Author Topic: The Haunted House  (Read 1901 times)

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Offline The Cedar Witch

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The Haunted House
« on: April 25, 2019, 03:49:02 AM »
Astrid was out for a stroll in the suburbs of the South District, warmed by the late afternoon sun.  She had a few hours still to go before she had to be at the Academy to teach and it was a perfect day for a walk.  There were more students than she had anticipated, which left her feeling initially nervous, but things seemed to be going very well.  She never thought of herself as the teaching type, but she had fallen into a groove of sorts.  Plus having a steady income again was nice.  Really nice.

The air was cleaner here, away from the center of the city.  It wasn’t as nice as being completely away from urban sprawl but there was a noticeable difference.  It was a nice change and it made her miss being more removed from city life.  Birds darted across a cloudless sky, twittering excitedly to one another before swooping into a budding tree.  Astrid took a deep breath, shifted the messenger bag a bit on her shoulder, and stretched her arms over her head.  If she had more time she would’ve liked to swing by the park and take a nap in the grass.

When she rounded a corner there was that sudden unmistakable pull, like an anchor in her chest, moving her forward.  Astrid groaned, thinking maybe she should resist it and turn around but the feeling was not leaving her enough room to make that choice. 

So long as it didn’t make her late for class.

There didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary, but the pulling became harsher almost making her stumble to keep up. 

“Christ, I’m going--alright!”  the witch said at no one in particular.  A few folks out in the front yard of their perfect suburban home gave her a double take before hurrying inside.  Astrid rolled her eyes, wishing that this pull would at least have the decency to not make her stand out any more than she already did.  Some punk with tattoos walking alone in the suburbs talking to herself didn’t exactly scream normal.  Hopefully, they wouldn’t call the cops.

The air became noticeably still and silent as if something weighed down the sky overhead.  Astrid, frowning, quickened her pace to a racewalk, boots clomping against the pavement.  Her skin was prickling now as if the space around were pregnant with static.  What could possibly be tucked away in here?

“Excuse me, miss?”  The voice stopped Astrid in her tracks, though the pull remained.  An older woman closed her mailbox, clutching her mail with a slightly trembling hand.  Astrid’s strained gaze softened.

“Yes?”  She took a couple of steps forward so that the woman would not have to shout.

“Don’t go in that direction,”  the woman shuffled over a bit and glanced around.

“Huh?”  Astrid furrowed her eyebrows.  She was hoping that everyone would just mind their business.  The older woman stepped off the sidewalk to where Astrid was standing.  She was a good head shorter and looked up out of misty grey-blue eyes.

“Just turn around.  You don’t want to be going down that way.”  She spoke with more authority as if she were scolding to a grandchild.

“Why not?”  The tug pulled harder and Astrid shifted her weight from one foot to the other.  The older woman, shaking her head, stepped closer and reached out to grab Astrid’s jacket, pulling her down.  The witch resisted by reflex, heart pounding, but allowed herself to be pulled until her ear was closer to the woman’s mouth.

“There’s an old empty house down there.  Noises and lights come from it at night.  People go in and don’t come out.”  Her hand was still trembling and she kept a surprisingly firm hold on the jacket.  “What’re you walking around here for, anyhow?” 

“I--”

“Go back home, girl.”  The woman released her jacket, the momentum making Astrid stumble backward a bit.  She stood in the street and watched the woman walk back to her mailbox and turn.  “I mean it--GIT!”  The woman gave a hard look and Astrid turned sharply around, pulling her cellphone from her pocket to check the time.  She began to walk slowly back the way she came, with much difficulty because of the pull.  From the corner of her eye, she watched the old woman until she went back into her house, seemingly satisfied that Astrid had made a smarter decision.  As soon as she closed the front door to her house Astrid turned back around and took off down the road toward the house.

Sweaty and out of breath she reached the source of the pull.  The two-story house was set back from the street against a little bit of woods.  A cracked paved walkway led up to the slightly-crooked front porch and a boarded-over front door.  The once-white siding had a greyish-green look where the paint had weathered away, and some of the windows were shattered.  The front lawn had impressively tall grass and wildflowers, strangely lacking butterflies and bees.  No birds overhead either, except a pair of crows above on a telephone wire.  But those had followed her here.  There was a heavy weight above the house, and Astrid could feel a dark vortex swirling from within that sent a sharp chill through here.  Undoubtedly there was something here, but she couldn’t determine what it was from outside.

