Dinner for Ravens

“Let me tell you a story,” Anne offered. Her right forearm rested on the polished teak surface of the antique dining table while her left hand was propped up on its lacquered finish, one eye was cocked suggestively in a bid to draw the attention of those seated around her.

The four other faces at the table stared back,intrigued, while a few could hardly mask their excitement as they shifted nervously in their seats.

The New Orleans wind that particular evening was warm as it blew in through the trees of the swampy marshlands and passed between the slightly ajar oak doors that led to the dining room where the ladies were gathered. The sounds of nocturnal beasts accompanied the wind.

Each month, Anne, ‘Tunia, the sisters Misha &Starfire and Cassandra; witches and members of the coven of Raven Rose, would gather together for a dinner party hosted by Cassandra at her log cabin out in the inhospitable swamps of New Orleans.

‘It adds a sense of mystery,’ Cassandra had told them when they were discussing which place would be ideal enough to be used as headquarters for their monthly meet up.

The eastern white pine logs, weathered from years of constant abuse by the winds that came in from the bogs, formed the cozy den; a gift from her recently departed husband. Funny enough, everyone agreed that the only thing mysterious about it was how Cassandra’s husband, after giving her the keys to the cabin, had died in a head on collision with an 18-wheeler conveniently leaving her with his fortune.

The misfortune, however, wasn’t a surprise to any of them as each of the women happened to be direct descendants of historically renowned witches – Mary Walcott, Alice Young the Woman of Windsor and the Witches of Eastwick – and have on several accounts exhibited their powers in one form or another.

The women initially gathered together to share stories and spells and sing praises to Brighid, triple goddess of the Celtic pantheon.However nowadays, they’ve been more engrossed in gossip than the occult.This evening however, the mood was different. Anne had had enough of the gossip and wanted to introduce something that fit the reason they initially gathered here.

Anne looked at the faces of the women seated comfortably around her. Satisfied with the effect her introduction had on her audience; Anne relaxed her form and cleared her throat. She made it a point before starting her story to make eye contact with ‘Tunia who was mere seconds ago playing with a purple flame that she made dance along her index finger, a smile etched on the corner of her lips as she stared amused as the false flames licked her hand.

‘Tunia noticed Anne’s look of indignation and snubbed the flame with a flick of her hands. She licked her lips and winked at the annoyed witch, a signal that she had her full and undivided attention.

Conciliated that she had gained the attention of each and every one of her sisters bar none, she began her story.

“Do you remember a page from the book of Cerridwen that tells of a spell that can pull entities that reside between worlds?” she asked.

Annes’s question was met with nods all around. Contented with their answers, she paused and chose her words carefully. During the deafening silence that enveloped them amid the blank faces staring intently back at her, Anne couldn’t help but wonder, how many times have these women left their husbands and children at home to huddle around this very table and swap stories. Unlike the rest of them with their trophy husbands and beautiful children, Anne lives a quiet and recluse life, preferring to keep to the comforts of her small one bedroom apartment where she’s more than happy to practice her spells and experiment with rituals.

“Well, once upon a time…,” she continued more forcefully, “…there was a boy no more than eight. He lived between two worlds. Not our corporeal world or spirit world, no, no. He lived between sound, sight, smell and touch.”

Anne dragged her words to create more intrigue. She straightened her back and laced her fingers.

“The boy was alone, walking between the worlds and the senses. He could never hear the voices of children playing, nor touch or smell the flowers that bloomed during the spring in the meadows he constantly walked through. But the boy knew and was all knowing. He knew where the children hid when they played hide and seek, knew where they hid the bodies after they’ve silenced them and knew simultaneously where the 10th drop of water landed from the 8th wave to crash that morning on the all the beaches in all the worlds. But still, the boy was alone.”

The faces of the women peered closer. Anne knew she had gained their full, unequivocal attention if not their trust. She gave them a few seconds to collect themselves while her fingers traced the beautiful marbling on the table made by the aged timber.

“Now, it is said that one could summon this child, give him the attention he deserves and in return, he would give you anything you wanted,” she said.

Cassandra raised her head and whipped her dark locks.

“Sounds possible, but that would require a conjuration spell. And even then it doesn’t promise a full manifestation, just an image, like summoning a spirit.”

Cassandra was more of a technical Bruja – a Latin witch with the proficiency to invent her own spells. Her South American ancestry and the fact that her grandmother, theBruja before her, had maintained strong connections to La Llorona, the weeping woman made her a force to be respected in the Latin-Wiccan community.

