|THE HETTFORD WITCH HUNT by Oafish J Rhodes|
Episode Five: A Short Morning
Dan burst through the bedroom door, his face a snarling mask of hatred.
“Good bloody morning,” said Dan.
“Can you knock, you never know if Carrie will be getting dressed or something.”
“Carrie’s gone to work, you know how I know that?”
“How do you know that, Dan?”
“I know it because I heard her go to work not long after I heard your, evil, bedevilled rooster crow cock a doodle do.”
Milton laughed involuntarily.
“Except it doesn’t say cock-a-doodle do, it says roh a rooh rooh, like Scooby Doo doing a bad impression of a rooster. It has to be the most bone chilling sound I have ever born witness to.”
“It’s just a normal rooster, Dan,” said Milton.
“If it’s a normal rooster, why doesn’t it say cock a doodle do?”
“Roosters don’t really say that though, do they?”
“Of course they do,” Dan insisted.
“How do they say it then, I suppose they pronounce it in received pronunciation after clearing their throats.”
“Don’t make light of the situation,” said Dan, “I insist that we weigh it against a Bible.”
“That only works for witches,” Milton told him.
“Roosters can be witches, the bitches in the woods are forever turning into ravens. They could just as well turn into a rooster.”
“Fair point,” said Milton, “but it did have to cross running water to get back into the garden so it can’t be a witch.”
Dan thought about it for a minute.
“You carried it, that’s cheating.”
“If it makes you feel better, we can build it a little bridge and see if it will walk over of its own accord.”
“That would make me feel better,” said Dan.
“Not today though, you remember what day it is?” Milton asked.
“Payback time,” said Dan.
Dan grinned broadly.
Gary patted the bonnet of the car as it parked in front of his house. Alison wound down the window.
“It’s been running fine for months, you put one hand on it and the engine cuts out.”
She turned the ignition and finished parking.
“She still loves me really,” said Gary.
Gary smiled to emphasise the playful quality of the statement. Alison let the words hang in the air for a few seconds.
“Where’s Shelley?” Alison asked.
“Getting lunch ready,” Gary told her.
Alison looked a tiny bit disappointed.
“I was looking forward to one of your bacon sandwiches,” she said.
“I’ll make you one tomorrow, if we’re still alive,” he told her.
“Don’t go out of your way,” Alison told him.
“Right,” said Dan, “I have prepared the following: Numerous milk bottles to aid with witch triangulation, spray cans for everyone in case they need to draw a protective circle. Fun size Racer bars, a multi-pack of generic Monster Claw crisps, scotch eggs.”
“Obviously,” interjected Milton.
“And the words to a spell that is supposed to drive away witches.”
“Cool. Let’s practice that, then,” suggested Milton.
The plates were a shining white china and the toast was piled in a neat rectangular block. The tea had been laid out with meticulous care: tea pot and milk jug. Milton sat behind the table, sipping his tea from a cup and saucer. His lank greying hair hung around his shoulders. A moderate sized blob of middle aged spread pressed into the table. Milton wore a faded Steeleye Span t-shirt and a bemused look on his face. His friend Dan, was not getting into the spirit of the ‘last breakfast’ but instead was stood in front of the sink throwing his prodigious girth in to the recitation of a chant.
“Wið ymbe nim eorþan, oferweorp mid þinre swiþran,” Dan spoke the words in a sing song voice.
“I’m not sure you’ve got the right pronunciation on that,” said Milton.
“No,” agreed Dan, “me either; Karswell’s History of the Craft should come with a CD like one of those free language courses you get in the Sunday papers.”
“The papers don’t do them anymore,” said Milton.
“Well, you know what I mean,” Dan protested.
“Then why be so picky about it?”
Milton shrugged dismissively.
“I wasn’t picky about the invention of audio recording equipment and the penning of The History...” he said.
“No, which just goes to show that you know you’re being an arse.”
Dan folded his arms as if the point he had just made had been validated without any room for doubt. Milton took a sip of his tea, sticking out his little finger to award himself an air of sophistication.
