A guide for young wytche.., p.7
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       A Guide for Young Wytches, p.7

           Jon Jacks
 
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  If that’s the case, then there may well be an exit built into the outer walls for the human knights to easily walk from the castle.

  Ah, but how do I get inside the outer walls?

  If I’m right about the castle being built to hold the demons captive, the walls would have been designed to withstand even the most fearsome onslaught from inside.

  And then, even if I do manage to get outside, how do I get down the mountainside, back to the village lying far below in the valley?

  I headed for my room.

  Not for my suitcase, which I knew would be too heavy to carry, but for a warm change of clothing. I had no idea how long I’d be out in the snow. It may be quite a walk from the castle before my cellphone came into signal range, allowing me to call a car to come and collect me.

  Despite my urgency, as soon as I entered my room I instinctively realised something was different.

  Instead of being a source of light, there was an unusual darkness by the window; a grey, dimming of the room that I would have expected only if it heralded an oncoming storm, rather than the blindingly white snow that still tapped hurriedly against the glass.

  That greyness was darkening, much as a fall of snow becomes whiter the thicker it falls. The darkness was spreading too, encroaching into the room in swirls of blackened air.

  I would have ran; but amongst the darkness, the angel – the angel that should be gracing the top of the Christmas tree – glowed a brilliant white, hovering in the air, deep within the serpentine swirling of blackness.

   

   

  *

   

   

  The angel’s wings were fluttering slightly, as if it were alive; yet its face remained placid, still, doll-like in its expression of peacefulness.

  Striding quickly across the room, I reached out and up, intending to grasp the angel – but with an abruptly more aggressive fluttering of the wings, the angel was suddenly the magpie, cawing out in irritation.

  It flew effortlessly out of my grasp, beyond my reach.

  The darkness was all around me now.

  I’d not only stepped closer to it, in my fruitless efforts to retrieve the angel, but it had also swiftly enveloped me, reaching out in its own, more successful way.

  ‘Leaving so soon?’

  The voice came from the darkness – no, it was the darkness, speaking to me.

  A woman’s voice; no, a girl’s, a teenage girl’s.

  I felt something, someone, drift behind me. What felt like a softly comforting but shiveringly cold hand ran across my shoulders, the back of my neck.

  ‘You have to be careful,’ the voice warned. ‘In this castle, those you believe are evil are the ones in the right; while those you think of as good mean you harm.’

  Patches of the darkness came together, solidified, swiftly transforming into the shadows required to define any form. And from those shadows the young witch came to be, sitting casually on the edge of my bed.

  The English witch.

  ‘So,’ I said, trying to control the tremor of fear within my own voice, ‘you’re saying that you’re really a good witch?’

  Was she aware that I’d seen her in my flashbacks? That, according to what I’d seen of her so far, there appeared to be very little that was ‘good’ about her?

  ‘Oh, you haven’t seen everything yet!’ she replied lightly, dismissively. ‘I’d hate you to go taking the wrong impression of me.’

  She rose up from the bed.

  Her dress, her hat, were all black, yet had only a passing resemblance to what we might think of as witch’s clothes. They were far more elegant, a chiefly timeless style of dressing, with perhaps faint hints of the medieval.

  ‘If you saw only the darkness of a magpie, wouldn’t you believe you were seeing a raven? If it had visited and left behind, however, only a clutch of its white feathers, wouldn’t you flatter yourself that you had been graced with the presence of a dove – maybe even an angel? In our histories, we all have patches of darkness: yet should it be only those areas that truly define us?’

  As she talked, she silently whisked past me, heading towards the window.

  She pointed out through the snow-covered glass, her indicating finger causing the veiling snow to melt and shift aside, allowing a perfect view of the darkly chequered garden.

  ‘The steps you discovered in the garden,’ she said, drawing my attention to the magpie sitting by the plinths flanking the stone staircase, ‘they’re your only way out of here.’

  Once again, her voice came merely from the darkness beside me, a darkness that was thankfully swiftly dissolving, returning my room to normal.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 26

  Meditation, forewarnings and foreknowledge are all greatly enhanced by holding a wand of Rowan (Wychwood, or Sorb Apple).

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  The snow-covered areas of the garden seemed less cold than they had before, when I’d last been out here.

  I’m wearing warmer clothing now, of course.

  I think – I hope – that’s the only reason the garden feels a little warmer.

  When I’d taken my clothes out of the drawer, I’d also unintentionally uncovered the book I’d found earlier.

  No longer A Guide for Young Wytches, it had changed once more; now it had become A Guide for A Wytch

  I’d left the book in the drawer. I had no use for it. It would have only been something useless I had to carry.

  I had brought along with me, however, the sparkling blue wassail ball I’d used earlier to light my way around the spare room hidden behind the Christmas tree.

  I hadn’t had to retrieve it from the tree: when the English witch had vanished, I’d noticed that she’d left the glistening ball behind on my bed.

  The magpie was still perched on the plinth when I arrived at the top of the steps. It eyed me curiously, almost with a smile, if that were really possible.

