Nobody's Witch Finder

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Chapter 6

I wanted to ask how long I had before the witch hunter showed up, but I knew it didn’t really matter. Either I would have all of the herbs or I would not, but I was already working as quickly as I could.

St. John’s Wort was familiar to me from our days as herbalists, and it came through with ease while my mother stood watch over me, its dainty yellow flowers a stark contrast to the darkness that threatened us.

I turned again, this time with my focus on the hazel tree. As it broke soil, I surged energy into it through my tingling palms, and soon had to stand next to it to keep my hands on the tree’s trunk as it rose tall from the ground, finally producing its yellow and brown fingers of flowers.

I prayed again over the site where I would pull the laurus nobilis through, envisioning the silken string tied to a plant in the Mediterranean and pulling it through the earth with continuous, measured movements until I saw myself pull it through the crust, and felt the ground move beneath my hands. I repositioned my hands and surged it to maturity, its sweet smell a comfort against the stifling air. As grains of dirt hit my face, I moved again to pull the last ingredient through.

“Arrgh!” My mother yelled. She was walking with her arms over her eyes toward the fence, toward the gate on the right side of the yard. The terrible black mass was growing taller and taller, swirling, and seething, writhing, and grasping, consuming everything in its path into blackness, darkness, nothingness. There was no singular element to look at, no birthing point of this mass, only inhuman long, dark fingers gripping the tops of the fence pickets.

“What are you doing?” I yelled at her as she moved closer and closer to the gate, struggling against the wind, heat, and skin-tearing grit flying at her. She couldn’t hear me over the howl of the wind, the black grit scraping the wooden fence, peeling back tree bark, slapping the windows of the house.

“Oh my Goddess,” I said as I turned back to the earth. “Okay, one more. Focus, focus. Goddess of the earth, please hear our pleas and help us defeat the great evil that threatens our gates. Show me the te-na-tsa-li Lillies of the Zuni people. Show me the west mountains where they once thrived.”

I pushed all of the noise and darkness away from me, extending a bubble of a shield for my thoughts, closed my eyes, and repeated the prayer. The te-na-tsa-li Lillies are an ancient breed, and the lapse in time from their origin until now had been great, and I struggled to find a spark where the fields once lay. I searched the globe in my mind for other areas to pull the Lillies from, but found only different types of Lillies, none of which would do. I imagined the old book in my head, focusing on the page, the description, the colors, the properties of the te-na-tsa-li Lillies, understanding their use and importance to the ancient tribe who fought for their land, for their rights, who were often left wounded, left broken, and left to die. The silken strand within the globe began to appear, a faint blue at once, but I urged it to come to me as one would urge a scared child from underneath a bed. I could not let it go until I was sure I had a tight grip on it, but I could hear my mother yelling in frustration. Once I had the string fully wrapped around one hand, I pulled hard and opened my eyes at another scream from my mother.

As the first sprout of Lilly emerged, I turned to the gate and saw my mother crouching near it with a rope tied to the latch. I could feel her anticipation and knew the witch hunter was near enough to hear and to see. I scrambled my focus back to finishing my conjuring, and a wave of fear blocked the surge required to grow the Lillies from their sprouts, but I still heard a gate latch open. My mother remained where she stood, crouched behind the gate in front of me, waiting. If her gate didn’t open…I whipped my head around, realizing that she was at the wrong entrance, she was waiting at the wrong place to pounce on the witch finder, and there he stood, brandishing a Bible and a large iron cross like a shield and sword against the hot wind. His black hat flew off backwards as he entered the yard, shielding his eyes from the flying shards of Darkness.

The Darkness swelled up, pressing against the wall of the creaking fence, leaning it in toward the three of us. I closed my eyes once more, cupped the tiny Lilly in my hands and blew a cool breeze across it, feeling the tingle of my palms as the flower grew and budded. As soon as the flower peaked maturity, my mother, who was looking frantically from the witch finder to me and back again, yanked the rope on the gate with a guttural cry, scraping away the salt line with the gate’s bottom, and the enraged Darkness soared in all at once, but not at my mother; it roared to him, knocking the witch finder onto his back, the Bible and cross lost from his grip.

“No!” the witch finder screamed as he scrambled to his knees, grasping for his belongings, but before he could, the Darkness picked him up and flung him against a tree, pinning him there with its fierce winds. His skin began to peel and bleed from the terrible black grit slicing though the air. His arms flailed at his side as he tried and failed to overpower the wind that was pushing down on him, but his only success was gaining one arm close to his side and pulling it tightly in so that he could slide it grittily up his torso to clutch the cross around his neck. “Nnnnnnoooooo!” He yelled again. “Go to hell!”

A crack of lightning made my mother and I yelp, and she scrambled over the ground to me. Once she had reached me, covering me in her protective love, the earth and the skies fell silent. The witch finder lay lifeless on the ground beneath the tree, a tree branch on top of him, his face burnt, his hands bloody and clutching to his cross. It began raining then, just a little at first, into what would have otherwise been considered a nice spring shower. The wind stopped howling. The Darkness was gone. The gate swung noisily in the breeze.

“Mortar and pestle,” my mother signed. “Now!”

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