“Just making an observation,” said Milton, “have a cup of tea. It’s going to be a long day.”
“Why is it that whenever we’re reduced to using spells we have to do them in the language they were written in. I mean, this one Gary dug out... It says: I take under foot, I have found it.
Lo, earth avails against every spirit against malice and mindlessness and against the mighty tongues of man.”
Dan took a deep breath and waited for Milton to nod as if he were suitably impressed.
“But,” he continued, “we have to say: Wið ymbe nim eorþan, oferweorp mid þinre swiþran handa under þinum swiþran fet, and... And whatever the hell else it says.”
Milton nodded seriously.
“That is right,” Milton agreed.
“So what’s the bloody point? Can’t magic understand English? I don’t get it.”
Milton leant forward picked up a piece of toast and set about buttering it.
“It just doesn’t work, we’ve tried it,” Milton told him.
“I know, but it should work. That’s the point.”
“You know my theory, Dan, it’s something to do with the tones of the words themselves. It’s not what they mean that matters but what the sound like.
“It’s a great theory,” said Dan, “with only one drawback: we have no idea what they sound like.”
“Well,” said Milton, “we’ll just have to do our best won’t we. Will you eat some frigging toast?”
“Who says I’m not dieting?”
“You’re you, you never diet.”
“Yeah, but as you said last night, there’s a good chance this will be our last day alive.”
“So, all the more reason to eat breakfast.”
“No,” said Dan, “all the more reason to try something new.”
The water of the shower sprayed hard into Gary’s face. If he was going to spend the whole day traipsing around the woods he needed to be clean. He lathered anti-dandruff shampoo into his hair and closed his eyes tightly to avoid the bubbles dripping into his face. That was when he heard the door open.
“Sorry,” Shelley’s voice was airy and unapologetic, “I’m really busting.”
Gary tried to blink to see what was going on but the shampoo instantly dripped into his face, half blinding him.
“I need the loo,” Shelley confirmed.
Gary’s bathroom was a small affair. There was no bath for a start only a shower cubicle, with frosted glass. Shelley had never seen Gary naked; now, at best, she was only seeing a skin coloured outline of him. However, he had perved at his ex-girlfriend Alison in the shower enough times to know that you could make out quite a bit of detail in an outline. With that in mind, he had to make the decision of what part of his nude self he was going to let her see. He wasn’t massively keen on the thought of her seeing the shape and size of his flaccid penis as an introductory gambit. Then again, despite his slender frame, his buttocks sagged as if they had been constructed entirely out of orphan’s tears. So the flaccid penis might have been best option. By the time he had considered the best way to stand he realised that due to the angle he was standing at, Shelley would have had quite an unflattering outline of both features. He could hear her peeing.
“This is a bit weird,” he told her.
“Want it to get weirder?” Shelley asked.
“Besides,” added Shelley, “You’ve been in here for an hour.”
“I never have.”
The sound of Shelley’s ‘tut’ was audible over both the sound of running water and the sound of running urine.
“All the stuff is ready to go,” said Shelly, “it’s all set up in the bedroom.”
Gary turned his head to see if he could catch the outline of what Shelley looked like when she was on the toilet.
“Do you want me to flush or not?”
Gary thought about it. He knew that Shelley had waste like every other human being and that it would be no different to anyone else’s. Furthermore, he realised from previous experience that the strain on the household boiler created by the flush would cause the shower to first dip in temperature to unbearably cold; then rise unbearably hot. He ruminated the idea.
“Flush,” he told her.
Shelley made her way back to the bedroom. She had lain out the day’s provisions on the bed: ten cans of spray paint. 6 bottles of spring water, four laminated copies of the banishing spell Gary had found to use on the witches and bumper sized pack of Racer chocolate bars. It was going to be an exciting day.
“Where’s Alison?” Gary asked.
“You were in the shower,” said Shelley, “she’s gone off to see Tajel at her old job.”
“Not really,” said Shelley, “I mostly just wanted her to see the spell broken.”
“I don’t think she wants to come on the hunt.”
