Authors: Bernadette Walsh
The man walked to me, barefoot and clothed in simple black yoga gear. He bent down to my level and held out his hand. I was able to move my hand to reach his, and at the touch of his skin, felt the slight spark of electricity I now recognized as the touch of a fellow witch. Warmth traveled up my arm.
“You must be Orla. I’m Simon Gardiner and I’ll be teaching this class for the next few weeks.” He dropped my hand and in a lower voice said, “And the one later today.”
I was about to speak when three older women, mid-forties, came through the door. He stood up and greeted them.
Simon was a hard taskmaster and his class was nothing like Claire’s gentle stretching. Expression blank as if the rest of the class weren’t there, he contorted his long limbs with ease. The older women were almost wheezing by the end of class but Shari, a young woman from Claire’s coven, and I kept up with Simon.
As usual, Shari and I stayed behind the others and continued our meditation. Simon disappeared into the office and Shari and I sat together in silence, our deep breaths in sync. After about twenty minutes, Shari left.
I continued my meditation and swam deep within the recesses of my mind. As she sometimes did, Roisin appeared in my mind’s eye. Wrapped in her crimson robe, Roisin held out her hand to me, her green eyes anxious. Alight with electricity, my skin burned. Her mouth moved but I couldn’t understand her words. I shook my head no. I’d meant what I said two years ago. I didn’t want the Devlin witches and their legacy of pain, of servitude, of death, to infect me.
I felt a finger brush against my cheek and the musky smell from earlier filled the room. I snapped my eyes open. Simon knelt before me, his black gaze boring into my eyes. I opened my mouth to say something, but like Roisin, was unable to speak. He moved closer to me, our noses almost touching, while he inhaled my scent. A slight smile played across his lips.
He stepped away. “You have to leave now. I have a private client coming.”
“Of–of course.” I struggled to rise. He didn’t offer to help me, but only stood in the corner, amused by my awkwardness. I felt blood rush to my cheeks.
“I will see you later?”
“Yes,” I said as I slipped on my shoes.
His black eyes were flat and gave away nothing. “Good. You have much to learn.”
* * * *
I walked home after class, the air crisp and cool. Finally. The sleepy summer beach town seemed to have awakened with the autumn weather, its storefronts adorned with black and orange banners, pumpkins, ghosts and ghouls. Witches. Apparently Sayville took Halloween quite seriously.
Once home, I saw the cleaning lady had worked her own type of magic. The oak floors gleamed, a sandwich was made and ready for my lunch, tonight’s dinner prepared and only waiting for me to pop it in the oven. While I’d initially felt displaced by her efficiency, as I bit into the chicken sandwich I felt nothing but gratitude. I was able to spend hours at the yoga studio without guilt. In fact, Declan and the boys didn’t notice any difference. For ten years back in Dublin, I’d slaved away to make our home perfect, the meals delivered on time. And now I’d been replaced by a woman who charged a few quid an hour. Had my years of homemaking been a waste? A waste of my energies and talents? A waste of my youth?
After lunch, I showered and allowed the hot water to ease my strained muscles. I changed into new yoga gear. I started to pull my hair into its customary tight ponytail but then stopped. I looked at myself in the mirror and for some reason left my hair down and allowed it it to fall into soft damp curls onto my shoulders. For some reason, I swiped pale pink gloss along my lips, brushed bronzing powder across my cheeks. For some reason.
Who was I kidding? I knew the reason.
In my twelve years of marriage, I’d never looked at another man. Of course that could be because another man had never looked at me. But now, I knew men’s eyes followed me in the coffee shop, at Declan’s work functions, hell, even at the communion line at church. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. After years of being invisible it was nice to be noticed. Besides giving my ego a much needed boost, their glances didn’t affect me.
Simon’s black eyes didn’t just notice me. They claimed me, possessed me even. And I had to admit, I liked it.