“Exactly Cassie. But what if you could use a higher power, one that was equivalent or higher than this entity, a god for instance?” Anne countered coolly.

This time, ‘Tunia piped up. ‘Tunia, short for Petunia, was African-American and eccentric by all standards. Highly attractive with long legs she frequently displayed, ‘Tunia had married four times in the past year and each time she moved on, she left a trail of broken hearts and a string of empty bank ledgers in her wake. She was the local Witch Lady of the French Quarters in downtown New Orleans. If you wanted a love spell that would drive a girl quite literally mad, she was the person to see. Her spells were usually excessive and over the top but what wasn’t when it came to ‘Tunia.

“An jis which god would chew ask from? I doubt Herne err Morrighan wid entertain yur wishes?” ‘Tunia retorted in her thick Creole accent.

“Mammon” Starfire whispered to herself but still loud enough to catch the ears of everyone at the table.

Those present erupted into a slew of curses and cries of ‘Blasphemy!” amid the shock of hearing the dark god of wealth and greed uttered within the divine circle of Brighid. Prayers were offered in hushed tones to appease the deity and maintain the blessings all around them.

“Have you lost your mind, Star?!” Screamed Cassandra. “We made a pact on the day of Bay’ah after we swore an allegiance to Brighid that we would never honor Mammon!”

Starfire looked dejectedly at the table like a child. Her sister Misha wrapped her arms around her.

“Hush Cassie. She didn’t mean to say the name,” Misha countered while cooing softly to her sister, assuring her that Cassandra meant no ill-respect.

Misha and Starfire looked like average 17 year olds with scrawny arms and acne flecked faces. But the fact was that they were much older than the rest of the women assembled at the table. Orphans at the age of two and one, Misha and Starfire had lost their parents during the great fire of London in 1666. They were then taken in and raised by the Sisters of Cythrawl; Seax Wiccans whose coven was the largest in London and were then trained in the art of Magick through their devotion to Samhain, the pagan dark god from which Hallowe’en originated from.

At 17, the sisters found Samhain to be cruel and implacable and the coven too demanding. They ran to America on the first ship out. However, Samhain and the coven of Cythrawl do not take absconders so lightly. Cursed with immortality, they go through life working odd jobs in the day that also includes selling baked goods door to door, while at night, theyprovide stock options to retail investors for a share of the profits. Having had plenty of time to monitor the financial and property markets, Misha had managed to amass a small fortune while maintaining a comfortable living for herself and her sister.

Cassandra harrumphed and sat back with her arms folded against her chest and her lips pursed.

Anne flashed a cool smile at the table as they focused their attention on her. She had anticipated her story to be met with criticism, but this was better. Her story had escalated quite quickly into a discussion. She knew that a few of them were pondering whether or not this summoning ritual was doable, and thanks to Starfire’s curious blurt, she was sure Cassandra was already going through a variety of incantations in her head while ‘Tunia was weighing the possibilities of an unconventional rite. One that would meet the requirements to summon an entity as powerful as Mammon.

“Finish your story and we can move on to more pressing matters, like Mrs. Price and the banker,” said Cassandra apprehensive as to where this story was going. She knew they should have just kept to the gossip. She didn’t mind knowing what Mrs. Price across the street was doing each evening with the young banker while her husband was away. At least it didn’t lead to demonic rituals and the end of the world.

‘Tunia leaned forwards and turned towards Cassandra who was sitting two seats away.

“Now now, Cassie. You’re not kickin us out of your house jis yet are ya? Somepin’ tells me that Anne is jis gettin’ startad.” She smirks.

‘Tunia studied Anne carefully. As fearful as ‘Tunia was towards this new development, she was still curious. There was little she would do for her customers should they ask regardless of the implications it would bring them.

Unlike the rest, ‘Tunia wasn’t trained the conventional Wiccan way. She was never mindful of the Wiccan law of Threefold Return which states that whatever malevolent or benevolent act done onto another will be returned times three. ‘Tunia was Hoodoo Magick. The only thing she believed in was her lord Christ. Her beliefs for the trinity made evident by the rosary on her wrist which she habitually rubbed. Although she must admit, beseeching to Brighid does have its benefits.

She constantly repeated what her Hoodoo guru and Grandmother, Mama Carolina always told her, “Anythin’ da’ chew do is de plan of God, undastan’? God have somepin to do wit evah’ thin’ chew do if it’s good or bad. He’s got somepin to do wit it. Jis what’s for you, you’ll git it.”

A hypocrite in her own justifiable way, ‘Tunia makes do in whatever way she can. So what care does she have for dark murderous gods.

