The Lady in Black
By Thomas R Clark
Do you remember a time when you were a child, when the Moon and Mars lit the late summer night? How could you forget the celestial bodies casting their cosmic haze? A contrast of silver and red, shining brighter than any star in the heaven, with meteors streaking and fading as they fell from the abyss?
Does the faded memory of a brush of cold against your skin, stealing your breath in the darkness, still linger? Can you recall the misty fog of your breath as the chill coursed through your body, and sweat beaded on your brow?
It’s okay if you don’t. The Witch remembers.
She never forgets.
The Witch was there, you know, hidden under her effervescent cloak, shrouded in the shadows. She reached out and held your arm, for only a moment, but long enough to know your blood. The hairs on your neck rose and stood in place. You looked close and didn’t blink, and saw the crimson flashes of her eyes blending with the fireflies, flickering in the dark. She entered your dreams as a vision, and held them in her grip as you grew. The Witch was forever part of you. Neither a harbinger of doom or a herald of good tidings, the Witch is stoic – watching, waiting. She’s the maiden, mother and crone. A phantom in the shadows of twilight.
Do you understand it all now? The planet of war and and Luna again grace the late summer skies…
It’s a time of war and sacrifice.
The words blurred between two worlds. Patty Johnson woke from the dream and felt the heat of the roaring blaze in her fireplace mingle with the fear crippling her body. She lay in shock on the floor of her living room, her hands, feet and legs bound. A crazed woman stood over her, ranting. She held a long, wicked knife made of black glass and wore nothing but a crow’s head mask. The eyes of the mask shone with a red haze.
“You don’t die once.” the masked woman said, “That’s what people don’t get. It’s a cycle. You keep on living and dying. Or at least I, excuse me, we, do. What this world’s theologians call a soul, and scientists call sentience, is nothing more than energy. Since all the energy to ever exist in the universe is constant, are we all not eternal by default? Energy never dies, it moves on in another form.
The sad truth is, there’s no divine majesty to guide you, no pearly gates. Your earthly shell withers and you move on to the next bag of meat. And though there is no Heaven, you can bet your ass there’s a Hell. Or what can be defined as Hell. I’ve, there I go again, we’ve, felt it.
It’s not a pit of tormented souls, overseen by demon lords. Hell isn’t the terrifying vertigo you experience when looking down from the top of a cliff side. It’s a righteous fear of the dark, a void, complete nothingness. The lack of energy. You can’t have up without down, left without right, male without female, night without day, and you sure as fuck can’t have energy without its absence.
I can recall instances when I was a revered member of a community; their wise old woman, living to a ripe old age and passing away gently in the night. Later, in another time I die giving birth… and in more than one life among the many, I’m burned, hanged or otherwise executed as a heretic. Always as a witch.
It’s been used to describe me in so many eras over eons. It’s not exactly the correct term in my case, at least by the popular definition, but I’ll take it. I’m not in league with the evil forces of the cosmos, providing magical powers. It’s the difference between us. Whereas you are privy to the natural order of things as you perceive them, I’m aware of my being as the energy within it thrives, and I’m skilled at manipulating it along the way.
In other lives you were my child, my student, my lover, or any countless number of incarnations throughout the eons. Each time I die, and carry on, part of me is left behind, lingering. As a result, my own being is striped with the void, little bits of emptiness. Pieces of Hell. I’ve sacrificed so much searching for the splinters left behind, the instances of me, well, us.
You may not understand how our very survival is in question, this night. What I want of you may seem selfish, and at this moment I’m terrified, knowing the outcome of our meeting will result in one more piece of my, I’m sorry, I did it again, didn’t I. One more piece of our puzzle being put back together.” Black light pulsed from the candles at the points of the star. It filled the room with a purple haze. The tint contributed to the terror, and the fear led to confusion.
What kind of Charles Manson family bullshit was this? Patty didn’t understand a word the lunatic was saying. Energy this and Us that. And holy fuck, did this butt naked nutbag really knock her the fuck out and tie her up? Sometime between the moment of cranial impact and now, the woman drew a crude pentagram on the carpet of Patty’s family room, in front of the fireplace. She dropped Patty into the center of it, waking the unconscious woman a moment before embarking on her soliloquy. Patty knew enough to feign unconsciousness and wait for an opportunity to do something, anything, to escape this woman’s clutches. She observed it all through a pinched open eye.
Patty watched her abductor produce a wiggling satchel of burlap. She withdrew a human like crystal skull, with rubies for eyes and placed it in the circle. The bag was far from empty. Squeaking noises from living things emitted from it. The identity of the remaining contents was unknown, until Patty saw her open the bag and retrieve a large, black bird from inside. The bird struggled and squirmed in her hand. The woman held the bird, Patty now saw it was a raven or a crow, over her with an outstretched hand. In the other hand, the woman held the long, curved knife of black glass. She gutted the bird without warning, the animal’s blood and guts fell onto Patty’s back with a wet slap. She resisted the urge to remove the foreign object from her exposed skin. Blood dripped from the animal’s carcass, splattering onto Patty’s back, the drips a metronome keeping time for her kidnapper as she chanted.
