Robbie slips away from the bushes at first light, his hands are contorted and shaped into demon’s wings, he cuffs his blade tightly to his chest. In front of their door lovingly displayed is a mat that says, “Love is all you need.” He wipes the muddy gunk from the soles of his shoes on it, twists the edge of the blade into the keyhole, slides another in between the door jamb and the knob, and shifts the door silently. It opens. He listens for every breath in their home–Jaimie’s, her mom’s, her older brother’s, and her dad’s. He sniffs at the air, pulls in scents from days past, and bites down on his bottom lip.
Towards the stairs, he creeps. His not-quite-right wings are tucked in slightly behind his back as he maneuvers up each step, careful of creaking floorboards. Slowly he makes his way down the hall. Jaimie’s door is a dead giveaway–white door with pinks flowers and unicorn stickers don it from every angle. He pushes his way through the door and gently closes it behind him. His fangs protrude, salty saliva drips from the edges. Jaimie, sleeping peacefully with her teddy bear cupped tightly in her little hands, does not hear a thing.
Quickly, before anyone can wake up to Robbie’s presence, he leans closer to the sleeping girl, breathes into her ear, licks the tip of its top, and bites down hard, ripping her flesh in one, swift tug. To quiet Jaimie’s screams, his talon-like palm thrashes against her mouth. In one gulp, her head is devoured.
Lemuel’s eyes are fixed on the broken sky. His big sister Cassie is planning to sneak out again tonight. This will be the fifth night in a row. Lemuel is not a snitch, but he’s been itching to get Cassie into trouble since she ratted him out for eating the last thin crust pizza, their Mom’s favorite. This behavior is not what he expects from Cassie, she’s never jumped ship on a “babysitting” gig before. Although Lemuel was thirteen and could practically fend for himself, he was blind. Their parents depended on Cassie to make sure Lemuel’s well-being was positively maintained.
“I’ll be back. I put some leftover barbecue chicken in the oven for you. The timer is set for thirty minutes. I’ve heated up the mashed potatoes and the spinach only needs two minutes in the microwave. Don’t forget to take the aluminum cover off this time, Lemuel. For God’s sake, just don’t.”
Lemuel nodded in his sister’s direction and did not utter a word. The timer dinged, signifying the sweet morsels of honey-glazed barbecue chicken and Lemuel skirted his way into the kitchen. In the dark, dank, confines of the tiny space, he could hear soft whispers,
“Tattletales go to Hell.”
Lemuel ignored the whispers, surely he needed rest. He devoured his dinner, remembering to remove the aluminum cover on the spinach. Before he could swallow the last bite, he heard the chant once more. This time, it filled the walls and filled the cracks in the floor. Lemuel’s parents came barging in the door, one after the other. Lemuel couldn’t wait to let them know about Cassie leaving every night this week when she was supposed to be overseeing his care.
The voices grew louder and louder. Lemuel’s parents gazed at the boy, finally believing his days were numbered. “Cassie isn’t here. I don’t know where she is. And, she’s been leaving every night this week.” He felt a sense of pride revealing his sister’s secret.
“Tattletales go to Hell.”
Lemuel pointed to nowhere in particular as the voices grew louder and louder. He smiled in his parents’ direction and bit down lightly on his tongue before opening his mouth.
“Cassie, she’s been…”
Thunder roared, the floor in their kitchen shook, and hands erupted from beneath Lemuel and his legs were the first to disappear. The souls pulled Lemuel under while his parents watched him sink in a fiery heap.
At that very moment, Cassie walked in. The only thing she could think to say was,
She presses the steamy pot into a hole in the ground outside her log cabin. There are canned tongues, eyeballs, and lips curing inside. Opal has been waiting for this day to come.
The Day of the Big Feast.
Her goal is to devour ten children in less than three days.