Anne blew a kiss ‘Tunia’s way. Glad that at least someone was interested in knowing more about this.

“You’re right though, Starfire. You do need to approach Mammon. But don’t worry,” she quickly interjected amid the rolling eyes and Cassandra’s readiness to protest. “The spells and incantations are all advanced. I doubt even with the five of us will be able to perform the ritual,” she said matter-of-factly.

“The three day long ritual requires constant chanting and blood to summon Mammon into our world. And Mammon’s thirst for blood, although a myth, is hardly merely a bowl full. Not the amount we can spare by merely pricking our fingers. The intricate glyphs and the false flames needed to form patterns in the air in order to form the gateway Mammon would use as well as the binding spell has to be perfect when he enters to bind him to our world. All these need to be taken into account,” Anne rushes through the list making it sound impossible to all the well established and experienced witches in the room.

“If dats a challenge, den count me out of it,” ‘Tunia scoffed.

“No challenge,” said Anne as she pushed her chair out to slowly stand, suddenly towering above the women.

Anne circled the table, gradually running her hand along the ridges of the wooden chairs the four women were currently sitting on. She stared into the faces that were quizzically looking up at her. The corners of her mouth creased forming a peculiar smile, one that was unbefitting of her. Anne slowly made her way to the doors that overlooked the swamp, the once polished oak an image of its former splendor.

“I want to introduce all of you to someone,” she slowly pulled the doors open and held her hand out waist high to nothing in particular.

A small boy, naked, bruised and bloodied emerged from the darkness. His face was a canvas of suffering and ill treatment. Cleft-lipped with blood caked to his teeth and lips, the boy limps as he passed under Anne’s outstretched arm.

“Not the cute little boy you all imagined in my story is he?” Anne laughed derisively.

The women stood up almost instantly after seeing the boy, their mouths agape with shock and fear at knowing that Anne of all people had done the things many feared to do – the blood sacrifice, the 72-hour long ritual, it sickened them to their stomachs knowing that she had performed all those ghastly duties.

“The story wasn’t a challenge to us!” Cassandra screamed, “it was bragging! You were bragging that you achieved all of that!” Cassandra had knocked her chair over and was fuming. Her eyes darted left and right as she quickly formed a plan in her head should things go awry.

Anne merely smiled devilishly. She pushed the boy forwards and displayed him to the women amid faces of anger and betrayal. She could feel the heat of their seething faces and could hear the curses aimed at her.

“It was shocking to me too when I pulled him out through the veil parting our world and his. Like a newborn babe coming out of its mother’s womb,” she lamented.

The boy was a small part of the universe, the cartilage of a larger macrocosm of existence. And much like any tissue ripped out of its body, the universe and the cosmos wept as Anne held hostage a part of it for her own selfish demands.

Anne continued, “But there’s one thing the books never told you. You see, in order to be given what wanted, you had to beat him raw and bloodied.”

Anne looked down at the lacerations and gashes covering every inch of his skin, like a hunter as he marveled at the game he had just taken down. The image of pride was splashed across her face as she took in each cut and lesion that bled. Never mind the story of the little boy that dwells between worlds, she knew her true story was about to be told.

“The first few nights I cried as I sliced through his skin with a kitchen knife during the time I wished for power. But, it wasn’t enough. You had to mean it, you had to hate him and loathe him in order for him to grant you what you wished for. The pain you inflicted equivalent to the power you shall receive,” Anne told them as she paced back and forth behind the boy.

“Then I asked to be rich,” Anne turned towards the four ladies looking back at her, faces of disgust and revulsion stared back. She didn’t care.

“I wanted to be like you four. Rich, well off. Not hiding in a small, cramped little room alone and forgotten!” Anne’s face was flushed with anger. Too long had she held in her spite and resentment while she watched as all her friends, her sisters strutted around in nice dresses and fine perfumes.

“For this, I used the flame stove in my room, remember Cassie, that one bedroom dormer in that appalling part of town? The only thing I could afford.”

Cassandra’s face was a mixture of horror and disbelief that slowly contorted into rage. She looked to her sisters. Misha was holding Starfire whose face was buried in her sister’s chest, body heaving raggedly while ‘Tunia had squared her shoulders and was looking straight at Anne ready for whatever would be thrown their way.

“…I pressed the boy’s hands on the open flames till his skin seared and smoked,” Anne continued while looking at Cassandra’s face with abject satisfaction.

