Something Wicked: Part V
A Meadowsweet Story
The creature followed Thomas, creeping through the misty woods toward the little village. It did not much like the sun, and so it kept to the shadows of the trees—better for sneaking and hunting. Thomas did not know he was being followed, the creature was good at hunting, good at only being seen when the creature decided. The creature was hungry, and saliva pooled in its toothy mouth, but it followed Thomas not for food, but for something else. Its master had sent the creature here, and the creature would do as its master commanded.
Thomas stopped to talk with an older man, a mail currier with a heavy bag at his hip. The creature tilted its head as it hid behind a store building. Its master said nothing about stopping for a snack.
“Morning Joe,” Thomas said.
“A fine morning it is,” Joe said. “How is Josephine, and your girl, Rose?”
“Good! Beautiful! I couldn’t be happier.”
“I’ll be by this afternoon. Petey accidentally damaged our grandfather clock. I’ve told him a million times to not play ball in the house.” Joe shook his head. “Anyway, is that all right?”
“Of course! Though I’m planning on wrapping up early. I have a special surprise planned for Josephine.” Thomas smiled widely as he imagined the look on Josephine’s face.
Joe chuckled. “You still remind me of newlyweds. I’ll be in around 2:00.”
The two men parted ways and the creature stalled. Its stomach gave another lurch of hunger as it regarded the mail carrier. It swiveled its head to track Thomas. He was about to round another corner. If the creature were good, perhaps its master would reward it. The creature cast one last longing, hungry look at the mail carrier and then followed its true prey, slithering from the shadow of one building to the next.
Back in their garden, Josephine froze. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. She ran inside, scrambled up the steps to Rose’s nursery. She burst into the room, but it was empty except for Rose sleeping peacefully in her crib.
Josephine closed her eyes and cleared her mind, reaching out with her senses. A moment later, her eyes flew open.
Josephine picked up Rose and strode downstairs. She settled her daughter gently into her stroller and hurried down the path toward town. Something terrible was coming.
Archie wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but he was getting used to the confusion that seemed to overcome him whenever he was around Imelda.
Lightning flickered again, and Archie caught sight of a massive horned silhouette outside the window. He pointed to it numbly. “What is that?”
Imelda took his hand and pulled him into the kitchen. She threw the entire contents of the jar into the simmering pot. She turned to Archie and there was fire in her eyes. “Look,” she said. “I’m really sorry to have involved you in this, and I’m sorry for what I’m about to say next, but I don’t have time to deliver this gently. Magic is real. Demons are real. I am a witch. That thing out there is a demon. And I’m going to fight it.”
Archie stared at her blankly. “O—okay.”
“Now. I want to keep you safe, but you must do exactly—EXACTLY—as I say. Do you understand?”
Archie nodded. Was this some sort of elaborate hoax? Had someone put her up to this?
Prank the new guy in town? Archie wasn’t so sure. The look in her eyes and the timbre of her voice held a ring of honesty that was hard to duplicate.
Imelda took his hand and led him to the stairs leading down into the basement. “Down to the left is a closet. The door is solid wood and reinforced with a protection charm. Go there and stay there until I come to get you. Don’t come out for any reason.” Something heavy thudded against the front door. “Go now!”
Archie hurdled down the stairs and locked himself in the closet. He heard a bang and then a terrible grating growl come from the floor above.
When Josephine hustled into Thomas’s workshop, he thought that she had also planned a special surprise to commemorate the day, but when he saw her pale face and her wide eyes, his stomach dropped with dread. “Is everything okay? Is Rose…”
“She’s fine,” Josephine said. “But something’s not right. I think you’re in danger.”
“What?” Thomas frowned. “Are you sure?”
Josephine nodded. “Sometimes I get this feeling when bad things are going to happen. The feeling is strong now. I want you to come home.”
Thomas rubbed the back of his neck. “If you really feel that way I will. I promised Joe Patterson that I would take a look at his grandfather clock. He was coming by around 2.”
Josephine glanced at the clock. It was 1:30. “Can I wait with you?”
Outside the workshop, the creature hissed in agitation. The witch was here. It had not expected that. It had planned on dispatching the husband away from her and her powers. Its master would not be please. The creature slithered away from the workshop, heading back toward the solace of the trees. It would have to find another way.
The front door banged open and the Cloaden demon thundered into the entranceway. A gust of wind sent rain, twigs, and leave across Imelda’s floor. The demon was massive, standing seven feet tall, not including its horns. It had cracked white skin and black eyes, horns, and hooves. Long fangs protruded from its lips. Its eye landed on Imelda and it let out a harsh, grating roar.