  The door at the bottom of the steps was closed. Fortunately, however, it wasn’t locked.

  Inside, it was colder than ever, despite the steps being in one of the warmer, dark areas of the garden.

  The wassail ball threw out its meagre light; not enough to light up the entire room, but enough to dimly light my way through it.

  The room was a crudely-walled, domed structure: perhaps originally built as a form of cold storage.

  It wasn’t very large, such that I feared I might have been led into a trap until I saw yet another flight of steps, these leading even lower into the rock that the castle has been built upon.

  These steps were far more modern than the stone ones that had first led me down here. They formed an iron, spiral staircase, descending through a narrow chimney carved into the rock.

  The steps clanged dully as I made my way down them, yet after a while I noted a change in the tone. The stairway beneath me rang out in a way that implied it was no longer constrained by the rock chimney but, rather, continued its descent through a more open space.

  When my head cleared what turned out to be the last of the carved-out chimney, I sensed rather than saw that I had entered a vast cavern, through which the spiral staircase continued to wind its way down towards the ground.

  I reached out into the surrounding dark space, trying to cast the dim light emanating from the wassail ball as far as I possibly could. The blue light was dully reflected back here and there, though from exactly what I couldn’t be sure. Yet the reflections stretched far back; the cavern was huge.

  As I descended the stairs, drawing closer to their base, it gradually dawned on me that the dull reflections emanated from slightly angled plates of dusty glass. When l was lower still, I recognised that the glass panes were the windshields of armoured troop carriers – maybe at least a hundred of them, stretching as far back as I could see.

  Lower still, I
began to pick out the shapes of other vehicles, again numbered in tens if not hundreds. These were darker, duller shapes; tanks. Row upon row of ominously shaped tanks.

  As I at last neared the base of the spiral staircase, I involuntarily shivered. I no longer felt that I was alone, even though I hadn’t heard or seen any signs of anyone else.

  Abruptly, I also felt afraid: very afraid.

  Then I heard it – the steady rhythm of heavy breathing.

  The heavy breathing of a beast patiently waiting to be awoken.

  I raised the wassail ball, praying its light would reveal that there was nothing there to be frightened of. That I was letting my stupid imagination conjure up all sorts of illusionary dangers.

  The blue light vaguely illuminated a nearby tank.

  But it wasn’t just any tank.

  It was the huge tank that had accompanied the English witch when she had first arrived at the castle.

  The tank that even she had feared.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 27

  Although each Ogham Stick should be created from the relevant tree, they may all be made of Rowan (Wychwood, or Sorb Apple), marking each with the 20 Ogham symbols, and interpreting these in light of the question asked.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  Brooding.

  Sleeping.

  Alive.

  They’re not usually the kind of terms you’d use to describe a tank: something made by man, something of metal, rubber, oil.

  Yet everything about this massive, looming beast screamed at me that it was a creature, not a mechanical object.

  It was at least twice the size of the tanks surrounding it. Its steeply angled sides were more like walls rather than sections of a vehicle.

  It seemed to be merely asleep, a slumbering giant compared to the small wreck of a car lying alongside it.

  I recognised the car. It was the one the English witch had been seated in.

  Which meant, I reasoned, that this darkly dominating tank was indeed the one that had accompanied her here.

  As then, as I’d witnessed in my flashback, the darkness seemed to emanate from the tank itself. Only the light of my glowing ball appeared to penetrate its suffusing blackness.

  It was the darkness that had swirled around the English witch when she’d appeared within my room.

  The darkness that had curled endlessly around Richard and the other demons.

  A darkness that seemed itself to be alive: to breath, to move, to have powers of its very own.

  The tank was still filthy, smeared with the caked-on mud it had accumulated in battle. Everywhere, too, there was a dull rust-tint to everything: though I feared it wasn’t rust at all.

  I feared that it might be dried blood.

  Across the tank’s hatches, the movable slabs of metal that would normally allow the entrance or exit of its crew, there were thickly welded bands of iron. These were also strewn with what appeared to be strange symbols, perhaps even seals.

  No crew could break their way through those thick bands. Was the crew still inside, long dead, their bodies turned to dust or bones?

  Was that why the huge tank emanated such an unnerving sense of evil?

  But then, why had it engendered fear in the English witch so long ago? When the crew would still have been alive?

  Underlying the rhythmic breathing, there was now another sound; whispering, muted giggling.

  The whispering and giggling of children.

  Cautiously, edgily, I stepped a little closer towards the tank’s angled walls.

  The closer I drew, the louder the giggling seemed to be.

  It was definitely coming from inside the tank.

  It was the mischievous, muted chuckling of children, hiding as they played a devious prank.

  Children of the staff?

  Were the staff human after all?

  The children could have climbed in through a hatch out of my sight; one of those I presumed you would find on top of the gun turret.

  Slowly, silently, I placed my ear against the metallic side.

  The whispering, the giggling, came to an immediate halt.

  The tank was completely silent.

  As it should be.

  Even the breathing had ceased.

  As if it had never, ever been alive after all.

