Story – Witches’ Eve

witches_eveI realized that for all my discussion of being a speculative fiction writer and wanting to explore speculative fiction erotica, I didn’t actually have any spec fic stories available. Allow me to remedy that.

The following is a story that I wrote last fall for the annual ERWA Halloween challenge, which encourages topics in the fantasy, paranormal, and even horror genres.

***

Isabel ran like the devil was chasing her. He might well have been; few other things would drive her to run toward the woods. By all accounts, traversing the woods at night was a risky prospect at best, but entering it tonight, on Witches Eve, was suicide. But the roars of her father behind her spurred her on.

She crashed through the undergrowth at the edge of the tree line, slowing only when she reached the darkness under the canopy. Gulping for breath, she strained to hear the sounds of pursuit through the blood pounding in her ears.

Her senses gradually came back to her. Shapeless shadows resolved into trunks and bushes as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. A light flickered between the trees behind her, coming from the meadow. She crept to the edge of the woods. A torch bobbed erratically over the dry grass, accompanied by the drunken yells of her father, demanding that she come back and face him.

The panic melted from her system. Even if he suspected her of fleeing into the woods there was no way he would follow. Every person in the village had fear of the forest drilled into them from an early age until it was so instinctive that not even a barrel of ale could drown it. The fool would probably just stumble around the field until he passed out. With any luck he would accidentally burn the grass to the ground, with him in the middle of it.

The thought of fire brought her back to the present. She gingerly touched the wound on her upper arm, hissing lightly. The blisters formed the shape of her father’s wrought-iron poker, eerily precise. The throbbing pain was only an echo of the original heat of the iron, but an echo that wasn’t fading.

The rest of her body relaxed. This one wasn’t nearly as bad as some others had been. Echoes of her father’s attentions—twenty years’ worth—littered the rest of her skin.

She looked around her. Fear of her father was ebbing, but fear of the forest was replacing it. The woods seemed still, blanketed by a heavy mist. Not even a cricket disturbed the silence. She inhaled the cool air, rich with the scents of growth and decay, and shivered.

Perhaps if she stayed at the edge of the forest, within sight of its boundaries, she would be alright. She could use it as cover to make her way towards town. Everyone would be busy out in the square for the bonfire festival, so hopefully she could sneak into an empty stable to spend the night.

Isabel walked away from her father’s yells, moving slowly to avoid making extra noise, the only sign of her passing the mist kicked up in her wake.

After only a few feet, lancing pain tore at her ankles. She cowered down, clenching her jaw in silent agony. Spiny brambles covered the forest floor, partially obscured by the mist. They grabbed and tore at her skin like claws trying to drag her back. She tried to pick her way through them, wincing at every scrape, but the branches only seemed to get thicker and higher the further she went.

With the brambles slowing her down, her father’s voice was getting closer. Her panic rose again. If she left the forest to find a way around the thicket he would probably see her, even through his drunken rage. Her only other option was to go deeper into the forest. If the brambles were berries, then they were probably only growing at the edge of the forest where it was brighter. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to go very far before clearing the thicket and finding a way around.

She hesitated, then turned to head deeper into the darkness.

The sounds of her father faded once again, muffled by trees and the mist. She kept close to the looming shadow of the brambles as she walked. Not only were they her only guide out of the forest, they offered some protection against unseen dangers lurking in the dark.

Minutes passed with no edge to the thicket in sight. Just as she was wondering how big it was, her shins bumped against a fallen log. It was barely knee-high, but wide, and slick with dew. She carefully hoisted herself onto it to slide across, reaching her legs forward to touch down on the other side….

…And shrieked when they found only empty air.

She grasped for purchase but couldn’t stop. She fell for a breathless second, then crashed into an incline of soft loam, her momentum carrying her forward in a whirlwind of leaves. She yelled in terror and pain, dirt filling her mouth, until she ran out of air. An eternity later, the slope bottomed out and she slid to a stop.

Isabel lay for minutes, just another formless shape in the mists, before finally stirring. Her mouth was full of the taste of soil and moss. She tried to spit it out between gasps, but every breath she took in pulled the musty essence of the forest deeper inside her.

She pushed herself up. The burn on her arm was now exploding with agony, but it was rivaled by a number of cuts and scrapes across the rest of her. Nothing was broken, but her worn cotton dress was in tatters.

She peered through the gloom. She had landed in some sort of glen, ringed by looming trees. The mist was even thicker here at this lower elevation. There was no sign of the bramble thicket. She couldn’t even tell which way she had fallen in from.

She huddled, shivering. There was no chance of getting to town tonight. Her only hope would be to spend the night in the forest and hope nothing found her before daylight.

At that moment, she heard her name whispered through the mists.

Isabel…. 

Adrenaline pumped through her, evaporating her pain. She scrambled backwards, pressing her back against one of the trees. Her mouth gaped, trying to take in more air without making a sound.