He looked at me, truly
me in a way Declan didn’t. Walking back to the studio, the energy flared from my fingertip and oddly my old spider bite scar burned. I tried to ignore it as I opened the creaky old door to the studio and as I acknowledged Claire and the other women from the coven. I ignored it as we gathered in a circle around him. Around Simon.
Today we didn’t even pretend that this was an ordinary yoga class, with downward dog and the plank pose. All pretensions were gone. We knew what we were. The very air shimmered around us, with electricity, with tension, with magic. And I was not afraid. For once, I was not afraid.
Claire beckoned to me and I sank into the lotus pose beside her. The circle was tight with the nine witches shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, clasping each others’ hands. Simon stood in the middle of our circle, hands raised. His eyes never left Claire. I tried not to think about my halo of curls, my pink lips, my wasted efforts.
But then he turned to me, his lips curled in disgust. “You’re late. I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
“I’m sorry,” he mimicked in perfect imitation of my broad Dublin brogue.
“I am sorry. What do you want me to say?”
“Do you know who you’re dealing with?” he thundered.
The other witches’ eyes were blank and they looked neither at me nor at Simon. It was as if Simon and I were alone in the room.
Visions of the Devlin witches, their crimson robes blazing as their power raised the bonfire’s flames, came to me and my scar, my old spider bite, tingled. A wind, the ancient wind from the Mountain infused with the magic of generations of slaughtered Devlins, enveloped the circle and blew the damp curls from my face. Simon’s gaze didn’t waver. I smiled. “Do you know who you’re dealing with?”
He held up his hand and the wind stopped. “I think I’m about to find out.”
Simon stepped out of the circle and Claire led us in a chant:
Mother Goddess, hear your children. Mother Goddess, hear your children. Mother Goddess, hear your children.
Over and over we chanted this phrase. I felt nothing. I continued with the chant, waiting for something to happen. Claire then changed the chant:
Mother Goddess, our circle is yours. Mother Goddess, our circle is yours. Mother Goddess, our circle is yours.
Again I felt nothing, but dutifully, as the most recent apprentice to the coven, continued the chant. I opened my eyes to check out the time. 2:40, another hour before the children returned home from school.
Simon clapped his hands twice and the chanting stopped. “This is a waste of time, Claire. Is this all you’ve got for me? Is this why I returned from Sag Harbor?”
Claire’s rosebud lips trembled. “We’re a new group. We just completed our circle. You’ve got to give us time.”
“Samhain is almost upon us. We don’t have time. Plus, our Irish colleen here has to leave soon to pick up her children, doesn’t she? And sweet Shari has an English paper due. You’re not a coven, you’re a group of bored children. You’re dilettantes.”
Claire had tears in her eyes. “Please, Simon. I know we can do it...”
“Not with your polite request from the ‘Goddess’ you won’t. You have to take your power from Her, wrestle it from Her. Make it yours. Command it.”
He stepped into the circle and Claire bowed her head, as did the other witches. I stared at Simon. His black eyes blazed and as they met mine I felt a stirring, but of what I didn’t know. Was it witchcraft? Lust, maybe?
His taut, lean muscles showed through his black Lycra. He raised his hands over his head and called out a phrase in Latin. Claire repeated it and the others soon followed. I tried to translate it but my primary school Latin was rusty.
, I think.
Simon clapped his hands and the chanting stopped. He turned to me. “Don’t translate, just repeat.”
“What’s the point of chanting something I don’t understand?”
“You are an apprentice witch. It is not your place to question me.”
“I’m not a robot,” I snapped. “I’m not about to sit here like a fool and repeat whatever you say. What’s the point of that?”
He stared at me, his pale skin flushed with temper. Waves of his anger washed over me and my stomach clenched from the tension. Claire squeezed my hand and said under her breath, “Say it, Orla.”
I said nothing, but nodded slightly for him to continue. What an ass. What an arrogant ass. But Claire had been good to me these past few weeks–she’d saved me, really–and she seemed desperate for me to stay, so for once in my life, I shut my mouth.