  Which, of course, it shouldn’t be.

  Or was it simply holding its breath?

  Slowly, silently, I pulled my ear back from the tank’s side.

  I still had a hand against the filthy iron wall. A cloud of dust swirled around my fingers, as if I had disturbed the caked-on mud.

  A dark cloud, as if of oil-black smoke.

  I pulled my hand away.

  Some of the curling black swirls came away with my hand from the tank’s side. Wrapping tightly around my fingers.

  Wraith-like, the now thickly black smoke stretched back towards the tank. More and more of it was coming through the iron sides, more and more of it as I anxiously tried to shake my hand free of it.

  The wisps of smoke curling around my fingers solidified, became small fingers in their own right; the fingers of a hand tightly grasping mine.

  With a gasp of horror, I tried to jump back – to wrench my hand free of the tightening, desperate grip.

  Instead, the more I tried to pull my hand clear of the tank, the more of the smoky wraith I was drawing out of the tank.

  The more, too, that it was less wraith-like, and more solid.

  The darkness flowed in the air, like black ink spreading through water. Only this was a darkness that increased in intensity, in solidity, as it spread.

  The fingers now had a full hand. The hand an arm. The arm a shoulder, and part of a chest.

  An abrupt burst of black swirls exploded from the shoulders, swiftly coagulated, rapidly took form: and became in one horrifying instant the head and face of a snarling, demonic child.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 28

   

  My mother and father have tried to make the best of it.

  Even so, our room is damp, cramped, squalid. Forever too dark, despite the flickering electric lights.

  We’re already dressed in our nightgowns. Mother’s combing our hair, tying it in pretty bows. Though, of course, that doesn’t include Helmut; just me and my four sisters.

  Even so, Helmut is seated with us. None of us have been allowed to play with Blondi tonight. Earlier, I thought I heard him growling sadly: perhaps even in pain.

  Mother’s behaving even more ridiculously than usual.

  Trying to make out that soon we’ll be able to leave this dreadful bunker. That soon we’ll be rescued from the advancing Russians.

  Unlike my younger sisters and brother, I don’t believe this.

  I can sense the fear in everyone around me. The hopelessness.

  I heard a gun shot earlier, a gun shot in the bunker. No one told me who had fired it, or if anyone had died.

  I’m tired, exhausted. Drowsy.

  I think there was something in the drink we’ve just been given.

  Already, little Heidrun is asking mother to tuck her up into bed.

  Helmut is climbing up into his bed, like me having claimed one of the top bunks. The others have to share the lower beds.

  I’m sure the drink had been made by one of the strange men and women we think might be witches or wizards: but mother told me not to be silly when I asked her what was in the drink.

   

   

  *

   

   

  There are just three of us in here.

  It’s darker, even more cramped, than…than what?

  I can’t quite remember.

  There were another three of us, I know that – I know that because I can sense them near
by.

  I can hear their whisperings. Their combined breaths.

  Like us, they’re now encased within a dark machine – no, they are the machine.

  Like us – whatever we are, whatever we were – we’re the dark shadows of the machine. Without which it would have no real substance.

  At least I can now see the outside, the top of the earth. Before, I seem to recall, I was under the earth.  

  It’s a mess, this earth. A jumble of wreckage, of demolished buildings, of strewn rubble.

  It’s dark out there too; but only because it’s night.

  Every now and again, it all lights up in an explosion of gold, of amber.

  My other siblings are in the huge machine I can see off to my side. A machine similar to ours.

  A tank. A tank twice the size of two further tanks that wait nearby.

  Those inside these smaller tanks aren’t part of the machine. They’re afraid.

  They’re worried. They have little petrol. Little ammunition.

  They are going to die on this fool’s mission.

  They glance towards us warily, wondering who crews our machines. Wondering why the darkness of the night seems to increase as it closes around our machines.

  Wondering why we are so silent. So brooding.

  The English witch knows why we sit here silently brooding, though.

  She’s running across the rubble, accompanied by two soldiers.

  Running towards one of three half-tracked vehicles that are patiently waiting with us. The rear doors open, allowing the newcomers to hastily enter.

  There are angry shouts from inside this vehicle. Shots.

  Three limp bodies are thrown from the rear of the half-track.

  Two women. A man: a Field Marshall.

  They were hoping to escape. The men with the English witch have killed them.

   

   

  *

   

   

  A machine this size, this heavy, crushes anything in its way.

  It’s ruthless. It’s part of its nature.

  Uncaring. Unyielding.

  We rush through the ruins of Berlin.

  There are still areas of road, of the wide avenues, that are clear enough of rubble to allow passage for a convoy of heavily armoured, tracked vehicles.

  We move as fast as we can, with my siblings and me leading the way. The two smaller tanks bring up the rear.

  Anything, anyone, in our way is considered an obstacle. We run over them. We obliterate them with a bark of our gun.

  Our fire is returned ten fold.

  A half-track is hit along one side: it’s sent whirling into the air.

  One of the smaller tanks, struck hard beneath its turret, crashes headlong into a pit of soldiers.

 
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