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Gothic Beauty Magazine

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Willow Creek Chapter 4

Sean strode after the old woman, surprisingly agile, even beneath the canopy of interlocked branches that kept the moon light from illuminating the twist and bump of the roots coming up through the forest floor. The lights of the long, Victorian house that stood between the trees ahead glared up along the twisted and gnarled pattern that played across the forest floor, the black lines created from their shadows extended some 50 feet backward before glancing up the chance trees in the widespread, ancient trunks of this part of the forest. “Come on, then.” The old woman called back, stopping and looking past Sean into the trees. Turning back, Sean could still see Anna, standing unhappily by the trunk of a tree only a few feet closer than the pool he had fallen into before. “I’m coming.” She said, her voice taking on an almost childish edge. It was unlike her, to speak so sharply to someone as old as the woman they followed, and Sean found himself turning back to look at her more than once, worried about her- would she fall? Would she simply decide to walk off again, leaving him alone with the old woman? As Sean lifted his foot another time, he suddenly found himself climbing upwards- and turning his head back to the front, he found himself climbing a small set of white, wooden stairs- 9 stairs up to the tall, wooden door of the old house. He stopped at the eighth step, looking up at the old woman who stood, her hands on her hips, her lips pulling down at the corners, staring back at Anna. Turning back, he saw her slowly, sluggishly, haughtily make her way across the forest floor, climbing up the imminent steps to stand on the seventh step, looking right back- an almost insolent look set in the background of her faked respectful expression. “All right then. “The woman said after a long moment-Sean still studying Anna closely, silently, staring at her. The old woman turned sharply, a key appearing from beneath the edge of her right sleeve. Sean turned back to her as he heard the lock slide out of place, slamming open with the authority given to her age, and the door creaked open, like something out of a bad horror movie. Sean grinned widely as they walked through the door and into the heat of the old, dry house. A thin layer of dust lay on everything above the old woman’s reach- old pictures, left too high for too long beginning to fade in places where the morning sun would slant through the kitchen window and fall along the wall of the narrow hallway that led into the living room. A pattern of roses played along the top of the wall, chipped in places; paint peeling off the petals, leaving red and green mist falling onto the hardwood floor, obviously swept often- the finish wearing off in long, wistful streaks as it led to the middle of the room. The walls were a shade of grey; once-beige, some of the cream rich colour still showing through when the light touched it. A chandelier, long since cleaned, hung above the dining room table, which was kept covered with a cloth- presumably so the old woman wouldn’t have to polish it unless she wanted to use it. Now, she ignored it- rushing past Sean and into the kitchen as Anna slowly, sulkily made the last few steps into the house. “I’ll make a pot of tea, come in and sit down!” Sean and Anna moved together into the kitchen, their heads swiveling from left to right to take it all in. hundreds of teapots gleamed here, on almost every surface- a white one with a pattern of irises even sat, well used, on the back of the stove. The old woman wrenched a cupboard open- it seemed to be stuck- and pulled out a red box of tea. Seizing the iris teapot, she measured it out, pulling down some teacups, none of which matched, and lay them on the table. She fit a small screen over the teapot’s mouth, and plunked the whole thing down between the teacups on the bare wood. Anna immediately seized a doily that lay on the counter by her elbow, and, rushing over, lifted the teapot onto it. Sean sat down across from her, looking at her hands. They were scratched. He reached out his hand gently, barely daring to touch them. “What happened?” he asked, concerned. “Fell into a raspberry bush.’ She said, plunking down in the opposite chair, smiling widely. The old woman slid into her chair, shoving the sugar bowl and cream pot along the table with a clatter. All three began to fix their cups the way they liked, Anna pouring in a generous amount of sugar. “I thought you didn’t eat sugar?” Sean asked, his forehead furrowing in confusion. She smiled widely, her head snapping up. “I’m a bit tired, I could use it.” she said softly, her eyes taking on an odd look again. Sean looked at her closely, trying to identify the problem. He couldn’t. He looked back down at his own teacup, just in time to snap his hands out of the way as the old woman poured boiling tea in. Anna grinned at this, as if she found something funny. The old woman was watching her closely, her dark eyes narrowed almost to slits. She poured Anna’s cup, and Anna thanked her politely, only looking down at the liquid in the cup. The old woman poured hers then, lifting it immediately to her lips, letting the burning liquids pour over her tongue. “Look!” she said suddenly, making Sean and Anna both jump. “What?’ Sean asked, a little louder than was necessary. His voice shattered the stillness of the old house, nearly bringing the chandelier’s worth of dust down all over the white cloth in the other room. The old woman gave him a sideways look, as if wondering what was wrong with him. “The fog is rolling in.” she said, pointing out a previously unseen window. Turning towards it, they both could see that, indeed, the fog was rolling in; pressing, solid and heavy, against the glass of the window. Sean jumped out of his seat. “Thank you very much,” he said, almost tipping over his tea cup, “but we have to get back to the car.” Anna stood up too, politely swinging her cup over to sit on the counter before it spilled on the bare wood table. The pair raced around the table, and for the door. “Wait!” the old woman jumped up as fast as she could, running around the table after them. “Don’t open the door!” her words went unheard. Sean ripped the door open, stepping out onto the porch- and stopped cold. Because there, at the bottom of the steps, looking up at him with all of its teeth exposed, was the coyote they had nearly hit on the road earlier. It snarled, and with one easy bound, it launched itself at Sean. Anna screamed grabbing him and pulling him back into the house The woman threw her body against the door, and it slammed shut. A split second later, they heard the coyote’s body hit the door, and fall down with a huge thud. The poor creature yelped in pain, and through the window beside the door Sean could see it limp back down to the bottom of the steps, turning back to sit with its tail held out haughtily behind it- still on guard. “Why doesn’t it go away?” Sean asked, turning to the old woman with an angry expression. “Its job is to keep us inside!” she said, wringing her hands. “Why?” Sean demanded, his voice rising. “What kind of place is this?” the old woman shook her head at him, her expression resigned. “It’s Willow Creek.” She said, as if that was all the explanation required. “No, that’s the name.” Sean said, taking a step forward. The old woman turned away from him, shuffling back into the kitchen. “I want to know what’s going on around here!” “Well, it’s not a real place is it?” the old woman fired back, sliding down gently into her seat. “What do you mean, not a real place?” Sean asked, sitting back down in his place. Anna still stood by the window by the door, looking out. She listened carefully to what was being said in the kitchen. “It’s in the in between.” The old woman said, swirling the contents of her cup clockwise. Sean’s forehead wrinkled with confusion. “And what does that mean?” he asked, his voice taking on a desperate edge. “The in between is where people go after they die.” She said, drinking the rest of her cup, reaching across for the sugar to fix another. Anna flinched, her forehead coming to rest against the cold glass. The coyote watched her carefully, its unblinking eyes fixed on the woman in the window. “What?’ Sean’s tone of voice made it clear he didn’t believe her. “I’m telling the truth!” she said sharply, dragging the tea pot across the table. Sean fell silent, watching her carefully. As she lifted the teapot, he caught sight of a small tattoo on the inside of her wrist- faded, stretched; a star in a circle. He glanced quickly back to her face. Why did she have a pentacle tattooed on her wrist? “After you die, you go to the in-between to wait until you’re ready to be born again.” She said matter-of-factly, pouring her tea into her cup. “Sometimes you wait for quite a while,” she plunked the teapot back down onto the table. “And sometimes you go quickly.” She took a long drink. Sean waited, too engrossed with her words to wonder where Anna was. Anna straightened up, stretching her back. She looked out the window, catching the coyote’s eye with her own. She smiled at it, and suddenly, her face flashed. Her eyes stretched out, almost to the tops of her ears, going completely black. Her teeth extended down past her chin, long and thin, stained black. Her hot breath fogged the window, and a long, forked tongue flicked through her teeth, licking a fly off the window and into her mouth. The coyote’s eyes lit up with recognition, and it span around in circles, wagging its tail enthusiastically. The Demon’s face disappeared, replaced by Anna’s sullen pout. She turned away from the window, moving quickly to sit back down at the table. The woman continued as if she had never left. “And sometimes, you warp.” She said, looking up carefully into Sean’s face, taking in every shift in expression. His eyes were clear, true curiosity raging there. “Sometimes, you wait for so very long that you become something else. “She looked to Anna, and what she saw stopped her cold. Her face seemed innocent enough, until you got to her eyes. Like two flint chips of cold steel, they glared the old woman down. They froze her in her place, sticking her next words in her throat. She tore her eyes away, looking back to Sean. “Sometimes, people turn into Demons.” She said, hot and cold swirling across her entire body. His jaw snapped open, but clicked closed as quickly; he wanted to hear what she had to say. Anna shifted in her seat uneasily, her eyes flashing to Sean’s face. His patient curiosity put her at ease. She leaned back against her chair, to listen to what she would