BLOOD ON A WITCH’S BLADE
by Matthew Wilson
 
1
 
IN THE PASSENGER SEAT of the speeding car, Richard Stokes turned the stereo up rather than suffer another of his wife’s thirty mile lectures. She had promised him arsenic in his cornflakes if he dared argue in front of their daughter, so this petty act of rebellion would suffice.

‘I’m not calling you a tart,’ Richard sang the wrong words at the radio. ‘I just think it’s funny that the guy at woo-urk gives you flowers when he knows you’re marre-eed.’

‘So help me, Rich,’ Susan Stokes warned. ‘I’ll crash this bloody car if you don’t-’

‘Are you arguing?’ The little girl in the back seat, Brandy, lost interest in counting dark trees through his side window and pushed herself forward on the rear double seat. ‘You promised you wouldn’t do that on our holiday.’

Richard had called it a second honeymoon, a chance to forget their troubles and start anew, anything but what it was—desperation. At home they had grown so sick of each other that this holiday was their last chance. They had decided that if they were still grumbling about their marriage come Monday—then it might be best if they separated.

‘We’re not arguing, honey,’ Richard turned down the radio and showed some teeth at the hanging mirror to ease his daughter’s anxiety. ‘I’m just asking mommy why she wants to miss our hotel check in time.’

Arguing meant throwing crockery—this was just a disagreement about which road was quicker through the threatening weather.

‘Because mommy has a licence and goes how fast or slow she likes,’ Susan sang back. Her mom had warned her the marriage wouldn’t last but Susan had never liked being told what to do. She had jumped into the big day too soon and then their daughter had come along too quickly.

Now they were sinking all their savings into a second honeymoon just to save them from throwing their hands into the air and walking away. But that would hurt Brandy, so tonight was a chance to start over. To force a smile and try to be happy—Susan told herself she was.

Until the rain sodden woman in the middle of the road threw a machete at the windscreen.

‘Sue,’ Richard yelled, slapping at the wheel.

Richard heard Brandy scream in the back seat as Susan turned the wheel too sharply and the back wheel blew, skidding the car off the road.

‘Tree!’ Richard pointed into the night but when the windscreen exploded in his face, the last thing he thought was the belated wish that they’d gone on a cruise instead.

 
2
 
NO, THE MANAGER WASN’T pleased to be roused at midnight to let the sweating, soaking wet trio into the hotel lobby.

‘Stop moaning, Rich,’ Sue huffed. ‘I gave you a towel out of my rucksack to stop the bleeding—what more do you want?’

‘I think I’ve still got some in my eye.’ Rich blinked dramatically. ‘What if I go blind?’

‘Could you go mute instead?’ Sue patted her daughter’s head with one hand and rang the doorbell with the other.

‘Mommy, I’m tired.’

‘Well, we were supposed to be here three hours ago—ow—watch where you’re slapping, Sue—I’ve got glass everywhere.’ Richard stopped talking when he shook his eyes free from bottle water and saw it—the shiny thing in the grass.

A penny. Was it past midnight?—maybe this new day was lucky after all. He hissed in pain as he squatted to retrieve the thing twinkling in the moonlight and then felt a colder chill than even the night carried when he realised he wasn’t holding currency after all.

It was a bullet. Some poorly remembered techniques of the many detective shows he digested throughout the day filled his rattled brain as he sniffed the thing—had it been fired recently? He couldn’t tell.

‘Sue—look at this—’

He stood and barked in fright when a brilliant light filled his face and the old woman with a sour expression opened the door and sniffed down her nose.

‘Stokes family? You were supposed to be here three hours ago! Oh, I was told there were only two of you.’

Sue apologised and heaved her bags over the doorstep before the woman changed her mind. Sue couldn’t sleep in the car—not now she didn’t have a windscreen to keep out the cold. ‘Yes, it was supposed to be my daughter and I, but then my husband and I made up and—’

‘Jesus, Sue, don’t tell everyone our problems.’

