I’m going to try something different today. I’m a little scared to do it, but if I’m going to be a “real” author, I have to be brave.
In honour of Halloween, here’s a spooky short story I wrote. It wasn’t accepted in an anthology I sent it to, but I still think it’s pretty cool, so I wanted to share. It’s different from what I usually write, but it was lots of fun.
It’s a longer short story. Enjoy!
The letter was yellowed and creased when it arrived. She wasn’t expecting anything this day, but when it was delivered, she anxiously accepted.
She carefully read it over at the kitchen table, reading it several times to ensure she read it correctly. It was from her great aunt Igrat from whom she hadn’t heard a whit in years, not since her parents passed nearly ten years ago. It stated that if she was receiving this letter, her aunt was dead. As her only living female kin, she was entitled to all her earthly possessions.
Lilith tried to remember this aunt of hers. As she wracked her brain, she came up empty. She had memories of a woman in a little one-room house on the outskirts of a nearby village, surrounded by tall trees. It was fuzzy, but she vaguely remembered.
So a week later, after making the proper preparations, she saddled her mare and left home. Being an orphan made up and leaving much easier; there was no one to call after her. Her great aunt only had her and, apparently, she only had her, too.
As she galloped along the dusty road through the forest toward the village Lathania, her mind wandered to her aunt, how she must have been lonely and what did she do all these years by herself. Despite remembering her home, she remembered little else of this aunt.
Once near the village entrance, she remembered that the villagers didn’t care for her aunt much. This reminder came in the form of glares from nearly every direction as she made her way down the main road towards the edge of town. The villagers hissed at her and one even spat in her direction.
I remember why I seldom visited here, she thought. She kept her eyes ahead and tried to look nowhere but in the direction she was headed. In the envelope with the letter was a key. She assumed—and hoped—it was simply the key to the front door.
Once near the edge of the village, the sky somehow turned grey where it had just been filled with sunlight. It was as if this area were in a different world. Lilith wrapped her cloak tighter around herself as a chill ran through her body.
Ahead was the little house her aunt lived in. The surrounding trees were still tall as ever, covering it like its own private sky canopy. Oddly, the front garden was filled with dead flowers and grasses, yet the trees all remained green and lush and alive. Lilith thought perhaps that was because of their age. No matter though. She was here and needed inside.
She stopped her mare at the door before climbing down and grabbing her bag. A noise from the road behind her startled her as she turned around. It was just a young boy on his own horse trotting up. He appeared harmless enough.
“Shalom!” he cried as he came up to her. “You must be Igrat’s niece?”
Lilith nodded. “That is me, yes,” she said. “And you are…?
“Oh, I am Jacob, the mayor’s son. Some villagers saw a stranger riding through our little home and were frightened. They said she looked like Igrat, which was impossible, of course.”
She smiled. “Yes, of course.”
“But now, looking at you, I do see the striking resemblance.”
Lilith had never heard such a thing, but it explained the stares earlier. The silence was too long, so she said, “Well, it was lovely to meet you,” as she turned back towards the house and its front door.
“What are you doing here?” His tone had turned serious now, no hint of the boyish charm anymore.
Staring at the door still and trying the key, she answered, “I’m letting myself into my aunt’s home. I received a letter telling me of her death and that her property now belongs to me.”
“Miss, we would prefer you not take or touch anything. We planned to raze this property.”
Horrified, she faced him then and said, “Excuse me, but that is no longer happening. I will be here for the foreseeable future as I go through her things, and I’d prefer to do so in peace.”
Jacob nodded from atop his horse. “I see,” he said. “Well, feel free to come to the village if you require anything.”
She gave him a slight nod and said, “Todah, I will.” Then Jacob turned and headed back to the village and the light.
Lilith sighed as she put the key in the lock and turned. At least that worked, she thought. The door creaked on its hinges as she pushed it in.
And then the stench hit her. She covered her mouth and nose with her cloak as she left the door open and ran to every window she could find and opened them. There were few, but this space needed airing out, badly. The reek of decay infiltrated her nostrils, forcing her to run back outside and vomit onto the dirt.
How was I going to be able to go through her things? I could barely step foot inside, she thought.
To try to combat the stench, she wandered aways into the surrounding wood until she came upon some wildflowers. She plucked them and brought them to her nose, allowing their perfumed scent to drown out the smell of death. She picked another handful before returning to the house where she scattered the flowers and petals everywhere she could.
As she walked through and dropped flowers, she noticed the bed at the back of the house. There was a lump beneath the dark blankets, and they were wet with… she wasn’t sure what. She swallowed the rising lump in her throat as she drew up to the bed, the floorboards creaking with every step.
Once beside it, she shakily raised her hand above the lump and pulled down the covers to see her aunt’s body. She jumped back and covered her mouth in horror at what she saw.
“My God,” she muttered.