He clapped again and Claire and the others continued the chant. The chanting droned on, passionless and pointless, as far as I could tell. Nothing rose. Nothing happened. Simon stamped his feet and shouted out in Latin “Rise! Rise!”
I stared into angry black eyes. They drew me to him and as I fell into them, I could see they were not only black, but also contained shades of green. The green flecks grew brighter and bled into the black, overtaking it until Simon’s eyes were emerald. As emerald as my mother’s, as bright as Roisin’s. Our eyes locked and my lips began to form the ancient words. Not Simon’s Latin, not the Irish I learned in school. Some older, harsher language spilled from my lips, spewed from the dark recesses of my cursed Devlin soul.
Rise, my lord. Rise.
Simon’s feet left the floor. He rose, as slow and as silent as a whorl of smoke from a sacristy’s candle. The other witches’ words fell away and all I could hear was the roar of water. The roar of the Feale as it carried my mother’s body away.
Mna dorcha. Hear me, dark women. Ardu. Rise.
Simon’s head was near the ceiling, and still his jade eyes called to me. My scar burned as he rose. Over the roar of the water I could hear it. That voice. The strange accent-less voice that haunted my childhood dreams.
Look at it, fat and ugly. No. This is not a suitable Devlin woman. Let’s kill it and start anew.
I blinked and jumped up. Simon fell to the floor.
Simon lay crumpled on the floor, his now black eyes furious.
For some reason, I wanted to tease him, abuse him, hurt him. Show him he held no power over me, no matter how junior my status. I was not my meek, subservient mother. I was the strongest, most powerful Devlin witch in generations. Finally, I believed that. I
I laughed at him. “Sorry, love, it’s past three. Time to pick up the kiddies, don’t you know.” I gave him a jaunty wave, ignored Claire’s stricken expression and left.
I didn’t return to the studio the next day or the day after that, which brought me to the weekend, when my time was spoken for: football games, a birthday party, dinner with Declan’s new boss. I was busy, busy, busy, with no time to think about Simon, Claire or the coven.
When Monday morning rolled around and the house was quiet and the clock struck ten, my body ached with unreleased tension. My magic hadn’t been bottled up for so many days in a row since I’d met Claire. I resisted the urge to throw on my yoga gear and jog down to the studio. Instead, I sat on my massive sectional and focused on a flickering candle. My pulse, which had raced since yesterday’s football game, slowed, the buzzing in my head dissolved into a faint whisper. The candle drew me in. I found myself clothed in a sheer white sheath. The Mountain wind blew my waist-length hair from my face. Barefoot, I stumbled along a rocky path. It was almost nightfall and all I could see was the soft orange glow of a distant fire.
I approached the fire, grateful for its warmth. I looked down and could see my sheath was translucent in the firelight. I reached out my hand to the fire. A hand, a black hand, reached from the flames and grabbed my wrist, pulling me into the fire. The front of my sheath caught an errant ember. I screamed.
A silver sword slashed the mud-colored hand and its fingers lost their grip on my wrist, falling and dissolving into the flames. The tip of the sword ripped the burning sheath from me. I stood before a tall dark-haired man. Naked. Vulnerable.
He dropped the sword and with his left hand pulled me to him. His lips, His burning lips, covered mine. His tongue explored mine for a moment and then He pulled away. He turned to the fire and spat out, extinguishing the flames.
His green eyes, flat like glass, betrayed no emotion. I shivered without the warmth of the fire. He reached out and pinched my taut nipple, twisted it, hard. Tears sprang in my eyes.
“You are much improved, but still not to my taste. No, you won’t do.”
I found my voice. “That is fine with me. I serve no one.” My arm tingled with electricity. I raised my hand above my head and willed all my power to explode forth, to attack Him.
The wind moved and His black curls stirred. That was all.
He laughed. “O, mighty Devlin witch! I tremble before your awesome power.” He grabbed my arm, above my old scar, and squeezed. I lost all sensation in my hand. “Did your mother not warn you about me? Careful, my fair one, or else you’ll discover a fate far worse than your mother’s.”