“Seriously.”  She groaned as there was another tug, pulling one foot forward.  “Okay, okay.”  The witch sighed, stepping over each crack in the walkway where grass and dandelions had taken over.  She noted that there was a decent amount of trash in the front yard, especially beer cans.  Kids probably came here to drink and dare each other to go inside.  And apparently never come out, according to that woman.  But that could’ve been a story to scare her away--who knew for sure?

As she drew closer there were faint whispers coming from within, and Astrid took a moment to steady her breathing and ground herself.  Skin tingling, senses open and on high alert, she reached the front step.  Would the porch even hold her?  It needed some serious work.  The house would’ve been charming in its prime--it was a shame to see it so abandoned and in disarray.

The sky darkened as a cloud moved over the sun, and Astrid placed a hesitant foot on the first step.  It creaked in a cliche kind of way but otherwise held.  She took the next few steps with a bit more urgency, to appease the pulling in her chest.  The door had been hastily nailed shut, but it was only a few boards hanging by some rusted nails.  As she placed her hands on the first board a shock pulsed through her body--

There was the house.  Bright white, neatly trimmed lawn, furniture and boxes strewn about and a moving truck.  The laughter of children and a barking dog.

Astrid blinked hard against the vision and pried off the first board, placing it gently to the side of the door.  The second board was harder, groaning in protest before it released and sent her reeling backward.  This time she could hear fearful sobbing from within, ghostly and far away.  She knew the house was empty--she would’ve been able to feel if anything living were within.  Or dead in a vampire kind of way.  The third board hung by a single nail so that was easy enough to take off.  The fourth and fifth boards were more stubborn.  She kicked against them with her heel to release the nail’s hold and was greeted with a sharp pain in her chest and blistering vision behind her eyes.

Bloody handprints.  A dog mutilated in the backyard, sharp bones protruding from an emaciated corpse.  The buzzing of flies.

The witch pressed her hands against her temple and took a minute to steady herself.  As soon as she got inside and dealt with whatever was going on here, she would give the dog a proper sending away.  And whatever else was in here.

There was a distant rumble of thunder as if a storm were a few miles away.  She didn’t think it was supposed to rain and hoped it would stay away long enough so she didn’t have to call an Uber to get to the Academy. 

She took one of the boards she had removed and shoved it between the two boards, wriggling it up and down to try to loosen the nails.  The creaking told her that it worked.  She sat down on the porch, braced her feet on either side of the door and she took a firm hold of the next one.  As soon as she pulled it gave too easily for the amount of force she was exerting and she let out a grunt.  The last one came off just as easily, and she stacked the boards against the house as neatly as she could manage. 

Standing now in front of the unobscured door, she took a few deep breaths.  The crows behind her, still on the wire, made a few noises to one another and she glanced back to acknowledge them before continuing onward.  As Astrid placed her hand on the doorknob there was a ferocious growling like a rabid dog that seemed to be just inside past the door.  The vortex of blackness picked up as if preparing itself for her entry.  She let out an exhale and steeled herself before turning the nob and pushing the door in.

There was complete silence, save the whining of the door on its hinges and the creaking step she took inside.  The first things she registered were dust and broken glass, discarded bottles and unidentified organic matter scattered around the hardwood floor of the entryway.  Furnishings throughout the house were covered in a thick layer of dust and it appeared as if the previous occupants had left in a hurry.  Sunlight illuminated little except floating particles hanging and drifting in the disturbed air as Astrid slowly made her way into the house.

Astrid kept the front door open, pulling some of the boards in front of it to keep it from swinging closed.  She turned to the left first, feeling a chill as she passed the stairs.  Second floor would have to wait--she had to get the first floor ready.  The dining room that she stepped into had a nice looking set of table and chairs, all covered in dust.  There were four places set, plates full of some unidentified desiccated decay.  There was a sudden pattering of footsteps overhead and an echo of laughter that made her jump. 

Focus.

With heart pounding, she crossed over to the window and pulled back the dusty curtain.  It scraped unpleasantly against the curtain rod but allowed light to filter in.  After wiping her hands off on her jeans, she unlatched the window and pushed up.  It groaned and squealed as it finally opened, letting in the slightest breeze disturb the dust and curtains before dying down.  Just then a soft woof came from just behind her ear and her heart leaped into her throat as she whirled around to see.  The room was just as empty as before.   