Igrat’s body was decayed. Her mouth was stuck open, her few remaining teeth still showing. Blood surrounded her sides and seeped into the sheets. As she looked more, she noticed flies and maggots squirming in and out of her orifices, feeding on whatever they could find. Her body was oozing liquids and her face was covered in a glob of it. Her brown eyes were still open, looking petrified.
Lilith surmised she died in her bed. But how did she get the letter? What killed her? She was old, after all. Maybe it was just her time.
Lilith shook her head. None of that mattered. Her aunt deserved a proper burial. It didn’t hurt that once she was gone and buried, her house would be easier to breathe in.
Once she got her bearings after receiving the horrid sight, she found more blankets and piled them on top of the body. The only way she could think to get her outside was to, unfortunately, drag her. Hopefully, covering her in blankets made the task easier.
She cleared the way to the door before she grabbed her aunt’s legs and pulled her out of the bed. This would not be the most glamorous of burials, but it would have to do. She dragged her along the ground, leaving ooze and blood trailing after her. Lilith tried to ignore it, knowing she’d have to see to it later, anyway.
Once over the threshold and outside, she dragged her further around the side of the house. Putting her aside on the ground, she dug a shallow grave and then dropped her aunt there to rest. Lilith stood back to observe all she had done before piling dirt on top of her. When she was covered, Lilith felt it best to say a brief prayer that Igrat would find her way to Heaven. She didn’t need an unsettled spirit haunting her.
She sprinkled St. John’s wort over the mound and breathed deep. The yellow petals flowed over the grave and its woodsy, exotic smell filled her nose. Peering up, she needed to shield her eyes because the sky wasn’t so grey anymore. Glancing around, she noticed birds were chirping and animals frolicked nearby. A smile tugged at Lilith’s lips, but she felt it morbid to smile at a time such as this. Even so, she couldn’t help feeling a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps now that she’s at rest, the woods can settle and live again, like the surrounding trees.
Feeling newly confident, she strode back inside and tidied up, readying the house for sleep. She refused to sleep in her aunt’s bed. In fact, she dragged that outside, too, found an axe her aunt had, and chopped it to pieces. It could be used for kindling; that was all it was good for to Lilith. She piled the bits into a large basket and set it by the hearth on the house’s left wall. It was only spring still and quite warm, but the wood would be needed come autumn. If she planned to stay here, long term.
For now, she made a bed of sorts—like a nest—out of blankets and rags she both brought from home and found here. It would do until she could build a bed of her own, or commission someone in town to help her, if they even would.
Since Jacob’s visit several days prior, she hadn’t seen another soul. She liked the quiet and privacy, but it still felt odd, as if they purposely kept as far away from there as possible, which was utter nonsense she knew. Yet still, it nagged at her that her aunt had always been an outcast, but she didn’t know why.
After living in the house for one week and organizing her aunt’s belongings, she decided it was time to go into the village. Maybe she’d find someone who could enlighten her on her aunt’s life.
Lilith climbed up her mare and trotted off to the village. While there, she first went to the grocer. She didn’t have much food in the house and thought she could chat with patrons.
The grocer wasn’t very busy, but it was lively, with people coming and going and carts filled with apples and figs and pomegranates. There were also sacks of grain (mostly barley and durum) and jugs of milk in the cooler, with wine skins nearby, too. Lilith also came upon freshly baked loaves of challah and other breads. Cuts of meat were set off in the corner for her perusal, of which were mostly cattle.
She walked through the shop, looking at all it offered, when the shop owner’s wife came upon her.
“Boker tov,” she said to Lilith. “May I help you? I’ve not seen you around before.”
That’s when Lilith turned to face her with a smile, but the woman’s face went slack and drawn. “I’m new,” replied Lilith, before the woman could run away. “I have some questions for you. About my aunt, if you please.”
The woman backed up, shaking her head. “No, no… I mustn’t…”
Undeterred, Lilith marched forward and said, “Please, yes, you must.”
“She’s evil. A witch. A lady of the dark arts. And you look just like her.”
Hearing that was shocking. All Lilith could do was stand there stunned, staring at the woman who spoke so cruelly of her deceased relative. Swallowing, she made her way to the front of the shop with her goods and dropped a few shekels on the counter. “That should be enough,” she whispered as she walked away. But before leaving, she turned back around to face the woman. “I must say, though, how dare you speak so terribly of the dead?” Then she spat on the stairs that led to the shop’s opening before climbing on her horse and leaving the village.
What had just occurred sickened Lilith. How dare they say such terrible things about her aunt?
But a nagging thought kept pressing her mind: what if what they said was true?
As she thought about that, she shook her head. Now I’m just being mad.
Once she arrived back at the house, she actually felt like she was home, like she was safe again. She unloaded her bags and went inside, leaving the mare to forage in the surrounding forest. She settled into the couch in the sitting area and relaxed a moment, taking deep breaths to calm herself after all that happened.