Misha glanced at the boy’s hands. His skin was peeled and blackened. His body a mismatch of scars as pus and coagulated blood caked his entire body. She could make out fresh wounds on the boy’s torso as the blood freely dripped onto the smooth wooden floor forming small puddles of thick blood at his feet. She couldn’t take the sight and burst into tears.

Anne slowly walked to the table so as to not startle any of her sisters and reached down to gingerly pick up the vegetable peeler resting on it. She walked back to the boy and stood behind him once again.

“Let me show you the limitless possibilities he can offer us,” she smiled as she looked at the faces of the women around her. Friends she has known all her life. But there can never be people who would stand against her. Her will was resolute and she knew what needed to be done. It was evident from their reactions to her story that they were never open to the possibility of this happening. They were weak and pitiful and useless. The new world she would mold and carve from the blood of another shed by her hands will have no place for weakness.

She looked down and spoke to the boy, “Suffer nothing in this home to live. Burn them alive.” She paused and pondered. “From the inside.” She smiled as she concluded her instruction.

With one hand resting on the boy’s shoulder, she pressed the peeler against the child’s forehead digging the blades into his skin and scraped back the utensil which had now become an utterly crude device.

The boy’s face was a silent contortion of pain as his skin was ripped from his skull. His milky white eyes, blind to the world around him pressed itself closed trying his hardest to suppress the monumental pain that crippled his body. Blood gushed down from the boy’s forehead bathing him crimson as he fell to his knees clawing and reaching out to grab at Anne’s hands.

Anne witnessed the events that unfolded around her. Her blood spattered dress gradually became heavy as it soaked up the blood and the faces of her sisters screaming in agony as flames licked the insides of their mouths as their skins cracked and peeled.

The flames engulfed the women from the inside and licked at the curtains and the upholstery around them setting the furniture on fire. Soon, the entire cabin was in flames as the orange and red tongues climbed the walls and ate away at the wood.

Anne laughed in derision. She laughed at the futile attempts of the women as their faces writhed and knotted and the images began to fade from view and became swirled and warped. She laughed at the blood drenched child she held in her hands. And she laughed. She continued laughing long after her sight grew dark and disappeared.

“Is she still laughing?” asked Cassandra, her face scrunched up in revulsion. It relaxed somewhat to mirror that of pity. As much as she hated Anne for what she had done, Anne was still a friend and one of the nicest people she knew on campus. It was a shame that she let herself become this.

Cassandra and Petunia had found Anne lying on the floor of her apartment one night earlier that week laughing and writhing on the floor. Her furniture had been thrown out to make room for whatever it was she was doing. The walls and floors were painted with weird occult symbols and in the middle of her apartment where her living room used to be was a circle with a pentagram drawn at the center. Candles of every size were placed all about her apartment.

But what shocked them the most was the body of a little boy lying on the floor in the middle of the pentagram. It was the cleft-lipped boy that was on all the missing posters scattered around town. He’d been missing for weeks. They finally found him, throat slit and blood left to pool around him within the circle.

“I don’t think she’ll ever stop,” said Petunia. She cast her eyes to the floor and silently wished Anne the best. She chanced another glance towards her friend in the padded cell. She was still laughing derisively at nothing and no one, tugging against the straitjacket that kept her from hurting herself or anyone near.

“Let’s go ‘Tunia,” Cassandra said. “We’ve still got to meet up with Misha and her hippy girlfriend for their dinner party. Wassername? Starchild?.”

“It’s Starfire,” Petunia corrected her mockingly. “And don’t call me ‘Tunia. Anne always did.” Her voice trailed off. She turned and followed Cassandra out down the hall but not before stealing a glance back at Anne just as Petunia did. She waved goodbye to her friend and trotted off to catch up with Cassandra.

“Shame that whatever Anne was trying to do didn’t work. I wonder what would have happened?” Their voices trailed off and became softer and softer and like their voices, the image of their backs too gradually disappeared from view.

In the confines of the padded cell, tugging and gnawing at the clasps of her straitjacket, Anne waited till the voices of the two girls disappeared entirely and relaxed. Her clever little charade over. Her light brown eyes snapped open and her irises flickered and changed color. Her now electric blue eyes gleamed under the dim light from the moon as it illuminated part of her cell and plunged the other half in pitch darkness.

She smiled coldly and leaned back into the darkness so as only her glowing blue orbs could be seen. But it wasn’t Anne’s lips that slowly crept into an eerie half-smile. Mammon, confined to the body of this girl, this vessel, deliciously imagined all the fun, nasty little things she would do to this girl’s little friends. Much like he did all those centuries before.

 

— Haziq Hamid

Advertisements