WARNING: bad language and gore
As I lounged on the tree branch, I observed the witches below me, engaged in their spooky yet hypnotic dance. I imagined I was a powerful panther, my silky coat of black making me one with the inky shadows. ‘Invisible.’ I froze perfectly still to not give away my watchful perch. Well, almost perfectly still. The tip of my tail twitched, giving away my anxiety concerning the scene below me.
They were not real witches of course, but young hopefuls in costume.
The thirteen young women gyrated and swayed around the bonfire, their pale arms, cloaked in dark sleeves like gauzy wings, wafted like airy black seaweed in an ebbing tide. Their long dresses were tattered silk and clung to their barefooted frames like glistening black smoke. They wore garlands of hemp rope woven with leaves and dried roses, turned black by dehydration. Small white bones shone in stark contrast and clicked together like bamboo sticks hung from a windchime- ribs, femurs, tiny paws, toothy skulls.
I have been spying on this depraved group for nearly a year and have witnessed the unfortunate deaths of countless poor animals slaughtered purely for sacrifice. They’d started with creatures of the forest: squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and birds of all kinds. Apparently, the spells conjured after the sacrifices had not worked. The coven had moved on to various domestic animals: cats, dogs, a goat, even a pig. The pig was the worst of all, it had screamed like a human toddler…and for a very long time. It had been stronger than the girls had thought and at one point nearly gotten away, it’s throat only half cut, rich red blood spraying EVERYwhere. When the girls finally pinned the pig down again, they were so soaked they looked as if they had been attacked by a crazed ax murderer.
‘If only.’ I thought.
Three of the young women sang and I grudgingly had to admit they had beautiful voices that complimented each other well, like an oboe, flute, and clarinet in a concert. Lord knows, I am tone deaf, as most cats are. At the height of their chorus, their mouths opened wide towards the heavens, black caves in the unnatural, white-painted faces. They circled their scare-crowed eyes with kohl and in the light filtering down through the trees, the upturned faces looked like moons with holes punched through them. The steel tub -their cauldron- over the fire, held bubbling liquid and the boiling bones of an unfortunate German Shepard, the star of tonight’s performance.
From my lofty perch, I saw the skull bobbing as if nodding in disbelief at the sight of its other bones floating in the gloopy liquid. The eyes were bubbling blueish pits, skin and scraggly fur clung to the top of the head. I supposed the flapping things were ears.
‘Poor Titan.’ I thought. ‘I didn’t like you much. Oh, who’s kidding who? I despised you. You chased me all over the neighborhood with that great, goofy grin on yer demon face…like it was a game, and I was your toy. You’d most likely have torn me apart if you’d caught me, trying to tear my squeaker out.’ I shuddered and smiled wanly. ‘Now look atchoo. Dog soup.’ My mouth actually watered, though I still felt pity for the poor Shepard.
These witches in training had come up with the idea of forming a coven while attending school at the other end of town.
High school classes began last September.
I live with my master in a house at the far end of town, at the edge of the woods. No cat could be happier than I. The woods provide a steady supply of mice and hapless young birds. Every day, a new adventure, as I practiced my stalking and invisibility skills. Alas, for all the wonderful bounty the woods provided, I was nevertheless a cat, and I feared my curious nature would someday get the better of me.
In mid-November, a group of teenage girls walked past my house and headed into the woods. I had to follow. This was a first. Young and old alike never ventured to this part of the woods- the west side was said to be cursed, or haunted, depending on who you asked. To get into the west woods, one had to pass my house. It’s the black, shuttered, three story one, surrounded by wickedly pointed iron fencing and a wraparound porch with a spidery crawlspace underneath.
I had crept under the thornbush to the left of the gate, a black shadow, silent as a ghost. I had pretended that day to be a slithering black mamba, deadly if confronted, a perfect disguise in which to practice invisibility.
There were three of them, perhaps 14 or 15 years old.
The blond with a lisp said to her companions, “Did you thee wha Darlene was wearing today?”
A plump girl with mousey brown hair said, “Ugh. Even if I was allowed to wear something that short, I wouldn’t.”
“No shit.” Said the third, a pretty red head with abundant freckles. “You could see everything when she bent over.”
“Ha!” said Blondie. “Ya, she kept doing it in front of Ben. Ew. Heeth so dumb, he deservth a thlut like that.”
Mousey said, “We’ll fix her. I tell you, this book I found is super old. My family is Welsh. My gamma used to tell the best stories about her gramma’s gramma, they were called Celts---”
“I read about them in social studies last week!” exclaimed Freckles.
Blondie said, “Me too! I lovthed hearing about their All Hallowth Eve, it was their New Yearth Eve you know?”
“Right!” exclaimed Mousey. “Gamma gave Mom this book. She hid it in the attic. That means she believes in this stuff.” In her chubby hands was a thick tome, the leather binding was worn and faded to ashy grey, the embossed lettering too faint to read.
In front of the gate, only twelve feet from my burrow, they had stopped. “Whoa. Is that the house everyone talks about?” Freckles asked.