Then she heard a noise. It was like a murmuring voice, but no one else was there. There was a scratching at her mind. It was pulling her towards the window before her. No, not the window. The floorboards in front of it.
She got up, as if in a trance, and made her way there. Putting her palm on the floor, she felt a warmth and a pulsing within. As she looked down, she noticed there was a loose floorboard. She scratched at it with her fingers until it pulled up. Underneath, she found a book. Upon closer inspection, it was more of a tome, really.
Lilith lifted it up with some grunts before falling back and sitting on the floor, the giant book falling onto her lap. She looked down at the worn brown leather cover and wiped the thick layer of dust from it. Then she could better read the title, written in gold filigree: The Queens’ Grimoire.
She wrinkled her nose at the odd title. What could that even mean? Who are these “queens?” The book burned hot suddenly against her fingers and she shoved it to the floor. Curiosity told her to open it, but fear held her back.
“Just turn the page,” came a voice. It came from nowhere, but inside her own head, yet the voice was not her own.
“It burned me,” Lilith said aloud.
She sighed as she felt compelled to bend down and open the book. This time when she touched it, it warmed her fingers slightly, but it wasn’t hot. She lifted the heavy cover, and it thumped to the ground.
The urge to read the words aloud overtook her:
“Here are the words, the words for you to see.
Show no others, or they will cease to be.
The spells hereafter are for those born from fire.
Witches know spell craft and may never tire.
When you have finished reading,
Your mind will begin reeling.”
And then she was on her knees, shaking back and forth. Her black hair blew as if there were wind and she tucked her chin to her chest, eyes closed.
As quickly as it came, the wind died down, and the room was calm again. That’s when she slowly looked up, a wry smile appearing on her face. Still on her knees, she said, “I’ll teach them. Gossiping about me like that. Humph. I’ll show them my real might.”
Then she dug beneath the floorboards, near where she had found the book, and pulled out bags of herbs, a collection of bones of varying sizes, a wooden stick, and a bag of gems. She got up and placed the items on the table in the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” came a voice inside her head. Only this time, it sounded like Lilith.
“Oh, my dear,” she said, “thank you for coming to free me.” That voice… it was her voice. But not.
Now Lilith understood. She no longer had control over her body. Igrat did.
She tried to lift her arm. Nothing.
She tried to look left. Nothing.
She really was…possessed. By her dead aunt.
Tales of the dybbuk and ibbur were something she had heard of. But those were stories used to scare, not things that actually happened. She couldn’t tell what was going on now, but surely it was one of those.
The dybbuk was an evil spirit that clung to a living body. According to some tales, the dybbuk was a sinner who sought refuge from the punishment of the afterlife. This soul seeks the safety of the living to avoid a horrifying afterlife.
The ibbur was similar, but not always evil. It could coexist inside a living body, usually only for a short period. Lilith was still unsure which spirit her aunt was, and she didn’t care to find out. However, thinking about it, this was most likely a dybbuk, she realized.
Either way, she needed her body back.
But, for now, that was impossible. Igrat was going through her belongings on the table and looking through the book.
“How dare they speak ill of the dead,” muttered Igrat, as she grabbed the clay mortar and pestle from the counter and began mashing the herbs before pouring a thick dark liquid in and turning it to a paste. “Don’t they know who I am?”
“Who are you?” Lilith managed to say, though she feared she already knew the answer.
“You needn’t worry about that. I am simply a mechashef, or a witch, as others like to call me and my kind. They simply fear me because they do not know me. It was because of my spells that the forest flourished so, all year round. It was because of me that ne’er-do-wells never crossed our paths.” She was pounding the pestle into the mortar harder now. “Those ingrates should thank me, not curse my name.”
Clearly, she is mad, thought Lilith. Either way, what was happening was still happening, and it needed to stop before people got hurt, or worse.
“What are you going to do?” asked Lilith.
“You’ll see, my dear,” was all the aunt said.
Lilith could still see everything that was going on and still able to think, but couldn’t do anything. She needed to figure out how to get Igrat back to the afterlife where she belonged. With no body, she realized, that would be a challenge.
So, she wracked her brain. What could force her from her body? She thought back to all she had seen and knew so far. Her aunt was possibly made of fire, according to the riddle. Perhaps fighting fire with water would help? Or something else?
Then she recalled the trees being strong and lush despite the surrounding death. Maybe something in them was powerful enough to keep death at bay. Perhaps that same something could send the dead away.
There was no way for her to study any of this. As far as she knew, nothing could give her body back. Maybe this was just her life now and soon her own soul would be the one forced to depart.
She refused to believe that. She refused to give in to this.
Lilith turned her thoughts back to what her own hands were doing. Igrat was using them to scrape the paste from the mortar. Then she rubbed it into her skin, on her face, arms, belly, and legs. It smelled sickly sweet, but she felt Igrat’s happiness with it.
