Halloween may be officially over, but the witching hour doesn’t abide by any particular day, and spooky can be celebrated at any time. I wanted to share with you an excerpt of some witchy fiction I’ve been working on lately, to be released in 2021.
This excerpt is copyright. No part may be stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording or storage in any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. No reproduction may be made, by any means, unless a licence has been obtained from the author or publisher. ©️ Tabatha Wood 2020
None of us were particularly surprised when our mother walked out of the house one morning and did not return. She packed a handbag with her usual necessities — two cartons of unfiltered cigarettes, a battered notebook and half a packet of jellybeans — and left her home of fourteen years with nothing else but the clothes on her back. It wasn’t the first time she had done such a thing, but this one was to be her last.
The end of Autumn beckoned. Dead leaves turned brown, crisp-edged and frail. The pale mornings were often deceptively cool, temperatures rising weakly as the sun did, and a dusting of snow could already be seen high up on the mountain tops. The world was starting to surrender, to slow down and prepare for sleep.
Our mother’s body was found in a ravine by the railway. She lay face down in a shallow pool of grey water, her pale skin freckled with mud. The policeman said she’d most likely slipped off the edge, had fallen and seemingly drowned.
My father was distraught. His grief was insurmountable. His keening wails could be heard throughout the house, as he moaned and tore his clothing in despair. My sisters and I, we could not cry. We knew there was work to be done.
My mother, was an Occulant, more commonly known as an elemental witch. My three sisters and I, her beloved offspring, are of the same ilk. Our powers are tied to the elements. My mother’s was that of water. She commanded it in such a way it would be impossible for it to kill her.
We didn’t need to converse or discuss. My older sister, Ellie, filled our biggest kitchen pot with boiling water and set to making a fingerweb. Jannie and Kira, my two younger siblings, searched my mother’s shrewd belongings for some useful trinkets. I took hair from her brush left on the dressing table and ripped thin strips from her worn, unwashed clothes. We took what we could to Ellie and watched her as she weaved.
As she finished, together we spoke the required words, and Ellie plunged the fingerweb into the pot. We were expecting sparks, some obvious reaction, but it merely drifted to the bottom, the water hardly disturbed. Ellie’s face grew deathly pale, her dark eyes clouded as she set her jaw. We all knew instinctively that this meant trouble, of the kind we’d likely never seen before. I reached out and entwined my fingers with Ellie’s own. She let out a strange noise like a low growl and a sigh, and spoke through gritted teeth.
“We’re being blocked, she said. “Drain the pot and take the fingerweb. We have no choice. We’ll have to go to where she crossed.”
My sisters’ shock and apprehension was clear on both their faces. I merely nodded and did what Ellie asked of me. I took the pot to the sink and poured the water down the drain. I fished the talisman out of the dregs and wrapped it quickly in a tea towel. It vibrated gently in my hands as I passed it to Ellie.
“You’re right about the blocking,” I told her. “This has power for sure. Something isn’t keen on letting it through.”
Ellie nodded. “I fear it’s something big, Alannah. I don’t know what to expect.”
“There’s four of us, and Mother taught us well. Don’t start worrying until you have to.”
She grinned at me then and hugged me.
“Of course, my little sister, always the steadfast voice of reason. Let’s prepare. There is no time to waste.” She rifled in the kitchen drawers, started packing items in her bag.
Jannie interrupted. “What about Father? We can’t just leave him here. Not in the state he’s in.”
“We can’t exactly take him with us,” Ellie replied.
“We could if we… you know?”
Ellie let out that strange growling sigh again. Jannie’s eyes were wide and pleading. “Fine. Get the jar.”
Jannie went to the pantry and reached behind the potato store for a small jam jar filled with dirt. She handed it to Ellie.
“Does it hurt him?” she asked her sister quietly. “Does he know?”
Ellie shook her head. “No. At least, I don’t think so.”
She followed the sound of our father’s wails to the other end of the house. Moments later the air was silent. She returned to the kitchen with the jar. I saw a slowworm wriggling in the dirt. She passed it to me wordlessly, and I slipped it in my satchel.