She fasted all Winter, storing up more than enough fat in Autumn to be able to excel accordingly for this challenge. Hazel, her nemesis, is the only witch in Gutter Way who has eaten nine children in two days. Opal knows that in order to be Top Witch, she must beat Hazel. In the pot is a blend of lizard toenails, butterfly wings, owl eyes, vinegar, seaweed, bear jawbones, water, and wasabi. Not only will she beat Hazel this year, she will beat her for years to come.
Or so, she thinks…
Opal summons the forces of the ancestors before her, casting a spell that only she could reverse. Her intent? Poison Hazel and gather all of her spells while garnering a vast reward from the Witching Panel. The stew stews, sending a luring cloud of steam into the direction of Hazel’s cabin. Before it finally reaches her door she opens it and counters Opal’s attempt with a secret MASTER reverse spell.
“Gutter Way, beware. Witches drenched in jealousy will fall to their own spells.”
Hazel blows the cloud back to Opal’s cabin, spits another spell behind its steam, and closes her door. On her table lay a plump, little boy with his mouth stuffed with an apple and his belly glazed in pig fat. He is Hazel’s fourth meal of the day. Opal stirs her pot some more and tosses a set of twin toddlers into the stew. The ancestors toil and bubble. In the girls are the souls of Hazel’s Aunts–popular witches of Gutter Way from two hundred years ago. They awaken as soon as the bodies touch the heat.
“Your life is on the line. Our blood will carry on. Of this, you can be certain.”
Opal stirs the stew, sips it heartily, then begins to lose her balance. Her eyes bleed, her tongue splits down its middle, and her hair catches fire. In less than two minutes, ashes lay near the stewing pot. In the quietness of the fields of Gutter Way, Hazel can be heard agreeing with the Ancient Aunts,
“Our blood will carry on. Of this, you can be certain.”
Dilan raced on all fours, leaping toward the Summit’s House, trying to out dodge the dawn. His hair, swaying in the evening breeze, a cloud of smoke trailing him. Moments ago, he snatched Mr. Noble’s throat in only three seconds — veiny mounds of flesh staining his beard, his teeth pulling in a pool of blood. Mr. Noble died whispering the combination to the company safe, but Dilan was already miles away.
The day started out like any other. Dilan was working the third shift at Noble’s Warehouse. He decided that today would be the day he’d ask Mr. Noble for a raise. Thirteen years as a lowly Entry Level Clerk weighed on Dilan. He had dreams, ambitions. He wanted to travel to amazing places and spend unnecessary amounts of cash that he did not have. He wanted to do what Mr. Noble did, be privileged. He tortured himself day and night. He had the courage, but whenever he thought to ask Mr. Noble, the crushing blows from his past crept into his bloodstream. He knew it would be best to wait.
And before Dilan knew it, thirteen years to the day had arrived. He shrugged his shoulders, tucked in his previous lives, and mumbled a few words of motivation before approaching Mr. Noble.
“This is your day. You can do this. Noble owes you. Noble owes you. It’s yours. If he doesn’t give it to you. Take it.”
The sound of his past lives’ grumbling marked his ears and pushed fear into his soul.
“It’s yours… Take it.”
Dilan approached Mr. Noble. He fumbled with his words at first, but soon, he found stability and spewed out a number of truths about his work ethic and spotlighted his strengths too. Mr. Noble sat in his tiny chair, in his tiny office, twiddling his tiny thumbs, and spoke in a tiny voice, acknowledging Dilan’s presence, but ignoring his words. He is a shrewd creation of a man who smells like buttered cabbage stew and cured ham. His words spilled out of him, flowing without measure as Dilan patiently waited for his response.
“Now, Dilan. Ain’t no way in the Devil’s Hell you can have a raise. I can barely keep the lights on in this joint. Look around. Open those beady eyes of yours. Do you see any glimpse of glamour hanging on these walls? Hell, I can’t even upgrade the fax machine. So, that’s what I got on your raise, buddy. Nothing. Not a dime.”