Then her body glowed where the paste was. It was as if a light shone from within her body. Even as this happened, Igrat still grabbed her small wooden stick and bag of gems and made for the door, leaving the mare behind. Lilith was thankful for that as they marched toward the village.
The sun was setting, and the sky was a lovely purple and pink hue. Lilith tried not to let the world’s beauty distract her from whatever was going on now.
Once Igrat made it to the village, people came running outside their shops and homes to see her. At that, her lips turned up into a sickening smile.
“It can’t be,” cried a man, coming forward. “You died.”
“Oh yes, that’s right,” said Igrat, with Lilith’s voice. “My lovely grandniece gave me her body to teach you all a lesson.” She posed then, showing off her new body. “Do you like it?”
“Begone, witch!” a woman cried from the middle of the gathering crowd.
“Haven’t you all noticed the death of crops? The unknown visitors to the village, wishing to do you harm? All since I died?”
They all mumbled amongst themselves then. Maybe she was right? “Ahh yes, you all know of which I speak. I may have been a witch, but I never meant you all harm, as you wished upon me. I know it was you who caused my death.”
Lilith was unsure to whom she was speaking, but the village people seemed to understand her. “You were a blight upon us,” said the first man, walking forward.
“Oh, Effram, you have always been the fool.” With that, she raised her stick at the man and mumbled some words. Effram grabbed his throat, scratching at it as if he couldn’t breathe. He gasped as those around him backed away in fear. Igrat just stared, letting him suffer as a smile filled her face.
Then he collapsed as blood spewed from his eyes and ears.
At that, everyone fled.
Or tried to.
Igrat raised her wand to the sky and swirled it around, calling forth a maelstrom from above as lightning crashed down, hitting people, striking them down where they stood. Men, women, children, all dead.
When that wasn’t enough, she took out her gems and bent over the dirt road, placing a gem of death—an onyx—in the center of a Magen David (Star of David) she made in the dirt with her wand. Beside the gem, she placed another and mumbled something else.
Then, from the dirt, thorny vines rose, followed by spirits. Ethereal beings floated from the earth, crying out as they flew around from building to building, taking what souls they could back to Gehenna, the punishing afterlife. The vines grabbed others, sticking their thorns into bodies and letting them bleed out.
Screams filled the air. Blood colored the road. Igrat cackled.
Lilith was horror-struck. What could she do? How could she end this?
But it was too late. The screams died down. The spirits disappeared with the vines. The bodies littered the streets and buildings she could see.
And she could feel Igrat’s happiness. The eerie silence of the once-filled village caused Lilith to feel anger, though. She knew she had to do something.
“Why did you do that?” Lilith asked.
“They needed to learn,” Igrat replied. “I was not to be trifled with.”
“How could you use me?”
“It was easy, dear. Too easy. But I’m done now. The lesson was learned.”
“You can’t just leave.”
“Oh, but I can.”
“No!” cried Lilith. Then, somehow, she took over. She shoved Igrat aside and forced her to take heavy steps toward the house. “You must be punished now, too.”
As they marched, Igrat laughed and asked, “How do you punish a spirit?”
“I’ll find a way.”
She kept a firm hold over Igrat’s mind, forcing her body to listen to herself. Once they reached the house, she stopped walking.
“Now what?” asked Igrat.
“You must be punished,” replied Lilith.
Igrat laughed. “Foolish girl. I would gladly give you your body back if you let me leave.”
At that, Lilith realized she was strong. She was holding Igrat back. Perhaps she could do something more, after all.
She remembered the stream to the side of the house. It cut through the forest and hugged some trees. She forced her body to walk towards it, to follow the sound of trickling and flowing water. Igrat pushed back, making the steps harder to take. Lilith hoped water would douse her and be a punishment of sorts. But she still did not know what she was doing. Igrat’s fear made her think she was doing the right thing, though.
The stream was just ahead, beside towering fig trees. Lilith was still unsure of what to do now, but she knew she had to think fast.
She thought back to notes she had perused this past week that were scattered around the house. Most seemed like gibberish, but she still remembered them. And she knew what she had to do.
In her mind, she tied a knot of invisible string around her wrist. She tied the other end to Igrat’s wrist, whose spirit she could just make out within her mind’s eye. Now she was caught.
Though they were still connected, Lilith pushed Igrat out. Her spirit flowed from Lilith’s body, but could not leave. It hovered above the ground, pulling on the invisible string.
Now Lilith oversaw her body again, and it was her turn to smile. She was not one to enjoy punishment under the usual circumstances, but today was not usual. Most deserved peace and serenity, but not her aunt. She may have been good in life, and meant well, but in death she was a murderer of innocents, and that cannot go unpunished.
“Let me go!” cried Igrat.
“I cannot,” replied Lilith.
With that, Lilith raised her arms, the wand still in one hand, and mumbled a phrase she suddenly knew thanks to the possession. The water rose from the stream like a sheet, but it did not yet move. Until Lilith moved the wand forward to cover Igrat in it.
