Ľ The Coven - Part One - Dark Stories

- A February/2004 Special Feature -

by Andrew Wooldridge

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The moon set high in the sky, performing the duties of a dozen restless stars. The busy clouds were almost a miss. Their dark bodies became transparent as their efforts of a blackout were foiled.

It brought out the untold lie that had remained in civilisations for centuries. Well...not totally untrue. A few tales got out of hand and effected a restless community. Now a once secret organisation remains the figment of the worldís imagination.

Whatever Aunt Anne talked about didnít make much sense. A vague idea came to mind, but I found it too fatuous to except. My family kept a secret hidden from the rest of the world, but whatever it was, it scared me.

"Logan?"

A night breeze seemed to have turned into a howling cyclone from a croaked voice that couldnít wait to escape.

"Iím out back Aunt Anne!" My voice squeezed through my tightly clenched teeth.

The creaking door echoed through my head like nails on a blackboard. Compared to what awaited me in the doorway, I gladly welcomed it. Before my once colourful eyes stood a nightmare trapped in reality. 

A dark violet dress draped over a large, lumpy body. The long grey hair she often wore in a bun lay on top of a round, wrinkling face. Those cold, dark eyes stared into mine like she was reading my thoughts. After spending nearly a year living here with her, I often thought she could. And that smile, that devilish grin that often hid behind that loose, wrinkled face of hers. Sometimes she didnít seem human.

That small grin lifted one side of her dry, cracked mouth. "What are you doing out here?" Those cold eyes of hers staring deep into mine, burrowing through my thoughts looking for an answer.

The sailing wind gave me a quick shudder. My lower jaw began to shake furiously, almost chattering my teeth. "Just getting some air Aunt Anne," a cold whisper escaped the bellows of my stomach.

Her dark eyes dilated, revealing a frightening expression. From within, I could see the reflection of a small, frightened boy. A boy who should think carefully about the answers he was supposed to give.

"You have work to do!" Aunt Anneís voice pierced my right eardrum, never to break free from my left.

A blanket of silence fell upon us for a few seconds; seconds that seemed to last for minutes. The night sky was no longer a source of companionship and beauty, but of a dark, symbolic gesture.

I brushed by her large, firm body, avoiding the ugliness that watched over me. The heavy clicking of her black, pointed boots accompanied me into the kitchen.

"They will be here any minute," her eternal nagging continued to haunt me.

I finished in time for the doorbell to ring. Aunt Anneís face glowed with the pleasant, easy going charm that I often saw whenever her friends called in for their monthly meetings.

"Youíre learning well young Logan," she said as she overlooked the small, squirming bowls I had set up for them. "You just might succeed yet," she waddled to the front door.

The shrill cries of Aunt Anneís welcome travelled upstairs to my room. As I lay back on my bed, I began to think how it all began...wishing it never began, but I had never had a say in it. For hundreds of years it was a family tradition for the sixteen-year-old member to learn of a dark, sensitive secret that had been passed down for generations. It was nearly my sixteenth, and it was my time to learn. For nearly a year I have been sitting at the back of the class, not having a clue as to what Aunt Anne was talking about. 

It was supposed to be Aunt Jane that taught me, God rest her soul. She had taken me in when my parents died suddenly in a car crash five years ago. Aunt Jane had told me that my mother had specifically requested Aunt Jane to teach me; that Aunt Anne was wicked and cruel - I had no arguments with her there!

Now I found myself sitting alone in a darkened bedroom. One of many that stood empty within the large, deteriorating, spooky house my Aunt called a home. Located six miles from the nearest town in Yorkshire, England.

It didnít make much difference. I was used to being alone. Even the other kids at school treated me as an outcast, calling me names, telling me the house I lived in with Aunt Anne was haunted. Even animals go crazy whenever Iím around them.

The evil sounds of laughter echoed through the floorboards sending a chill down my spine. Aunt Anne always warned me about going downstairs when her friends were around. They had been coming here every month for the past year Iíve lived here and Iíve never seen them. Aunt Anne kept telling me I wasnít ready for them yet. I didnít know what she meant by that.

My throat became a little dry. I couldnít swallow without a little deliberate choke to clear my throat. I was thirsty and that meant suffering. With Aunt Anneís friends over there was no way I could go downstairs for a drink. If she caught me, Iíd suffer...suffer badly.

