Four weeks before Kelly arrives in Wales
“His name is Rhys?”
Jolene nodded slowly in thought, watching her steps as she trod through the woods,
“Rhys Llewellyn Maddock.”
I stepped around a fallen branch and followed her through the olive grove down the hill. The chicken in her hand had finally quietened when it realized that it wasn’t going to be immediately killed, and now it was just swinging upside down, occasionally flapping its wings.
“And he is the only son?”
“Mmmm, but reports say he and his father are estranged and have been having power struggles for the last few years. He lives away from the main house on a farm and tries to make an honest living from what we can tell.”
Frowning, I mindlessly stepped into Jolene’s treads as she led us away from the house. The man I had been promised to marry was 32, liked the land, was a hard worker, and hated a parent. Grudgingly, I could relate. The hill plateaued and we were at the bottom shed, where miscellaneous and unpalatable things happened, far away from the house. My brows furrowed,
“So, what exactly are they doing with Ewan’s fishing business now?”
Jolene turned to me, chicken hanging by its legs from her right hand.
“When they aren’t fishing, they run drugs across the channel to Ireland.”
I froze. “Really?”
She gave me an incredulous look.
“Well, yes. I mean it seems so...normal? Thuggish, but normal thuggish.”
She went into the woodshed and came back with a large knife. Not quite a hatchet, but not something one would use in the kitchen.
“Darling, after knowing what they did to your father, guilting him for the accident, taking everything he currently owned, and then even things he didn’t yet have, how does this surprise you?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess, I expected something more..sinister, more paranormal? I don’t know.”
She snorted.”Drug running to the gangs in Ireland that took over when the IRA disbanded isn’t sinister enough for you? Even Weres need to make money, and unfortunately some of them are greedy for wealth and power.” I blanched. Yes, that did sound pretty terrible, and when I remember that it was using the resources my father worked hard to build, my chest constricted a little with anger. Jolene took attention away from it though when she held up the knife.
I looked down at the poor chicken, starting to uselessly flap his wings.
“I don’t know. Can’t we just wait till tomorrow until Giuseppe comes back from the town?”
She shook her head,
“Nope, it’s time you started to pull your weight. I milk and take care of the goats, David does all the farmwork, Mari does literally everything in the house, Nina takes care of everything Deedee, you can do this while the farm help is away.”
I eyed the gigantic knife in her hand.
“But what about...killing things…” Jolene’s eyebrows perked up, “...about the devil...and you know…”
The chicken gave a few boisterous squawks and tried to fly away one more time, while Jolene’s face turned puzzled. I did not know how better to word this, especially since my cousin, Diana, pretty much said it was something we could absolutely not say out loud.
Suddenly, my mother burst out laughing, frightening the poor chicken.
“You think killing things makes them go to the devil?”
I pursed my lips, that did sound silly out loud,
“Well, yeah, Gran and Diana said…”
“They told you that you can’t kill anything because it sends things to the devil, or helps him some way? They specifically said that?”
I thought it over, the two conversations I had with my family never actually said the ‘D’ word, I had just made my own conclusions about what could be terrible enough to scare them to silence.
“Well, no, they didn’t say the Devil anywhere...”
Jolene cut me off, looking like she was an older, wiser student about to school me on the ‘reality’ of our situation.
“Okay, Kelly, here is what I know. Do we still have power without killing? Absolutely. But doing so gives us more of it. It’s just a transference of energy, it’s how you saved your cousin when she was bleeding out on that cot, how you were able to avenge yourself on that slime mercenary, how you were able to grow those magnificent roots that helped save all our lives.”
She looked down at the chicken, now growing somber and seeming sincere,
“I’ve never seen the devil, and I certainly don’t pray to him. In fact, I don’t think he has anything to do with us. But I think I understand a lot more about how our Coven has been operating for the last few years.” Her eyes met mine, and I was clearly confused.
“It’s about control, Kelly. Scaring the young ones with stories of the devil to keep them in line, can never do any magic more powerful than the elders. Have you never seen Margaret do anything that made you stop with amazement? I mean, most things are within the abilities of all witches with incantations, but did you ever see anything that made you literally gasp?”
I thought back to the day where Margaret had grown an entire garden for Franny’s memorial and being in awe at the sight. I simply nodded at her and she gave a laugh in response, almost sorrowful.
“Dear old mom, the master manipulator,” she paused in thought. “You know, I did always think it strange that anytime anyone caught a fish, we had to take it to the elder cabin for killing and cleaning, I guess it all makes sense now.” I looked at the other woman warily. Holy hell, she was making a modicum of sense, and it did jibe with everything I knew about Gran. She shook me from the thoughts though,
“Well, forget about those hags, for now, ready to let dear Henrietta here go to her maker and let Mari at her for dinner?”
I slowly stepped forward and took the knife from her hand, the bird suddenly realizing that she was on borrowed time and began to really put up a fight. The flapping and squawking paired with her panic made my heart go out to her.
“Is...can you put her to sleep...for it?” I pleaded. My mother gave me a reproachful look, like I was taking the easy way out but continued to grasp the bird and put it under her arm, her head sticking out near her chest. She started to soothe it, and soon Henrietta had forgotten the past five minutes.
“Pet her forehead, softly.” Doing as I was told Jolene suddenly grabbed my finger. “There, reach out with your senses, do you feel that pulse?” I closed my eyes and sure enough, a few millimeters past the feathers there was a pulse, stronger than the little ones surrounding it.
“Now, imagine you are pinching that pulse, gently, and not for long, just until her eyes close.”