The water poured over the spirit like a blanket. It didn’t fall like water normally would. It stayed wrapped around her as Igrat screamed.
After a few moments, Lilith allowed the water to return to the stream. She was not yet finished.
She waved the wand again, going up and down the surrounding trees. Their trunks were mutilated into sticks and the leaves flew off to the spirit. They stabbed the spirit over and over and over again. Lilith found herself grinning wider than she expected at this attack, at watching the spirit flail and screech.
She called off the trees and walked closer to her. “Please, let me go,” cried Igrat. Lilith was shocked how pained she sounded.
“Perhaps it is time,” said Lilith. Then, in her mind, she severed the tether connecting them and Igrat’s spirit was engulfed in flames that danced like water, and she was gone, leaving Lilith alone with her thoughts, with her realization that maybe she, too, was a mechashef.
Years passed and Lilith stayed in the rundown house of her aunt’s. After all that happened, it still felt like home to her. The large trees still covered her in safety, like a large blanket. The flowerbed came alive again, and she allowed passersby to partake of the fruits and flowers that grew there.
In time, Lathania grew once more. It was small at first, but more people came when they heard of the fertile land, safe surroundings, and temperate weather. It appealed to many.
They didn’t need to know Lilith, the Witch of Lathania, was responsible for its good fortune.
Lilith studied all the books in the home and learned all she needed to keep the village and herself safe and prosperous. She thought using the magic for good would keep her soul from going to Gehenna, that she could be saved. After all, punishing her aunt’s soul was a good thing. She was evil.
One day, a knock came at her door. This was odd, as she never received visitors. She rose from her knitting and answered it. On the other side of the door was a woman she had never seen before. She was older than Lilith, yet her skin was clear and her hair was ebony. Her eyes were bright and blue, and she had a great smile exposing her less-than-perfect teeth. So, this woman possesses a flaw, she thought.
“May I help you?” asked Lilith.
“Yes, miss,” she said. “If it’s no bother, may I enter?”
Though she didn’t know her, Lilith felt she was not a threat, so she moved aside and said, “Yes, please, come in.” Even if she became threatening, Lilith knew she could deal with her.
The woman smiled and entered, and Lilith closed the door behind her. She motioned to the small sofa that faced the hearth. “Please, have a sit. Would you like some tea? I’ve just put on a pot of water.”
“That sounds lovely, thank you,” replied the woman.
Lilith scooped the tea leaves into the mesh bags and placed them in two mugs, covering both with the boiling water. Then she brought them both over as she took a seat beside this new woman.
“Don’t let it steep too long. Now,” said Lilith, “at least tell me your name, please.”
The woman gave a small smile. “Oh, of course. I am Malkat. I and my sister have heard of you and thought it time we met in person.”
Lilith wrinkled her nose and said, “You’ve heard of me?”
She nodded. “Yes. We, too, are witches. We hail from across the sea. There are many more of us there. Before twenty-six years ago, we never heard of you. You suddenly just…appeared.”
“A vision. Another Sister is a seer, and you came upon her one day.” She took the ball of tea from the cup and placed it on the table. It struck Lilith as a little rude, but she ignored it. “We saw you torture the soul of a dead Sister, Igrat.”
Lilith gasped. “Oh. I can explain…”
She waved her hand. “No need. We knew her. We knew she passed from something done to her by the villagers, not by your hand. You are her kin. You came to help her. Like her, you have witch’s blood. That is why you took to this life so easily.”
Now Lilith nodded. What she said made sense. She scooped out her tea bag and dumped it on the table before sipping from it herself. “Once I arrived here, it did feel like home. It felt like I couldn’t leave. So, I didn’t.”
“That makes sense. Her essence is still in here.” She gestured around her. “I can still feel her.” Looking at Lilith, she smiled when she saw panic on her face. “Not to worry. She isn’t angry anymore. In fact, I think she’s quite pleased you’ve taken up the torch here.”
“That’s reassuring, actually, despite everything.”
Malkat sipped from her tea again and then there was silence. Lilith cleared her throat then said, “So, again, why are you here exactly?”
“Well, my sister, Naamah, should arrive here from across the sea in the next day or two. Would it be an imposition for us to stay here?” She smiled again. “Usually we are all Sisters, even from afar.”
This shocked Lilith. Her home was small, and she barely knew this woman, let alone her mysterious sister. Despite this, she found herself saying, “Yes, that should be fine. We will need to put together a place to sleep.” She gestured to her small home. “As you can see, I have limited space here.”
“Todah rabah, Lilith,” said Malkat. “I look forward to getting to know you better.”
“And I as well.” Both women got to their feet and prepared a cot for Malkat.
While tidying and readying the house, they talked about themselves. Lilith explained what she had been doing alone all these years, how she was trying to make penance for her sins. The guilt of punishing her aunt’s spirit racked her, even if it was the right thing to do.