She really hoped there wasn’t a basement in this house.  Those were the worst.

Astrid made her way through the dining room and into the kitchen, sidestepping some unidentified dark brown mess on the floor.  There was a window straight ahead above the sink, but the glass here was shattered and all over the countertops.  Instead of walking further into the kitchen, she turned left to face a little inlet with three closed doors.  There was the sound of running water coming from the first, and hesitantly she placed her hand on the doorknob.  With a flash in her mind, she heard a child softly crying.  Without thinking too much about it Astrid pushed the door open.  Better to not show fear in a place like this.

The bathroom before her was covered in muck.  Thankfully there was no real smell but the reddish brown stuck to almost every surface and she held back a gag in the back of her throat.  She opened the window as quickly as possible and moved out of the bathroom, leaving the door open.  The next room was an empty pantry closet.  The last room’s door was left open, and the glass of this window was also shattered.  There was the distinct smell of freshly washed laundry coming from within, but there were no clothes to be seen and the ancient appliances were untouched. 

Suddenly there was a tug at her pant leg, and Astrid jumped to the side, twisting around to see what was there.  Of course, there was nothing.  She knew there was nothing.  The witch gave her body a little shake and she jumped in place a few times.  There was nothing to fear from these interactions so far--nothing had felt malicious.  Nothing nothing nothing to be freaked out about. 

It had been years since she’d done a proper house cleanse--maybe that was why she was so damn jumpy.

Astrid moved back into the kitchen, carefully avoiding piles of broken dishes as she went through opening each cabinet.  Dishes were stacked on the shelves neatly, though covered with the same dark dust that clung everywhere throughout the house.  When she opened the old stove there were two bright eyes peering back and she closed it suddenly with a bang that echoed through the house. 

“Okay,” she whispered to herself, gripping the handle of the stove.  “There’s nothing actually in there.”  Slowly with an impressive squreek she pulled the stove door down and peered inside.  The distinct smell of roasted poultry wafted up from within on a blast of heat.  Inside the empty stove was completely black, and she left the door open before moving on.

The sliding doors of the back of the house were propped open with what looked to be a section of trunk from a young tree, cut with a chainsaw.  She stood in front of the door and looked out into the yard.  It was as overgrown as the front, with maple saplings that couldn’t have been more than a couple years old sticking out among the waist-high grass.  Something in the yard was pulling at her, though less insistently than the house.  She had to finish this first, though. 

She held the tree trunk in one hand as she slid open one of the glass doors with the other.  The door exploded in shattered glass and Astrid leapt out of the way.  The sound of galloping hooves echoed through the house and presumably out the front door.  She looked down and saw that she had held the trunk against her pounding chest, and she propped it against the wall beside the doors.  Standing off to the side she cautiously slid open the second door, which thankfully did not result in the same effect. 

Boots crunching against the broken glass, she made her way into the living room, eyes on the next set of windows.  These opened without fuss or flair, though she flinched each time she opened them, expecting something to happen.  She moved around the dust-covered couches, deciding it was better not to stare too long since they seemed weighed down as if someone were sitting there.  Watching her. 

On either side of the fireplace were small windows, which she slid open one after the other.  After the second window there was a crackle and snap from the fireplace, but otherwise nothing.  Astrid paused here, rolling her neck to stretch when her eye caught a sooty black mark on the wall and up to the ceiling above the fireplace.  Chanting traveled down from the chimney, as if someone was stuck somewhere inside, and she stooped down to look into the blackness of the fireplace.  There was a glint of metal amongst an impressive pile of ashes, and she reached a hand out to touch it.

A vicious growling from one of the couches stopped her and she froze.  The growling continued until the straightened again and stopped when she turned around.  For a second she saw a black figure sitting on one of the couches, but when she blinked it was gone.  The hair on the back of her neck stood upright.  She was not prepared for an apparition, but she could be.  There was bound to be something in her bag.  Unzipping it, she stuck her hand in to fish for something.

At least it’s daytime, Astrid consoled herself as she moved on back into the foyer.  Now, where did I put it?  She moved the bag over to the front of her so she could look in it better, shuffling a few books around, some papers, clinking a few bottles together until finally, her hands closed around the hilt of a dagger.  Relief washed over her face as she pulled it out, and somewhere upstairs a door slammed shut.  With a whisper she unsheathed it, tucking the sheath into her front pocket.