This wouldnít be the first time I ignored Aunt Anneís warnings. When I first arrived here I had went downstairs when her friends were around. My pulse raced and my body trembled, but I managed to get in and out without being noticed...or so I thought. I neglected to tidy the crumbs of a piece of cake I had smuggled back to my room. When Aunt Anne had noticed she was furious that I had disobeyed her. So she locked me in the downstairs cupboard for a day without any food or drink.

A lesson I had quickly learned, until now.

I was going to stare danger in the face of Aunt Anne. To fear the wrath I have so often witnessed. 

Their screams of laughter grew louder and scarier. There was only a door between us as I entered the kitchen. I stood in the darkness, unscrewing the bottle top. Swirling the fizzy liquid down my throat as my eyes widened in terror. I stood paralysed in fear as the door drifted from its frame. Light began to flood the kitchen floor, slowly creeping toward me. I backed up as far as I could, shaking in fear. Then it stopped, just a few inches from my toes. I stood frozen as the small rectangle of light darkened with a small shadow.

Two glowing eyes scanned the darkness, making their way in my direction. They stopped on my sight. Then a small fury foot stood into the light, quickly followed by a long fury tail. It was Merlin, Aunt Anneís black cat. For some reason Merlin was the only animal that wasnít scared of me. He ignored my presence and went to his food bowl. 

I could hear whispers, whispers that spoke to me from somewhere in the darkness. Then I realised they were coming from the other room. It was coming from my Aunt Anne and her friends. They were low and mumbled. The door that separated us now had a small gap. They could look out and see me...and I could look in!

For months I have been curious about Aunt Anneís friends and she always forbid me to speak about them. To see the people she always claimed I wasnít ready to meet. Now there was a gap, an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. If I were caught I would be punished more severely than the last time I snuck down here. But the curiosity was too much to bare. I lowered to my knees and crept to the gap. What I saw in there was something I could not explain, something that froze my body in fear.

Before my very eyes sat eleven of the most ugly, vial creatures that I had ever lay eyes upon. Their skin was replaced by dark grey scarred tissue that flaked with boils and warts. Long dirty fingernails reached out for their glasses of wine. Flames from an open fire gave the atmosphere a much more frightful expression. From the far reaches of the gloomy room, the pointed black boots that I so often heard, tapped the floor repeatedly. Her face remained hidden from an occupied armchair.

Then I set my eyes on something that made the contents of my stomach want to reach out further. The bowls of insects and worms I was forced to dig out every month sat upon the table. Wriggling and overflowing to the table.

The sight I was so eager to see came into view. The face that haunted me within the blink of an eye appeared more hideous than before. If my humour were upon me I would say it actually made a big improvement, but with long pointed ears and a hairy chin, I kept my wits to myself.

Aunt Anne leaned forward taking the bowl of worms and with kindness, offered some to a male creature in an old fashioned suit and an obvious short black wig. I watched in horror as he used his long, hairy fingers to straighten the worm before sliding it down his throat.

"Delicious Anne," he roared. His voice sounded as deep as a lionís if they could only speak. "Nice and juicy."

A fat female creature with a black spotted white dress, grabbed a handful of evading maggots and shoved them into her mouth. "Francis is right Anne, you sure know how to capture them."

"Just like the old days?" A short, thin female creature squealed.

"Just like the old days," Aunt Anneís voice entered the conversation. She held a worm over her mouth and began to suck the end, teasing it.

I listened in disgust as the fat creature in the spotted dress began to crunch heavily with her squirming meal. My dinner was now up to my throat, one more session of this was bound to empty it.

My body was stiff as I tried to pull myself away from the door. I sat motionless on the cold kitchen floor calming my stomach. I always knew Aunt Anne was a monster...but not literally.

Everything Aunt Anne had told me came back to mind. Keeping family secrets from a suspecting community. It was all starting to fall into place. I saw with my own eyes what Aunt Anne was, but if that was the family secret, who were the others?

I broke free from my thoughts when I heard my name called. Iíll admit, I thought I was caught at first, but then I realised that they were still talking in the living room. Talking about me.

Wasting no time and patients, I crawled back to the door where I witnessed first hand the true explanation of horror. Everyone of the creatures sat at the edge of their seats, eager to listen to the words that were about to leave Aunt Anneís wart infested mouth.