Malkat confessed she was hundreds of years old, as were Naamah and even Igrat. At that, Lilith was surprised. She always thought she was simply her mother’s aunt. Apparently, that was not the case. Malkat’s magic was mostly earth-gotten. She could control trees, insects, and other vegetation, whereas Naamah practiced in anything linked to water in all its forms. She explained they were two sides of one coin, as they were twins.
All this information swam in Lilith’s head. There was an entire world of witchcraft and sorcery she knew nothing of, even after reading through everything she could find in Igrat’s house. How much more information was out there for her to learn?
The next day was more of the same. They talked about themselves and their histories and readied the house for Naamah’s arrival. The aura Lilith felt around Malkat was heavy, though, as if she always carried a burden. She dared to ask about it.
“Malkat,” began Lilith, “you feel…dark. Is everything well?”
Malkat stopped her sweeping and looked up at Lilith. “Yes, I’m well, dear. I suppose that is just my aura.”
Lilith nodded, but didn’t fully believe her. She decided it was best not to press the matter, so she returned to the sofa and resumed knitting as Malkat swept. They sat like that in silence awhile until they heard a loud bang outside.
Both women jumped and ran to the door, opening it and going outside. Twilight had descended on the village, and they could hear crickets chirping. Before them was a woman. She looked like Malkat but she was wet and her hair was white, as were her robes. Where Malkat was darkness, this woman was lightness.
Lilith realized this must be Naamah. Malkat running to and hugging the woman confirmed this.
“You arrived already!” cried Malkat. “We didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”
“I felt you needed me,” she replied, her voice soft. Looking at both witches together, Lilith saw how they truly were two sides of one coin.
Naamah stepped back from her sister to look at Lilith. She strolled forward and embraced her new Sister. She smelled of salt water and sand. “Shalom, Sister,” Naamah whispered.
“Shalom,” replied Lilith. “It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”
“And you as well.” Naamah broke the hug, and they all went back inside, a large puddle of water the only evidence of her arrival.
Once inside, they sat on the sofa and the twins exchanged glances. Lilith felt uneasy. Then Naamah said, “I suppose we can now discuss why we are here.”
“Yes, that would be appreciated,” said Lilith, wringing her hands in her lap.
“Well, Lilith, we are here on behalf of the Sisterhood. While we would love to welcome you into our ranks, we fear that would be foolish.”
Shocked, Lilith said, “What are you talking about?”
“You tortured a Sister’s spirit,” said Malkat. “Though we all understand why, we cannot condone it. And though you are technically a Sister now, too, we must hold you accountable in some way.”
Lilith shook her head. “I don’t understand. We already discussed all of this.”
“Yes, we did, but I was not going to tell you everything until my twin arrived.”
“Why did you wait all these years, though?”
“Because we had to be certain,” said Naamah.
“Certain of what?” Lilith whispered.
“That you were her. That you were the Queen.”
At that, Lilith couldn’t help but laugh. “I am thoroughly confused now.” Then she remembered the grimoire she found when she first arrived those many years ago. It was a book for the Queens, she recalled. In all this time, she never fully understood it.
“Not surprising,” said Naamah. “You were not properly taught our ways, our history.”
“What does it matter if I am this ‘queen’ of which you speak? I thought you were going to kill me?”
“That is still the plan, yes,” said Malkat. “But we will not do that right away.”
Before Lilith could speak, Naamah put a gentle hand on her Malkat’s arm and said, “Wait, sister. If she is the Queen, we should not be so hasty. Perhaps we should let her live. Bring her home with us across the sea, where she can rule aside us.” She looked at Lilith then. “You see, Igrat was a Blood Sister of ours. Our older sister. She was a Queen, too. There are supposed to be four, but Igrat was taken from this realm before you came of age. Three Queens would still be better than two.”
Malkat nodded. “Yes. You are right.”
“Wait,” said Lilith, “so you are both my great aunts, too?”
“Technically, yes,” said Naamah.
“How was I even born? Was my mother my actual mother?” asked Lilith, her voice just above a whisper.
“You have many questions, Lilith,” said Malkat. “In time, we hope to answer them. For now, they are of no concern to you. For now, you need to come with us and meet your other Sisters.”
Then they stepped forward, holding hands, and grabbed Lilith’s before she could speak.
And then they were all gone from Lathania.
They were in a dark…palace, of sorts.
Once Lilith’s eyes adjusted, she saw the room they were in was immense. The walls were made of stone and torches were lit along the walls, casting shadows over the space. In the distance, she saw cloaked people waiting for them. Beside her stood the twins, their hands still entwined while hers hung at her side.
In the center of the room sat an altar made of the same stone as the walls. As she looked from the altar to the left of the room, she saw four large chairs, like thrones. For the Queens, she thought. Cushions of different colors covered the thrones’ seats, but she couldn’t make them out in the dim light from this distance.