The old woman didn’t seem impressed. ‘You should have notified me.’

‘There wasn’t time,’ Susan lied, not wanting to pay the added deposit. ‘Look, please can we come in? We’ve had an accident.’

‘So I see. I’m Alice Tanner—come along before you let all the heat out-’ she made a strange hacking sound when Richard removed the stained towel from his face and she saw him better in the lamplight of her lobby. ‘You’re a man,’ she said.

Richard was still dazed and still wanting to tell Susan about the bullet clasped in his fist.

‘Y-yes?’

‘I don’t recommend you stay here, not tonight,’ Alice said too sharply and Susan held her girl again as she felt little sobs rattle through her body.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘No men,’ Alice said. ‘For god’s sake, do you know what day it is?’

Richard heard a clink and realised he’d dropped the bullet in surprise. No, his luck was still bad and he’d come out of the chill into the house of a madwoman.

‘Are there any other hotels—?’

‘You can’t stay anywhere here,’ Alice interrupted him. ‘Nowhere in this town, not tonight.’

‘We’ve had an accident,’ Susan repeated, ‘and my daughter’s terrified of the dark, please, if you’ve any human decency, then you’ll let us stay.’

The old woman shook her grey head determinedly but blew out a long breath when her eyes dawdled on the girl too long. True, she looked scared all right.

‘I’ve gone soft in my old age,’ Alice lamented. ‘All right, but lock your door, close your windows and if you don’t make a sound I’ll even give you the room free for tonight.’

‘Hot damn, I won’t say a word,’ Richard found some pain relief with the promise of free board and held his hand out for the key.

‘I have your word you’ll be quiet?’ Alice pressed her words and then the key into the bloodied man’s hand.

‘My wife’s been trying to shut me up for years. I suppose one night of actually trying won’t kill me.’

 
3

NO, RICHARD COULDN’T SLEEP in the hotel room—not when he’d almost died tonight, not when his head felt like it was going to fall off.

‘Jesus, leave the aspirin alone,’ Susan mumbled into the blankets.

‘It feels like that crash knocked something loose in there, talk about the king of migraines and I can still picture that woman with the machete—God, the way she smiled—’

‘I told you to stop that, you’ll scare Brandy,’ Susan said. ‘I didn’t see any woman in the middle of the road.’

‘It was dark.’ Richard defended his position and finally gave up the attempt to sleep. ‘And about that bullet—’

‘That you dropped and I didn’t see,’ Susan finished and gave a hearty snore. ‘It’s all in your head, just go to sleep—the airbag went off in my face. You think I don’t have a fuzzy head right now? We’ll re-evaluate our holiday tomorrow and get the insurance sorted, but for now it’s enough that we get a free night away from the house. Come to bed and—

Susan closed her eyes and the long three mile march carrying a crammed backpack and a weeping child caught up with her. She was out.

‘That’s it, honey.’ Richard sighed. ‘Always bloody helpful.’ He sighed again and moved to the edge of the bed, wishing his headache would cease, that his body would slack and let him sleep.

But what of the machete carrying woman with the mad eyes, and the bullet outside?

Her eyes were pink.

Maybe he should go downstairs and show the projectile to convince his wife that he wasn’t crazy, that the bonk on the head hadn’t driven him daffy—no—he’d promised the old woman that he’d behave. That he’d remained cooped up here like a battery hen when he had the god given right to go wherever he bloody well liked.

No, he hadn’t listened to his wife either, he didn’t see why he had to accommodate strange old women when a simple demonstration would show that he wasn’t nuts. If he was quiet then he’d be back in two minutes.

No, he wouldn’t wake Susan first—she’d only shoot down his idea, thinking she knew better, as always.

Oh, Richard, why do you have to be difficult?

Because I’m right and I’m not gonna have nightmares of that demented woman with the machete tonight, I’m getting to the bottom of this.