“No, but it would be handy for you to be able to get your car back,” Shelley said, “Don’t tell Alison I said that.”
“You’re sneakier than you look,” he observed.
“You don’t know the half of it,” she told him.
A speckle of bird song punctuated the roadside at the side of Hettford woods. The intensity of the sun caused the branches of the trees to cast a web of blackness across the faces of the assembled members. Each of them wore a solemn expression except for Dan who was struggling to put on the bright yellow safety vest that everyone else was already wearing. He just couldn’t get his arm far back enough to fit into the thing.
Shelley stepped forward as if she were about to help but Gary placed his hand on her arm and made a ‘one second’ sign with his hand. After exactly one second, Dan threw the vest violently to the ground and began to stamp on it violently.
“Do you need a hand with that?” Milton’s calm voice inquired.
“I wouldn’t, if you’d just bought the right bloody size,” Dan told him.
“It was the biggest size they had,” said Milton, “extra-large.”
“Hogwash! There is no way this is large, let alone bloody extra.”
Milton stepped towards his friend and after a few goes and a considerable amount of pressure they successfully mounted it onto Dan’s second arm. Dan glanced at the ground whilst he pulled it over his second arm and adjusted it. Once it was there, it actually rested on his frame rather well. He buttoned it at the front.
“Must be too short around the shoulders,” Dan said to no-one in particular.
There was an awkward silence. Even the birds ceased their merry song whilst they waited to see who would speak next. Carrie looked over at Shelley and Gary. Shelley has slipped her hand into Gary’s.
“Is Alison coming?” Carrie asked.
“She’s at Tajel’s,” said Gary.
Carrie nodded her head understandingly. Dan brushed himself down and loudly coughed.
“Right, I suggest we split into two groups to cover more ground,” he said.
“No,” said Carrie, “there’s safety in numbers.”
“Not if we don’t have time to kill the witches,” said Dan.
Carrie pursed her lips.
“Better that none of them die than any of us do,” said Carrie
“We won’t get anywhere unless we’re prepared to take risks,” said Dan, “Milton, what do you think?
Milton looked from Carrie to Dan and then back to Carrie again. Both of sets of eyes were fixed on him, both sets of brows knitted in frustration.
“Safety first,” said Milton, “maybe we can change plans once we size the situation up a bit more.”
Neither of the concerned parties looked especially impressed. Milton looked to Gary for reassurance but his eyes were transfixed on Shelley’s left ear. With a shrug he picked up his satchel and turned towards the wood.
“Everybody sniff their milk,” said Milton.
Each member of the hunt unfastened the lids on their thermos flasks and took a long smell.
“Is there really any point in all of us doing this?” Carrie asked, “I mean, if one of them is off, surely they all will be.”
Milton considered it.
“OK, from now on I’ll sniff mine and if it’s off we’ll double check with the rest of you.”
“Meanwhile, the witches will surround us and turn us into bunny rabbits,” said Gary.
“Fine, I’ll check mine and if it’s sour we all stand guard whilst Gary backs me up.”
“Agreed,” said Gary.
“Any objections, Dan?” Milton asked.
Everyone in the group turned around to face Dan and it dawned on each of them simultaneously that he was nowhere to be seen.
“When did we see him last,” said Shelley.
“I haven’t looked at him since he said that thing about toe cheese,” Gary replied.
“We’re going to have to split up and look for him,” said Milton.
“You realise that is exactly what the witches would want us to do,” said Carrie.
“Yes, but I also realise that if they have him on his own, speed is going to be the main factor in getting him back alive, remember last time.”
“I guess Shelley and I will go East, we’ll stick to the outer path and meet you at the far side of the woods,” said Gary.
“They’ll have taken him to the centre,” said Carrie.
“We can’t just charge in,” Gary told her, “the trees will shift, we’ll all end up in the same boat as Dan. Less haste more speed.”
Carrie frowned, given the circumstances the last thing she felt like was a debate.
“Centre point,” she said, “At the boundary of Shackleford.”
“There’s a mile stone,” said Milton, “wait next to it, if we’re longer than forty minutes abort and go home.”
