by Jack Curtin
"It appears that Naomi Prentice is a witch," the news director said. Jillian had her doubts. "Bitch is more like it, given the way she treated everybody back in high school." "Just get the story," he said.
Jillian had no intention of working in her home town's two-bit TV market for the rest of her life. Even if Naomi was not what everybody said she was, her story could finally jump start Jillian's career. If she was the first to get an exclusive interview with Naomi, she'd be on her way.
An amateur photographer had captured her old classmate on film performing seemingly impossible feats at yesterday's major train derailment outside of town. With passengers telling stories of circles of light engulfing them and suddenly finding themselves safely on a nearby hillside and other people, all under the cloak of anonymity, coming forward to tell further tales of Naomi's mystical powers, things really got crazy. The networks already had their people in town, snooping around.
But no one could find Naomi. She had disappeared. And Jillian knew where she was.
The Prentice cabin at the lake looked, as it had for over a decade, abandoned and unused. But as she approach it, Jillian recalled memorable nights there. Naomi may have been difficult to get along with, but she was never one to pass up the opportunity to party. Several of her classmates had helped her turn the old cabin, at least on the inside, into a party palace a decade ago. Music, drugs and willing males became a weekend staple there in those days and anyone who was in on the secret was free to partake of those particular pleasures without fear of consequence.
Jillian walked up the crumbling steps to the porch and was about to knock when she heard a familiar voice from inside. "Come right in, Jillian."
The room--and the cabin was essentially that, a single room with kitchen and bath off it and sleeping areas upstairs in the loft--was as she remembered it. Naomi, sitting in a chair before the fireplace, was as well.
"How…how did you know it was me?"
Naomi smiled. "I used my mystic powers," she said, "or perhaps I looked out the window and saw you coming up the path."
When Jillian said nothing, Naomi continued. "You've come to see if I am indeed a witch, I presume. I must say I'm impressed that you found me so quickly."
"I just assumed…."
"As I said, very impressive. And you deserve a reward. Nothing will do now but that I take you to meet my coven."
"You wanted a witch, I'm going give you a full complement of thirteen." Naomi laughed. Then she stood and looked Jillian up and down, appraising her flannel shirt and jeans. "It would be better if you were more presentable, though. Do you have something else you might wear?"
Jillian had packed a skirt, blouse and blazer in the trunk of her car, just in case things moved quickly and she had an opportunity to go on air with one of the national networks. "Yes," she said, "Oh, yes."
Naomi herself did not dress up in a long black dress and pointed hat, which disappointed Jillian, but she perked up at the sight of the hidden-away clearing where they arrived at twilight. It was so dead-on similar to those shown in bad movies that it would be perfect for the TV cameras. There were already a dozen women there, none of them looking any different from a random dozen chosen off the streets of any city. They had started a fire and were feeding brush into it. Perfectly normal, yet there was a sense of something different. Magic in the air, thought Jillian, startled at the realization.
Naomi paused on the edge of the clearing and turned to Jillian, grabbing her arm. "I know you think all of this is a big joke," she said, "but it is true. I am a witch. We are all witches. Listen…"
The other women had circled around the fire and were urging Naomi to join them. They began chanting in a strange, ancient language. Jillian winced at the sound.
"The thing is, we are good witches," Naomi continued, "not the evil witches of stories and legends. We use our powers to help, not to harm."
Jillian pulled her arm away. "But there are evil witches." It was not a question.
Naomi nodded. "Yes," she said. "Most witches are evil. It is our nature, I suppose. But we're different. We work to thwart the others' wickedness. Fortunately, they don't know about us yet…."
"I'm afraid they do now," laughed Jillian. She whirled around, her arms outstretched above her head. She began chanting loudly in a language as old as the others had used, but one more friendly to her own ears. The Great Darkness swirled about them and the Creatures Without Name leaped from its shadows. Jillian saw Naomi's horrified expression as the good witches screamed, then they were all swept into the maelstrom.
In the silence afterwards, Jillian considered the possibilities. She really had wanted it all to be a hoax. That was something she could have worked to her advantage. Now she had to hope that the mysterious disappearance of Naomi and 12 other local women would be the story that took her to the big time.
Copyright © 2003 Jack Curtin
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