January 3, 2013 Writing Prompt:
"Personally, I think they're a cult."
"Personally, I think they're a cult."
“The Wages of Sin, They are Death”
"Personally, I think they're a cult."
Carmen released the curtain tie and let the drape fall shut. Now in late afternoon, the sitting room was gloomy; shadows darted in the corners and against the far wall. I sat quietly at the bezique table in the alcove, waiting for her to remember to turn on a lamp, but she was still too engrossed in the inside of her mind to notice the encroaching darkness.
“Cult--I spoke to the Sheriff last week.”
“You hadn’t told me that..”
“I’m the elder sister, Phylomena, and our safety is my concern.”
“Carmen, they are only youngsters.”
“No, Phylomena, they are not! And how is it you would know so?”
Now I wished I had not spoken. I never wanted my older and very strict sister to know that I had seen some of the goings-on at the commune, as I believed the residents called it—Carmen termed it “Satan’s den of iniquity,” convinced that wild carrying-on would inevitably lead to ceremonial magick and then to summoning of demons. My sister had been a support and treasure to me since our parents died when I was ten and she was twenty, but she would never be accused of open-mindedness.
From the windows on the ground floor, the “public rooms” as Carmen called them (although we never had any visitors other than the Parson), the rolling hill to the East and the woods on the North and West blocked any view of surrounding properties. But from the second floor sitting room, the French doors looked East across that gentle green hill, and the roof of the two-story farmhouse formerly in the lengthy ownership of the Blankenship lineage could be viewed. All I ever noticed was a few spots on the roof in need of repairs after our long harsh winters—and Freedom. Carmen saw Sin, with a capital “S,” an occurrence she abhorred more than anything else in life.
“Carmen, come back to the game. Leave off thinking about the neighbours for an evening.”
My sister acquiesced, but clearly her mind was not on the game. Her obsession with that group had become painful—for both of us.
“And what did the Sheriff say, Sister?”
That brought her attention up from her cards to me.
“Sheriff? Oh yes—I did mention him-in passing. I saw him last Thursday when I went into town to buy supplies. I simply reminded him of the ungodly nature of that—that gathering—over the hill; and I informed him that I had seen lights there in the woods, on the overnight of the Wednesday last—undoubtedly in commemoration of a foul witches’ sabbat. Sheriff Means knows I saw candlelight, bobbing and dipping, jerking and swaying, throughout the woods for over an hour at the midnight.”
I had hoped that she had slept through that event, but apparently not so. At least she had not come looking for me; over the last three years since I had moved to the attic room, Carmen never liked to climb up there at night. She said the shadows bothered her and she couldn’t see clearly. The latter made sense; the former comment was too unlike Carmen to be acknowledgeable. Unless, of course, she equated “shadows” with “Sin” and in that case she would have found them perturbing. But no “Sin” took place in the attic room where I lived; no, Sin took place elsewhere, away from this Godly property where no sin would ever dare rear its ugly head.
“Sister, would you like me to prepare supper? Your mind does not seem to be on our game this eve.”
Carmen’s eyes snapped up and gazed into mine, an almost feral presence looking out at me. For a moment I was certain that she might have heard me, but that her brain did not translate my words. Then suddenly her gaze cleared, and she visibly shook herself, tossing down her hand of cards.
“No, Phylomena, I shall prepare the meal. Parson Weems is visiting tonight, for an extended prayer meeting, and I have offered him a tasty supper beforehand. You may have an early meal of cold cuts, in your room. Please do not disturb Parson and myself.”
This was an unexpected boon; Parson’s “prayer meetings” often extended late into the night. At times I had not heard the rattle of his carriage wheels nor the clicking of his horse’s hooves until well past midnight. Seemed odd to me that even after several of these extended sessions of knocking on the door of Heaven, the Commune still remained, the gift which the death of the final Blankenship heir at age ninety had unexpectedly brought to me: Love, Affection, and Freedom, all in a summarily appealing package, my Tom. Now that Carmen would be closeted in the ground floor parlour with Parson Weems until the wee hours, I would have quite some time to escape the house, to run through the woods and skirt the hill (I took care never to cross over the hill, for as I have mentioned, the upstairs sitting room’s French doors and balcony looked right out onto it), and to cavort near all the night with my beloved. Soon, very soon, I would be fully his and he would be mine; and I would leave nothing of my sister Carmen behind me to scold nor to report my absence.
I scurried downstairs to the larder to collect cold roast beef and cheese before Carmen came into the kitchen to start supper. I skipped my preferred Limburger, because after all, I planned to visit Tom tonight; and instead took a chunk of the plain cheese Carmen bought from the farmer’s gathering in the town. Once upstairs, I set the plate and glass of milk on the crate beside my east-facing attic window, that same window which had always provided me with a wonderfully clear view of the former Blankenship land; the same window from which I had first spotted Tom, and at which I had watched the procession from farmhouse to woods for each Sabbat celebration. The coven had lived there for eight months now, and due to pressure from the townspeople and the Sheriff—pressure inspired by my sister and Parson Weems—they were looking to purchase land about fifty miles farther away. They would be leaving in the morning, but they would not be leaving alone. No, Tom and I were the vanguards, going later tonight; and there would be no Carmen left to call out after me, nor to report my departure to Sheriff Means. His bloodhounds would not be unleashed to track ME.