We left the house together, walking two abreast. Ellie with the youngest of us, Kira, me holding hands with Jannie. It took us maybe twenty minutes to reach the ravine. The edge was cordoned off with yellow plastic tape, but no one else was in the area. We scrambled to the bottom. Loose stones and sodden vegetation threatened to disrupt our balance and hasten our descent.
Ellie reached more solid ground first. She took the tea towel from her bag and unwrapped the fingerweb. I could see it shaking, its edges glowing faintly with an iridescent sheen. She placed it in the shallow stream where our mother had been found. The putrid water bubbled quickly, thick steam rising from the spot where the amulet rested. I smelled something foul in the breeze — like sulphur and rotting meat. As the light around us grew steadily dark, I knew what was coming.
My sisters and I joined hands with each other, we stood in a close circle as the earth beneath us began to tremble. A harsh wind rifled through our hair and pockets, we felt heavy drops of water on our face. I looked at Ellie, her eyes were closed and she was breathing hard. I heard the crackle of the flames before I felt them. I snapped my eyes tight shut and held my breath.
I felt a violent pull and a snap, the fine hairs on the back of my neck stood boldly to attention. Time slowed and vaulted backwards, I felt the world around me move while I stayed still. Through my shuttered eyelids I could see a bright light flash and fade, moving shadows passing swiftly like a speeding zoetrope.
Finally it settled, the ground grew stable once again, the air fell calm and the searing light was dimmed. Cautiously, I opened my eyes. My sisters did the same. We kept our hands bound tight together. There was something there behind us.
I turned my head to see over my shoulder. Where the fingerweb had been was bathed in a dirty lavender glow. Two uncertain figures stood in the centre. I saw outlines, shapes, but no features. The shorter one who had their back towards me waved their arms, apparently in anger or frustration. I saw their head move animatedly, but heard no sound. I heard Kira gasp.
I looked again and saw that she was right. The figure was indeed our mother.
In front of her was a much larger figure, bipedal and upright but not fully human. The outline was wrong, the head too large. I saw nothing but blank space where their face should be, no obvious indication of either gender or emotion. They stepped back, crossed their arms and shook their head repeatedly. My mother leaned towards them, there was something in her hands now, long and slim like some kind of staff, but not fully identifiable. She shook it in the other’s face and they recoiled.
We stood in silence watching the scene unfold. The only sounds we heard were that of our own breathing, every leaf in the trees around us had been frozen, as if the world were holding a deep breath. Our mother’s echoed memory paused, she grew still like she were thinking. The larger shape had half turned away from her. Their argument, if indeed that was the case, had apparently drawn to a close.
Our mother moved without warning, striking quickly like a deadly snake. She brought the object down upon the other’s head. It seemed unreal to see the impact, but hear no accompanying sound. The figure flinched. They pulled their arms up to deflect another blow. Our mother increased her assault. Her vicious blows were relentless and her target raised their arms to shield their face.
We thought the attack would never end, our mother’s rage seemed unstoppable. She swung the staff back in a wide arc, preparing for another strike, but finally, her victim fought back. They grabbed her arm and twisted hard. She dropped her weapon the floor and lashed out with her other hand. The figure pushed her and she stumbled, they caught her by the throat before she fell. They squeezed her neck with giant hands and lifted her from the ground. She clawed and kicked as she was lifted, both feet dangling in mid air.
Kira yelled out angrily. She slipped my hand and went to run towards her mama, Ellie caught her wrist before she could.
“No, Kira, stay. This is just an echo of the past, remember? You can’t change what’s happening. What’s done is done. Just watch.”
Our mother’s attacker kept tight hold of her body, holding her aloft as her life began to leave her. Shocked and distraught, we watched in mute horror as her body twitched and rippled. Surge upon surge of massive vibrations moved across her skin. She arched her back so violently, I feared that she might split in two.
It seemed like forever until her struggling body fell limp. I felt a surge of hot tears sting my cheeks, and I swiped them away with the back of my hand. Our fears were right. Our mother had been murdered. But by who or what or even why, we had far more questions than we had answers.