The blade was a black patina.  Set in along where it met the hilt were alternating onyx and obsidian stones.  The grip twisted elegantly and seemed perfectly molded for her hand.  It pulsed against her hand as if alive, waking up, ready.  She turned around slowly to see if the figure was still there.  It was not.

To her right was a single door beneath the stairs leading to the second floor.  Basement, she groaned internally.  That would have to be last.  To the left were double doors, open a crack.  She moved to these next. 

Astrid supposed this was an office at one point.  There was an impressive desk in the middle, with a chair with its back to the door.  There were piles of books in front of the built-in bookcases that lined the walls as if someone had taken each book off and thrown it on the floor.  She quickly moved through the room to open the window when the doors suddenly snapped shut.

The witch gripped the handle of the dagger, ignoring the fact that she was “trapped”, and ripped down the dusty curtains to allow for light to stream in.  With dagger still in hand, she unlatched and opened the window with as much speed as she could muster before whipping around to face whatever was in the room with her.  The chair now faced the room, but other than that there was nothing.  She relaxed and headed over to the double doors.  With hands on either of the curved nobs, she pushed down.  They did not budge.  With an impatient sigh, she tried again, pushing down with all her weight on the handles.  Nothing.  Something beyond the doors scampered up the stairs with a series of thumps.  The skin on Astrid’s arms broke out in bumps. 

“Okay, fine.”  She sighed with aggravation and placed the tip of the dagger between the double doors.  The blade grew warm as she pulsed energy into it with each heartbeat.  Somewhere in the mechanism of the door was a loud click, and they swung soundlessly open.  She turned back into the room and pointed at the chair with the dagger. 

“I’m not trying to start shit with you, so knock it off.”  There was a shuffling in the drawers of the desk.  The witch huffed and went to take a few books from the discarded piles, stacking them against the doors to keep them open.  Satisfied, she moved back into the foyer and came to a stop at the base of the stairs.

A shadow moved at the top as if someone who had been looking down on her moved out of her line of sight.  Astrid took a deep, shaky breath before placing a foot on the first step.

She was probably going to be late to class.

Each step upstairs held a flash of pain and the anguished cries of a woman struck repeatedly, pierced the silence of the house.  By the time Astrid reached the landing dividing the stairs, a great weight bore down on her, as if the force of gravity had doubled.  She held the dagger in a balled, trembling fist as she caught her breath here.  The witch did not want to keep going.  She wanted to turn back around and leave this place, go back to minding her own business and taking a walk in the afternoon sun before class.  But there was a sense of duty that filled her, as it always would.  This was her birthright.  Witch for the village.  Purifier of malevolence.  Sealer of doors.

She took a handful of measured breaths, feeling the pressure of the floor meeting her feet.  This house had a dark history, and as much as she did not want to know, she would witness all it had to show her.  Parts ached to be laid to rest.  Others merely wanted comfort, or to be heard.  She wanted to save it for another day, to come back when she was better prepared.  But it would not wait.  Somehow she doubted that she would be allowed to leave until the task was complete.

The next step groaned threateningly, but Astrid continued onward.  The cries began again, and she felt each strike as if it were placed upon her own flesh.  She wondered if bruises would blossom there, or if the pain was another vision.  When she finally reached the top of the stair facing the sitting room, a great and desperate wailing picked up behind the door to what she assumed would be a bedroom.  She stopped to acclimate herself to the energy of the second floor, taking three slow breaths as she took in the mess before her.

There were clothes everywhere, draped all over the two small armchairs and coffee table, strewn about the floor amongst tipped-over cardboard boxes.  Astrid’s stomach dropped.  They were all children’s clothing, the majority appeared to belong to a boy who couldn’t have been older than five years old.  The rest belonged to an infant.  She blinked once and the silhouette of two small boys--twins--appeared on the far wall.  When she blinked again, they were gone, and the door to the second bedroom opened and slammed shut.  Her reflexes were too slow to get a look at what lay behind that door, but fearful whispering rose to join the din of the wailing. 

Astrid, face set in a hard frown, turned to her left and made her way to the source of the wailing.  With her dagger still clutched in her left fist, she placed her right hand on the doorknob.  The wailing crescendoed, and Astrid could not resist the icy chill that passed through her body.  She held her breath as she turned the doorknob, and there was a shrill scream as she pushed open the door.