Isabel…. The voice was slightly louder this time. She realized there was movement in the mist in front of her. It was circling slowly around the clearing, a cool breeze brushing her face and licking against her wounds. A spiral formed, centered in the middle of the glen. The mist pulled toward its nadir, darkening as it approached. As it condensed, moonlight poured through the canopy, but the mist swallowed it before it could read the forest floor.

An even darker shape formed in the center of the gloom. It sucked in mist and moonlight alike as it grew larger. She watched, paralyzed, as the darkness flowed like clay, forming a tall shape with long arms and even longer legs.

The shape absorbed the last wisps of haze, then shuddered. A cascade of dark mist sloughed off, like an insect splitting its skin, and settled into a pool at the center of the clearing, revealing the creature that had pupated inside.

It was man-shaped, but only barely. A human chest and arms—heaving lightly with breath—tapered down to a narrow waist. The legs below, though, were formed more like a goat, but heavy and muscular as a plowhorse. The face was human, but wan, with high cheekbones and an uncannily flat nose. Long hair cascaded off the head to the shoulders, framing a set of branched, elegant antlers. Everything about the creature was as shadowed and dark as the mist it formed from.

And it was male. Very, obviously, male.

She stared at him, breath caught in her chest. He stared back, dark eyes glittering in the moonlight.

“Isabel,” he said. Though she could now see him speaking in front of her, the voice still seemed to resonate from all sides. “Do you know who I am?”

She gulped. “You…you’re a demon.” Her voice, barely a whisper, echoed in the silence of the glen.

He threw back his head and laughed, a sound like the rumbling of the earth. “Child, a demon wouldn’t set one claw in my forest.”

“But…you look just like what the Elders tell us.”

The echoes of the laughter cut off instantly. “The same Elders who tell you that the abuses of your father are simply their god’s will?”

The burn on her arm suddenly flared in pain. Isabel gasped and cowered over it. After a moment the pain ebbed, but the wound—along with the cuts and bruises on the rest of her body—still throbbed.

A reminder of all her scars.

She took a steadying breath. “But…what about changelings?” He didn’t react to this, so she continued. “Demon-spawned babies sired on women who venture too close to the forest at night.” Her eyes drifted down to his…masculinity. She shuddered and looked away. “Those babies are real, so how could the Elders be wrong?”

The creature chuckled. The sound was more sad than mirthful. “A convenient lie, spread by desperate women and disdainful men.”

Isabel processed this silently. She looked down, fingering the shredded remains of her dress. “What do you want of me?” she asked softly.

The creature regarded her for a moment before replying. “Tonight is the simhaugh, which you call Witches’ Eve. Tell me, Isabel, how do your people celebrate it?”

Isabel looked up, perplexed. “There’s a festival, and dancing, and then the big bonfire.”

“What do you burn on the bonfire?”

“The straw-dolls, decorated to look like witches.”

“Do you know why?”

She shook her head. She had never thought too deeply about the festival before. Partially because it simply was the way it had always been. But partially because her father rarely let her go.

The creature smiled, but the rest of his face was filled with anger. “Your people burn the straw-witches because a real witch hasn’t been seen for generations.”

Isabel stared at him. He continued, voice resonating even deeper. “Ages ago, your ancestors celebrated this night under its true name and for its true purpose. The night when the power of the forest is at its peak. Your people came into the forest under the simhaugh moon so that they might use that power to initiate new witches.”

He looked up. Isabel followed his gaze. The full moon was approaching its zenith above the clearing.

“But then new ideas infected your people, poisoning your minds and tearing you from the lifeblood of the forest.” His voice rumbled like thunder through the clearing. “You hunted your witches and forbid anyone from entering the forest on Witches’ Eve. Now, generations later, your people barely enter the forest at all.”

She didn’t know how to respond. Everything he was saying—everything he was— was anathema to what she had been told her whole life. Her instinct told her to shut him out, to call upon the prayers she had been taught to protect herself.

But something deeper inside of her began to uncurl, awoken by his words and the moonlight and the scent of the forest. A baser instinct that yearned for more.

“Do you mean to turn me into a witch, then?” Her heart pounded in her throat.

He chuckled, thunder draining from his voice. “The power of the forest is not forced upon the witch. It is merely offered. She must accept it.”

“Why? Why would anyone accept that, and damn themselves—“

Damn themselves? Damn themselves?!” His voice erupted like a storm crashing directly overheard. Isabel clapped her hands over her ears. The moonlight dimmed, plunging the clearing into darkness. All she could see was a glow from his eyes, glaring at her.

“Damn those who spread lies! Damn those who would harm the innocent! Damn those who would exploit the forest!

As he spoke, his eyes grew larger. Isabel realized he was walking toward her. She cowered back against the tree.

“This power does not damn. It heals. It nurtures,” he rumbled. “But like all life, it also protects itself, clearing out deadfall and the chaff so that new life might spring from the ashes.”

He stopped a few feet away from her, still shrouded in darkness. Isabel shivered. After a few moments of silence, she spoke. “It…heals?”

“Yes,” he rumbled, his eyes still narrowed.

Isabel once again reached to touch her aching burn. “Show me,” she whispered.