Before the altar stood a statue of a woman carved in stone. It was hard to make out all the details in the dim light of the cavern, but the woman’s curls flowed down over her shoulders and a hooded cloak covered the back of her head. Her hands were before her, palms up to the sky. On one palm sat a wand and on the other was a book.
Carved into her back was a Magen David with flowers sprouting from it. On her front she saw what looked like the hamsa, a hand to ward away evil. It seemed an odd thing for a witch goddess to be wearing. Unless their evil was simply something else, she thought. Interestingly, Lilith noticed the Mother appeared to be looking down at the altar.
The people began chanting then and stalked forward. Malkat and Naamah stood beside Lilith then, one on each arm.
“What’s going on?” asked Lilith, fear seeping into her voice.
“Now you are here,” said Malkat, “we must make an offering to the Mother.”
“Why?” Her voice quavered as her body shook.
“Oh, you will still live and be a Queen with us. We just need something from you to appease the Mother. She has been angry since her children fought amongst themselves. Her wrath has been wrought upon us here. She has not allowed us full use of our magic. Now that you are here, hopefully she can allow us to fully use our magic once more.”
Lilith somehow understood, but was still frightened. What was she to offer this Mother? She had nothing to offer, as far as she knew. She bit her lip until she tasted the iron of her blood and was led to the altar. They helped her lie atop it, placing her head on the pillow of dead flowers, their crunch loud in her ears as her head flattened them.
Then she looked around and saw the others standing round the altar. Now that they were closer, she saw they were simply women like her, in dark cloaks. All their gazes were downcast as if they dared not look upon what was unfolding before them.
On either side stood Malkat and Naamah again, and they each held a knife, the blade shining against the torchlights. The twins mumbled words under their breath as the other women’s words heightened into chanting, growing louder in the chamber. Despite the fear, Lilith closed her eyes and let what was to come happen.
That was when she felt the cool blade slice into her arms. She cried out as the blood dripped down into the channels on the stone floor. They flowed like a river following its path until they intersected at the foot of the altar into a deep pool. The pool that lay before the statue of the Mother.
As her blood continued to flow, she felt herself get lightheaded. She lost herself in her mind. Everything around her was a haze. From far away she could hear a twin telling her to hold on, that everything will be fine. She so badly wanted to let go, though, and drift off to sleep, but she was wrenched back by a sharp hold on her wrists. Her injuries were being bound, and her light-headedness faded as they helped Lilith sit up on the altar.
The chanting had ceased, and everyone was gaping at her, their faces filled with awe. Lilith felt on display and desperately wanted off the altar, so she hopped down with the twins’ help.
That’s when the Coven bowed. Bowed to her.
She leaned into Malkat’s ear and whispered, “What’s happening?”
“You are the Queen of Spirits now,” she replied. “You’ve restored our Coven to greatness. Your blood offering appeased the Mother, and she shone her grace on you.”
This made no sense to Lilith. “How long was all of that?”
“You were on the altar for three days.”
“Three days?” Lilith repeated, shocked. It felt like mere minutes.
“Yes,” said Naamah. “The offering takes time but feels short to the offeror.”
“Now what, though?”
“Let’s get you cleaned up.”
They took Lilith to the baths, where they stripped her and placed her in a filled tub, the hot water scalding her skin. It was a welcomed sensation. She was still confused, though. What was going on here?
Instead of ruminating on all that transpired, she decided to enjoy her bath. So she dunked her head beneath the water, her hair fanning atop the surface. Even though Malkat and Naamah were still there, she barely noticed their presence.
She sat back up and took a deep breath once she broke the surface. After wiping the water from her eyes with her fingers, she glanced around and saw she was alone. Though this made her feel at ease, she was also surprised. She moved back to lean against the tub and threw her arms on the tub’s edge.
Before she knew it, someone’s hands were around her throat, and she was gasping for air. She tried to scream, but no sound came. She gripped the tub as tight as she could and braced her feet against the sides, water splashing over the sides. It was slippery, but she found a purchase. She lifted her back then and scratched at the face that she knew was behind her.
The cry she heard told her she’d found her mark. She scratched again and then her legs twisted and she could kick herself off the tub. The grip around her neck loosened just enough she could use her other hand to yank it off. Then she stood in the tub, naked, dripping water, as she looked down at her assailant.
She didn’t recognize her. She must have been one of the women of the Sisterhood. “Who are you?” Lilith rasped, clenching her throat.
The woman cowered behind the tub. “I am no one, Your Majesty,” she said.
Lilith grinned. “You’re right.” That was all she needed to hear before she held her hand out, muttered a spell, and shadows sprang forth from her fingertips. They swirled around the woman, ensnaring her in their grasp. They squeezed her until all that was left of her was shadow and her cloak.
Then Lilith stepped out of the tub and grabbed the nearby towel before retiring to her new room they showed her earlier. Taking a life was much easier than she expected. There was no guilt this time; she clearly acted in self defence.
