The Iron Writer Challenge #150
2016 Winter Equinox #8
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Mathew W. Weaver, Maureen Larter, D. Lee Cox, Alis Van Doorn, Peter Lusher
A Witch or Warlock
Be Careful What You Summon
Mathew W. Weaver
They gathered at the graveyard, well chilled and of varied temperaments.
The self-proclaimed witch valiantly balanced the massive book on one arm, reading the faded text with lips murmuring in silence.
The fearful believer hugged herself and shivered, her glasses all but frozen to the backs of her ears.
The Pulitzer Prize hopeful continued adjusting his camera lens, clicking his tongue again in impatience at the cloudy midnight sky.
The skeptic watched the proceedings skeptically, foot tapping and lips pouted.
And the fifth, not their companion yet present for the occasion, took another swig from his bottle and offered a hiccup.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this,” the fearful one whispered again, “It’s forbidden to disturb forces unknown.”
“Can we get it over with?” the photographer muttered, “I have stuff in the morning.”
“You know that if this works, chances are you can’t control it,” the bespectacled one whimpered, “They’re known to begin zombie apocalypses.”
“I’m only testing my limits,” the witch said, “See if I can really do this. The right place, unfortunately, is at barrow tombs, in England. But since none of us can afford plane tickets…”
“Or want to…” the skeptic interjected.
“…this will have to do.”
The witch indulged in a shiver of excitement, and then extended her arms.
“In the name of the Even, Hail, Drought and the Nerfec, I command thee to do my bidding!” she cried, “Rise!!”
“Are we done?” the skeptic groaned, “Can we go now?”
“I command thee…” the witch persisted, “Rise!!”
For a moment, air was still.
Then the wind howled, the gravestone shone bright green, and the ground began to tremble.
“It actually…” the skeptic whispered.
A rotten, emaciated fist pounded out of the dirt at the feet of the tombstone, and was greeted by screams of shock, awe, and trousers spontaneously gaining moisture.
As the creature clawed its way out of its grave, grunting in effort, there was a sharp crack of something very expensive hitting the ground very hard, followed closely by a mad scrambling of the congregation disassembling with as much haste as could be mustered.
By the time the newly resurrected former cadaver was basking in the full moonlight, the only witness the spectacle still held claim on was the drunk.
The remains of the departed now returned cast its eyeless sockets to the half empty six-pack, abandoned on the ground
“Pass me one of those, would you?” it beseeched, “Eleven years gives you a HELL of a thirst.”
The man tossed it a can of beer, and it popped the top and threw it back a hearty chug.
“That’s the stuff,” it sighed, wiping its lipless maw with the back of a decomposing hand. It nodded its peeling skull at the backs of the retreating companions.
“What’s with them?”
“Beats me,” his sozzled companion shrugged.
“College teens.” The cadaver would have rolled its eyes if it had any.
“I hear ya.” The drunk chuckled.
“So… what now?” the corpse wondered.
“I ain’t got nothing better to do,” the drunk help up a packet of crisps.
The rotten gums beamed.
“You da man, chief,” it said, “You da man.”
A Warlock in Wiltshire
Olive stepped briskly into The Hoary Hound, a tiny pub just south of the village of Wiltshire. And stopped suddenly, resolve faltering.
“Hello, can anyone give me directions to a cottage called Heath Hill?” Dead silence.
“It belongs to a chap called Barrick…” Olive trailed off in confusion seeing amused faces. “Does he not live around here anymore, then?”
“He’s still around, reckon he always will be. The Barrick’s have been here since the beginning of time.” grunted a man, looking like the beginning of time, himself.
“What do you want with Tholow? Come down here wanting a “Love Spell’? Good luck with that!” snorted another.
“Why? Isn’t he practicing any longer?” asked Olive in dismay.
“He’s able to cast a spell; might not be the one you want…” snickered someone.
“Nevermind.”, said the barkeep enigmatically, if kindly. “Here, you’ll need this if you’re to get what you want from Tholow.” And handed Olive a huge jug of water.
“Follow this lane for about five miles, take a left at the gate, go till you pass the barrow tomb, keep going a bit, it’s on the right.”
