The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Witch’s Cottage
by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
Blu, which they called Blu in opposite of her fiery red hair, ran through the trees and along the trail, side-swiping branches and vines and spider webs. She was trying to get to the cottage deep in the center of the woods before it was too late.
She didn’t even know what she was late for, because her cuckoo clock in her room had just screamed out “help” in the middle of the night, causing her to sit straight up and bolt for the door, still in her plush Halloween pajama pants and fitted t-shirt. A fleeting thought as she ran, but she was glad she put on her knock-off Birkenstocks at least so her feet weren’t getting beat up on the bottoms, even though the tops of her feet were getting scratched.
She had worse worries, like why she was running for starters. She just had an ominous feeling and the immediate thought was: the cottage. A more long-term concern was the fact that her Dad had been missing for days, but she wasn’t about to alert the authorities.
Her brother Laad, 18, and she, 15, were raised by their single father, and coupled with the fact they were both still in high school and alone at home now, they also knew that his disappearance was likely preternatural in nature. Their dad, and Blu, had an energy force in their genes, and their dad, though trying to live the normal, single dad life of working as an office supply store manager through the week and Subway every other weekend, didn’t hesitate to do what was needed whenever good needed to prevail over evil. The teens didn’t want the sheriff plodding around their land or possibly taking Blu to child protective services. She knew the authorities wouldn’t understand the unnatural world. Besides, Blu was on the case and she felt that time wasn’t on their side, so she didn’t need any detours.
She continued to run along her own visual path, taking out foliage left and right, because there was no path in these woods. The cottage was not somewhere anyone would usually want to go, nor did anyone know about it. She and her brother had just stumbled upon it once when they were younger and playing around in the woods, going far too deep even when their dad had warned them. They had staked out the place from behind a huge Oak tree, watching an old, crippled hag with long, black hair bending over picking herbs from her front garden. She had peered around a few times, and lifted her head to smell the breeze, as if she sensed something, and so they had tried not to move a muscle in their hiding spot. Only after she had gone back inside, shut the windows and pulled the curtains closed, did the teens try to sneak away back up the forest hills towards home.
Blu had only been there one other time with her dad. She’d been listening to The Civil Wars while she did her homework. Hearing them once when her dad played them, she had become a fan of their melancholiac, folky sound.
“Come on, get up, put on your sweatshirt. You can do that later, I’ve got something to show you, Blu,” he had said, without a smile, which had worried her at the time.
“Ok, Dad,” she said without hesitation, because if anything, she trusted her dad completely. “Is Laad coming?”
“No, we’ll tell Laad later, but he doesn’t have the gifts that you and I do, and for now, it’s imperative I tell and show you this…just in case.”
She pulled on her wellies over her black leggings and her royal blue sweatshirt over her flannel, took her dad’s hand, and they set off for the woods. Of course it’s the woods, she had thought in her head at the time. Now, she would always think that. Where else did she feel the most energy currents flowing through her body, igniting all her nerve endings?
Her dad had quietly told her the story of his family and their coven, stemming from centuries earlier off the coast of England, where they hid in caves and used fire and water mixed with tree sap to fight the evil that seeped in slowly around various small villages. Drawing strength from trees, even when her dad was young, the trees would raise up as an army to help him ward off sinister machinations.
Now, the trees were still his fortress, but others that could use the rumbling inside the trees for power, also used it for bad. “See the old woman living in the cottage,” he had whispered to her as they looked on the cottage from afar, “she is centuries old.” This once beautiful woman had followed his family to their land and had imagined this cottage into life with help from some of the trees, he had continued to tell her. He had spellbound her in this ancient, arthritic body and to within a mile of her cottage, even though she was immortal and could look any age if not cursed. She fought back against him and his powers daily, trying to break her chains.
Blu had no idea how her dad summoned the strength to continue to live a normal life as a single father with two jobs in the outside world while also fighting against the spirit world, primarily this witch, while never showing a break in his fortitude. She’d vowed then to never complain about peanut butter and jelly dinner nights again.
Blu continued to run as fast she could. The closer she got, the more she felt her father’s energy, something she had been unable to find since he had gone missing. Logically, it had occurred to her that his disappearance may have had something to do with the witch, but she couldn’t pinpoint how or why or where his trail led. She had waited and meditated and burned incense and tried to feel or hear him in her mind, all while plotting her best defense in eventually getting close to the cottage to see if he was there.
Then, in hearing his voice yell for help in the night…well, she was wasting no time sprinting the miles to the witch’s abode. Upon seeing it through the small clearing, she halted. Seeing the witch out back of the cottage, burning wood upon a big bonfire and chanting with her arms in the air, lost in revelry to her evil plans, Blu quietly and methodically snuck towards the front door. She felt air around her as if she was protected, as if the leaves on the trees gave her their breeze in cloaking. She tried the door handle and gently pushed open the front door as slowly as possible, tip-toeing inside the dark home, shivering at the evil. It felt like a million thorns were prickling up her arms.
You couldn’t really call it a home, and the only light was from the candles burning in the corner, past the big slab of wood used for a table, where rows of small, glass bottles illuminated the candlelight, sending it twinkling around. She looked towards the candles to the side shelves, where more, but bigger, glass jars lined the shelves around larger, aquatic tanks. Hesitantly sliding toward them, without making sound and being careful to not squeak any loose floor boards, she peered at the glass jars. Some filled with animal feet, hearts, organs. Some with….heads. Her father’s eyes stared back out at her, his face pickled in a witch’s embalming substance, with venting slats and horns inserted into his face and head.
She grabbed her mouth with both hands to stifle her screams, biting into one of her palms in pain. Tears streaked down her cheeks. In her mind, though full of shock, words filtered through, “You can’t help me, but you can help yourself and Laad. Draw on all you know, lean on the trees, you are strong enough already. My aura will always be with you, my power, and those of your ancestors within you. I love you, Blu…” Her daddy. Gone but still guiding her. If that witch thought that pain wouldn’t increase her power, that revenge wouldn’t ignite her, she thought, she would soon learn. In her family, time and love created no boundaries. Evil would be banished.
Just then, the back door creaked open, wafting in a scent on the breeze like toasted fungus and weeds….
Fiction © Copyright Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi:
Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.
In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.
In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.
Amid these pages the haunting themes of oppression, isolation, revenge, and madness unfold through folklore, nightmares, and often times, raw, impulsive passion crafted to sear from the inside out.
With a touching foreword by the Bram Stoker nominated author Brian Kirk, Breathe. Breathe. will at times unsettle you, and at times embrace you. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, a veteran writer and editor of the written word, offers up a mixed set of pieces, identifying her as a strong, new voice in dark fiction that will tear the heart from your chest, all the while reminding you to breathe.