Another Halloween . . . not that we celebrate, but I used to write Halloween short stories. Not always, but I at least offered up a graphic or photo.
The last few years, I used the free PanosFx Spooky Halloween Photoshop Action to create the graphics. You can find some of the posts (and read past stories) by searching my blog for Halloween.
This year, I used photos I’ve been gathering for the last few months (from stores and antique malls) and a tree from Hawaiʻi, and about an hour on Photoshop to create this:
But, I also wrote something . . . mind you, I don’t have the wherewithal to top previous offerings. Well, maybe a few. A couple of my previous Halloween stories were sad affairs.
I’m hoping this will at least beat those.
But, before I share my story, an old (but funny) story (not mine):
A man was walking home alone late one foggy night, when behind him he hears:
Walking faster, he looks back and through the fog he makes out the image of an upright casket banging its way down the middle of the street towards him.
Terrified, the man begins to run toward his home, the casket bouncing quickly behind him.
He runs up to his door, fumbles with his keys, opens the door, rushes in, slams and locks the door behind him. However, the casket crashes through his door, with the lid of the casket clapping
on his heels, the terrified man runs.
Rushing upstairs to the bathroom, the man locks himself in. His heart is pounding; his head is reeling; his breath is coming in sobbing gasps.
With a loud CRASH the casket breaks down the door. Bumping and clapping toward him.
The man screams and reaches for something, anything, but all he can find is a bottle of cough syrup!
Desperate, he throws the cough syrup at the casket…
The coffin stops!
I can’t help it; I really like that story.
And now, my story (about 2,800 words) . . .
© E. J. D’Alise – 2019
The village was near deserted and the few people he saw hurried to wherever they were going. As Chaise well knew, a sure sign a witch was about. That, and the absolutes stillness in the air. His tools of the trade slung over his shoulder, Chaise made his way to the village center and his appointment with Lord Mayor Wilburt Sturgis.
He’d have liked finding a room and washing the road dust before the meeting but they had made it clear the matter was urgent.
Despite the scarcity of people, word of his approach must have traveled ahead for a small welcoming committee waited for him at the square. As Chaise approached them, he noted the faces looking on from half-closed doors and from behind partially drawn curtains. The ones he could make out showed a mix of awe and fear and hope . . . or so he imagined.
“Good day,” he called out as he approached the small group composed of who he assumed was the mayor, a few helpers, and the village priest. From the size of one man, and that he carried a pike, Chaise deduced him to be a constable or watchman.
“Are you the witch hunter?” The question had come from the priest. Chaise heard the veiled hostility. He was, after all, a competitor to a task the Church oft undertook as its own. Not only that, if successful, they would pay Chaise coins the priest might have expected would’ve come his way.
“That I am,” he replied as he unslung his pack and, with care, set it on the ground. “And you are?”
“Father Adrion Walles. I tend to the spiritual needs of the village,” answered the priest, “and know I advised against using a professional witch hunter.”
“Objection noted, Father Walles. Nonetheless, I was asked to come stand before you, ready to be of service,” Chaise said as he did a small bow and shifted his attention to the Lord Mayor.
“Your reputation for dealing with difficult cases is exemplary,” said the Lord Mayor. “Still, were it not for the unusual circumstances, you wouldn’t have been summoned.”
“Gentlemen,” Chaise said, “I am at your service but the road was long and I need to rest. May we discuss the particulars in the morning? I’ll be at the Inn, resting and preparing myself.”
“I’m Constable Richard Sharps,” the large man said as he stepped forward and pointed the way out of the square, “I’ll walk you to the Inn.”
“Nice to meet you,” Chaise said. The man didn’t acknowledge or answer, but waited for him to pick up his bag of tools. He then set off, the Constable’s pike striking the ground apace with his steps.
As they were about to leave the square, Chaise looked back. The Priest and Lord Mayor were into what appeared to be a spirited discussion. Witch Hunters often were no more welcomed than witches.
On their way to the Inn, Constable Sharps offered no opening for a conversation and Chaise didn’t look for one. He wanted little more than a decent meal and to rest. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
~ 0 ~
The meal was modest but satisfying. The Innkeeper explained provisions were going scarce as farmers avoided coming into town once the words had spread about a witch having taken up residence in the village.
“Do you know who she is?” Chaise had asked.
“Aye,” the Innkeeper had replied, “everyone knows.” He’d answered in a hushed tone and looked around as he did so. Chaise also looked around. The room was empty save for Chaise and the Innkeeper.
Chaise tried pressing the man for more information but the innkeeper excused himself and left Chaise to savor his meal in solitude.
In his room, Chaise resisted the urge to use one of his beeswax candles and suffered instead the tallow candle’s smell. His nose would ignore it soon enough once it grew familiar with the pungent odor.
He pulled a roll from his pack and spread the contents on the bed. His Astrolabe, a pair of copper manacles adorned with silver runes, his favorite silver scrying bowl, and a pair of matching obsidian daggers with the four elemental symbols inlaid in gold on the hilt.