“Yeah,” said Gary, “if you’re longer than forty minutes I’ll start burning the woods down.”
“Thank you,” said Carrie.
A pervading mist surrounded Dan, thick wisps of grey twisting over one another and through the trunks of the trees like the living sinew of the woods.
“Oh, tits!” Dan exclaimed.
He attempted to spray paint a circle around himself in the damp mud but the paint seemed to vanish from the ground as soon as he laid it down.
“Triple tits,” he said.
Dan racked his mind for the words of the protective spell he had learned. He opened his mouth to pronounce the first word.
Without any further prompting the mist lifted and the woods blazed with sunlight. Dan was alerted to a sound that was rare in the woods, it was the choral chatter of bird song.
Dan could hear male voices through the trees and the unmistakable scream of a woman. Dan ran heroically towards the sound for a few steps and then, deciding he wouldn’t be much help doubled up and panting, slowed to a quick walk instead.
He pushed through the branches and into a clearing, there on the far side of the road stood two men, a third man was on the floor wrestling with a young woman. The woman wore a rough woad dress that looked as if it might be uncomfortably warm in the summer heat.
The men were stoutly built; the man on the ground wrestling with the woman wore a linen shirt that had been bleached enough to give the appearance of almost being white. His trousers were strewn carelessly on the ground a few feet away. He pushed her arms hard to the ground.
“We’ll soon see if there’s good in you,” said the man.
One of the two men above him was wearing purple clerical vestments and was flicking holy water on the victim as she writhed and clenched her teeth.
The other man, who was dressed very much the same as the man on the ground, except wearing trousers. Was clearly trying to keep watch.
He spotted Dan burst out of the woods his luminous yellow jacket blazing in the sun and striding forwards with a mad look in his eyes.
“Get your hands off her,” Dan screamed.
“Ware, ware, she calls her demons from the wood,” said the watch man.
The man on the ground turned his head to see what was happening, the woman lunged forward and sank her teeth in his neck. His hands reached up involuntarily to grasp the wound.
The woman pushed him backwards with both hands. The three men stepped back warily as she raised both her arms. The woman pointed at the man with no trousers.
“I curse you, Proctor, in the name of my sisterhood, I curse you and all your line.”
The mist descended again, weaving itself around the bemused figures of the three men but not around the woman.
The woman stepped forward and her eyes met Dan’s. Her features were rugged and angular but symmetrical and charismatic.
“You have more to you than I thought,” she said, “Child of the hated.”
Shelley was running ahead with the wild excitement of a sugar fuelled child on a trip with the Scouts. Gary’s eyes scanned the overshadowed woods for any sign of movement, ears keenly attuned to the sounds of nature for any fluctuation that might betray the presence of the supernatural.
“We should come here when there’s not witches,” said Shelley, “It would be a great place for a picnic.”
“Shhh,” said Gary.
“It would be better for conversation too, you know... If there weren’t witches.”
“Are you trying to goad them out by being passive aggressive towards them?”
“No, it’s just a really nice forest, I’d have like to have lived in a clearing here before the world got all terrible.”
“You mean before the witches?”
“We could have had a little cabin made out of wood and I could have fetched water from the stream while you caught rabbits for stew.”
“That does sound like a fairly decent deal, though I can’t catch a ball so I’m not sure how good I’d be with rabbits.”
“You caught my attention,” said Shelley.
Gary tried to think of something clever to say in return for long enough for him to realise that the window had passed on his replying to the comment.
“Maybe we should climb a tree,” he suggested.
“I suspect we’ll only see the tops of trees but it’s worth a go,” said Shelley, “I’m the best climber.”
Shelley ran to a large birch that was nearby and pulled herself on to one of the lower limbs. She then dangled in the air for a while, her feet kicking at nothing to get a better grip on it.
“Give me a leg up,” she shouted.
Gary dutifully positioned himself below her and she kicked him twice in the back of the head before finding a foothold on his shoulder.