Mousey said, “Yup. That’s widow Mosely’s place. People say she’s a witch. I think she’s just scary looking. People always make up stories about freaky looking people.”
“You should know.” Teased Blondie.
Mousey playfully punched her friend in the arm.
They had continued walking.
Curiosity, being my middle name, had enticed me to follow the trio into the woods.
They walked about a quarter mile in, crawling over logs and under fallen old mossy trees. At a large clearing they stopped. Cloud covered the sun, and the clearing shrouded in gloom. As the three settled on a log at the edge, I made my way up a tree to eavesdrop like the sneaky snake I was.
I recall smelling the excitement vented by the girls. They chitter-chattered as Mousey turned the pages, gasping at the illustrations. They sounded like baby birds learning to fly. An unsuspecting squirrel had caught my eye, it was far more interesting to me, so I slithered up the tree after it.
The girls came by my thornbush lair two or three times a week.
One day, in early March, there were six of them. They all wore black. I approved.
A petite girl with spikey black hair had stopped at the gate and said, “Woah! So gothic…I love it!” Her slightly buggy eyes gleamed greenly in the dreary, overcast daylight. The silver studded collar around her white neck glinted, as if in cahoots with her eyes.
“That’s the place you talked about, right? The witch’s house.” A tall, gangly girl with long straight dark hair and thick bangs said to Mousey.
Mousey said, “Yup. That’s the place.”
The third newcomer, a rotund blonde with pretty blue eyes and deep dimples said, “Maybe we should ask her for advice? Maybe she’d teach us stuff? Be our coven leader.”
Mousey glared at Dimples and said, “Not gonna happen. There’s no way to get over the fence. Besides, I heard she eats anyone who tries to trespass.”
In the shadows, under the bush, I snickered. Humans were so transparent. Especially, teenage girls. Mousey, for the first time in her underdog life, was finally the leader of something. She had control and respect; she’d fight like a rabid raccoon in a cardboard box to keep it that way.
Dimples shrugged and mumbled, “Just a thought…”
The expanded coven walked on and into the woods. I had followed. That day, I had pretended I was a tree nymph, light as air, and just as silent. ‘Invisible.’ At the clearing, I leapt up the tree limbs as if I had fluttering gossamer wings on my back.
The tramped down grass was soft and dry and had smelled of the coming summer. The girls had sat in a circle around the center, where they had built fires on numerous occasions. Freckles had lain a quilted blanket, the kind used by moving companies, over the old ashes and the book was placed reverently on it. Mousey read aloud from about the middle of the book, the girls sat forward with rapt attention and gleaming, scheming eyes.
Mousey said, “Ah-ha. Here it is.” Her finger tapped a page. “We need to be thirteen strong. Six more witches. Anyone have any ideas?”
Blondie said, “Delores the C**t broke Janey’s glasses yesterday. Janey will join for sure.”
Freckles added, “Poor Marta had her underwear thrown in a toilet during gym class.”
“Ugh. Who’d do something like that?” Asked Blondie.
“Well, no one fessed to it, but Darlene and Delores were giggling about it.”
“Those two goth girls, the scary ones that hang out in the bathroom, smoking during Algebra, they have asked me about our ‘group’.” Said Mini-Goth.
“Cool.” Said Mousey. Her hair wasn’t mousey anymore, she’d dyed it bluey-black. But that remained my name for her. “Just two more. Once we have thirteen, we can start the blood sacrifices.”
I smile here in the shadows, between the branches of my orange-leafed, deciduous tree, as I recall the coven’s first attempts at catching their sacrifices. They were awful at it at first. Then they upped their game with the ground traps. I could have told them peanut butter would lure just about any small rodent. Then was the fiasco with the badger. Who knew such an old frosty face had so much joie de vivre left in him? Mini-Goth now wore its skull.
The thirteen coven members, I can’t call them witches, because none of their spells have ever worked, were exhausted by the time the last flecks of gore were boiled from Titan’s bones. Two girls used a log-lever to overturn the cauldron/steel tub. The nearly dead logs under it sizzled, and steam replaced smoke, in the chilly October night. While the bones cooled, an icy wind picked up.
Mousey looked around at her following, her tribe, her creation. The girls were getting restless. The scary looking goths started walking through the trees. Some of the others were whispering again. I imagine they were talking of leaving the group. A couple more girls silently followed Scary One and Scary Two.
Mousey said, “Just three more days! Halloween’s Saturday. The Celt’s New Year’s Eve. The night when the veil between the living and the spirits is thin…”
“I’m with you.” Said Blondie.
“Me too.” Said Dimples. “I’ll convince the others to stick it out. We need them.”
As the last embers merged into the dark, the girls turned on their flashlights. I was reminded again of how creepy their outfits were- black and gauzy, with wispy strands of bone boas draped around their necks and arms. In an odd way, I was proud of how they’d come out of their shells; the way they’d morphed into different creatures altogether. Dimples had lost sixty pounds at least, Blondie had lost her childish lisp, and Mini-Goth had discovered a way to accentuate her weird eyes with black, smokey eyeliner.