Her dilated eyes swayed side to side, examining the anticipations on the ugly, hairy faces that sat watching. "Logan isnít ready yet."

The sounds of disappointing sighs filled the room, while Francis who stood by the fire rolled his long, hairy fingers into fists. "The boy is slow," he roared. "He should have least suspected by now."

With the terrifying spoken words of creatures producing unimaginable horrors about me, I felt more frightened than I did when I first lay eyes upon them. My chest heaved heavily, I had to breath through my mouth in order to regain the air that had been knocked from me.

Aunt Anne lowered her head in a sign of disgust. For the first time in my life I had seen her with a different expression than she always showed. "Julie not back yet? Whatís keeping that woman?"

Everyone exchanged glances, looking at the unoccupied seat surrounding the group. Not a word was spoken. The only response to Aunt Anneís question was a quick shrug from a female creature with a Pagan symbol around her neck.

Sweat began to form on my forehead, I was beginning to get a little worried and recounted the hideous group. Eleven remained the total number, and then I realised there was a twelfth creature in the house. And it wasnít in my sight.

Then I got one of those feelings (when your belly starts turn and you know something is seriously wrong). Then for reasons far beyond my comprehension, I was forced to turn my head around.

Nothing but darkness. Motionless outlines at their most horrendous best scattered the kitchen. I had over stayed my welcome; it was time to go. But before I could scamper past the open doorway, a last glance into the living room was an essential part of m escape.

Suddenly a stinging pain shot through my body from my left shoulder. Something sharp was grabbing me and it tightened, forcing me to cry out in pain. A quick hiss from behind assured me it wasnít my health, but the result of a creature that remained invisible to my eye.

My intense face collided with the far wall. I was no longer hidden or in the kitchen, in fact, I wasnít even on the floor. I was pinned to the living room wall and the main attraction of a monstrous meeting.

Being closer than I originally was, small hairs hung from their scarred skin (some longer than others) poked out from their lumpy faces making them more uglier than they first appeared.

Aunt Anne was the first to approach me, looking uglier than ever. "Where did you find him?" She asked the creature who held me.

The missing creature that assumed was their Julie friend, eased her grip on me and hissed into my ear. "He was spying on you. Listening in on your conversation."

Aunt Anneís hand spread out and waved. That very instant, the creature released me. I hit the floor with a loud thud. Ignoring the throbbing on my shoulder, I crawled back.

"So the warnings I have given you wasnít enough for you to satisfy your curiosity, eh?" Aunt Anne spoke softly to me from her hairy, scabby lips. "Nevertheless, it doesnít matter, now you have seen for your own eyes the power you have within you."

Glancing around, I noticed a relieved look upon the hideous creaturesí grotesque faces. There was no doubt in my mind I had discovered the family secret, but I never knew it could be so terrible. There was still a pretty big explanation Iíd have to be given, and I had a feeling I was about to get one.

Within a matter of long, agitating minutes I was among a reunion in which I wasnít a member, but nevertheless welcomed. 

Aunt Anne took a seat opposite me. "You have seen a secret that has remained in our family for centuries," she explained. "We are the result of a barbarous world that killed what it does not understand."

I couldnít describe the feeling I had that night, sitting in the room with those creatures, but I knew that no harm would come to me. "But youíre monsters!" I blurted out uncontrollably.

Aunt Anne raised her long, hairy index finger at me, warning me that another outburst like that wouldnít be too healthy for me. "Not monsters my boy, but Witches," the whole room nodded in unison.

"Witches?" I jumped forward in amazement. If they didnít have their sickly boils on their scarred, hairy skin, I would have laughed right in their faces; but this wasnít the case.

"We were a friendly society. Just wanting to be left in peace and get on with our practices, but we were different from the locals. They didnít agree to our way of life, so we werenít accepted," she spoke in a low, melancholy tone. I noticed she was tightening her grip on the arm of the chair she sat in, ripping the fabric with her long, sharp fingernails. 

An awkward silence followed, then she continued with her story. "Retaliating to their barbaric behaviour, we united to give them a mutual punishment. But their retaliation was much more severe," she trailed off.

She didnít have to say anymore. I didnít have to know much about legends of witchcraft to compare it with my family history. I had seen movies where Witches were burnt at the stake, but this plot wasnít a movie.

I knew everything I wanted to know except why they took such an interest in me. "So why the interest in me? Am I a...Witch?"