But when Richard found the courage to open the hotel door and retrace his steps downstairs, he couldn’t find the bullet after all.

‘Wouldn’t this be better with the light on?’ someone asked, a low feminine whisper.

‘Who is that?’ Richard asked and barked again when the lobby lights came on. There were two women, wearing cobweb rotted robes that seemed covered in dirt and muck. One with pink eyes carried a machete.

‘Well, hello again, honey,’ she giggled and went forward to kill him.

 
4

SUSAN DIDN’T LIKE THE dream, not when the mad woman with the machete chased her through the hotel, nor when the mad woman with the hatchet cut her head open. This maniac wore witch’s robes now like the fairy tales—she promised Susan great power if and all the blood she could drink if she became her slave.

Bloody Richard and his stories.

Susan snapped awake and wondered what Brian Carling from school was doing now. Maybe she should have married him—he seemed to be going places—he definitely had his head together enough to not tell murder stories in the dark that spooked already rattled wives.

The old secretary was right—men were always trouble.

‘Rich, are you awake?’ Susan raised her head from the pillow when she heard a knock and her hand grasping to the other side of the bed reached instead for the table clock.

It was two A.M. What the hell?

A thousand awful thoughts rushed through her head when her eyesight levelled in the low light and she realised that she was husband-less. Was this the police coming to tell her that there had been an accident? Maybe the lunatic with the machete had found them and—

Shut up. Her idiot husband had obviously broken his promise like always and had gone downstairs to prove his point and now he was locked out. Maybe she should let him freeze to learn his lesson.

But then he would knock all night and perhaps wake Brandy who was already upset.

‘All right, damn,’ Sue hissed as she snapped off the chain. ‘Keep it down or that old bat downstairs will kick us out.’

Sue gasped when she finally opened the door and Alice stood disapprovingly in the corridor. ‘Mrs. Stokes? I need to talk to you about your husband.’

Susan baulked. ‘Ms. Tanner—I wasn’t talking about you, I meant some other old bat downstairs. Wait—my husband?’ Susan held the door frame before she fell. ‘He’s not hurt, is he?’

‘Not yet.’ Alice sniffed as if she had better things to do than reunite people who couldn’t keep their promises. ‘Could you come with me, please?’

Susan hurried back into the room for her slippers. She checked her daughter, kissed her brow and silently cursed her husband. ‘If he’s knocked into or broke something, I’d be more than happy to pay for the damages,’ Susan said and closed the door behind her as Alice led the way back down the horrible coloured carpeted hallway but she didn’t make it to the stairs.

‘This will do,’ she said, stabbing a key into the room of door 112. ‘We should get a good view of the car park from here.’

The late hour muddled Susan’s mind. ‘Wait—I thought we were going to your office—what?’

‘Hurry, please,’ Alice sighed as she walked into the empty but well-kept hotel room, swerved round the bed and pointed out the window. ‘We don’t have much time if we’re going to save your husband.’

Dazed, Susan came forward and bumped her toe in the gloom.

‘Don’t touch that light switch,’ Alice said. ‘They’ll kill us both if they see us.’

Again, Susan found the sense to come forward without bumping into anything. She ran her hand over the TV set in standby mode so as to keep her balance. When she reached the window, she opened her mouth to scream but Alice was too quick for her.

Her wrinkled hand clapped her jaws together but left her nose unmolested to breathe.

‘A scream will kill us faster than the light bulb,’ Susan lamented and pointed out of the window with her other hand where the fifty women dressed in witches’ robes dancing in the car park carried the bound man to the burning pyre.
 
5

THE ALICE WITCH LIKED a good time. She adored the sisterhood parties in the woods where she and the coven would drink sweet juice that made her think she could dance better to the moon than she actually could. But, she could not abide murder, not when she had finally settled down with a fine man and not when her sisters nailed his flesh to the trees for trying to turn her into a goody-goody.

