Friday the 13th of February: Part One
The witch staggered into the clearing clutching the man’s body. She stumbled to her knees, for his weight was greater than her own, but she did not drop him. She would not drop him, not ever. With a grunt that might have been a howl of rage, she lurched to her feet, arms cradling the lifeless frame.
The plinth was just up ahead – it wasn’t far. Just a little bit further… Either side gnarled trees and twisted roots watched her progress, hidden eyes twitching in the dense foliage. The air was perfectly still; not a branch wavered, not a leaf rustled.
Agnes tottered over to the platform and carefully laid Sachin’s body upon it. She caressed his face and bellowed a sob. Raising her fists to the sky, the sob turned into a scream of grief and hatred. “Why?” crowed the witch. “Why, why, oh why?”
But all was not lost – for she was a daughter of witches, was she not? Did she not have a long line of sorceresses stretching far back in her family tree? Did enchanted blood not run in her veins? Was she not trained in the magics? Was she not a skilled spellcaster and potions brewer? All that she’d learned, all that she’d dedicated herself to – her entire life’s work – if it could not be used now, then what had been the point?
Agnes took one last longing gaze Sachin’s peaceful face. With his eyes shut as they were, she could almost imagine he were sleeping. Almost. If it were not for the cuts and bruises that adorned his fair complexion, she might have been able to believe the lie. “Oh, my sweet, I tried to tell you… But, oh, you were just too pure for this world.” She brushed his cold lips once with her own.
And then she got to work.
Thursday the 12th of February
“There he is!” came the hoarse voice. “The one that cavorts with witches! He’s one o’ them!”
“Satanist! Filthy Satanist!” joined in another voice, bloodcurdling in its rage.
“Demon! Demon!” added another, but by then the choir of yells and shouts had blended together into one great, incoherent din.
Sachin knew what was coming before it happened, and he was powerless to stop it. What is one man against a crowd? A single person versus a murderous mob, baying for blood? She wasn’t there to protect him – a fact she’d later lock away within the chambers of her heart, where it would twist and coil like a venomous snake. Agnes would later reason that even if she couldn’t have stopped them, at least she’d have been there, with him, by his side. That would have been something.
But she avoided them out of fear. Sachin told her they were harmless, that their differences weren’t as extreme as she thought. But Agnes knew what they could be like; she’d had dealings with them in the past. They were always the same. They had been vicious and cruel to her as a child – barely older than a witchling – and they were vicious and cruel to her in adulthood. Time did not dull the razor-sharp blade of prejudice.
As far as Agnes was concerned, Sachin was the only good thing to have ever come from their community. Sachin had been the only one of them that had broken away from the pack, to speak to her, to acknowledge her, to treat her as one treats their own. And from those small gestures – those kind words, those honest smiles, those exchanged glances – a great love blossomed and grew, nurtured by the pair of them.
He tried to slowly ease her back into the village, despite her concerns. He saw the good in them. Well, wasn’t that always the case? Did he not see the good in her as well? Where others only saw darkness and danger? Did Sachin not see the wonders of the world, choosing to ignore its uglier sides? He had a childlike innocence, a childlike goodness – untainted by the world. He just wanted to unite the two halves of his life – was that so monstrous?
Agnes wanted to be proved wrong, oh, sweet heavens, she wanted to be proved wrong.
But in the end, their final act had proven her right.
They had killed him. The uneducated fools! Obsessed with their narrowminded superstitious and flawed religion! They couldn’t hurt her, so they’d gone after the one she held in her heart. And why? Because he’d dared to fall in love with a witch. Was that really such a crime?
She’d never harmed a single one of them. She’d never so much as used a flower from one of their gardens in her brew. They had it in their minds that she was in league with Satan, killing their babies in the night, blighting their crops and casting spells of disease and ruin over their village. She’d never done such things! She was a white witch, a healing witch; her soul belonged to her, it had never been sold to any other being, infernal or celestial. And yet, they’d pointed accusatory fingers at her all the same.
And they’d killed Sachin in cold blood, all the same.
Friday the 13th of February: Part Two
It wasn’t working. She couldn’t do it. No matter how hard she tried, no matter the number or strength of the incantations she uttered, no matter the potions and brews she anointed his cold brow with, Sachin remained dead.