Imelda stood in front of the demon and a humorless smile turned her lips. “You are an
ugly thing, aren’t you?”
The demon sniffed the air and bared its teeth at her.
Imelda held up a small bottle of the still warm potion. With her visitor safe in the basement closet and her cats with enough sense to make themselves scarce, Imelda could give the creature in front of her, her full attention.
She threw the first bottle and it broke at the demon’s feet. A plume of sickly yellow gas rose into the air as the glass shattered. The demon took a step back, but it was otherwise unperturbed. It ran its long talons down her wall, shredding the drywall like tissue paper.
Imelda lunged out of its way at the last moment and the demon careened headfirst into the wall behind her. Imelda positioned herself between the demon and the stairs.
Whatever it wanted, she suspected that it would find it in the attic.
The demon’s horns had become stuck in the wall and it thrashed and roared. It pounded and stomped and made quite a racket, Imelda thought.
She hurled another bottle at the demon. Blue smoke engulfed the creature as it wrenched its horns from the wall and stumbled back. Imelda was sure that the demon would retreat. The mixture was made to burn the demon’s skin and if Cloaden demons were afraid of anything, it was fire.
But the demon charged Imelda again. This time, she wasn’t fast enough and one of the horns swiped her side. She bit down on a shriek of pain with gritted teeth. Her heart kicked in her chest, but she still did not move from her position in front of the stairs.
Josephine paced the perimeter of the workshop and chewed her thumbnail. The feeling was fainter, as if the danger had moved away, but it was still there. Rose was now awake and played with a wooden toy that Thomas had made for her, babbling happily.
Joe Patterson arrived promptly at 2:00 with his older son, Fredrick. Together with
Thomas’s help, they unloaded the grandfather clock from the wagon and brought it into the shop. Thomas squinted at the damaged part.
“That’ll be no trouble at all,” he said. “You’ll be able to pick it up in a day or two. Won’t cost more than five dollars.”
“This is awfully kind of you, Thomas,” Joe said, smiling so that his sun-soaked skin wrinkled like an accordion. “Say, Betty just made some blueberry muffins. I’ll bring some by for you.”
Thomas and Josephine thanked Joe and watched him and Fredrick head down the road.
Thomas turned to Josephine. “Do you still have that feeling?”
Josephine shook her head in frustration. “It’s still there, but it’s faint.” She frowned. “I don’t know what that means.”
Thomas thought for a moment. “Well, we’ll be safer at home. Maybe there’s something in our library that could help us figure out why you’re feeling this way.”
Josephine nodded. Together, they bundled up Rose and made their way back to their cottage.
The creature saw them coming from the road: Josephine climbing the hill in front, Thomas following behind with the baby carriage. The creature slunk under the garden fence and hid behind a tall shrub of rosemary. The man carried it—the thing its master wanted, the thing it sent the creature to retrieve.
Its stomach growled hungrily. Soon it would feast.
Imelda kicked at the demon’s head, her heel connecting solidly where a human nose would be. She heard the demon grunt and it stumbled backward.
Imelda threw another bottle, but this one missed the demon by nearly a foot and the pink, sparking gas plumed uselessly away from the demon. Imelda’s hands shook as she reached for the last bottle.
She breathed in deeply and began to chant: “I call upon the Meadowsweet witches, those gone, those living, and those yet to come. I call upon the spirits of benevolence. Give me the strength to banish this evil from our world. I call upon the Meadowsweet witches, those gone, those living, and those yet to come…”
A wind whistled through the hallway, sending the leaves and twigs skipping over the floor. Doors clattered shut and the curtains danced. The demon growled.
Imelda’s mouth was dry, and her throat felt hoarse, but still, she kept chanting.
Archie couldn’t stand it any longer. The sounds over his head terrified him, but he couldn’t stay locked in this dark closet anymore. With trembling fingers, he opened the door and crept up the stairs. On the other side of the door he heard Imelda shouting, the storm raging, and the feral growl of some gigantic animal.
He put his hand on the doorknob and opened the door.
They were almost home when it happened. It was like alarm bells began clanging in Josephine’s head.
Something moved out of the corner of her eye, impossibly fast. Josephine whirled and lifted her hand just before the thing leapt for Thomas and Rose. The creature slapped the air as if it struck an invisible, solid wall.
“Hurry!” Josephine cried. The protection that she had placed over her husband and child would not hold for long.
Thomas scooped Rose from the baby carriage and charged toward the house.
The creature had recovered and now had its eyes fixed on Josephine. She grimaced in disgust. It looked like some sort of giant lizard, only it moved wrong, as if its body was made of a thousand separate joints. Its tongue kissed the air, like a snake.
