Nobody's Witch Finder

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Chapter 5

When I stepped on the back stone patio, the darkening purple sky was thick with an ominous feeling. I so desperately wanted to go back inside where I could lock the monsters out, but I knew that was a fleeting and futile wish. Even still, I wasn’t more than a foot off of the brown stone patio before my feet stopped and I couldn’t go further for fear that I would be sucked over the fence and be gone forever, so that’s where I knelt. I put as much of my shins onto the earth and nestled my knees between the patches of grass.

I cupped my hands on the ground in front of me and said a prayer in my head, “Goddess of the earth, grant me the ability to conjure the herbs from our past and from the present, if and where they grow, to use in the near future to rid ourselves of the evil of man and spirit.”

A hot wind blew my hair in every direction, but I closed my eyes against it and repeated the prayer in my head, and was again met with heat but also with dirt and debris, and still I kept my eyes closed, starting the prayer at its beginning every time I reached the end. With every verse, the wind grew hotter and more leaves and small twigs and grains of dirt brushed against my arms and face, but I dared not open my eyes.

The wind began to howl through the slats of the fence, whistling and crackling against the wood, but under my fingers, something nudged my hand, breaking my concentration and vow not to open my eyes.

There it was. The first plant, salvia, was not more than a few inches tall, but enough that my own magic energy swelled inside me at the sight of it. The surge of energy strode down my arms, tingling my hands before casting out into the plant, and I watched it flourish in front of me into a perfect specimen. I shifted over a few inches and repeated the process, calling on the Goddess to grant me the ability again and again until a sprouting of basil popped up between my fingers.

Each prayer brought angrier and angrier winds, each draft seeming hotter than the next, as though it was a wind blowing straight from hell’s gates. The tree limb that the Darkness used to hang my mother in my vision cracked and dropped down as though it had been struck by lightning. When I flinched at the noise, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. She was staring over the fence line, but I’d never seen such a look of worry on her face before, even when she held me and consoled me after they took my father. I knew I must hurry, so I left her to watch and turned my attention to the grounds.

With the basil and salvia fully mature, I turned again several inches to the left, working counterclockwise, and concentrated my efforts on repeating the prayer and envisioning the next plant, Valerian. Like laurus nobilis and ti-na-tsa-li, I’d never seen this plant in real life. I concentrated my mind on the image in the book, alternating between prayer and envisioning its purple flower pods atop their long stalk necks protruding from the palm-like green bodies. It was stubborn to come through the crust of the earth at my palms, and the heat from the wind was making my forehead sweat. I envisioned the earth as a globe and saw myself pull a tiny string through the earth’s core from Asia, at the end of which was my Valerian. I pulled it in smooth slowness, drawing the cord in my mind’s eye with my breath, steady and drawing until something soft brushed my palm.

My mother’s grip was again on my shoulder, but when I ignored her to reposition my knees as I had done before, she squeezed again. Looking up at her, I realized she wasn’t looking at me or squeezing my shoulder in pride and boosting confidence. She squeezed because she was afraid to do anything else. She just stood still, mouth agape just a little, staring across the yard, so I followed her gaze. The sky had turned indigo, but there was a swirl of blackness writhing and seething in the trees not far from the fence line. I gasped.

“Are those…bugs?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Bats?”

No again.

When I looked again, the black mass lurched toward us in a concerted effort, toward the fence line, toward our house, but the blackness scattered as it reached the fence, splashing up as though it were an all-consuming tidal wave, threatening the integrity of the fence, the salt line beneath it, and us.

My mother pushed my head down as she stepped in front of me, forcing me to focus on the task at hand.


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