The Witches’ Bane
by Edward Ahern
Gordon Lormor is a defrocked priest and con man. And something more. He walks a precarious path between light and dark magic. When a former lover calls him, pleading that he help free her from a coven, Gordon leaves his business behind and travels to upstate Vermont.
Death arrives before he does, and Gordon is thrown into a worsening spiral of assaults and murders and the threat of an infant sacrifice. He is joined by his assistant, AJ, and helped by a Catholic cardinal in chipping away at the wall around the witches’ conspiracy. He soon realizes he is teetering ever closer to his own spiritual and physical death.
Chapter 21: Not Playing Nice
Gordon’s cell phone rang.
“Gordon, it’s Brenda, from the bookstore?” Her voice strained unpleasantly.
“Gordon, there’s something we need to talk about.” The background reverberations meant she was on speaker phone.
“What is it, Brenda? You sound anxious.”
“Could you come see me right away, please?”
“At the bookstore?”
“No, that’s too... public. Could you come to my house? It’s in Barre. As soon as you can.”
Her voice was awkwardly flat. Gordon visualized Sylvie or Helen holding onto Brenda while she talked. “Of course.” He got the address, hung up, and turned to AJ, who was sparking like a cheap fuse from what she’d heard of the conversation. He cut her off before she blew.
“No, you can’t come on the visit, AJ, but yes, you get to give me a ride to Barre.”
“They’ll jump you as soon as you walk in, and you can barely walk. Call Tassie, get some cops to keep you company. If not Tassie, I can come with.”
“Appreciate the sentiment, AJ, but think. They need to know what I know and who I told about it. The chances are good that Brenda isn’t even there. They just want to make sure that I come without Tassie’s troopers. No, they’re going to tape me up so I can’t invocate, and they’ll drag my sore ass off, hopefully to meet the Grande Dame herself.”
They rehearsed without admitting to each other that none of their options had good odds. AJ pulled over a few miles before reaching Brenda’s house, and Gordon helped her with preparations.
She dropped Gordon two long blocks away from the house. Gordon limped along slowly using the cane AJ had brought, oblivious to his surroundings while he focused inward. Ragged, impish voices nibbled at his thoughts, trying to distract him from the safe path, a slippery, winding ebony ribbon in a world of darkness.
He expelled the voices, gathering more tightly into himself — of his body but no longer really with it. Physical pain would be irrelevant, a dry footnote to the clashing spells. Brenda’s survival was important but not vital. Avenging Judy was inane. He was the hammer of witches, a tool to eliminate evil. Gordon was ready as he reached the front door. He removed the rubber tip from his cane and rang the bell.
Brenda opened the door halfway, her eyes shimmering not with panic, but hatred. “Come in, Gordon,” she gusted, “come right in.”
He stepped through the doorway, tensed forward for the expected confrontation, but was slammed on the back of his head. He roused when someone tore out a patch of his hair.
He was bound hand and foot, gagged and blindfolded with duct tape. He lay on what felt like carpeting. Brenda was cursing at him. He absently noted that his scalp was bleeding, and then that someone had cut into his right little finger, allowing blood to drain into a cup.
Sylvie and Helen were discussing the coming procedures in calm tones. He heard no baby crying, no voice of a third witch. So, he thought, the old broad isn’t at the party. And probably won’t be. Gordon decided that he lay on his own future killing ground, where he’d be interrogated, murdered, and disposed of.
Breath whistled into his unbloodied ear canal. “Nice touch, huh, wizard?” It was Sylvie, who couldn’t resist the chance to gloat. “Brenda’s bewitched. She thinks you raped her, and we’re taking revenge on her behalf. Maybe we let her stick in the knife.”
Gordon felt a distant sense of relief. Unless the ruse was unnecessarily elaborate, Brenda’s spell would wear off. But she was also a noncombatant who’d be killed before that happened.
The duct tape was torn off the right side of his mouth.
“All right, mighty sorcerer, here’s what’s going to happen.” It was Helen this time. “I ask questions, you answer. If you try anything, I retape you and then remove a body part. I’m particularly fond of genitals. If you lie to me, same process. There’s lots of parts to play with. Who have you told about us?”
Gordon’s half-mouthed answer sounded like a drunk’s. “Tassie and Harrowgate.”
“My assistant, AJ.”
“Waiting in Barre for me to call her.”
“She’s my ride. Your friends shot me, and I can’t drive.”
Helen and Sylvie briefly conferred, then Helen resumed the questioning. “Tell me in great detail what you know about us.”
“You’re members of a coven that’s operated here for at least two decades. You grab an infant a year for sacrifice, I don’t know why. Counting Judy, there were four of you that I know about, plus a coven mistress that I don’t know. “
“What did Judy tell you?”
“Your names, and her need to get away from you.”
Gordon assumed that Sylvie was using his hair and blood to prepare a spell or curse, maybe both. The easy part was just about over. The ragged impish voices clamored again inside his head, but he squelched them. He began his own ritual, flexing muscles in his throat and arms. But he needed a little bit of time.