Josephine glanced over her shoulder. Thomas and Rose were now safely inside.
The creature attacked. It moved faster this time, its body slamming into Josephine’s and tackling her to the ground. Josephine thrashed, but her arms were pinned by her sides. The creature opened its toothy mouth and saliva dripped onto Josephine’s face.
Josephine managed to free one hand and she placed it against the creature’s side. The creature let out a yelp of pain, retreating with a hand-shaped burn where Josephine had touched it.
It spit and snarled at Josephine, and she wondered if this was its language.
“You will not harm my family,” she said fiercely. “Be gone.”
Its jaws clicked in a strange rhythm.
Josephine Meadowsweet was a formidable woman, and an even more formidable witch. Power like Josephine’s even in a family of witches comes around only once in a few generations. It crackled and snapped within her, like a fire too hot to snuff out.
The creature seemed to understand this, and so it tried to move around her, but Josephine was ready. She pushed out with her hands and wall of air smashed into the creature and sent it tumbling back into her garden.
Josephine followed it in sure, strong strides. This creature had threatened her husband. It had threatened her daughter. It was wicked. It was evil.
Josephine spoke the words that her mother had taught her, in case a day like this should ever come: “I call upon the spirits of benevolence. Give me the strength to banish this evil from our world.”
There was a sudden gust of wind, and then a strange tearing sound. A rip appeared in earth of the garden and the wind was miraculously pushing the creature into it.
The creature spat and hissed and locked its talons into the ground. It leveled its glowing eyes at Josephine.
She said the words again: “I call upon the spirits of benevolence. Give me the strength to banish this evil from our world.”
The wind howled. The creature shrieked. It lost its hold and tumbled into the rift.
As suddenly as the wind appeared, it vanished. The air was once again filled with birdsong and the sounds of the forest.
On shaking legs, Josephine walked to the place where moments before, the earth had split open. There was nothing there but rock.
Archie saw the scene in the entrance way before anyone noticed him. Descending on Imelda was a massive misshapen monster. She looked incredibly small and vulnerable as the thing reached out an ugly hand toward her.
Before Archie really knew what he was doing, he grabbed the closest object that he could find. This happened to be an umbrella, hanging on a hook on the wall by the basement door. Archie gripped the pink and white polka dotted missile in his hand and
threw it with all his might at the thing attacking Imelda.
It bounced harmlessly off its shoulder, but it distracted the thing long enough for Imelda to retreat. The monster turned its black eyes onto Archie, and he felt as if he’d been engulfed in ice water.
“What are you doing?” she shrieked. She looked incredibly angry with him. “Didn’t I tell you to stay out of sight?”
“I—” he began, but he never got a chance to finish.
The front door banged open again and two more women rushed into the house. They surveyed the scene before them with shocked expressions.
The taller of the two looked at Archie. “Who are you?”
“Archie Goodfellow,” he said shakily. “I’m a baker.”
The demon was as stunned by the turn of events as everyone else seemed to be. It finally seemed to choose its next attack and lumbered in the direction of the two women.
Archie thought that this might be a lapse in judgement as both women immediately dropped into fighting stances with their hands up. One held small bottles of brightly colored liquid, the other began moving her hands in a slow, lyrical pattern.
The demon seemed to be having trouble moving, and the closer it got to the women, the slower, and more strained its movements became.
Imelda crossed the room and stood between the demon and Archie. “Stay behind me,” she said angrily.
The short of the two women looked at Imelda and nodded.
Imelda raised the bottle over her head and launched it directly at the demon. It shattered against the demon’s skin and white and gold smoke rose into the air.
The demon screeched in pain, and suddenly, miraculously, began to melt before Archie’s eyes. Its skin, its horns, its terrible black eyes blurred, and faded, until all that was left of the demon was a thin wisp of mist in the now still house.
Thomas found Josephine in the garden. She was kneeling with her head bent, her shoulders drooping with fatigue.
“Darling?” he said. “Are you hurt?”
Josephine looked at him, and he could see tear tracks along her dirt-smudged cheeks.
“It’s gone,” she said. “It can’t hurt us now.”
The embraced fiercely, and Thomas could feel Josephine fighting against her sobs. He knelt next to her.
She looked back at the rocky ground. “My rosemary plant is gone,” she said. “And my sage. They must have been sucked into whatever world that thing slithered out of.” She wipes her cheeks with the palm of her hand. “I think it was a demon. I’d always thought they were just stories. Some of my aunts and uncles used to tell me stories about demons, but I never thought they were true. Why would one seek out us? What did it want?”