Olive pulled up to Heath Hill, knocked firmly on the door. Waited. Knocked again. Waited. Walked around back only to stop short. “Oh Christ on a bloody cracker!” the necessity for the water becoming clear. “Great! A drunken warlock.” Olive dumped the cold water on the passed out warlock.
“Whaaat the bloody hell…” spluttered the enraged warlock.
“Sober yet?” inquired Olive sweetly. “Because I need your help, desperately, in fact.”
Tholow looked up balefully, his look changing to interest quickly.
“Why are you here? Need a spell for some fool to fall in love with you?”
“Why are you drunk in the middle of the day? “
“I’m not” replied Tholow with dignity, “This is last night’s drunk.”
“I’m drunk because I spend my existence casting spells for idiots instead of pursuing my passion.”
“Wow! Could you be any more melodramatic? Or absurd? Why can’t you do both?”
“You wouldn’t understand. It has to do with an artistic temperament. Of which you clearly know nothing. Now what do you want, so I can go back to being miserable in peace?”
“What I want is a spell cast to make my new project successful.”
“What kind of project?”
“A gallery I’m starting, featuring fine art, photography. I only have one artist signed; I’m worried, the opening is a few weeks”
“Good God, she is amazing! I love her, uh, I mean her work.”
Olive hid a smile. “Really?” “But that doesn’t solve my problem, I need an amazing photographer.”
“But, but…” sputtered Tholow, “I’m a photographer! “
“Yes, Actually, I know, it’s your work I want at my gallery. So see, you’ve already successfully spellcast, well, partially. There’s just one more tiny bit of a spell I need, but it can wait.” “ So, what do you say, want to exhibit in my gallery?”
“Yes. Wait what was your name again?”
“Well, actually, my name is Prunifer Olive Parker.”
“But I’m kind of partial to Olive Barrick.”
The gray light of dawn was the photographers favorite time of day. Free-lance and loving it, he was out late most nights. Before he made it his profession he was the friend that would take candid pictures of his friends debauching themselves. As his friends got older the debauchery tapered. A night which, as youngsters, would have amounts of alcoholic beverages enough to slake the thirst of the fifth-fleet, over-time became a volume of alcohol that might wet the tongue of two elderly hamsters. He still found himself at night clubs, only now for work.
While he walked home the sun turned the clouds into a rumpled blanket of pastel colors and flannel-like patterns. Early song-birds were out and, his favorite part since he had moved out to the ‘burbs, it was all his. Even the over-zealous runners weren’t up yet. He walked and smiled at the ache in his knees from being on his feet on all night. The ache reminded him of his first contract.
The first contract he had secured took him abroad, embedded with a team of trekkers and academics hired by National Geographic to go to Africa to write about the Ashanti kingdom struggling to exist after the European colonials had drawn self-serving borders. The team spent as many days walking between villages as they had in cities. He was told before he left that a good pair of boots would make the trip survivable. The photographer followed the advice, unaware that breaking them in was expected and unspoken. Walking home from the train-station reminded him of those days, not least because of the blisters currently forming.
Nearing home, the sun rushing to get above the horizon, excited to start the day, the trees threw shadows sharp enough to cut yourself on. Memories of Africa continued to play, and the smile that had been riding his face dismounted for a walk. His camera, slung around his shoulders, bumped his hip. It was much lighter than his first boxy device. How times had changed.
As with many twenty-somethings, getting old was an ever-present worry. That worry sent him to a Uruba medicine-man. The medicine-man informed the photographer that he could help. For a price.
Little did the photographer know that part of the price precluded him from seeing the full light of day forever-more. Nor did he know that part of the price of agelessness was to take the medicine-man’s workload. He had been back in England for several generations and now was better known as ‘The Warlock of Bowland’.
Shutting the heavy steel door of his barrow-home behind him. He hung his keys on their hook by the door and threw on the overhead light. The witch he was seeing was not in evidence, so he sat to his desk glancing over the correspondence related to being a warlock. He absent-mindedly riffled through them before texting his employer to inform him the night’s snaps were on their way after he had a nap.