Agnes buried her head into the familiar pillow of Sachin’s chest, her cries muted in the silence of the clearing. Overhead, the yellow moon hung fat and pregnant. All around the plinth, books were scattered in the clearing. Tossed and discarded when their inner secrets failed to yield the result that Agnes sought: to return Sachin to this mortal world, to have his pulse beat once more, to have his heart thud within the cage of his chest, to have his eyes look once more into hers. The tomes lay in haphazard heaps, some half-buried in piles of leaves, others entangled in snarls of roots that appeared to have grown around them, the vines trying to choke life from crumpled page.
The white witch sobbed and pounded the podium with her clench fist, relishing the flare of pain that rocketed up her arm. “Damn you!” she screamed. Agnes wasn’t sure if she spoke to herself or to the magic she thought she possessed. If she couldn’t do this one thing, then what had it all been for? The isolation, the alienation, the rejection, the years of torment and anguish… Was it all for naught? The tears overflowed from her in a deluge, she tried not to stem the flood.
But then a thought came to her. The idea arrived whole and complete, appearing within her mind with brilliant clarity. Her cries hiccoughed to a stop.
There was one other she could turn to. One she had never turned to before.
Agnes stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes and the snot from her face. The witch took in a deep breath and shook her hands, waving off the blanket of despair. “Don’t grieve yet, girl,” she whispered. “There still might be a chance.”
She looked around at the clearing. This was a place of magic, it was true. It hadn’t been used for that, at least, not that she was aware of. She certainly hadn’t used it for that, at any rate. But a place of magic is a place of magic, all the same. Agnes was now nodding to herself. If not the magics she practiced, why not the ones she’d never touched? Granted, she wasn’t well-versed in them, but there had to be some useful tidbits of information scattered throughout the library of tomes she’d brought here. There had to be something that could help her. And if not, the witch had a feeling in her gut that she’d instinctively know what to do, when the time came.
Once she’d collected her hastily thrown aside books, caressing their spines and whispering apologies into their pages as she did so, Agnes set about the first task: drawing the sign. She had no writing implements with her, but that turned out to not be an issue. The leaves still blanketed the ground from when they’d fallen that previous winter – they’d not been disturbed or disintegrated, in spite of the seasons that had passed. Time moved differently in this clearing. Using autumn’s leavings as a canvas, the witch drew the symbol in the dirt, parting the trees’ spent offerings as she went.
When Agnes was finished, she was dirty and sweating, her hands stained dark with the earth. The healing woman stood back and admired her last act as a witch of the white. The black soil contrasted nicely with the burnt colours of the leaves, revealing the sign that she’d meticulously made with her own bare hands. She’d worked around the plinth that held Sachin’s body, so that the platform that cradled her beloved sat at the centre. It was a simple symbol, but one that she knew held great power.
An inverted pentagram.
Saturday the 14th of February: Valentine’s Day
“Was it worth it?” asked Sachin, a grim look on his face. He was staring out of the window of their little cottage. He took a deep breath. “All of this… for me?”
Agnes smiled at him. “Of course, my sweet. Didn’t I say I’d give the world for you?”
“I didn’t know you meant literally.”
“I always mean what I say,” Agnes said in the haughty manner that had always made him laugh. Sachin grinned at that, but his smile quickly faltered.
She continued. “Besides, they were no good. Didn’t they kill you, my sweet? Didn’t they steal you from this world? Away from me? For the price of your love?”
Sachin raised his eyebrows and nodded. “And painfully, too. I still remember those last moments vividly—”
“And trust me when I say I’ll work on erasing those dreadful memories.”
“I know you will, my love,” said Sachin softly. “What you say is true. They did hurt me. They did cause anguish, even as I pleaded with them to stop. They did end up taking my life—”
“They murdered you—”
“And yet,” said Sachin, gazing once more out at the new world in which the lovers found themselves in. “Did they deserve this? Did they bring this upon themselves?”
“They did and they did,” said Agnes, swooping over to where Sachin stood. She took his hands in hers and kissed each one. “I’d do it all over again. Anything for you, my sweet. Everything for you.”
Sachin looked into her eyes, searching. For a moment, a cloud of uncertainty hovered over his face. Then he smiled, sweeping the clouds away, sunshine breaking through. “I love you, Agnes, my love.” And then he kissed her, the way he had done when they’d been young and in love. Now they were older, and much had changed, but they were still very much in love. Perhaps more so than they had been, which the witch had previously thought impossible.