At once, the darkness lifted and moonlight streamed down again. Now that he was closer, she could see the details of his form: the close fur of his legs, the ropes and planes of muscle stretched across his arms and torso. He stood with perfect, inhuman stillness. She was struck by how much strength he must have to look so powerful and yet so graceful at the same time.

He wasn’t human, yet somehow he seemed more authentically male than any man she knew from the village. She was still terrified, but the recently-awoken part of her was drawn to him in a way she didn’t understand.

The dark mist around his feet drifted forward. She tensed but didn’t move away. It flowed like water until it reached her feet and lifted into gauzy tendrils. The mist caressed all parts of her skin, exposed and hidden. Wherever it passed her aches evaporated. She looked down, watching the cuts and bruises vanish before her eyes. It saved the burn for last, wrapping around her upper arm in a dark band, cool and reassuring. When the mist cleared, the skin was whole.

The sudden relief from pain was almost unbearable. She held herself, tension melting from her body in a few shuddering sobs. Deep down, she realized it wasn’t just the physical pain that was evaporating. The creature watched her quietly.

She looked up at him. “I…I could wield this power myself?”

He nodded his head once.

She thought of her village. The Elders. Everything she had been taught. Her childhood.

She thought of her father.

Slowly, she climbed to her feet and stood before him. “What must I do?”

The creature watched her silently. She stared back into his eyes. After a few moments, he smiled. “You must reach out and take it.”

The mist rose again, reaching tendrils toward her but yet touching her. She reached one hand toward it hesitantly.

“Open your heart, Isabel, and welcome it.”

She took a deep breath and plunged her hand in.

The mist poured into her. It spread up her arm, along her nerves, leaving fire in its wake. But this fire didn’t burn with pain; it burned with power, with purpose. With joy.

More tendrils reached out to wrap around her. She gasped, reeling, but the mist held her steady. It filled her like the scents of the forest had filled her nostrils. The power brought with it the sensations and essence of the forest, but deeper, richer. As it flowed, the forest became a part of her. She felt its secret places, its stories, and its expanse; not only as they existed at that moment, but how they had existed throughout time. She welcomed it, inviting the sensations to flow deeper inside her, to merge with her very core.

The power flowed ceaselessly, but it was still not enough. She stripped off the remains of her dress, exposing her skin to the mist and the night air. The mist clung to her, blurring the line between her body and itself. At that moment, she didn’t care if she lost herself, as long as it meant drowning in this sea of power.

An eternity later, the influx of power ebbed. She stumbled. She barely registered the sensation of falling before a warm presence caught her. The creature, the…forest spirit, had collected her, pulling her into his embrace. She clung to him, digging her nails into the muscles of his arms, pressing against his chest as if she could absorb his essence along with that of the mist. He tightened his hold on her in response.

His scent was a physical embodiment of the sensations coursing through her, overwhelming and intoxicating. She wrapped around him, growling like a predator, like every predator that had ever stalked the forest.

“This…is a very old way,” he rumbled in her ear. His voice was amused, but she could feel the serious response of his body. “Do you invite me as well?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Yes.” Anything to complete her, to fill the aching need that even the power of the entire forest couldn’t slake. He didn’t reply, but slid his hands down her back to hoist her against him.

He entered her, in one smooth motion. She cried out, tossing her face toward the moon high overhead. This was what was missing, what was right. He filled her with a presence and power that rivaled the torrent of the mist. She wrapped her legs around him tighter, pulling him deeper to join the knot of power growing at her core.

She rode him, undulating against his grip. The flow of energy through her body started pulsing in time with her movements. Every thrust sent a surge of fire echoing along her nerves. She gasped and moaned, each breath pulling in more essence—of him, of the forest, even the moonlight—to fill her. Her entire world was him, herself, and the forest. She rode him toward the moment where the three would be united as one, working to pull in as much power as she could, never wanting these sensations to end. She held her breath, teetering for one breathless second.

The world exploded. Her body arched in pleasure as the power collected inside her radiated out, bathing every inch of her body in warmth and fire. The passion travelled on, echoing along with her cries, weaving itself into the fabric of energy in the entire forest.

 #

 Saints’ Day, dawning the morning after Witches Eve, was traditionally a time of cleansing and renewal. The villagers used it as an opportunity to venture through the community and make sure everyone was preparing for winter.

It didn’t take long for them to discover the burned remains of the farmhouse at the edge of the forest.

Everyone agreed on what had happened. The drunken old fool had finally done himself in by passing out in front of an overbuilt fire, the accepted theory even before they found his charred corpse in the kitchen. The remains of his recluse of a daughter were never found, likely completely incinerated in the blaze. People clucked their teeth at the tragedy of it all and moved on with their lives, clearing the land so that a young family might take it over.

Those who thought it strange that a comatose drunk would have died cowering, holding his hands up in defense—as his twisted body was found in—kept their opinions to themselves.

 ***

© Corvidae 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be copied or distributed without express permission of the author.

Posted on January 10, 2014, in Stories and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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