He fought his need for sleep and cleared a space on the side table. He drew two small candles from his pack and set them on the table, the silver scrying bowl between them. Next, he filled the bowl with water from the small flask he carried in his travels. No ordinary water this; gathered from mountain mist, and consecrated by pagan ritual to the four elements and the four cardinal directions.
Stilling his thoughts, Chaise lit the candles and rummaged his pack for a small leather pouch. From it, he retrieved a crystal ball, no wider than his thumb. Others of his kind used angular crystals, but he wanted the widest access to the other-worlds visions. He set the crystal ball in the water and waited for the ripples to subside before focusing on the crystal and letting his mind free.
Soon, he had his answer. Tomorrow would bring success. He closed his eyes and smiled. Soon after, after putting out all the candles, he let sleep wash over him, a comforting retreat from the harshness of the modern world.
~ 0 ~
On the other side of the village, Rina Cardin opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. The time had come; tomorrow would be a difficult day. She closed her eyes and sighed. She looked forward to ending this chapter of her life.
Chaise rose early and turned down the offer of breakfast. What needed doing was best done on an empty stomach. As he retraced the path back to the square, he walked on quiet streets, his steps the only noise echoing on the bolted up homes lining the street.
The same group of people he had met yesterday were in the square, waiting for him, plus a few more men. Constable Sharps had recruited a few extra watchmen and Chaise noticed they handled their pikes with familiarity and confidence; Constable Sharps believed in training his watchmen.
“I need to know as much as possible about your witch,” said Chaise as he neared the men. “And it would best do so in the shelter of the church.”
He noted a quick change in the priest’s expression. With that small comment, Chaise conferred relevance and reaffirmed the power of the church, pleasing the priest.
Once in the church, the Lord Mayor summarized their plight. The woman, Rina Cardin, had insinuated herself into the graces of the village by presenting herself as a cunning woman; a white witch. At first, all was well, and she offered readings and exercised various evils. The people she helped were pleased with her work. But, soon, strange things began to happen. People suffered unusual accidents, and calamity struck people without obvious cause. And always, people who sought help from the white witch would fare better than those who didn’t.
It wasn’t long before many suspected that cunning woman Cardin caused the calamities she would then offer to set right. Those who didn’t seek her counsel kept incurring accidents and suffer misfortunes until they could take no more and paid for the white witch’s help. By now, few believed she was a white witch, but most paid a monthly fee to ensure their good fortune wouldn’t suddenly turn into misfortune.
One man who confronted the witch fell into a slumber from which he could not wake. That’s when the Lord Mayor had made discrete inquiries and sent for Chaise Givans, Witch Hunter.
Chaise absorbed all the information, each person providing him with different but overall consistent examples pointing to cunning woman Cardin being a practitioner of the dark arts.
One by one, the people fell silent, their stories exhausted, and watched Chaise deep in thought. They jumped when he looked up at them and said “Right! Take me to see the man who fell into slumber.”
Chaise looked down at the man. If one didn’t know better, the man looked as if in restful sleep.
“Has he been given food or drink?” Chaise asked.
“No,” the man’s eldest daughter answered. “We tried, but he choked on the water and he does not swallow the food placed in his mouth.”
“How long has he been like this?”
“Nearly two weeks.”
“And yet, he’s not dead.”
Chaise marveled at the powerful spell that would render a man so. It made him wonder about regular people who sought to take matters into their own hands. Didn’t it occur to them how dangerous it was to threaten a witch?
He unslung his pack and set it on the edge of the bed. From the pack, he retrieved two earthen jars, and a mortar and pestle. Careful not to spill any of the contents, he pulled the stoppers from the jars and dropped a few seeds from each jar into the mortar. Before grinding the seeds to a fine powder, he replaced the stoppers and put the jars away. Once he had a fine powder, he brushed any remnants from the pestle and set it aside. Drawing his flask, he dropped a few drops of water onto the side of the mortar to keep the powder from becoming airborne. As the water ran down the side and mixed with the powder, Chaise swirled the liquid and added drops as needed until the powder completely dissolved into the water forming a milky slurry. Chaise asked for a basin to wash his hands and then, using a thin brush, smeared small amounts of the slurry around the man’s eyes, nose, ears, and mouth.
When he used all the slurry, he cleaned the mortar as he instructed the family.
“He should wake in an hour or so, but do not hasten the process. He may cry out but don’t touch him or help him as he’s just dreaming,” Chaise said. “When awake, he’ll sit up. He’ll be confused and you should have water and food ready for him as he’ll be hungry and thirsty. Don’t worry if he falls back asleep after he drinks and eats; that’s normal. It’s just regular sleep. He’ll wake in the morning and be fine from then on.”
Chaise had each of the family members repeat the instructions in turns. He emphasized the importance of following the instructions for the man to return to normal. He acknowledged their thanks and retreated from the house in haste for there was much yet to do.
