Written by Erin Nust
Art by Cottonbro
A man was standing in the middle of the clearing, the small hills of the estranged forest were adorned with giant, emaciated trees that worshipped the Moon goddess with their uplifted branches. An amphitheatre of dark branches lay in front of the sturdy man. A triangular hat sat on the top of his sheet-white head, a robe made of ebony embraced lightly his body. He bore a sober expression, effortlessly calm as if he had seen the end of the world, as if he knew everything. In the imaginary stage where soon, he would perform his act, he opened up his dust-touched tome and looked up to his audience: the hollow-eyed maids waiting to find their destiny.
“Leigh,” the man’s voice sang as if it came from the depths of Earth itself. Silence devoured every sound. Only the constant, rhythmic breathing of the young women could be heard, who interconnected in an invisible web of existence, stood still, limbs hanging from their sides, their eyes empty of any emotion, any evidence of life. The man waited patiently, his hands holding his holy book tightly, his eyes wet and sparkling wandering among the scarecrow-like maids.
A piercing shrieking voice, distant at first, arrived in the clearing with unimagined velocity, stuffing the human ears with its horrible sound. The man didn’t flinch; he had been in this place before, he had heard the screams before.
On the top right, opposite to the man, as light rustling in the woods accompanied the shriek and the blonde maid with the nocturnal sea blue eyes, who stood there equal among the others, was dragged into the woods, never to be seen again. A devilish laugh was the last thing heard before the young woman was never to be seen.
No sense of fear hung in the air. The maids remained in their places, still, their dresses dancing under the feathery wind. The man’s eyes returned to the pale paper of his book.
“Margaret,” his voice affirmative and sturdy as before. Another gust of wind blew the clearing, the young women fragile as autumn leaves, waited silently for another scream, obviously coming from a creature, a female from hell; and then Margaret was snatched.
The man said four other names out loud: Nora, Elle, Jessie, Rene. None of them managed to get away from the violent grab, their voices stabbing their young and innocent souls with a million sharp needles.
Only one maid, innocent, pure, waited for her own time to depart from the world as she knew it. Like Demetra, she would soon follow her own fate, her own personal Hades.
“Clea,” the man said, only this time his call didn’t initiate any reaction. No voices approached from the woods. The girl’s body remained untouched, still and upright like that of a scarecrow.
The man with the triangular hat waited, murmuring some words. It was part of the procedure, the calling, the prayer. He closed his eyes and then his mouth and turned his hand into a fist. He kissed it with reverence and raised his eyes to see the girl named Clea, as if waking up back to her simple adolescent bedroom with itslinen sheets and heavy wooden bed, welcoming her consciousness once again.
Realising that she was in the middle of the woods, shoeless and vulnerable to the piercing chill of October’s night, the girl trembled.
“Clea,” the man called for her. His voice was warm, welcoming, like a cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace after a long night in the cold. He stretched his head out and she followed him, an unknown man in the middle of nowhere. When she reached the clearing, Clea nodded her head in question.
“You are chosen, Clea. You are pure enough to be one of them.”
The girl’s face was blank, her eyes searching for a meaning lost in the neverending darkness, as she was trying to remember if she knew the man, if she knew her own parents or where she came from. Swift moves split the thin air. Clea raised her dark eyes up to the sky, only to see a concoction of shadows entangling with each other. A sharp scream gave rise to a chorus of hellish voices, shouting, laughing, some of them whispering. Seconds later, her eyes caught the flash of an image: a crusty, old broom. Women rode them with pride and ecstasy. Witches.