say next. Out of the corner of her eye, the old woman saw her posture relax. “And there are some that never were human at all. Some were born to consume the human soul.” She pushed her chair back, turning to put the kettle on again. She put the iris tea pot in the sink, grabbing one with a picture of a cat off the shelf next to the stove. Reaching into another cupboard, she pulled down a blue box of tea. Sean, catching the idea, grabbed the sugar to prepare his cup again. Anna grabbed the milk, pouring a little into the bottom of her cup. This time, she avoided the sugar. “So what does that have to do with this place?” Sean asked, sitting up straighter in his chair. The old woman sat down again, putting the empty tea pot in the middle of the table. A strange, spicy aroma came out of the tea pot. “Sometimes, these demons get caught. They get caught, and someone traps them. You can do it a lot of different ways- some get put into little boxes; some get trapped in a certain place.” She looked at them carefully now, gauging their reactions. “Willow creek is one of those places- only there aren’t one or two Demons here.” She stood up as the kettle began to boil, still hot from the last time. She opened the teapot, pouring it carefully in. “there are, exactly, Three hundred and thirty three Demons here in Willow Creek.” Sean stared at her, his mind completely blank. “Three hundred and thirty three?” he asked his voice incredulous. Anna sat silently, still staring the old woman down. The old woman ignored her, pouring the tea, giving her attention only to Sean. “Yes, and I-” “OW!” Anna exclaimed, dropping her cup on the table. It smashed, glass and hot tea scattering in every direction, she jumped up, holding her face. An angry red mark extended from the top of her nose sideways across her eye and down to her chin. “Whoa!” Sean jumped up, reaching out his hands to carefully hold her face. He examined the mark, non plussed. “The steam just touched my face!” Anna said loudly, glaring at the old woman. “What is IN that stuff?” the woman sat, as if frozen, in her chair- staring at Anna with wide, fearful eyes. “King’s foil and acorn.” She said softly, sliding her chair backwards, as if to get away from the other woman. Anna’s eyes narrowed, understanding playing across her face. Sean, noticing nothing, let her face go. “I’ll clean this up.” He said, reaching down to gather the glass. Anna looked down at his hands, focusing on the piece he was about to pick up. The glass jerked, slicing his fingers open. “Oh, shit!” he said loudly, holding his hand up, running for the sink. “I’ll get the first aid kit!” the old woman said, jerked out of her thoughts by the sight of his blood. She turned, rushing for the basement door- the first aid kit sat in a cabinet just to the left of it. Just in front of it, something made her stop and look back. Sean stood at the sink, his back to her, running cold water on his cut. Anna’s back was to her, sitting at the table once again- but suddenly, as she sat there, her head began to turn. Slowly, surely, as if she had no bones at all, her skin stretching and stretching to accommodate, Anna’s head turned all the way around, until she was staring at the old woman dead-on, the rest of her body still sitting down, facing Sean’s back. The old woman’s eyes widened and she took a step back- her foot falling on thin air. With a gasp, she fell backwards, down the basement stairs. Anna’s face flashed, and for a split second, the old woman saw it- The demons face replacing the face of the woman she had thought she was helping. As she fell, the old woman could do nothing but lament. The door swung softly shut behind her, and she fell to the bottom of the stairs, her head hitting the cement floor first. A splash of blood played across the wall, and the rest of her body came down on top of her head, snapping her neck right out of place, tearing the skin, popping the jugular. Silence reigned then, only broken by the soft hiss in the pipes from Sean running the water upstairs. Suddenly, an arm shot up out of the old woman’s torso. The hand grasped the railing, holding fast. The arm pulled, and suddenly, a head and neck popped out. It was a young woman’s face- and she pulled again, hauling herself as hard as she could. Slowly, she extracted herself from the old woman’s body. She stood, naked, looking down on the broken body. She lifted her arm to brush back her hair, revealing the pentacle, still tattooed on her wrist. Turning sharply, she went to a chest of clothes, pulling out a short black dress. She dressed quickly, returning to the stairs. She stepped deftly over the dead body, taking the stairs two at a time. She slid through the door, grabbing the first aid kit from its cabinet. She closed the basement door securely, rushing into the kitchen. Anna jumped, standing up quickly from her place. “I’m sorry,” the now- young woman said, putting the first aid kit down on the table. “My grandmother had to go lay down.” Sean nodded, without turning back to look at her. Anna glared at her, her face stretching into a snarl. The woman smiled at her sweetly, and suddenly, her face flashed- the eyes going red, the mouth a long, black, gaping hole. It changed back, and Anna sat down heavily, her mouth setting into a pout. “Let me fix that up for you.” The woman said to Sean. “And by the way, my name is Michelle.”