“Helen, can I tell you something?”
“The child can’t be sacrificed before tomorrow. I’ve been to its house and retrieved some hair. The spell I’ve already cast will kill it tonight. What’ll that do for your beloved coven mistress, who I notice isn’t even here?”
Helen kicked him in the ribs. “That’s a mortal sin, priest. You must be really desperate to bring up a bullshit story like that.”
Gordon sighed. “Listen, you musclebound cunt. I’ve already killed four of you. You think some pukey little kid is going to slow me down?”
Helen wordlessly kicked him again, twice, but then walked away to talk with Sylvie. It was time enough. Gordon sub-audibly vocalized. He couldn’t see to aim at the witches, but his unleashed staff needed only living presences.
The knob-headed cane rattled up from the corner where it had been tossed and turned its point to the interior of the room. Gordon felt not fear but concern. His incantation had included protections for Brenda and himself, but the staff was a berserker, and Gordon was now only its passenger. He sensed the cane’s flight into the kitchen, then the shattering impacts of the knob on two skulls. As the witches were dying, his staff continued to bludgeon them, breaking more bones and irreparably damaging organs. Then, as they approached death, the cane jammed its point through their bellies and into their hearts.
The women’s familiars, both cats, hissed futilely at the staff, but had no recourse. His staff, in turn, ignored them, for they were not really of the living. Gordon felt it swing its point back toward the living room where Brenda was cowering and he lay bound. He’d already begun the spell of dissipation and accelerated his clinching incantation.
As the cane clattered to the floor, AJ broke in through the kitchen door, shooting each woman twice. The dead flesh hissed from the sanctified hollow points. Then she jumped over and pulled the tape from Gordon’s mouth and eyes.
“Kind of a literal overkill there, AJ. Cut me loose and use the rope to tie up Brenda.”
“She’s been glamoured into thinking I raped her, and she was quite willing to watch me get killed. There’s more iron in her than I thought.”
AJ talked as she worked. “There’s enough blood in the kitchen for a wading pool. How’re we going to clean this up?”
“We don’t... they rot where they lie. Now that these two are dead, the spell will wear off Brenda in a couple of hours. She won’t remember anything, but we can’t have her lolling about this house when she comes to. We’ll drop her at a church or a library.”
“Okay, but you’ve also got a couple of bleeding bits.” AJ began wiping up Gordon’s blood from the wood floor, then rewiped the spots with bleach from the kitchen. “Tassie’s going to make you for this.”
“Can’t be helped. I’m dropping you off as well, AJ.”
“The hell you are.”
“You or Brenda would just be hostages for the old crone to use against me. Stay with her and keep her safe until this is over.”
AJ glanced at the knob-headed cane on the floor, its hickory brown darker halfway up its stem. “I’m not touching that thing.”
Gordon scooped up the cane as they walked out, Brenda being led docilely. The staff thrummed in his hand, and Gordon sensed happiness but not satiation.
As she drove away, AJ resumed her questions. “So you’re going out into that marsh to confront her?”
“Will if I have to, but not sure I need to.”
“That’s cute. What the hell do you mean?”
“There’s nothing like a near-death experience to sharpen one’s thinking.” Gordon reached over and patted AJ’s right hand on the steering wheel. “If I tell you my intentions, you’ll do your damndest to tail me. Can’t have that. Do need your gun.”
They drove to the fringes of Barre and found a motel down-market enough to accept cash and not ask embarrassing questions. Once Brenda had preceded them into the room, Gordon turned to AJ. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d like to give you a hug.”
They hugged as two men would, strongly clinching shoulders to shoulders but avoiding facial contact.
“Live well, AJ.”
“Easier for you to say.”
They parted without backward looks, and Gordon drove off in AJ’s car. Forty minutes later, he hid the car behind a closed gas station and limped the last tenth of a mile. He set up in a burnt-out building and waited.
A sliver of the moon showed itself. Gordon checked the temperature on his watch... ten below. The cold began its relentless inward march, but Gordon ignored it. And, as he’d suspected, the crone emerged from her lair. She hadn’t heard from her coven sisters and needed to confirm what had happened. She drove off in the direction of Barre, and Gordon limped over to the building and jimmied open a side door.
A dog lunged at him as he stepped into the warmth. Gordon fed it his left forearm and began beating it to death with his tire iron. With each awkward swing and crunch, the dog teeth tore further into his forearm muscles. He pried the dog’s teeth apart with the pointed end of the tire iron and poured holy water down its throat, watching the beast convulse. His arm was bleeding freely, and he cinched it up with a hand towel. Being one-handed slowed him down, and it took an hour and a half to make preparations.
Gordon had been sitting in the folding chair for about ten minutes when headlights proceeded sedately into the parking spot they’d vacated three hours previous. The front door unlocked and Horace Wittson walked in.
Copyright © 2018 by Edward Ahern