“I love you too, Sachin, my sweet.”
Friday the 13th of February: Part Three
The wind swirled around her, the heavens above turning a ghastly shade of green. Air that had been still minutes prior now whipped viciously about her, whirling chaotically around the plinth. Skies that had been clear earlier that evening were now obscured with clouds; the fat belly of the moon hidden behind the growing tempest. The leaves that had blanketed the glade’s ground now danced on the spiralling airwaves.
But somehow, the pentagram remained. Oh yes, it remained.
A thunderclap split the sky overhead and the dirt under her feet rumbled as something beneath cracked. With a grating, tearing sound, the ground began to shift and undulate, sods of earth here and there falling away into nothingness. And beneath it all, there was another noise: the noise of souls screaming in agony, the noise of eternal fires blazing with intensity… and the noise of something roaring. Something enormous. Something animalistic. Something evil.
A pitch-black hole appeared in the ground between Agnes and Sachin, the dirt that had been there a second before was now gone – dropping down into The Abyss. The pungent tang of sulphur stung her nostrils, and she had to refrain from recoiling at the stench. Agnes understood – in spite of her sorrow – that what happened next would be crucial. She should show no weakness, nor should she fail to employ the use of her wits.
Then, as she knew would happen, The Beast crawled up from out of his pit. The nasty stink of rotten eggs was joined by The Beast’s reek. It was the barnyard’s bouquet of animals, the abattoir’s aroma of rotting meat. Agnes tried to focus her vision upon the abomination that had punched its way up from the fiery depths but found that her eyes watered, and her sight doubled and crossed nauseatingly. The witch that was white no longer settled her eyes’ focus on the ground near where The Beast stood. At the periphery of her vision, she could make out one gigantic cloven hoof.
WHO DARES SUMMON ME? asked The Beast. Somehow it did not seem to speak aloud, the words just emerged in her mind, roaring within the frail confines of her brain. Agnes winced at the volume, which sent a bolt of pain ripping through her skull. WHO DARES TO CALL FOR THE RULER OF HELL BY NAME? WHO DARES?
Ignoring the throbbing migraine that had begun to bloom behind her left eye, Agnes took a defiant step towards The Beast, still keeping her gaze locked on the ground ahead, she would never let that meaty leg leave her sight, for it would mean death. “I do!” she bellowed, not matching The Beast in volume but equalling him in ferocity. “I, Agnes Pendel! I call upon you, Satan!”
There was a brief pause as The Beast appeared to recoil slightly. VERY WELL, MY CHILD. AND WHAT IS IT YOU DESIRE? WHY HAVE YOU SUMMONED ME TO THIS EARTHLY PLANE? FOR WHAT PURPOSE HAVE YOU ROUSED ME?
“Return to me that which was stolen from me! That which I hold most dear in my heart! Return to me my love, my sweet! He was a mortal, lost before his due time! Return his heart to mine!”
WHICH HEART? asked The Beast. WHICH ONE DO YOU WISH FOR YOUR OWN? WHICH MORTAL DO YOU LAY CLAIM TO? WHICH HEART? SPEAK, MY CHILD.
“The one that lies before you: Sachin. Sachin Alby. Murdered at the hands of vermin,” declared Agnes, spitting the last word out with pure venom. “Murdered by fools and cretins!”
A second pause as The Beast considered what Agnes had said. THERE WILL BE A PRICE, said The Beast, at last.
“I’ll pay it.”
IT WILL BE DEAR, rumbled The Beast. YOU CAN HAVE YOUR MORTAL RETURNED TO YOU. BUT THESE LANDS WILL BE CURSED FROM THIS DAY FORTH.
“Will he be the same? No trickery, Beast! Answer me!”
Silence for a moment. YES. HE WILL BE. THE MORTAL KNOWN AS SACHIN ALBY SHALL RETURN TO HIS LIFE AS HE WAS.
The witch considered this, nodding. “And what of the curse? What price is it that I must pay?”
YOU WILL GIVE THESE LANDS TO ME. THIS PLACE WILL BECOME AN EXTENSION OF HELL. THE DEAD WILL NOT DIE HERE. And then, somehow, Agnes could feel The Beast beginning to smile. It was chilling, bloodcurdling sensation. THE DECEASED WILL WALK THIS EARTH.
