a newborn.

I’m not sure if it is complete but then your eyes blink. They roll side to side like the mechanical eyes of a toy. I let out a small gasp of surprise. They say the eyes are the mirror to the soul and I have claimed yours. I have snatched it out of the ether and brought it home.

Your jaw falls open, the joint grinding loose. A black sludge is coagulating in your mouth, creating your tongue. Perhaps I will grant you a voice but for now, the thick muffled grunts that emerge from the hollow will suffice. Such a peculiar expression on your new face, much like the stiff grimace of carved pumpkins that decorate windowsills this time of year. You will be my lantern, glowing throughout the night, shadows cast by the play of light.

~ Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2014 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved