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Authors: Bernadette Walsh

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BOOK: Devil's Shore
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“There, that’s better. Don’t try so hard, Orla. Let it come to you.”

Within twenty minutes, seven other women joined our sanctuary. Without a word the women, ranging in age from twenty to sixty, removed their sandals and assumed the lotus pose on identical rubber mats.

My mind calmed to a slightly less insistent buzzing. Claire led us through a series of yoga poses. Although I’d never done yoga before, I followed along, my muscles responding on their own to Claire’s soft authoritative voice. The movements further eased the buzzing in my brain and for the first time in two years, my head was quiet, calm, as if once again I were its only inhabitant.

Claire turned off the music, and the room was silent as a tomb. We sat like that for at least twenty minutes. Claire then placed a candle in front of each of us.

“Look at the candle,” Claire instructed. “Become one with the flame.”

I looked into the candle, unsure what to think or feel, stared into the flame, willing my mind to be a blank. To find my inner peace.

“Don’t turn away, ladies. Focus.”

The flame entranced me, seduced me like a lover. The old scar on my arm burned as I continued to stare, bewitched by its beauty. It flew up higher and I felt myself pulled into it. The flame became a bonfire, fed by the ancient wood of the Mountain, and I was back in the forest, on Devlin’s Mountain. A dark-haired woman encased in a red robe grabbed my right hand while another dark-haired woman, familiar and yet not familiar, took my left. Hand in hand, close to a dozen raven-haired beauties circled the flame, their voices harsh and guttural as they chanted in Irish.

The women raised their hands, and mine along with them, as they circled the fire. At first slow, then faster and faster, they flew around the fire as they continued their chant. Soon my mouth also formed the ancient words, but my eyes never left the flames. The Devlin women raised their voices in anguish, in exultation, as the inferno leapt up into the sky, their power, my power, blending, coursing through the line of women.

“Oh my God!”

The cries of the women brought me back to the yoga studio. The small room was now thick with smoke as the flame of each woman’s candle licked the ceiling.

Instinct overtook me and I blew out the flame in front of me, as easily as a birthday candle. With one small breath, I had extinguished each candle in the room.

The women stared at me, their faces inscrutable. I looked at Claire.

She smiled her Madonna smile. “Ladies, I believe we’ve found our ninth witch. Our circle is complete.”

 

 

Chapter 4

 

“Like hell you have.” I sprinted to the door, leaving my trainers behind.

“Orla, wait!” Claire cried. “There’s no reason to be afraid. Let me explain.”

I didn’t wait to hear her explanations. I’d spent enough time with the Devlin witches, both living and dead, to last me a lifetime. The last thing I needed was the Long Island variety.

My bare feet fairly flew over the hot pavement. One of the street lights shattered as I ran by, startling my neighbor’s landscapers.

Jesus, all I wanted was to live my life in peace, to raise my children, take care of my husband. A simple, ordinary life. Was that too much to ask?

When I got home, I stood beneath a punishing stream of hot water, willing the shower to burn away all the witchcraft within me. To cleanse me, make me normal. The way I used to be. But the buzzing in my head that had plagued me for two years hadn’t abated. If anything, it was stronger than before.

I wrapped myself in a soft cotton robe, padded downstairs in my slippers to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea. I must be my mother’s daughter: when in doubt, make tea.

I sipped the tea, made with my last remaining Irish tea bag, and allowed the hot liquid to sooth my jangled nerves. I lit a cigarette. As I sat in my silent kitchen I willed the images of my dead Devlin predecessors to fade from my overwrought brain.

The doorbell rang. I found Claire on my doorstep, my sweaty trainers in hand. She smiled. “You forgot these.”

“How did you know where I lived?”

Her smile didn’t waver. “Your power is strong. We felt a disturbance when you first moved in. We decided to give you a few weeks to settle in before we approached you.”

“So you were stalking me?”

“Stalking? You make it sound so sinister. We only wanted to meet you. To offer you the fellowship of your sister witches.”

“I’m not a witch.”

“No?”

“No.”

Claire stepped forward and touched my arm. A spark emanated from her slender fingers. “How do you explain that? Raw power courses through you. It calls to the power within me. Within all the Sayville witches.”

“Nonsense. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She answered me with that smile that blistered like the unending Indian summer sun. “Orla, you’re a witch. A powerful witch.”

I felt a power surge through me, ripping out of my throat as I roared, “I. Am. Not.”

The porch shook and knocked me sideways. A pane of glass in the front door burst and sprayed shards onto Claire’s arm. A thick piece of glass was wedged in her bicep. She didn’t cry out. Blood coursed down her arm, but her unending smile broadened. “Can you help me clean up?”

“You’re not coming into my house.”

Blood dripped onto the porch. “Please, after what just happened, you can’t possibly be afraid of me.”

My next-door-neighbor’s front door squeaked open. I pulled at Claire’s uninjured arm. “Come in, then. Before the neighbors see.”

I led Claire to the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood along the bleached oak floor in our wake. Dry-eyed, Claire muttered as I plucked the shards of glass out of her arm. No Band-Aids were necessary–the wounds closed up as soon as the glass was removed.

I lacked the capacity to be shocked at that point. In a toneless voice I said, “Neat trick.”

Claire picked glass out of her long hair. “It was no trick. It was the power of the Goddess. I could show you how to access it, if you’d let me.”

“No, thanks. You seem to be better. Now, if you don’t mind...”

Claire rubbed her forehead. “I’m still a bit dizzy. Could I have some water, or perhaps some coffee or tea?”

“Fine. One cup. And then you’re out of here, no more messing.”

Claire said not a word as I moved around the kitchen, but her thoughts, the stream of her unspoken will, assaulted me all the same. The buzzing, the infernal buzzing roared in my ears. I landed the mug of tea in front of her with a thud.

Her face serene, she sipped her tea. “Orla, have you ever wondered what brought you here to Sayville?”

I let my own tea grow cold as I loaded the dishwasher. “My husband’s job. No mystery there.”

“There are hundreds of towns on Long Island. Why Sayville?”

I banged the dishwasher shut. “I’ve no idea. Questronics’ relocation service suggested it.” I turned to face her. “What’s your point?”

“My point is, Sayville has a long history of magic, of witches. Have you ever heard of Salem, Massachusetts?”

“I think I saw a movie about it once. They burnt witches there, didn’t they?”

“Yes. They burned witches. What the history books don’t tell you is there were two factions of witches. The ones that lost and the ones that won. The winners stole the powers of the burned witches and escaped Salem. They established a new Salem here on Long Island.”

“In Sayville?”

“Yes, in Sayville. Through centuries of witchcraft, the very soil is magical. Especially here. You do know this house is the site of Nathan Gardiner’s original homestead?”

“So?”

“Nathan Gardiner was the head inquisitor in Salem. He was a powerful witch.”

“What has this to do with me?”

“I don’t believe in chance, Orla, but in destiny. I believe it was your destiny to come to Sayville, to join our coven.”

“Destiny, my arse. Are you done with your tea? If so, I think you’d better be on your way.”

She touched my arm again. “Your mother, Mary. She wants me to help you.”

I snatched my arm from her grasp. “You bitch. You leave my mother out of this!” The buzzing in my head became a roar. I closed my eyes but could not stem the tide of emotion that coursed through me. The pressure behind my left eye built until it popped. I opened my eyes to find the tea cups, the saucers and my mother’s tea pot flying off the kitchen table. They crashed against the opposite wall. Black tea stained the newly painted white wall, and the teapot, the old blue chipped teapot that had belonged to my mother and her mother before her, the only thing of my mother’s I brought with me to America, lay in pieces.

Tears burned my eyes as I knelt beside the ruined crockery. I cradled the shards of the blue teapot in my arms like a baby and rocked back and forth, the buzzing now reduced to a low murmur.

Claire took the shards from my hand. Her lips mouthed a silent spell. The air shimmered. Claire presented me with my mother’s teapot: whole, unbroken, perfect.

“See, Orla, magic doesn’t only destroy. It can heal as well.”

I said nothing.

She rubbed my shoulder, the electric current between us now soothing, comforting. “Your magic is too powerful. If you don’t learn control, it will consume you. Please, let me help you.”

“Can you stop this? Can you really make this go away? Make me the way I was?”

“No, you’ll never be the way you were. You’ll be better, stronger. Powerful. I will help you fulfill your destiny.” She caressed my cheek with her cool hands. “We will do wonderful things together, you and I.” She gently kissed my forehead. “Wonderful things.”

As I looked into Claire’s cool blue eyes, I was swamped with emotion. I realized, as she held my hand, that for the past two years I’d been lonely, imprisoned behind a wall of magic and pain that separated me from my husband, my children, my friends. Alone with a power I could not control. That left unchecked, would eventually consume me.

But Claire...Claire offered me hope, comfort, friendship. I was tired, so tired of fighting this thing alone. I looked into her shining eyes. Unable to speak, I nodded. She squeezed my hand.

And so it began.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

Claire and I started slowly. She told me before I could control my powers, I needed to connect my body with my spirit and the best way to do that was through yoga. For the first two weeks I attended two daily yoga classes at her studio, one in the morning surrounded by the manicured moms who had so terrified me at the children’s school, and the other in the late afternoon, with Claire’s coven.

My muscles, tight from two years of excessive running and overwrought nerves, soon loosened, the constant buzzing in my head muffled to a soft whir. The beauty, the Devlin beauty that peeked out after my mother’s death, was now in full bloom. Plump lips, thick curling hair, high defined cheekbones. The years fell from me and I looked no more than twenty-five. I was young, strong, calm.

I was reborn.

Declan barely noticed my physical transformation, although he was grateful I’d stopped breaking the crockery. In the mornings before he left for work, as he had done for years, Declan would ruffle my hair and brush his thin dry lips against my cheek. Whether I was heavy and covered with spots or a ripe, luscious babe, he never noticed. Declan always said he loved me for what was inside. That was a comfort when my outside was so awful. But now, with this beautiful new body, his indifference stung.

Once again, as I cleared the breakfast dishes and rushed the lads to school, I told myself we’d been together since university. Almost fifteen years. He’d noticed me, loved me, married me, when no one else would have. It was natural for long-time couples to stop seeing each other. Normal. Plus, given the move and his new job and the children always underfoot, what did I expect? That he would take me on the kitchen table? Be grateful, I chided myself. Be grateful for a husband who loves you.

But as I waved the boys off, I didn’t feel grateful.

I drove from the school to my morning yoga class. The studio was dark, but Claire had given me a key and I let myself in. I needed a half hour to calm my mind, to “center,” as Claire said, before I could face the chattering caffeinated moms.

I concentrated on my breathing and slowed my thoughts. Cleared my mind as Claire instructed.

My eyes closed, I heard Claire’s key in the lock, the low creak as the door opened. I kept my eyes closed and concentrated only on my breathing. But my nose twitched and a smell overwhelmed me as heavy footsteps entered the studio. Musk, with an undertone of burnt wood. Nausea overcame me, my parched throat screamed for water. I couldn’t move or speak. I opened my eyes.

A man, early forties, stood in Claire’s usual spot in the front of the studio. His dark curly hair, sprinkled with silver, glistened in the studio’s low light. His eyes, his black eyes, shot through me, consumed me. The smell grew stronger. The man said nothing, his mouth a hard line, as I sat paralyzed.

He smiled and the smell vanished.

BOOK: Devil's Shore
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ads

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