I was saddened by the loss of Frisky-Lips. The studly tom cat they’d sacrificed last month. I’d been wanting to get my claws into his sleek striped coat. Oh well. Three more days and they’d give up their futile attempts at black magic.
I felt a flea under my collar and scratched, my sharp, curved toenails digging furiously at the little pest. The tag on my collar jingled, the sound was deafening to my big, pointed ears. A blinding light stabbed my pupils, I must have looked like an owl. All four remaining girls were staring up at me, I was pinned like a moth to a display board by their swordlike flashlight beams.
“Hey that’s---” Freckles began.
“---it sure is!” Mousey cut in.
Mini-Goth said, “The witch’s cat. I’ve seen it duck under her porch---”
Mousey cut in, “---and skulking around under the blackthorn bush. Spyin’ on us. We NEED that cat for Saturday.”
‘Oh shit.’ I thought. ‘I can outrun them…’
A searing jolt of pain erupted from my head. ‘Whaaa?’ Just before I fell to the ground, a fifth covenite emerged from the darkness, slingshot in hand, wicked grin on her round, moony face with black holes punched through for eyes. Just before all went as dark as my own precious hide, I thought, ‘Impressive invisibility.’
I came to in a plastic cavern. It was the smell that did it. The acrid scent of old urine and fear, as eye-watering as smelling salts. I was in a crate. An old one, surely used for many a trip to the vet’s office. The pee smell was canine, the crate small, with only an inch to spare over my head. I pictured a tiny chihuahua, shivering like a trembling leaf about to plummet to a wintry earth, and crying a heart wrenching whine. I pushed the metal grate door and it rattled but remained firmly sealed. The room I was in smelled of dusty cobwebs, moldy carpet, mouse turds, and rancid popcorn. A basement.
“Sproing.” An old worn-out couch complaining.
A curious white face peered through the grate of my cage. Large green eyes circled with smudgy eyeliner. ‘Mini-Goth.’
She smiled at me. There was a small green fleck between two of her upper teeth. She said, “The cat’s awake.”
Two more faces crowded my view, I shrank into the back, but that was only three inches.
Mousey said, “Don’t worry lil puss-puss, it’ll all be over tomorrow night. You’re the star of the show.”
‘Tomorrow night? I’d been unconscious for over 24 hours.
I didn’t sleep. The light through the tiny basement window was meager, as it was high on the wall. Wispy strands of cobwebs wafted inward across the ceiling as the door opened.
Dimples came in. She was dressed in her long ceremonial gown, the tattered black hem swept old dog hairs and dust from the floor, the motes twirled like micro dervishes in the waning light. Her whitened face glowed like the bones around her neck and her blue irises vanished into the dark kohl circles as she squinted in at me, making a skull of her face.
She hefted the crate off the table and said, “You’re a big one alright. Lotsa blood in you!” She laughed like a carnival freak and carried me out the door, up some stairs, and out into the purply curtain of the overcast night.
At the street, the other twelve waited, whitened breath puffed from blackened lips in the chilly air. They spoke only in whispers as they walked to the far end of town. We passed my house and a curtain shifted against an upper, candlelit room.
“Did you see that?” Mini-Goth said in a harsh, low voice.
“What?” Asked Blondie, unobservant as ever.
“I saw it.” Someone said.
“Me too.” said another.
Mini-Goth rolled her owl eyes at Blondie and said, “A face. In the window. Just for a second. The widow Mosely. She must be like, a hundred or something. Wrinkly, creepy, with long white hair.”
I took offense at the description. They of all people, were not ones to judge by appearances. ‘Ignorant, self-absorbed hypocrites.’ My fur bristled.
In the clearing, they lowered my cage. Three girls started the fire. The steel vat sat nearby. I knew the routine- the ceremony. They’d dance until just before midnight then slaughter me. They’d pass around the urn filled with my blood and toss the rest of my carcass into the vat to be boiled until the skin was flayed from my skull, ears and all. The meat would fall from my bones, they’d feed it to their dogs, one of which was a chihuahua.
I watched their dance for the last time. Heard their eerily beautiful voices sing for the last time. And I joined in, my voice not as mellifluous as theirs, more of a caterwauling-howling really. But it was loud and carried over the trees and more than a quarter mile away.
The cool night wind turned into a frosty gale, and a pale blueish mist hurtled through the topmost tree branches. They started laughing, every last one. Dancing and laughing at me. At the sound of my distress.
The swirling mist morphed into a six-foot tornado, throwing off brilliant blue sparks. The girls stopped dancing. They stopped laughing as the whirlwind of ice and mist settled into the shape of a woman. A beautiful, wizened, ancient face materialized, her long white hair swirled and billowed around her.
My cries had not been ones of misery you see. But cries of beckoning…to my master. For I am her familiar, our souls are bonded together. Forever.