When the villagers finally found their courage and hanged them in the market, only Alice pleaded guilty to their charges. But now, even after all this time, it was good to feel blood pump in her body again, to sing to the stars and drink that wonderful liquor.

But she would not murder, for even though her husband was not here, she knew he would have no part of it.

‘I’m waiting for an explanation,’ Susan said. ‘What the hell’s going on?’

‘Do you mind?’ Alice poked at her ear. ‘I’m dead, dear, not deaf. It’s very simple, once a year—all the witches the villagers murdered centuries ago come back to possess the living. Don’t look at me like that—we don’t harm the bodies we inherit for the night so long as we’re left alone. Their men understand this and leave a few hours beforehand. Tonight, we dance and howl at the moon and then we leave peacefully—because no man had the temerity to stay here after dark before.

For a moment, Susan tried to talk but when her legs gave out, she flopped back on the bed, bounced once and landed on the floor. ‘God, Richard was right—you’re nuts.’ She ran for a phone on the table and broke a fingernail pressing buttons.

‘This is obviously your first witch party.’ Alice sighed. ‘We’ve been doing this for centuries, dear—do you think the boss hasn’t taken every precaution? All we wanted to do was feel the wind in our hair again but now your bloody husband didn’t listen and my friends out there are screaming for his blood—all their bad memories are rushing to the surface and they’ll burn him like a candle.’

‘Shut up.’ Susan blinked her eyes repeatedly, and then wiped the water from them when she realised she was not waking up. ‘God, this dream is so real, so awful,’ she said.

‘My sisters have dreamed long enough, dear and now tonight’s the night—I told him to stay in my room.’

‘But you told us to stay? You took my bloody deposit—’

‘Alice did,’ Alice said. ‘I mean the real hotel manager. When I took over her dumpy ass, I checked tonight’s register book—it said two females were coming. FEMALES! And then you bought that bloody trouble with you and I didn’t have the heart to send him out into the dark—I mean have you seen my boss? She—’

‘Does she have a machete?’ Susan tasted sick.

‘Oh, you fought then?’ Alice nodded with some cheer.

‘Huh?’

‘Oh, we take the women while they sleep—it’s painless that way,’ Alice said. ‘Our spirits are weak outside a new body and a little defiance will keep us out—but some of the women here enjoy the adventure. They know we won’t hurt them so long as we’re left to our little party. I’m guessing you said no to the hag.’

Susan tried to think and felt the room spin when she remembered the scary woman in her dream. ‘She—she wanted to come in. I said no.’

Alice nodded and turned back to the window. ‘I’ve waited all year for this. A little dance and drink and here I am, wasting time. Are we gonna save him or what?’

Susan opened her mouth again when she smelled smoke. Someone in the car park had worked out how to syphon petrol from the parked cars and was stoking the flames.

‘Burn, burn, burn,’ the witches chanted.

‘Tomorrow, they’ll be teachers again,’ Alice sounded heavy hearted. ‘Nurses, mothers and loved ones. Tonight we were supposed to let our hair down but trust a man to throw a spanner into the works.’ Alice sighed again as she opened the window, chose the larger of the two unlit lamps on the dressing table and threw it with all her might at the woman in the car park swirling a machete around her head.

 
6

‘WHO THE FUCK THREW that?’ Susan heard someone scream outside as Alice rolled up her sleeves and headed out the door. ‘I said, who the fuck threw that!’

‘Come on,’ Alice said. ‘We get the memories of the minds we take over—I know the safe combination downstairs—there’s a gun inside.’

‘My girl. I have to get my girl,’ Susan said.

‘Well, hurry. Witches aren’t known for bravery. If you aren’t downstairs in two minutes then I’m leaving him to the flames.’

Susan was downstairs in one. Brandy fighting in her arms, with her foot in a sleeve and a sock on her thumb.