Hopefully, the Sisters agreed.
But it appeared they did not when, hours later, the twins stormed into her room, the others following.
“What have you done?” cried Malkat.
Defiantly, Lilith sat up in her bed. “What I had to do. That wench tried to kill me!”
“That was her job!” said Naamah.
Flabbergasted, Lilith’s jaw dropped at the admission. “Excuse me?”
“Yes, you are a Queen, Lilith,” explained Malkat. “Even the Queen of Spirits. The Mother approved. You brought our magic back, and for that, we all thank you.” She gestured to everyone around her, who then all nodded in unison. “Now you are of no use to us.”
“Just send me home then.”
“We cannot do that,” replied Naamah. “Witches without a Coven are dangerous.”
“I thought we were to rule as three?”
Malkat and Naamah looked to one another, then back to her. “We don’t need you,” came the reply from Malkat. “The two of us together are powerful enough to lead our Coven. You are young. You may be powerful, but we don’t know you, blood or not.”
“How can you kill a Sister? I thought that upset the Mother?”
“Oh, it does,” said Naamah. “Thankfully you already killed that ‘wench,’ as you called her, and tortured your great-aunt’s spirit. So we doubt the Mother would much care if we rid ourselves of you.”
The realization of what was happening dawned on Lilith. She was to die here. There was no way out. Surely, she couldn’t fight all these women.
Then she felt that assured tug at her lips again. The tug of a wry smile she hadn’t felt in decades. The voice in her head that left her so long ago.
The voice that forgave her.
“End them all,” it whispered.
So she did.
Lilith rose from her bed, wearing only a nightshirt that hung loosely over her slim frame. Her hair fell in waves over her shoulders and began to blow in an invisible wind. The smile grew wider on her face as she raised both hands, palm up toward the sky, murmured a spell, then threw her hands down.
Clumps of ceiling rained down upon the Coven. Screams rang out around her as the room tumbled down around them all.
“Mother, save us!” cried Naamah.
“Mother is busy, dears,” said Lilith in a voice unlike her own.
Next, her fingers splayed and danced as spirits rose from the floor. These spirits were her minions, she called forth. They encircled the Coven and grabbed whomever they could before tearing them apart, limb from limb. Blood, bones, guts all flew round the rubble.
The Twins still stood before her, wands drawn. Malkat called forth spiders with her magic. They skittered about the ground as they made their way to Lilith, climbing over her, biting her, weaving their webs around her.
She was slowly getting trapped by these creatures. Lilith could not let this continue. With all her strength, she called forth the Mother and ripped herself free from the webs, spiders flying. Lilith then drew her hands up and threw a massive fireball right at the insects. Their high-pitched, tiny screams filled the room.
Malkat was horrified as Naamah picked up her wand. Lilith had an idea of what was coming. She heard it before she saw it. The sound of rushing water was unmistakable. Then it rushed into the room, flooding it. Bodies floated in it, and the water carried Lilith with it as the twins rose above.
Naamah was pointing down, trying to keep Lilith below the surface. “Die, witch!” she called out.
“We will not die this way, this day,” the voice said to Lilith.
Then she broke the surface, shooting straight up out of the water and hovering like the twins. They were both aghast again. And Lilith knew she had the upper hand.
“You can’t kill the Queen of Spirits, you fools,” Lilith said.
Once more, she raised her hands and mumbled a spell. Black shadows spilled from her fingertips and wrapped around the ground, around the bodies littering the room. They rose once more as if alive and marched forward toward the twins, who still hovered above the water. The risen dead walked through the water like it wasn’t there, then they swam in it until they breeched the surface.
At that, the ghouls grabbed the ankles of Malkat and Naamah and pulled them down. Lilith murmured another spell, washing away the water. It flowed out the door back from wherever it came.
Then the ghouls could feed. Lilith stayed floating above as she admired her handiwork. Her dead Sisters were feasting upon the twins. Blood and sinew spilled all over the floor. Their screams of agony filled the room. The ghouls simply ripped pieces from the twins to feast upon or dug in with their claws, ripping away at their innards.
The guilt Lilith used to feel fell away now. She did what she needed to. She was not evil. The voice said, “You are not, Lilith. You truly are the Queen. We can rule together.”
“Rule what?” she asked aloud, over the sound of bones crunching and lips smacking wet with blood.
“We will make another Coven. You are the Queen. You can command all witches. For all time.”
At that, Lilith felt warm inside. The voice she knew was her great-aunt warmed within her, as well. The voice was right. She was the Queen. The Queen of Spirits, the Queen of Shadows, the Queen of Waters, the Queen of Life and Death. The Queen over Everything. She was one with the Mother now. And she made them all pay.
So, now she would find new Sisters. Now she would create a new Sisterhood.
Now the world was her Coven.
© Shayna Kershaw 2022
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