For a fraction of a second there was a ghostly bride before her, white dress hailing from as far back as the 1910s (not that Astrid knew enough about fashion history).  Her mouth was open, mid scream, and she vanished almost as soon as the witch laid eyes on her.  A mighty gust rushed past, followed by an inhumanly-fast thudding of footsteps down the stair and out the front door.  The weight of the house lessened by a fragment, but it was enough for Astrid to notice.  She straightened a bit and scanned the room.  It was filled with boxes, mostly sealed shut.  There was the empty frame of a queen-sized bed between the room’s two windows, a rocking chair and a crib off to the far corner.  A black shadow leaned over the crib, pressing down into it with force.  Dark swirling anger pulsed from the apparition, and Astrid was frozen in place.  She could hear the muffled cries of a baby, and she squeezed her eyes shut, heart thudding against her chest.

She did not want to face this.  Every single thing within her wanted to flee, save that pull that drew her to the house in the first place.  If not for that, she would’ve been gone well before this point.

Astrid centered her focus on the pulse from her blade, calling for strength.  This was not even the worst of it, she was sure.  She had suffered worse.  Hadn’t she?

Her eyes cracked open and she became aware of the fact that the shadowy figure now loomed over her.  Resisting the urge to turn and run, or to close her eyes again, she faced the apparition with eyes wide open.  A sound like static came from it, and the whispered chant of a thousand voices.  Defiantly she pointed the blade at it, and it vanished before her.  Somewhere below, the door to the basement slammed, followed by the crashing sound of someone descending a staircase with abandon.  It was a good sign, but she was not looking forward to following it.

First she continued to the left, opening the door to the empty walk-in closet.  She moved next to the master bathroom.  It was mercifully, though unsettlingly clean this time.  There was not an inch of dust anywhere, and in that moment Astrid could not decide if this was better than the muck that coated the downstairs bathroom.  She stepped inside and crossed to the window, which slid silently open when she pushed against the glass.  It was as though this place were frozen in time.  There was the distinct smell of bleach, like someone had just finished thoroughly cleaning it.  Back into the bedroom, she opened the two windows on either side of the bed before moving on, leaving the door open as she went. 

The next door to her left was another bathroom.  It was dark and windowless, so she left the door open and moved to the small linen closet. 

“Peek-a-boo!”  A boy’s shrill laughter came out of the closet soon as she opened it, and she jumped back.  Tiny footsteps went down the first set of stair, and into the basement.  Her heart dropped at this.  She did not want to play hide-and-seek with a pair of ghostly twins and the black shadow.  Letting out a heavy sigh, she placed her hand on the doorknob of the final room and pushed it open.

There was a bright red ball rolling back and forth across the carpeted floor, seemingly on its own accord.  Besides boxes filled with toys, there were two empty twin bed frames against the wall.  When Astrid took a step inside the ball sailed across the room and bounced off the far wall, ricocheting and hitting the witch square in the face--too fast for her to duck out of the way.  The twins laughed, and the door to the closet opened and closed with a bang.  She couldn’t help but smile, though her heart raced and she could not shake the feeling of dread. 

Following the laughter, she stood in front of the double-doors to the closet.  The laughter had stopped, and she could hear whispering from within.  It was far away, as though the closet were much deeper than it actually was.  With one quick motion, she opened the doors.  There was a cry of surprise from within, a gust of air, and the second boy rushed down the stairs to join the first.  The second floor now felt noticeably empty.  The witch exhaled, and moved over to the window on the right, sliding the glass open.

As quickly as her feet would carry her, she exited the twin’s bedroom and went back into the sitting room covered with clothing.  Without stopping, she ran over to the window at the front of the house, opened it with a slam, and dashed down the flight of stairs.

The blackness and weight that had been looming over the entire house felt as though it had swirled and collected beneath her feet.  Dark water flowing slowly down a drain, trapped by some unseen clog.  When she came to the foyer again, Astrid was gasping for breath and holding the dagger to her chest.

Breathe.

With a trembling hand, Astrid reached into her pocket for her cellphone.  It was much later than she realized, somehow there was at least an hour that had gone unaccounted for.  There was about fifty-percent battery left and the sun was just now kissing the horizon.  Leaving the house was becoming more tempting.  It was a more reasonable option.  Leave, get supplies, come back in the morning with plenty of sunlight.  Maybe enlist some help. 

As if responding to her thoughts the front door of the house suddenly slammed shut, the boards she placed in front of it flying out of the way somewhere into the front yard. 