‘Mom, I’m tired—’

‘Alice fucking Tanner,’ someone yelled when they came outside. In the ugly yellow light of the fire the witches had birthed, Susan could see the robed woman in the centre of the chaos had a machete in one hand and pressed the other against her bruised head.

‘There’s no need for swearing, Emma,’ Alice said. ‘This was supposed to be a peaceful party.’

‘Richard,’ Susan yelled when she saw her husband wrapped up like a carpet on the women’s shoulders.

‘Daddy.’

Some witches advanced, some laughed at the outsider who hadn’t learnt her lessons. They all stopped when Alice raised the gun.

‘These people are leaving, let them pass.’

The witch with the machete lost interest in her wound. Her pink eyes caught the light of the fire and sought new pleasures. ‘Shoot me,’ Emma Kingdon giggled. ‘It’s not my body—when dawn comes, I’ll leave it and never need it again—’

‘Until next year,’ Alice corrected. ‘We all know the deal, the descendants of the people who killed us long ago here don’t resist because they know we won’t hurt them—we lend their bodies for a few hours and that’s that—but if one ends up dead, then what do you think will happen next year, boss? Do you think we’ll find any party fans wanting to dance in the woods—how can they trust us again? They’ll leave this town and us as cold spirits taking over bugs and birds to feel warm again.’

Some witches flinched as Emma Kingdon dropped her blade. ‘You whore,’ she said.

‘I’ve told you about swearing.’

‘I thought you would change when we killed your husband,’ Emma Kingdon ground her teeth. ‘But you’re still afraid to be what we were—what we can be again.’

‘I’m just here for the party,’ Alice said. ‘Now let these people go about their business or I’ll make sure we never inhabit a body again.’

Susan heard the fire crackle, embers popped and Richard moaned behind the gag, but finally, Emma dropped her shoulders but not the hate in her pink eyes. ‘You’re such a party pooper, Alice—and you—you said no to me, didn’t you, dear?’

Susan’s head hurt worse now. She could see that dream again, hear the laughter of the witch’s curse.

‘Such strength to say no to me,’ Emma Kingdon praised her. ‘If you kill yourself and become a spirit, then you can become one of my strongest sisters—’

‘That’s enough,’ Alice said.

‘Such a spoilsport.’ Emma Kingdon poked out her tongue. ‘All right—take that garbage and go. I have a party to plan.’

‘Hurry, now,’ Alice said and somehow, Susan’s legs supported her as she ran across the car park and almost caught her husband as the witches dropped him to the hard ground like wet washing.

‘Keys,’ she said. ‘Do you have the keys?’

The women around her hissed murder for spoiling their fun, but Susan grabbed her daughter harder.

‘Richard, come on.’

‘I think I broke my shoulder—they dropped me—’

‘Come on, damn it—Alice—are you going to be okay?’

‘Oh, don’t worry, dear.’ The old woman waved and wished them well. ‘I’ve been dead a long time.’

Susan got into the car first, put her daughter in the back and pushed her husband in the passenger seat. Yes, by how much he was complaining there was a good chance the fall had bust his shoulder but before the hospital, Susan was determined to get anywhere else but here.

‘Don’t be scared, honey,’ Susan sang to her daughter. ‘Mommy and daddy are fine—we’ll be away in no time.’

But Brandy wasn’t listening to her mother. Not now as they left the car park. She was still trying to remember the wonderful dream that mommy had interrupted by running back into the room and shaking her from her bed.

The dream was nice—the woman with the machete had promised her great power if she said yes, if she let her in.

Brandy was tired of mommy and daddy fighting. Of mommy always saying her little girl was so afraid—maybe if Brandy had more power, then she could make everything okay. Maybe she could stop mommy and daddy from finally fighting.

Brandy thought of the witch in her dreams and said yes.

In the back seat, when the little girl with pink eyes lifted the machete, she suddenly felt very powerful indeed.

 



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