Once she was fully onto the branch Shelley wasted no time in scrambling up the length of the birch. Gary watched in amazement as she navigated slender limbs with slender limbs.
Finally Shelley stood atop the tree clutching on the highest point of the trunk with one hand, leaning out to the side and shielding her eyes from the sun with the other hand.
“Can you see him?” Gary shouted.
“No, not as such.”
What Shelley could see was the clear and brightly lit tree tops, bright and vibrant with chlorophyll; humming with the production of oxygen. In the centre of it all just a few feet across, was a clearing, exactly the sort of clearing she might have liked to build her cabin in. The void of greenery was filled with what looked like thick smoke.
She pointed at it with her free hand.
“We’re going to have to go that way,” she said, “I don’t know what’s going on but it’s definitely not normal.”
Alison was bored, she was so bored that she was beginning to wish she had gone with the others on Gary’s stupid witch hunt. She had tried to find Tajel at Discount News but instead had been greeted by Paul. He looked tired and dishevelled. She had been about to great him when a forgotten nemesis entered the shop.
“Oh, the gang’s all here,” said the old woman.
“Not Tajel,” said Paul, “But it’s nice to see Alison. I just hope she’s not after my job.”
Alison shook her head ever so gently.
“I thought you’d gone back to Bongo Bongo Land,” said the old woman.
“If you mean New Zealand, no.”
“No, I suppose not,” said the woman, “You lot come here for the higher wages, send it back to all your family, don’t you?”
Alison was stumped for a response. She was about to bit the bullet and admit to the extreme social and financial deprivation that she had never witnessed in New Zealand when all of a sudden Paul piped up.
“The standard of living is much higher there,” he told the old woman, “From what I’ve seen it’s prettier too.”
“So what the hell are you doing here, then?” The old woman demanded.
“I came here for university,” said Alison, “then I fell in love.”
“Well, I can understand that,” said the old woman, “there’s no place quite like Hettford.”
Paul covered a laugh behind his hand that worked to diffuse the anger that rushed to Alison’s eyeballs. He mouthed the word “sorry.”
Alison had then attempted to visit Mrs Fuller, who was supposedly visiting relatives in Shropshire. The only place that Alison had ever visited that was more inbred and isolationist than Hettford itself.
Back at home she had drunk three cups of tea, watched a game show called Fatty Survival Camp and fallen asleep needing to pee.
It was in the bathroom that she had spotted it, just to the side of the bin. A square silver wrapper, that had been hastily torn at the top, as if it were opened in a hurry with somebody’s teeth. The fatigued remains of intercourse between her cousin and her ex-boyfriend and she remembered when her thought process had been that if she left Gary he might grow up and they could get back together and make a proper go of it.
The clearing was almost entirely obscured with mist. Gary had tried reaching Milton on the walkie-talkie but the only sound coming from it was a long high-pitched whine as if one of the capacitors had blown.
He and Shelley wrestled their way through the mist of the clearing, visibility stood at about four feet just enough to keep each other in sight but not to locate Dan.
“Hold my hand,” said Shelley, “I don’t want you getting lost.”
Gary reached his arm out and closed his eyes to try to adjust to the dim lighting. A sound broke through the mist, it was Dan’s voice.
“I was always wrong,” said Dan. “always.”
There was the sound of gentle sobbing. Gary and Shelley trod carefully toward the noise.
There at the periphery of the clearing stood a tall silver birch tree. The tree had an ethereal radiance about it that shimmered with dull persistence through the mist like a waning moon.
The pale light reflected off the pale naked skin of Dan, who had his arms wrapped firmly around it. He was grinding himself tenderly into the trunk rubbing his arms up and down the shaft of the tree as if he were cooling a long-lost lover. His bent and buckled knees moved up and down smearing a patch of blood against the papery bark, their movement indifferent to the sustained friction that was chaffing the blood from them.
“Do you mind getting Dan off the tree so I can bind it?”
Gary nodded and walked over to Dan and tried to gently remove one arm from the tree. Dan struggled against him, shaking the arm violently until Gary let go. Dan then continued his caress as if nothing had happened.