“Okay.”  She whispered with a shaky exhale.  Astrid took in a few steady breaths and looked down at her phone again to compose a quick email to let her students know that class was cancelled. 

There was no way she was making it back in time.

Phone back in her pocket, dagger sheathed and clipped to her belt, she went hunting in her bag again.  Shuffling a bit frantically now that the house was getting darker, her fist finally closed around a small LED flashlight.  Perfect.  With a click, the blueish light cut through the darkness that had begun to creep in.  She spun around to the front door and placed her free hand on the knob.  It didn’t budge, firmly fixed in place as if it was never made to move.  Of course--why would anything be easy?  Directly behind her came a low threatening growl, and she withdrew her hand from the door.  Nails scratching, scrambling against wood came from behind the basement door.  Astrid placed her hand slowly on the black dagger and withdrew it from its sheath.  The scratching intensified. 

Still facing the front door, she placed the tip of the dagger in the space between the door and frame, just above the lock.  It rattled angrily on its hinges until she pushed the blade a bit farther and sent a strong commanding pulse of energy through it.  There was a click and what could’ve been a sigh, and the door gently swung open.  With a quick step, Astrid crossed the threshold and stepped onto the front porch to grab one of the boards leaning against the house.  Need to figure out a way to jam it open so it wouldn’t shut itself again.  She sighed through her nose, gripping the board in one hand, dagger in the other, and holding the flashlight between her teeth. 

When she turned back toward the house, the black shadow stood in the doorway.  Astrid jumped, almost dropping the board, and pointed the dagger at the apparition.  It trembled violently and nearly doubled in size.  The crackling sound of static grew louder, an angry buzzing that cut through the dusk air.  The pair of crows that had been waiting perched on the telephone wire called enthusiastically, joining the din in the otherwise silent neighborhood.  For a moment she was gripped by cold terror.

Just leave.  Just drop the fucking board and leave.  GO!

But she couldn’t move, feet frozen in place by a kind of determination buried beneath the fear throbbing in her chest.  Inside the shadowy figure moved erratically from side to side, foreground to background as if in a kind of jerky stop-motion animation.  Astrid could feel the blood draining from her face, but she gripped the flashlight firmly between her teeth and shuffled one step toward the door.  The figure rushed suddenly forward, static becoming a deafening sound.  She jutted the dagger forward, sending a pulse of energy into the blade until the handle warmed beneath her hand.  The shadow roared and retreated into the house, followed by the slamming of the basement door. 

Astrid sighed and released the tension she had been unknowingly harboring in her shoulders.  Stepping with more ease, she approached the door and shoved the board in the space between the door and the frame just below the hinges.  That should keep it open.

With her other hand now free, she took the flashlight out of her mouth before entering the house again.  She could hear something moving downstairs. 

It was now properly dark and conveniently moonless.  Astrid wasn’t known for having a fear of the dark, but an unfamiliar house with restless spirits could put that fear into anyone.  She had half the mind to try to get in touch with Sabrina for some backup, but she didn’t want to bother the witch with this random house cleansing.  Not when she was perfectly capable of doing it herself.  She only hoped that this was just some ordinary Bad Spirit, in spite of the gut feeling she had telling her otherwise.

No, there was something more sinister here. 

Before she even realized that she had moved, Astrid stood in front of the door to the basement again.  She shifted the small flashlight into the same hand that held the dagger, freeing her other to open the door.  It opened easily, and the sounds she had been hearing down there suddenly stopped.  On the back of the door hung an old straw broom and an iron dustpan.  She used the dustpan to jam the door open.  Not taking any fucking chances there.

Tension in her chest increased and she purposely took a moment to force herself to relax before descending into the dark depths of the house. 

Inhale.

Closing her eyes she focused on the pressure of her feet against the floor, mentally reaching for the old heartbeat of the earth to anchor to.  When she found it, there was a click within her and she could feel her pool of energy deepen and settle.  Confident.  Collected.  Supported.

Exhale.

Eyes open now, for a fraction of a second there was a face inches from her own, menacing with glowing red eyes that dissolved as soon as it even registered in her mind.  She was only momentarily shaken, tapping back into the grounding feeling that she had connected to not moments before.  Astrid took the first creaking step down.  Then another.  And another.  With each step, the weight of the house closed in on her and she bore it as if it were her sole responsibility.  By the time she was halfway down, she could make out some shapes in the dark.  Boxes, mostly.  An old boiler.  Some miscellaneous furniture.  Every so often her light would cut across a pale white arm, and when she tried to chase it with the beam it was nowhere to be found. 