As I reached for a slice of the beef, motion on the hill caught my eye, and I spotted Pastor Weems, in his long-sleeved white linen shirt and ivory linen trews, overlarge Bible tucked under one arm, crossing the hill toward our property. He, of course, did not see me peering from the attic window; his head was tucked down and he walked slowly, almost wearily. I thought perhaps he had attempted to hold a prayer session with the communers and demonstrate to them the error of their ways. That would have been futile; they were witches, every one—and I gloried in it.
I did for a moment wonder why Pastor was not in his suitcoat, and where he had left his horse and carriage; but such mundane and uninteresting speculations could not deter me from my purpose, and my glorying in the escape that was to come. As soon as I had eaten, I pushed the plate aside and pulled my satchel, already packed, out from under the cot, where I then sat to wait until dark.
Night was not long in coming, and soon I lifted my satchel and tiptoed from my attic room and down the back stairs. From the back of the kitchen, where the servants’ staircase I had used opened up, I could hear murmurings, shouted prayers, and then—laughter??—from the front parlour, where I knew Pastor and Carmen were well intent on their demanding of Heaven to destroy the sinners across the hill. I only smirked, then slipped back through the swinging door, and hurried to the back entry, where I stepped outside, being careful to push the door closed sufficiently to latch. A race across the meadow into the woods, for I was so happy, I could not wait to walk slowly, and I passed under the first of the overcrowding trees. About ten steps into the forest, something dripped on my hair; I thought, “Rain? Surely not, it is such a glorious night, albeit with no moon.” Another step, another drop, and more, till I stood still and thought: “These trees are too closely packed for rain—so what is--?” Something impelled my glance upwards, to find an arm, a man’s arm clothed in burlap sleeve, pending from the lowest branch. I stifled my scream and moved to the side so I could better see: a leg then too, and red drops falling from both arm and leg. I think I knew then, though my mind refused to accept, and I walked under the overhanging branch and circumnavigated the trunk, till I was about at the spot I had first felt the drop. Then I looked up and saw: long blond tresses, cloaked in red. My Tom! My Tom! My mouth opened to scream, till I realized the killer might still be in the woods, and I began to run. Oh! It never occurred to me to race back to Carmen’s house, but only to run for the commune’s farmhouse. But everywhere above me, were stuffed-corpses—men and women, no children, for as yet the commune had birthed none, they were witches after all—every other tree had an occupant and by the time I had pushed my way through the woods and come out on the other, enclosed, side behind the Blankenship farmhouse, my conscious brain had counted thirteen—thirteen, and that was every one of the number that the commune-coven possessed. I ran around the back of the farmhouse and entered at the side door leading to the larder, passing through the kitchen and each of the rooms downstairs. Blood splattered on the walls and the kitchen table; blood in the front parlour Brother Jameson used for his study; none in the other parlour, but blood all up the stairs, and in every one of the seven upstairs bedrooms was blood: soaking bed linens, painting walls, coating four-posters’ canopies. A slaughter; my friends and my beloved had been massacred like pigs, by a porker. But they would not go unavenged; no, I could not resurrect, no longer could I escape—but I could avenge. I raced back downstairs, falling once in my haste, then stumbled back through the kitchen and out the larder door, heading for the shed. I knew where the tools were kept: Tom and his friend Bradders had been the members appointed to keep the yards clean, to cut wood for the fireplaces and cookstove, and to kill the occasional offending snake. I threw up the latch on the tool shed and rushed in; even in the dark, for it was now pitch black, my hand reached out for the axe and struck on the handle immediately. Then it was away on my mission, and I ran up over the hill, for I no longer cared who saw me, though I knew the two murderers—she who planned and he who executed—were far too occupied in their thankfulness and mirth. Rolling down the side of the hill toward Carmen’s house, I allowed one swift glance up at my attic room window: and I saw Tom, my beloved, standing whole and intact, at my window, and smiling his blessing upon me. I raised up the axe in salute, then hurried like lightning to the back door, only then remembering I had pushed it to latch. No matter, the root cellar would do just as well; so I hurried along the side of the house, raised the outer door, and slipped down the stairs, crossing the cellar with unholy glee. Once I had finished dispatching my sister and her murdering Parson, I would return upstairs, and lie down in the arms of my ghostly beloved, after I first detached an arm and a leg. Soon enough, then, the exsanguination would ensure I rested in Tom’s arms for an eternity of bliss-and never regret.