Making the motions in my mind, Henrietta seemed to fall asleep, and I stepped back, grinning like a fool. Jolene gave me a similar smile, then laid the sleeping bird on the tree stump.
Okay, I could do this. Plenty of people killed their own food, in fact, most people did it up until fifty years ago. I could do this. I hefted the knife in my hand, feeling most of its weight settle at the blade end and leaned over Henrietta’s limp body. I could do this, Henrietta was food, we needed to eat. I aimed the knife, and swung it hard down, feeling the knife initially run into cartilage, then pushing past it to the stump.
For a few moments, I breathed hard, feeling the adrenaline and excitement rush through me. I stood up, and found Jolene smiling proudly at me and for a brief moment, it felt good to see.
“Good job, little blood splatter.”
A noise from above us on the hill caused Jolene to look up. She put her two forefingers up to her throat and opened her lips, speaking without the sound. From up the hill somewhere, I heard her distant voice, as if she was on the top of the hill.
“David, would you come down here for a moment? We need a man’s help.”
She released her fingers and smiled up the hill as she watched him start to descend. My head whipped back and forth between her and the hill.
“How..how did you do that?”
Her eyes focused on me, a little confused as to what I was referring to. “You mean Ventriloquist dummy?” I nodded, enthusiastically. “Well, that’s an easy one, put your fingers to your throat, say or think the latin ‘Exsto’ and imagine where you want to project it to.”
I mimicked her motions and practiced saying the word in my head. Something about it seemed familiar, had I seen her do this before? No, I didn’t think so, but something nagged at my memory with the idea.
I turned around to watch her husband stride down the hill, beaming at the two of us.
God, this poor man. Yes, he was probably not the best human being, given his chosen profession, but the looks of adoration he was always giving my mother was sickening knowing they were forced.
He bounded the last few steps over to us and looked down at the chicken, slightly twitching. The sight reminded me of the man in the alleyway, twitching and gasping his last breaths, the first man I had ever killed. I had to look away from the spasming chicken and up the hill. David however, saw the remains and gave me a playful jab to the shoulder.
“Wonderful! I have a goat that needs doing tomorrow for the local church pastor.” I frowned at him. More slaughterhouse work did not sound enticing, but he smiled at me like a father, ignoring my expression. “Knew you could do it, Kel. And I think Giuseppe would appreciate someone taking over now and then.” He looked between the two of us. “Need me to clean up, darling?”
I gave a terse smile and was ready to head back up to the house when my mother halted me with a hand to my shoulder.
“Actually, David, Kelly here needs a human to practice on. Sit down, please.”
I turned back to the pair. David made an ’ahhhh’ing motion, before moving to another free tree stump. My mouth gaped open, about to protest using a human guinea pig when Jolene shushed me.
“Oh, don’t worry, David is used to it. And you might really need this one day.”
I looked down at him, she was right, better to put someone to sleep than to actually fight, or kill. That was a proven skill when Gran put the teenage berserker Goode boy to sleep when I was a youth.
I moved over to the pair and raised my hand to David’s forehead, his sweaty brow slick beneath my fingers, and I spread them through his scalp and the man gave me a little smile.
“Now, on the left side of his head, your right, place your hand like this,” and she directed and placed my fingers, “where your thumb and forefinger would meet, you should feel the same kind of pulse as the chicken.”
I listened to her instructions and thought them over, I shook my hand out, trying to get rid of the nerves, and replaced it on his head. Closing my eyes, I reached out.
I gasped in shock and snapped my hand back, but quickly recovered in front of Jolene.
“Sorry, nervous,” and she gave me a puzzled expression, looking back down to David, who still had the agreeable smile plastered on his face
I resumed my hand on his scalp and tried again, more prepared for anything unusual.
Shrieking. Hoarse shrieking.
This time I didn’t recoil but listened to the cry. The longer I listened over the few moments, I realized what it was, the screaming had a clear voice. It was David. The real David Arawn. The prisoner in his own head, the one that the compulsion spell to my mother charged over and ignored.
Fuck. The man was wailing inside his own brain, there were no words, but it was clear: he was trapped and had been for ten years. Aware that my mother was next to me, watching, I spoke up,
“Sorry, say it again, where am I supposed to be feeling?”
She described the triangulation I should be making with my finger and thumb. That was it, I was in the wrong place in his brain, presumably someplace she had never needed to go. I was somewhere else that his psyche had been locked up in. Following her instructions, I found the pulse, just like the chicken, and very carefully, gave a little squeeze to it until I felt David’s head slump underneath my hand.
Opening my eyes, Jolene was holding the limp prisoner upright and rewarding me with a big smile.
“Good, now, you could just shake them awake if you wanted to, doesn’t take anything special.”
All I could do was stare at the woman. Who the hell was she, did she have any empathy anymore? It was possible that she didn’t even know that the man was still in there, seeing everything and wailing in perpetual anguish. No good would come of mentioning it, and for some reason, I felt that doing so would be dangerous to him and myself.
After a moment, I realized she was expecting me to say something, “Uhh, right.” and I gently grabbed him by the shoulder and rustled him awake.
Sure enough, David awoke and smiled at my face.
“On your first try!” He exclaimed like he was so proud that I had used magic on him to force him asleep like it was a common occurrence. He stood and grabbed the chicken by the legs, careful to not swing any of its blood onto us ladies, and together, we all started the walk back up the hill.
Forcing the sounds of David’s screams from my head, I returned thoughts to my apparent fiance and our earlier conversation.
“So, Rhys Maddock, is he at least any good looking?”