Cold fear battled with the warm encouragement from the earth, the knowing that she would succeed in her task.  It didn’t make descending the basement steps any easier, but she pushed on through the fear to reach into the adrenaline beneath it.  That feeling that thrill-seekers sought made her jittery.  But it was better than pissing yourself.

Astrid jumped as her flashlight illuminated a pair of fear-filled faces in the far corner of the basement.  It was enough to send her right back up the steps but she pushed against the feeling, centered herself on knowing the outcome already.  Easier said than done, of course.  She moved toward where the faces were (because of course, they vanished as soon as she saw them) and felt a presence directly behind her.  Ignoring it for now, with bumps breaking out all over her arms and hair standing straight up, she continued onward.  She could feel them in the very corner, and she trained her flashlight on the spot as she approached.  There was fast whispering, nothing that she could make out due to the sheer speed of the voices.  The presence behind her pressed in, feeling almost like a hand on her back. 

Directly at her feet appeared the twins, spooning, eyes blackened with tears streaming down their little cheeks.  Her heart leaped into her throat as the air around her became fridged.  One turned his head and made eye contact with her, pleading, then shifted to just beyond her and widening.  Dread pooled in her chest.

The static sound began again, but before anything else could happen Astrid cut across the apparition of the spooning twins with the dagger.  Together they cried out in pain, but she drew the line across them again two more times.  After the third and final time, there was a bright glow and they were gone.  A deafening roar filled the basement, angry with the buzzing static in the dark.

That buzzing roar filled her ears as if she were plunged underwater.  There was a sudden force at her back that knocked the air from her lungs and Astrid fell hard on her hands and knees.  The flashlight flew from her grasp and rolled several feet away on the ground in front of her.  Fuck--fuckfuckfuck! 

She struggled for air, mouth open, lungs and diaphragm straining with each hiccuping gasp.  There was pressure at her back as if something were trying to press her into the cold cement.  The flashlight before her flickered weakly and icy panic set into her mind.  As she managed a mouthful of air she scrambled forward with a forearm-crawl, pulling her body toward it before she lost sight of where the light had gone.  One fist closed around the dagger still while the other grappled for the flashlight, reaching under the bare metal shelf against the back wall. 

Thank fuck.

Frantically Astrid pulled herself into a sitting position with her back against the shelving, holding the flashlight out in front of her.  The light cut across several faces on the far side of the basement, twisted with gleeful smiles or pain.  Her chest burned with the need for air but her torso felt heavy with the effort.  Just relax, breathe.  Just fucking breathe!  The hand that gripped the dagger began to tremble and she put the tip of the blade against the cement, drawing a semi-circle around her.  The mark glowed a dull blue, erecting a barely-perceivable forcefield around her.  She frowned.  Of course, it wasn’t at one hundred percent--it was the fucking new moon.  It would hold long enough.  Hopefully.

The shadow roared in protest and drew close to the barrier.  Astrid glanced up before setting the flashlight down, beam creating a bluish path across the floor of the basement and casting long shadows on the walls.  She pulled the messenger bag around to the front of her again, going in with both hands this time and reaching past her elbows.  The buzzing of a thousand flies filled the air as the shadowy figure began to ram itself against the barrier she had just cast.  Shit.  One by one she pulled out a zippo lighter; a metal censer bowl; a foil-wrapped sleeve of charcoal disks; a small jar of golden copal resin tears; and a bundle of sage, cedar, and lavender; setting each in front of her.  The barrier groaned against the pressure the spirit exerted against it, and she sent a mental plea to the gods for it to hold just a little while longer.  If they were listening anyway.

Setting the dagger down, she fumbled to unwrap the charcoal, placing a single disk in the censer bowl.  There was another bang against the barrier and this time she could feel the air shake.  Next, Astrid took the lighter and the bundle of herbs.  With a well-practiced movement, she flipped and struck the light, touching the flame to the herbs in one swift motion.  They blazed briefly and she watched them crackle.  Almost.  Just need a little more time--  The shadowy figure rammed against the barrier twice in quick succession and the witch flinched, nearly dropping the burning herbs.  She touched the flame to the disk, waiting for dozens of little sparks to cross the black surface before pulling the herb bundle away and blowing out the flame with a little puff of air. 