Dilan began to fade. His arms bloated at his sides. His eyes inflated, poking out of their sockets. His teeth began to protrude, each enamel-laced protrusion now layered with saliva. He tried to subdue the past lives, keep them at bay, but each one gathered up, measuring thirteen years of waiting for happiness. The weight of this was heavy. Dilan’s legs grew three sizes bigger and he began to sprout up like a tree. Mr. Noble sat in amazement, unable to speak. A beast growing before him would soon have its feast.
A moment passed and before Mr. Noble could speak, Dilan exploded toward him, bit down on his neck, and pulled his throat from its rightful place. The past lives warned Dilan. They charged him to run — get away. Far away. Mr. Noble laid quiet at his tiny desk. His tiny thumbs rolling over paperwork. The tiny room shrinking in on him.
Mr. Noble died whispering the combination to the company safe, but Dilan was already miles away.
The past lives urged Dilan to continue, to get to the Summit’s House where a commoner’s throat would make a person two million dollars richer. Louder, the voices became. Louder and Louder. Dilan ran, his mouth slowly shifting to human form, his legs losing their tenacity, his arms, squaring off into their previous formation. Inside his demented head, the only words that remained were:
Markos is a 5th Generation Charmer.His father, Gregos, taught him how to win the hearts of women before he could walk.His purpose in life is etched in stone — a fate that he will soon find out is the calling he never would have accepted if the choice was his. Deep in the bowels of their illustrious castle, Markos rejects his fate. Gregos makes him regret the decision.
The cellar is cold and dank. The candles are lit in their holders, shining a treacherous light in the belly of the Torgulos Castle. Gregos stands with a shimmering sword, his hands trembling from the night air. He is armed for battle but there is no war. Markos approaches his father — stumbles into his path, cautious, but ready to denounce the throne. His heart is somewhere else. He begins his plea.
“Father, I am not built for the ways of your world. I want to live a life of my own. For my twentieth birthday, I seek your blessing in granting me this wish.”
Gregos sways on his bony legs, sucks in the crisp air of the cellar, and mumbles loud enough for Markos’ ears only.
“Markos, you are a Charmer. For decades the men in our family have taken the hearts of women for our feast. It is your calling. You will answer it.”
One did not argue with Gregos Torgulos, but Markos was brave.
He knew that his love for a special woman’s heart depended on his loyalty. He would not kill his love and feast on her heart, even if she was willing. He decides that his father’s beliefs can never be his own.
“Father, there is a woman. I have charmed her. She is ready to give me everything. All I need to do is ask. I want her heart, but not to kill her. I want… I want to marry her. I want us to leave this village and build our own happiness away from the gloom of Torgul. I will only ask once more. Your blessing, will you grant it?”
A powerful clap of thunder spreads across the night sky. The sound clangs deep in the walls of the castle. A lightning bolt scatters away from the heavens and lands on the castle’s roof. A wind rushes in briefly and puts out each candle in the cellar. Gregos forms his words, he grips the sword tighter, and repeats his command.
“You will only ask once more?! My child, who do you think you are? You are my son, but I will just as soon feed you to the lions as I would a peasant touching my armor. You will obey our heritage. You will take your woman’s heart and devour it. There is nothing else to discuss.”
In the dark crevices of the cellar, Markos sweeps in under his father, commandeers his sword, and unlatches the breastplate. In a fit of terror, he signals Ana. She appears out of the shadows, unhinges her jaw, smacks her lips, and digs Gregos’ heart out effortlessly with her venomous teeth.
“That’s it, Ana. Consume it. All of it. He will not stop us. He cannot stop us.”
Markos gazes upon his dying father, his eyes rolling into the back of his head and legs shaking vigorously.
He’s dead — not dead.
Markos leans in, puffs up his chest, and whispers to his father, “I hate that you made me do this. All I wanted was your blessing.”
Gregos bites his lower lip, clenches his teeth, and says, “You are my undoing. The ancestors will avenge my death. The blood of old souls lives in me.”
Originally published on January 24, 2018, via Medium.