You can’t have Halloween without a witch. Melissa Underwood, who has been a contributor the past couple of years, felt that a good witch story had been missing from my annual canon of weird. And it’s true, I’ve never been enamored by the witch. I think it had to do with it being the preferred costume worn by the majority of my grade school teachers. When I look at a witch, I think about subtraction, long division and how to properly use a comma (I still don’t).
But a good witch story is in order and Melissa certainly lived up to the task:
Written by Melissa Underwood
It was sweaty and hot and the drums thumped and pounded like thunder. The moon was swollen and low, it hung over the sea, darting behind swiftly moving clouds.
“Harrrrrrum!” said the old bent crone. Her eyes widened and searched the small crowd of followers that had gathered by her driftwood fire.
“Harrrrrrum – hum haaaaaaiiiiii!” she shrieked like a gooseneck podium microphone stand. The followers anxiously watched her. The drums beat softer, rhythmic like the tide. She raised one shrunken arm towards the starry sky, an ancient carved staff in her grip.
“Thisssss night,” she hissed, “this night has shown me the powers of the dark!” Her gummy mouth chewed for a moment, glistening spit frothing in the corners.
“Thisssss night will bring forth a new and exciting world!” She hung to the word world and then snapped her jaw shut as she scanned the followers once more. The wind whipped her rough ragged shift dress, exposing skinny, vein-covered calves. The drums fell silent as she dropped her arm, her staff plunging into the sand.
“Thissss night will be the end of the rotten former world, it will be filled with wondrous magic. Wondrous, wondrous things!” At once she threw back her head and released a long shrill cry, seemingly too loud for her small frame to produce. The flames leaped towards the sky, growing large and hot. The followers shied back from the sudden heat. It roared for a moment, and then reduced back to its previous size.
Now the crone dropped her head forward.
“Wondrous, wondrous things.” She closed her eyes and leaned into her staff, her head shaking back and forth slowly while a low soft cackle began to emerge from her mouth. The followers began to close in towards her, as if straining to hear what dark wisdom might come next from her wrinkled lips.
“Will we be able to CRUSH our enemies?” said a loud, deep voice in the crowd.
“Will we be able to SQUISH them like a snail?” cried another, higher pitched voice.
“Will we be able to RULE them?” shouted a third voice, coming from the back of the crowd.
The crone raised her face and looked at the followers, jaw protruding.
“Of course you can crush them and squish them.” She paused, shifting her weight off of the gnarled staff.
“But rule them?” She clicked her tongue twice and her voice suddenly became a tidal wave of fury in response.
“I will CRUSH, SQUISH and RULE YOU!” She howled a rising howl, lifted the staff back up and pointed it towards the crowd of followers. A blue-white beam shot from it’s tip and found the owner of the final voice, brought him up and over the crowd and slammed him into the sand, his body bursting like an overripe grape at her bare feet. Piles of black shiny spiders appeared where he landed and scurried at first in sudden confusion, then dispersed into the crowd. Voices screamed, feet leapt, heads turned wildly, following the path of the newly formed creatures, all the while trying to process the fact that one of their own was now gone.
She shrieked with unbridled laughter as the chaos ensued. When she was finished with her amusement of the crowd, her eyes narrowed and her wrinkles deepened.
“SILENCE!” She yelped. The followers suddenly stopped in the middle of their frenzy. All eyes were wild and wary and filled with uncertainty as they returned their gaze towards the crone.
“At last I have removed the final pathetic louse who risked speaking up to me. Do you now understand, my children? There is room for only one ruler. It is not you who will rule, it is I and I will do it in the most GRAND way!” Her voice was calculated and commanding.
“When I am finally ruler of this land, I will have all the gold from the mines and the coffers. My enemies will be slaves, and I will eat their babies after I slaughter their dogs!”
The crowd of followers murmured and shifted uneasily on the sand.
“Resume the drums!” she suddenly cried, pointing her staff in the direction of the three large figures that were straddling enormous round logs, stretched tight with blonde, smooth skins. Claws, shells and tiny skulls were hanging from their rims. The drummers instantly began again, pounding rhythmically with their bone sticks. The pulsing beats filled the followers with new energy and they returned to their former devoted selves, transfixing their wide eyes on the terrifying leader.
“Thissssss is the time that all of you will wield the greatest of my power! You will channel the most glorious and wretched evil on them who dare to defy me!” The followers began to lean in towards her, now curious to what kind of power they would be receiving. The drummers began to beat faster, the bone sticks smacking the skins harder and harder, booming rhythm becoming louder and louder still.
“Now is the moment,” she howled, “now is the time you will make your final sacrifice to me!” Her arms jabbed to the sky and the flames grew ferociously large and red, crackling and roaring with tremendous fury. The ocean seemed to be in agreement, for it roared like thunder and crashed wave after wave down in a colossal display of salty proclamation.
The crone suddenly crouched down and produced a large brown skull from a pouch on the sand. It was smooth and shiny, and reflected the red flames in it’s curved shape. The top third was missing and she poured a charcoal-black liquid from a green bottle into it’s hollowed interior.
“Drink, my children. Drink.” She showed off the skull in a sweeping half circle. “You will be filled with the most powerful gift I could give you. It is time for the transformation!”
One by one the followers lined up to receive the libation from the old crone. They whispered to each other their subdued excitement. Each drank greedily, slurping like hogs at a trough. The crone smiled wickedly as the followers drained the skull. After the last follower had received their ration and returned to the crowd, the crone picked up her staff and held it vertically in front of her body with both hands, one above the other.