Herb smoke curled overhead, contained for now in the barrier she had created.  She took a slow, shaky breath, keeping one eye on the charcoal disk and the other on the pacing shadow before her.  The charcoal was almost ready--as soon as the whiteish-grey ash covered the surface. 

Breathe.  Ground.

Empty encouragements but she tried nonetheless.  She fucking hated basements. 

The shadow approached again, this time it seemed to be examining her.  Gripping the dagger in her hand she passed the blade through the smoke of the herb bundle.  Hopefully, it would perform a bit better after being cleansed.  Rushed as this cleansing was.  She placed the blade on the floor and took the little jar of copal and tipped a small amount into the censer bowl.  It hissed and released a sweet smoke.  Astrid swapped the jar in her hand for the dagger on the floor, keeping a firm hold on the herb bundle in her other.  The shadow bashed itself against the barrier again and this time it flickered, then dissolved, sending smoke billowing into the basement and driving the shadow back. 

The spirit roared, though notably strained this time. 

Astrid stood and held out the knife, casting a long shadow in the pathway of light on the floor.

“I release you from this place,”  Her voice quivered as she took a step forward.  She repeated it louder, and the shadow rushed at her.  The blade jutted into its form and the shadow let out a whispery scream.  Her resolve renewed.

“Your ties to this realm are severed and I banish you from this home.”  There was resistance to the slashing as if she were cutting through stone.  Astrid drew on her energy reserves, pushing what she could safely spare into the blade.  It grew hot beneath her hand and she cut through the form with a grunt.

“You are to go where your soul is destined and linger in this place no more.”  Her voice had grown to a shouted command.  When she had finished speaking the shadow exploded with the sound of a gunshot, leaving the house in eerie silence.  The breath she didn’t realize she was holding rushed out of her with a sigh.  Exhaustion fell over her like a shroud, but there was still work to be done.

Passing the blade through the herb smoke again, she sheathed it quickly at her side.  Then, she turned back to retrieve the flashlight from the floor, bending with effort and strain.  The smoke from the censer bowl curled as it rose, hanging low and filling the basement.  With a lack of significant airflow, the smoke would fill the space and become almost stifling.  But she hoped to leave before it became too much.  Now to find any doors and lingering closed spaces…

The bluish light cut across the floor, sweeping methodically from left to right.  With the immediate danger now gone, Astrid had the opportunity to take a better look around.  She could’ve sworn the basement was more full of stuff than it seemed to be now, which was a bit unsettling but it didn’t matter much now.  Something nagged at her inside, preventing her from fully dropping her guard.  There was still the feeling of being watched, in spite of knowing that she had sent the majority of the restless beings on their way.

Except for the dog in the backyard.

She held the bundle of herbs a bit higher as she moved to the far corner of the basement, farthest from the staircase.  Smoke needed to touch every corner and crevice of the space.  The flashlight illuminated a little pile of bricks and it wasn’t until she drew closer to examine it that she noticed a portion of the wall had been disassembled.  On first glance, it looked like someone had been in the process of bricking-over a closet.  The crumbling mortar around the bricks on the floor told her that someone had been disassembling the wall.  The wall that remained there stood no taller than her hip, and she could climb inside the closet if she had wanted to.  If.

Instead, she pointed the flashlight into it, beam reflecting off shelves of large glass jars.  Each jar contained some sort of body part suspended in a yellowish liquid.  Animal, human, and something she couldn’t identify.  There were easily dozens of jars, and those that didn’t have wet specimens contained an impressive collection of teeth, dirt, and what appeared to be hair and fur.  There was a chorus of suffering emanating from the jars that pulled at her, begging for release. 

Set into the floor, as if the foundation had sunken in, was a large sigil of what she guessed to be demonic origin.  It was painted onto the floor in a ruddy brown, pulsing as if beginning to wake at her approach.  In the center was a single five-gallon glass jar filled with a swirling black goo, like a liquid shadow.  A part of the red wax seal covering the lid and dripping down the sides crumbled and fell to the floor. 

Maybe she should call Sabrina.  She should definitely call Sabrina. Fuck.


Continued here
Anna/Odessa/Sonya || Astrid || Chtahzus'aak/Zeus || Extasis || Fler || Jeremiah || Laurent/Va'tamal || Malakai || Rachel || Vai
Old things have strange hungers. - Catherynne M. Valente