“A crone I am, and thus a crone you are!” The woman declared. Patty felt vertigo overcome her mind. She hadn’t felt this bombed since college. Except this was far worse. She felt she was the human equivalent of a roulette ball looking for a place to rest in the red or black.
What is going on here? Patty thought. There was no bed to drop one leg off to stop the spinning, as if she could kick out of the restraints tying her ankles together. The woman released her grip on the bird’s body. It fell next to Patty’s face, its lifeless eyes staring back at her. In the euphoria of her condition, she could swear the bird rose up, shook its head once, flapped its wings and flew away. The remains of its entrails hung out of the gaping gash sliced down the animal’s breast and belly.
Patty felt her eyes jerk open wide. The flames of the fireplace dilated her pupils. But the fire wasn’t contained in the fireplace in her living room. The flame was all about her, and through the flickering tongues of fire, Patty saw a host of onlookers watching. Men and women of various ages, somehow found their way into her house. But it couldn’t be. Patty felt the flames boiling her from the inside.
Burn the witch! Burn the witch! The mob cried.
I’m being burned alive! She thought. Patty closed her eyes and shook her head. When she opened them back up, the flames were gone, as was the pain. She lay on her side, back inside the pentagram, on her side in a fetal position.
The masked woman reached back into the bag and withdrew a meowing cat. It wriggled violently in her grasp. But it was futile, the feline’s legs were hogtied. The cat’s belly was distended. The queen was ripe and pregnant, full of kittens. She held the cat by its scruff over Patty in much the same manner she had done with the bird. The woman cut the cat’s throat just as deliberately. A geyser of blood sprayed Patty. She felt its warmth cover her.
“A mother I am, and thus a mother are you!” The masked woman chanted, and cut open the cat’s belly. Five kittens, mostly formed, the fur slicked back and covered in placenta, dropped out. They bounced off Patty’s back, landing around her within the pentagram. She saw the kittens crawl and pull themselves away from her, resting in the peaks of the star.
Patty felt her guts wrench. Bolts of pain shot through the captive woman’s body. She opened her mouth to scream, only to swallow sea water. She didn’t understand how this happened. She lived hundreds of miles from the nearest source of salt water, yet she could swear she was trapped in an undertow. She spit out a mouthful of the water, finding she could catch her breath. The observers returned, and were now watching Patty drown as intently as they had watched her burn. She closed her eyes tight, again.
“She doth float!” Someone cried.
“Drown the witch!” Some added.
This is insane. Patty conceded, and opened her eyes back up. She was back on the floor, alone with the masked woman. Patty noted her captor was digging through the bag for another item. It was larger than the bird or the cat.
“A maiden I once was, a maiden you have been, and a maiden we both are, makes three.” The woman cackled. The bag dropped to the ground, empty. In her hand, the crazy woman held a human child, upside down, by the ankles. A girl, somewhere between toddler and newborn, she was drugged and unconscious. Patty was terrified, knowing what would come next. When the woman brought her knife to the child’s belly and sliced it open, Patty couldn’t bear to watch. It didn’t matter. Her gag reflex kicked in and she vomited as the baby’s blood showered her, and the intestines dropped onto her face.
Patty’s point of view became skewed as the room spun in earnest. Then she realized what it was. She now saw the room from the eyes of the disemboweled child. Patty saw herself, naked and laying on the floor at the center of a pentagram, slick with gore. She saw the masked woman, holding her aloft. She watched as the woman dropped the knife and removed the crow mask covering her face. This fell to the floor, as well. To her surprise, Patty saw the face behind the mask, the face of her captor and torturer, was her own.
“So mote it be.” The woman said and bent down, kneeling into the pentagram. She placed the dead baby into the crook of Patty’s arms, caressed her face, and lay next to her, spooning into her body. Patty felt her touch, coupled with the embrace of her arms. Then the woman whispered a trio of words in Patty’s ear, “Saints preserve us.” What she felt was agonizing pain, as her soul was ripped from the shell she once called a body.
Two more shards, Patty Johnson thought within the witch. Her mind swirled, and blended into her murderers presence, and Patty thought nothing more.
The Witch never forgets.
Thomas R Clark is a musician, writer and podcast producer from Central New York. His podcasts, including The Necrocasticon, can be heard on the Project Entertainment Network. He is the author of the forthcoming novellas BELLA’S BOYS and GOOD BOY, from Stitched Smile Publications. Tom lives with his wife, a trio of Jack Russell terrier companions, and their pet bunny