Gary pulled at him as hard as he could, placing one foot on the tree on pushing all of his weight backwards, Dan was immovable, he would have been far stronger than Gary under the most mundane of circumstances, in this heightened state it was like trying to impede a fully lubed rhino.
Grabbing the arm with both hands, Gary pushed with both legs and with an effort managed to force the man’s bulk to one side. Dan’s torso was red with scratches, his eyes dead white; rolled fully back into his head. Dan let out a hiss.
“Leave her alone, you.”
Gary fell backwards, his wrist twisting underneath him. Gary screamed.
Dan continued to rub himself against the tree. Shelly rushed over to Gary.
“Are you OK?”
“It’s just my arm,” he told her.
There were tears in Gary’s eyes as he spoke, he clutched at his right wrist as he stumbled up to his feet.
“It’s not broken, is it?”
Gary gestured to Dan still holding one hand over his wrist.
“Bigger fish to fry.”
“He can wait,” said Shelley.
“I’ve heard that if you sever a man’s penis whilst he’s erect he will bleed to death in 30 seconds. I don’t know how true that is but Dan seems fairly set on rubbing his against the fucking tree until we find out.”
“Aw,” said Shelley, “that’s what they’ll call it: the fucking tree.”
Gary looked puzzled for a few seconds as if he were trying to work out his precise co-ordinates in the universe. Completely baffled, he allowed himself a smile.
“We’re not going to figure this out with you in pain and panic,” she told him.
“Bind the witch, break the spell,” said Gary, “it’s the only way.”
Shelley took her back pack off her back and pulled out a leather-bound book and a spool of silver thread. Then she pulled out a small hammer and a nail.
“Do you need me to knock this in?” Gary asked.
Gary flexed the fingers of his right hand and winced.
“It really hurts,” he told her.
Shelley picked up the hammer and with perfect pronunciation began to recite the words of the spell.
Reg was sitting down in his lounge, he had a small glass of whiskey poured on the table but he was drinking tea. He dunked a heavy “farmhouse” style biscuit into his mug. It was the sort of biscuit that had cranberries and macadamia nuts just like most farmers didn’t have time to make.
His phone rang for what was now the fourth time in an hour. He decided that it was probably easier to answer it than it was to keep ignoring it.
“Hello,” he said.
The voice on the other end asked him if he was himself which in the context of it being his phone and him being the only person in the house seemed like a thoroughly redundant question. He answered it in the affirmative.
“Yes, I am him. Can you get to the point? I’ve got things to do.”
Reg paused for a brief second whilst the voice on the other end of the line talked to him in a tone of gleeful solemnity that usually suggested that the caller was after some kind of financial compensation.
“You’ll get no compensation from me,” said Reg, “I sold those pigs fair and square, they were healthy and well when they left my farm.”
The voice at the other end explained that they were no longer healthy and suggested that it might be damaging to future business if Reg did not take responsibility for the fact.
“What’s wrong with them, anyway? If it’s ought to do with the farm I’ll consider it but we’re all in this for the money and I doubt you’ll find such reasonable rates on pork from any other farmer in the area.”
The voice at the other end of the phone informed him exactly what the problem was.
“Look, you’re welcome to investigate my farm if you like but you’ll find it up to scratch, take up disappearing bacon with the butchers. Maybe they cut it too thin.”
The voice at the other end of the line was insistent.
“Yes,” said Reg, “It is highly bloody unlikely. So bloody unlikely in fact that I think you might be full of shit.”
“No, I don’t think it is connected to an outbreak of menstruation in my local area. I’m not feeding the pigs tampons.”
The voice took on a more conciliatory tone.
“I’ve never once heard of a sow begin in season leading to bacon melting when it was cooked. Have you investigated processing? Even spoiled meat doesn’t generally melt.”
The voice confirmed that they were “looking into it” and asked that Reg be ready for “further dialogues.”
Reg put the phone down and took a long gulp of his whiskey.
The brightness of the sun created a stark contrast to the shadow made lines across Carrie’s face. She was fumbling with her walkie talkie, switching through the channels.