“Now close your eyes and surrender to my power!”
The followers closed their eyes. The drums were silent and the ocean seemed to turn it’s roar down to a softer, gentler cadence.
“Surrender,” she chanted, “surrender, surrender. Surrender your very souls to me.”
The followers swayed to her voice.
“Transform,” she chanted again, “transform, transform. Transform your souls to me.”
The followers continued to sway, the firelight glistening off of their sweating bodies.
The old crone scanned the crowd of her followers; her left eyebrow bristled upwards.
“Surrender?” There was a slight crack in her voice and it had a hint of doubt. “Surrender, transform, surrender, transform.”
The followers remained swaying with their eyes closed.
“Surrender, transform, surrender, transform.” Her voice gained volume and speed. The followers continued their closed-eye swaying.
“SURRENDER AND TRANSFORM!” She growled. None of the followers appeared to heed. They maintained their rocking back and forth, eyelids pressed tightly closed. The crone bent forward and grabbed the green bottle from the sand, brought it to her face with both shriveled hands gripping the neck and peered inside it’s depth. She took a quick sniff and then tipped the bottle back and drank a small sip of the black liquid. Her eyes instantly bulged from their sockets as she realized her ruinous mistake.
“Catatonia! Catatonia!” She cried. “Nooooooooo!” Her hollering voice rose and wailed into the night. “Catatonia was for the enemy!” Her wail continued on, getting weaker and weaker in force as she acknowledged that her plan had failed. She slumped defeated to her knees, grasping for her staff. The minute she touched it, her hands erupted in a shock of blinding pain. It was if she had shoved them into a pan of molten steel.
“Eeeeeaaaaahhhhhhgggg,” she bellowed, as the her palms began to blister and char.
“Gaaaaahhhhgggggg,” she wailed, as her hands caught instantly on fire.
“Ayyyyyyaaaaaoooooow,” she brayed, as the flames pounced up her scrawny arms and caught her hair, slid down her ragged dress and onto her legs. The veins in her calves bubbled and bulged to the surface. Her whole being began to swell and singe like a marshmallow over a campfire, eventually melting into an uninspired pile on the sand. The tide creeped closer until a larger surge overcame what was left of the old hag and sizzled like bacon in a hot skillet.
The followers continued with their perpetual swaying towards the end of the night. The driftwood fire eventually died down and the stars dazzled vividly overhead.
Then, the first advent of dawn began to appear, and soon after, the sun started inching over the periphery of the horizon. As it rose into the sky, a favorable breeze enveloped the followers and brilliant daylight shone on their bodies. Once their malevolent leader perished and sunlight returned to the land, true transformation began. At first, they stopped swaying and opened their eyes. Each follower slowly began to examine their own hands and the faces of their neighbor. Melting away was the fear, anxiety, greed and desire to be conduits of evil. The old crone had certainly made a horrible mistake, but one that was counter to her own plan. She had in fact, done the only thing positive in her terrible, ancient life, even if it was something she had no intention of fulfilling.
Over the sea cliffs and above the followers, an army began to appear. Some rode horses with long spears, while others stood on foot with swords and yet more rode in carts.
“Charge!” a voice cried.
A wash of hooves, boots and wheels scrambled on the edge of the cliff, pebbles and dirt falling below to the beach. The tremendous company began to make their way down the narrow paths that surrounded the sandy cove towards the followers. As they approached, the crowd on the beach began to close in among each other. Walls of horses and carts began to encircle them as they shuffled and shifted amongst themselves.
“Surrender!” A captain cried. “You must surrender! Where is the old hag?”
The followers were distraught; they looked at one another, panic covering their faces. The drummers were run down by two large horses, their bodies slapped by the broad equine shoulders that sent them sprawling in the early morning sand. Arrows sprang from sturdy bows and caught the followers. One by one the army from the cliffs knocked down each and every person that had previously been transfixed by the old witch. As they lay bleeding and dying, wounds spurting copiously from the many spear jabs or sword slashes or slicing by wheels, the Captain overlooked the scene.
“We have finally overcome the small army of the witch. This has been quite the stroke of luck, her demise,” he said to his men. “Feel free to loot them.” He waived his hand in permission. The men hollered and began tearing jewels, knives, and shoes from the bodies littering the beach.
And suddenly, as if on cue, the ocean began to retreat from the sands. The many millions of gallons of seawater swooped back towards the horizon in a mad rush. The men stopped their pillaging and looked out to the water, confused. And as rapidly as it had in its retreat, the water began to move opposite, gathering tall an immense blue wave. The sun glinted off the crown of the wave, which at this point had grown to the size of a mountain. It rushed towards the beach with vengeance and slammed onto the shore with such force that it could be heard and felt many miles away. Instantly, the cliff army was crushed and squashed. The bodies of the followers, already dead, mingled with the newly deceased soldiers in the washed up turmoil of the water. In his last moment alive, the Captain saw a hideous wrinkled face in that wave coming straight towards him, cackling like a lunatic and staring back at him with large, dead eyes.
Melissa Underwood is a jack-of-all artistic trades: Musician, Writer, Poet, Prankster, Lyricist, Vinyl Enthusiast, Gardener, Animal Lover and Horror-Story Enthusiast. She lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea with her husband; world renowned vinyl expert and Silver Medalist Brewmeister, Chris Loecher.