Thomas’s expression fell, and he reached inside his coat pocket. “Maybe it was looking for this.” He pulled out a large amber crystal. He handed it to Josephine. “It was meant to be a surprise for you. Four years ago today, I found out that you are a witch. The man who sold it to me said it has healing properties. And I thought it was pretty.” He looked at her sheepishly.
Josephine took it in her slender fingers. “I love it. Perhaps it is what the demon was after. I know that some stones can do different things for demons. Did the man who sold it to you tell you anything else about it?”
Thomas shook his head.
Thomas helped Josephine to her feet. “We have some reading to do,” she said. “Now that we know that demons are out there. We can better protect ourselves.”
Thomas nodded. “I hear that there is a caravan of storytellers coming through town next week. Maybe I can find something out from there.”
The couple made their way slowly into the cottage. They would face many more demons in their lifetime, but from that day onward, they were prepared.
The slip of earth where Josephine had banished the demon never fully recovered. It remained, decade after decade like a rocky scar in the garden. And to this day, no Meadowsweet has been able to grow rosemary or sage.
Imelda let out a breath and sagged against the wall. Archie’s concerned face appeared in front of her, and she let him help her to her feet, his arm wrapped supportively around her waist.
She looked at her sisters. “I told you I had it.”
“We were worried about you,” Laurel said. She was the tallest, and oldest sister. She
brushed her light brown hair off her shoulder.
Celeste set down her bottles of potions. “Once I told the girls what you were up to, they insisted we come and help. They are waiting in the car.”
“Actually, we’re right here.”
Imelda smiled as her nieces Lydia and Ember entered the cottage. She couldn’t get over how much the girls changed between visits.
Lydia looked like she was two inches taller than she was just three months ago. She certainly had her mother’s genes for height. While she was only 15, she could pass for a college student. And Ember, at 16, was the spitting image of her grandmother, Imelda’s mother, at that age.
Ember grinned at Imelda. “So, you were really fighting a demon? That is so cool.”
“Why do we always miss the exciting stuff,” Lydia complained.
“You’ll get plenty of excitement when you are older,” Laurel said. “Hopefully not the demon kind.”
Lydia made a face, her eyes landed on the man holding up her aunt. “So, do you fight demons too?”
“That is Archie Goodfellow,” Laurel said. “He’s a baker.”
“Oh my gosh,” Ember exclaimed. “Is he your boyfriend, Aunt Imelda?”
Imelda blushed. “No. We just met this morning. Since you’re here, you can help me clean up.”
Her nieces’ faces fell as they surveyed the destroyed entryway.
“Great,” Ember said without enthusiasm.
The girls went to get their weekend bags and her sisters stepped closer.
“That was not an ordinary Cloaden Demon,” Celeste said.
Imelda nodded, still leaning tiredly against Archie. “It was much stronger than normal. I don’t even know what it wanted.”
“Something in the library?” Laurel suggested.
“It’s always something in the library,” Celest pointed out.
Imelda pinched the bridge of her nose. “We can talk more about this in a minute, but first can I have a minute alone with Archie?”
Her sisters nodded and went to help the girls tidy up. Imelda took a step away from Archie, feeling suddenly shy. What would Archie say in town now? While the other townsfolk always suspected that Imelda was strange, none of them had witnessed anything like this before.
“So,” she said, stalling.
“Imelda,” Archie said. He gave her a small smile. “I’m new in town, and I’d like to get to know you. Do you want to get coffee with me sometime?”
Imelda’s mouth worked soundlessly. After everything he had just seen? He was either a lunatic, or a genuinely nice man. At the moment, Imelda couldn’t tell. “Yeah,” she said. “Coffee.”
Archie nodded and his smile grew. “Great. Now, I’m going to go, because you have family here and I need to wrap my head around everything that has happened in the last couple hours. Come by the bakery and we’ll set up a time for coffee.”
Imelda nodded, too stunned for words.
Archie left, waving to Imelda’s nieces. She watched him go, trying to let the strange turn of events sink in. She’d just fought an incredibly strong demon, and then been asked out on a date. This was not a normal day.
Lydia and Ember came up to her, giggling.
“So, did he ask you out?” Lydia asked.
Imelda nodded and Ember squealed.
“I think this is going to be a really fun weekend,” Lydia observed.
For the record, it was a very fun weekend, one that Imelda would look back on fondly as the beginning of so many things. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Imelda waved goodbye to her sisters and then turned to her nieces. “So, demons or dating,” she said with a wicked grin. “What should we talk about first?”