“I—” stuttered Agnes, frowning. Her words caught in her throat.
BUT YOUR MORTAL SHALL BE RETURNED TO YOU. YOUR HEARTS WILL ONCE MORE BE UNITED, AND YOU TWO SHALL NOT SUFFER THAT WHICH I WILL SOW. A GIFT, IF YOU WILL, AS A SHOW OF… GOOD FAITH. Was that a joke? Had the infernal creature just cracked a joke?
Agnes stood there, in the eye of the storm, as the world about her swirled and her thoughts within her swirled. The witch knew she didn’t have long to ponder this oh so important decision. This was The Beast, after all. She stared at the ground, the muscular leg with its cloven hoof at the corner of her vision, thinking it over as rapidly as she could. Agnes could feel The Beast’s gaze burning into her, could feel the weight of his expectation. But, really, what was there to consider? She’d summoned him for a reason.
She glanced upwards – past the abomination which no human eyes could look upon – to where Sachin lay, lifeless upon the plinth. As her eyes once more took in the distressing sight of her beloved’s dead body, the grief that she’d forgotten during this little palaver wrapped its icy grip around her heart once more.
“I accept,” she said, firmly and without hesitation. “I accept the terms of your deal, Beast.”
The Beast grinned once more and thundered his cacophonous laugh. VERY GOOD, MY CHILD, VERY GOOD, he crooned. SO IT IS AGREED, SO IT SHALL BE DONE. And then, just as he’d entered the world, The Beast left with the booming of a thunderclap.
The wind died instantly, the leaves cascading to the ground with a skeletal clatter. The clouds that had blotted out the waxy glow of the moon began to dissipate, drifting away on the ghost of a breeze. In the glade, all was calm once more.
So lost in the tranquillity of the scene – and at the relief that the infernal creature was now gone – was Agnes, that she almost missed Sachin opening his eyes and looking around in bewilderment. She ran over to him, skirting the gaping holes in the ground that pockmarked the skin of the world. “Sachin!” she cried. “Sachin, my sweet! It worked! It worked! You’re here! You’re here!”
“Agnes, what—” She interrupted him with a flurry of kisses, peppering his skin with loving pecks, from brow to chin, from cheek to cheek. Laughing, Sachin pulled her in close in an embrace, wrapping his arms around her, clutching her, squeezing her.
They remained that way for some time, holding each other, gently rocking back and forth, tears happily flowing.
All the while, Agnes tried to ignore the yawning voids in the dirt where the earth hadn’t healed.
She also tried to pretend that the lingering odour of sulphur wasn’t there.
Friday the 13th of February: Part Four
A dense fog started to seep through the village, nobody knew from whence it had come. It seemed to have trickled up through the very ground itself – a gift, perhaps, from the underworld. The fog brought with it an ill wind and a nasty stench. The elders of the village grumbled to themselves – and to anybody else who’d listen – about bad omens and ominous signs.
And, for once in their miserable lives, they were right.
At first, nothing major changed. The fog simply came and settled across the village, dampening spirits, extinguishing flames and candles and lights, chilling the bones, causing grown men to shiver and teeth to chatter.
But then a sound could be heard. It was hard to hear it, at first, as the heavy fog dampened all noise. Slowly, however, the sound increased in volume. It was hard to say exactly what it was, but it sounded like the shifting of soil, of the cracking of coffins, of the splintering of caskets. It sounded like dead hands clawing at six feet of dirt, scrambling to feel the cool kiss of fresh air once more. It sounded like the moans of those who have passed, the groans of those departed, the sorrowful cries of those deceased.
The first person to truly grasp the gravity of the situation that had befallen them was the local gravedigger, as he sat in his humble hut on the outskirts of the village’s burial grounds, a mug of ale clasped in his arthritic clutches. Although the fog was dense, it was not sufficient enough to strangle the agony and fear from the poor man’s screams, as they echoed into the night.
All across the village, people turned towards the terrifying shrieks and squeals; the departing song of a man being eaten alive.
It was not long until the rest of the village folk became very closely acquainted with the terrors that had not stayed dead. The death cries of the gravedigger paled in comparison the chorus of screeches that soon began to rise into the darkness, as the villagers were torn limb from limb.
There were, however, two that were left safe from the filth that had been belched from the underworld.
13th February 2020
Written for Valentine’s Day, 2020