“We should never have split up,” Carrie said.
“I’m sure they’ve just run out of batteries or something,” said Milton.
Milton’s voice was calming but utterly unconvincing.
“It’s the or something I’m concerned about,” Carrie told him.
“As far as we know, everything is fine,” said Milton, “If we keep walking I’m sure we’ll get to...”
Milton’s voice was cut short. There came a ringing through the woods, a piercing hum that stuck the ears. Milton reached up with his finger to shake away what he thought was tinnitus. Carrie was already clutching both her palms to both of her ears.
The sound rose in volume and lowered in pitch and is it reached a low bass Milton felt his knees buckle. As he dropped forward he noticed the human quality of the inhuman sound.
It was a sort of scream half way between rage and desperation. The sound a trapped animal might make as it continued to fight beyond mortal wounding. The hate filled death throes of a spirit that did not want to die.
As the volume raised further there could be heard within it the beating of a heart, a slow thumping drum like a call to war.
Carrie was stood over Milton and helped him to his feet.
“It’s coming from that direction.”
Carrie pointed, her slender fingers quivering with the trauma of the noise.
With their hands pressed to the sides of their heads, Milton and Carrie began to run.
Julie was looking through the jobs section of the newspaper with her mother. The two of them sat in the living room in front of a glass coffee table that was failing to live up to its name and have coffee on it. There were four adverts and two of them were for training courses that both expected you to pay for them and made no promise of future employment.
“You have to start thinking about the future,” her mother was saying, “Hettford is becoming the sort of place that there is no future in. All the big houses are being bought by people who work in the city and the locals are being pushed out to the areas where those sorts of people should live. Now that you’re better, you’ll have to widen your net.”
Julie was torn between wanting to throw her arms up dramatically at the hopelessness of it all and a combination of grudging acceptance with undertones of resentment.
However she was prevented from doing so by the sudden and surprising sound of the roaring scream that filled the house.
“What the...” said Julie’s mother.
At that moment, the glass coffee table imploded with a crash on to the floor, cascading disgruntled shards of glass directly at the feet of the two women.
“Jesus,” shouted Julie’s mother.
She sprang to her feet and stood looking at the mess of the room. The sound was now just a low background rumble. Julie screamed.
In the corner of the room stood the figure of a young man in his early twenties, his head was shaved, his face contorted into a mask of sheer and total disgust. She recognised him as Paul’s older brother.
“Kiwi lover, lover,” he shouted.
And then he was gone and the noise had stopped and air sat still like a disappointed grandmother.
“Thank God for double glazing, hey?” Julie’s mother said.
Julie did not speak to reply to her.
Alison picked up her mobile phone, her hands shaking.
The number she was calling gave no answer.
“Shelley,” Alison’s voice was a whisper, “Shelley is everything OK? There was a noise, it didn’t sound normal. Is Gary OK? Tell him I’m sorry.
The noise had stopped by the time Milton and Carrie reached the clearing. The air was clear and smelled of a damp fungal musk.
Dan was lying naked at the foot of the birch tree, the front of his body covered in cuts. The tree itself had withered, the silver bark had peeled back and browned, the green foliage had been shed to leave only dry twigs reaching up into the air.
Next to Dan lay Shelley, her hands bled from her palms; cast out to either side of her. Her legs twisted under her prostate body so that her knees appeared to have snapped back.
A black figure was approaching the two fallen figures from the far side of the clearing. It was faint and indistinct, looking at one minute like some atavistic nightmare and at the next step like a large crow in flight.
Gary stood between his fallen friends and the approaching witch. He was clutching his wrist tenderly but the rest of his body language seemed unaware of the fact. He stood tall and defiant, his head thrown backwards, his eyes unflinching from the approaching figure.
“Go piss up a rope.”
Gary’s voice scratched as he spoke and the words came out as a rasp.
At the precise moment that he spoke the words the finger folded back gigantic wings and dove upwards into the sky, dissipating into the elements.
It began to rain.
CONCLUDES NEXT WEEK