A wide grin spread over her grotesque face. "Of course, but you wont start to develop your gifts Ďtil you turn sixteen. You are an only child and the next in line from your Mother. Itís up to me to teach you the ways."

My mouth opened to speak, but before a word was uttered, Aunt Anne continued. "We are, what you would call a union. "You see, time slowly covered our tracks - even turning them into myths - but there are still people who believe, who hunt us," she looked around, checking her fellow members were still with her before proceeding. "Who continue to kill us like their merciless ancestors."

"But what about -"

She cut me off, "We are a group who meet monthly and avoid these assassins. We need to perform a ritual that would protect us from these monsters, but we need a thirteenth member for the ceremony."

My questioned was answered. I was to be their thirteenth member. Even that provoked a lot of unanswered questions. But then...I remembered to ask the most important question since discovering the family secret. "Was my mother like you?"

To watch the eyes of Aunt Anne fade behind her eyelids was enough to give me the answer. I was only ten when their car collided into a mountainside, but I still hold very strong memories of her, and she never seemed this ugly.

"I know itís a shock, but you must join our group for your Motherís sake," Aunt Anneís voice swam into my mind.

My gaze shot at Aunt Anne. I quickly received a cold stare before she realised what she needed of me. "Whatís this got to do with my Mother?"

Her mouth dropped open in shock. Her eyes flittered around the room like she was lost. She began to speak, then retreated. I think I actually asked a question she couldnít answer. Or didnít want too!

"Eh...I didnít want you to know this Logan, but your parents car crash was no accident," she said, lowering her head. "Now that you brought it up, neither was your Aunt Janeís death."

I sank into my chair powerless to speak. I donít think I actually blinked for a few minutes. I sat silently in a trance, staring into the naked flames of the open fire, wondering if it was all possible. But after what Iíd seen tonight, I was just about ready to believe anything.

Finally, after separating myself from my thoughts, I asked the question that plagued me. "Who killed them? Why?" My voice no longer sounded like my own, but that of anger.

"It was the Hunters Logan," said Francis, the ugliest and, as far as I could tell, only male creature in the room. He stood by the fire, sucking down maggots that no longer disgusted me, not after what Iíd just heard.

Aunt Anneís head had finally risen from her dark, scabby chest and said, "Like I said Logan, there are still people who hunt us because they believe we are the servants of the Devil. We only want to be left in peace, but they will hunt us down until we have all been executed," she continued to speak, sounding genuinely sorry for herself. "They killed your parents and made it look like an accident. The same with your Aunt Jane."

"And we are probably next," said the creature that nearly broke my arm. "Thatís why it is essential that you join the Coven, so youíll be the thirteenth member and the spell can be complete to prevent any danger coming to us."

"The Hunters are on our trail Logan," Aunt Anne spoke with urgency in her voice. "Itís just a matter of time before they find us and make it look accidental. So what do you say Logan, are you in?"

I could barley think straight, all of this was just too much to take in. Finding out in one night that your the latest member of a family of Witches, and that my parents sudden death was no longer an accident, but a carefully plotted ploy organized by a secret society dedicated to exterminating the world of Witches, was just too much to take in. But they had killed my parents and my Aunt Jane. They were kind, loving people. Just because they were different didnít gave them any right to kill them like that. They didnít deserve to die, not like those that executed them.

The eyes of every creature stared at me, waiting for an answer. I barely had a minute to think about my answer when I spoke out, "Count on it," I said, barely recognising my own voice. I could feel the anger rising within me. What right did they have to commit cold blooded murder like that, because of indifference? 

Aunt Jane had once told me that within everyone lay a dark side. And if your dark side starts to eat away at your good side, you lose control of your actions and before you know it, you have become a pawn of evil. But finding out your parents were murdered was definitely a reason for your dark side to take over.

A cheer from Francis erupted something within the others. Then everyone in the room was cheering - even Aunt Anne - except me. The anger inside of me was beginning to rise. And the scary part was, I thrived on it.

I couldnít sleep that night with thinking about all that happened. One thing kept bothering me: why did they kill my father? He wasnít a Witch but they had shown no mercy. If I had been with them that day, I would have been killed with them.

My life was finally beginning to change, whether it was for the better or not, I didnít know. However, I was hit by a overwhelming sadness as I realised my life would never be a normal one!

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Copyright © 2004 Andrew Wooldridge