The Lord Mayor, Constable, and Priest looked on as Chaise set about using the Astrolabe. He needed an accurate reading of his location and then consult his charts for the optimal time. He lined up the sun and asked the constable to help him with the reading as he kept the instrument aligned. Once he knew where, he looked up when; nine o’clock at night. That’s when the energy in this area would be at its lowest. They had eight hours to prepare. Chaise spent much of that time instructing Constable Sharps and two of his watchmen on the fine art of restraining a powerful witch. He would do much of the work but, when dealing with witches, one had to expect the unexpected. Part of the preparations involved anointing the men to make them immune to a witch’s suggestions; the last thing Chaise needed was getting stabbed in the back with the pike of a weak-willed watchman. Other preparations were made, and they were ready with an hour to spare.
Rina Cardin felt the man’s presence even before she heard the knock on the door. She knew what was to happen but, even so, hesitated. A quick shake of her head to cast away her indecision and she opened the door. A medium-build man stood there, three more figures behind him. The man offered his hand, and she indistinctly reached for it. Faster than she could react, she felt the tinge of the copper and silver manacle on her wrist. When she tried to use her other hand to free herself, the other manacle snapped in place. Both stood there in silence for a moment while the constable and the watchmen approached.
Rina retreated into her home as the men pushed through the door opening. She wanted to do something, but the manacles sapped her energy. So, she sat on the nearest chair, the men towering over her.
“What now?” she asked.
The constable didn’t answer her question but pulled a rolled document from his jacket and started reading:
“We accuse the woman known Rina Cardin of practicing dark rituals and casting harmful spells. The following people have testified as to their dealings with the witch Cardin,” he read.
Constable Sharps then read sixty-eight names and their associated grievances.
“How do you plead to these charges and what can you offer in your defense?” the Constable asked.
“Those people came to me for help. I am cunning woman Cardin and I don’t take kindly to being called a witch.”
The man who had used the manacles spoke.
“That’s not a defense. Let me ask you a different question: did you cause the ills of the people who came to you for help?”
Rina sat in silence.
“Why doesn’t she speak?” one watchman asked.
“The manacles; lying would cause her great pain, so she can’t answer ‘no’. Admitting it would seal her fate, so she can’t answer ‘yes’. She’s smart to not say anything.”
“So, what do we do now?” the constable asked.
Chaise didn’t answer. Instead, he brought out his daggers. Rina recoiled slightly at the sight of them. She knew what they were.
Without speaking, Chaise used one of his daggers to prick Rina’s finger and let a drop of her blood fall on the table. When he added a few drops of water from his flask; the blood sizzled and burned a hole through the wood, dropping and dissipating onto the dirt floor.
No one spoke as Chaise drew a cloth from his pack and sprinkled a powder on it. Cardin didn’t struggle as he placed it over her mouth and nose and in short order, her eyes fluttered and closed, her body slumping.
“I thought we were burning her,” the Constable said.
“We are, but we’re not monsters. There’s no need for her to suffer anything more than a quick death.”
With that, Chaise picked up the other dagger and slipped it between her ribs, piercing her heart. No one spoke as they unfolded the canvas cloth they had brought, removed the manacles, and rolled her body onto it.
When they arrived back at the square, the pyre was lit, the flames casting dancing shadows on the surrounding buildings. Most of the villagers were there and watched as the Constable and Chaise threw the body into the fire. They watched as the flames turned blue and rose to illuminate the whole square. They waited until the flames died down and all that was left were ashes, then all returned to their homes, shaken but free of the fear that had burdened them.
~ 0 ~
The next morning, Chaise accepted the promised payment from the Lord Mayor, nodded, and left without a word spoken by either man.
~ 0 ~
No one greeted him at the next town. He rented a room at the inn, ordered wine, and set to waiting. At nine o’clock at night, there was a knock on the door. He opened it and smiled at the person who yesterday had gone by the name of Rina Cardin. Her hair was red now and her smile warmed his heart. They hugged and kissed.
“How did we do?” she asked a while later.
“We did well,” Chaise answered. “Between what you made from the townsfolk and what I charged for getting rid of their problem, we should be comfortable for at least nine months. Maybe a year.”
“You know, we’re running out of towns. We’re also risking me being recognized after so many times we pulled this stunt,” the woman said.
“I know,” said Chaise. “Perhaps we should consider moving to one of the Colonies. Fresh new ground, so to speak.”
“We’ll see, but why always me as the witch? You’re more powerful a wizard than me. We could switch roles.”
“True, but we’re playing to expectations and religious biases here. It’s a lot easier selling the story of a bad witch because it’s already a part of the culture. Plus, we save a few innocent women along the way.” Chaise paused. “Is it becoming too difficult for you to transition?”
“No, it’s super easy; barely an inconvenience.”
Hope it suited most people’s tastes. Whether it did or did not, comments are welcomed.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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