Paul scrambled up the hill lugging his equipment with him. When he got to the top, he stood, bent over, with his hands on his thighs, trying to catch his breath.
“Damn hill. Wish I was fitter,” he panted as he gulped in the crisp, silent air of the countryside around him.
When he began to breathe normally again, he straightened and looked around. The beauty of clean, green fields made him immediately pick up his camera. He swiveled one hundred and eighty degrees and a village appeared in his viewfinder; a picturesque English village with a church spire stabbing its point into the sky. Trees hugged the hamlet, and a stone bridge arched over what he presumed would be a bubbling brook.
Ever since he had arrived in this country on the photographic assignment for the magazine he worked for, he had gone from sardonic to enchantment, fascinated by the history held within the castles, monuments and fields. He had visited Stonehenge on Salisbury Plains and the Roman baths at Bath. He had seen London and the changing of the guard and walked through tatty little shops with big personalities in the Soho district. His camera always at the ready, taking images of anything and everything that caught his eye. The magazine bosses were going to have a lot of great photos to choose from.
Now he was in Pembrokeshire, South Wales – nicknamed little England.
He clicked off several shots, then looked closer – zooming into what appeared to be a street procession in the village below. A line of costumed characters could be seen weaving along the cobbled street. ‘They are obviously enjoying themselves,’ Paul thought. He grinned to himself. ‘Probably fueled by alcohol. Look at them – prancing and cavorting in a drunken high.’
He peered through the camera again. He could see impressive stilt walkers, a couple of clowns, a wizard or two and a comely group of serving wenches.
Somewhere, in the depths of his being, energy refreshed. He grabbed his camera and equipment and raced, half falling, down the sides of the barrow tomb, rushed to his car and decided to join them in the fun.
The Rowanshire Barrow
D. Lee Cox
Miranda Austin walked into the poorly lit pub on a mission. She was up against her deadline with nothing worth showing for her 6 weeks in Wales.
She surveilled the room: drunken local merchants playing cards on the left, drunk podunk farmers to the right, smoking pipes. At the bar sat three scruffs. Two chatted with the bartender, the third at the far end of the bar, head down, apparently singing. Or moaning. She couldn’t tell.
“Ahem,” she exhaled. One of the merchants glanced at her, but then turned back to his cards.
Incensed, she tried again, “I said, ‘AHEM’!”
The pub came to a halt and all eyes turned to her.
“My name is Miranda Austin, I am a photojournalist with Citizen Earth…” she paused for effect, “and I’m currently on assignment here in Rowanshire.”
The drunk on the end lifted his head and yelled, “Manchester YOOOoooo!!!”
The bartender threw his dishrag at him. “Shaddup, Jimmy, can’t you see the lady’s trying to speak?”
A farmer took a long slow drag from his pipe. Silence.
She began, “I’m looking to photograph something with great history and mystique, and I need to do it now. Do any of you gentlemen have a suggestion?”
Not an eye left her.
“Yeah, Jimmy’s bar tab!”
Laughter bounced off the ancient wattle and daub walls.
Miranda shoulders slumped. She made her way to the bar and ordered a pint.
One of the scruffs at the bar turned to her and said, “Have you been out to the barrow, miss?”
“A tomb, miss, built in prehistoric days. 2000 years it’s been, mysterious as anything you can imagine. Fine night for it too. Clear sky, a bit of mist about.”
“A tomb you say?” Her interest was piqued.
“Yes, built by antediluvian clans. Its speculated that witches and warlocks conducted strange ceremonies within it.”
“How close to this ‘barrow’ do you think I can get?”
“Oh, quite close. Some say if the wind is right you can still catch a wiff of death blowing off the mound.”
“Where is this barrow?”
The other scruff leaned forward and grabbed the first man’s arm, “No, John, you mustn’t reveal its location.”
“I’ll buy a round for the house for the location!”
She turned to the rest of the pub, “A round for the house!”
A great “HURRAY!” swept the room.
“Ok miss, but be sure you don’t stay long. Sometimes a body doesn’t come back!”
The bartender poured pint after pint as the scruff scribbled a map on a napkin.
“Thanks so much, mister!” She put her camera away and rushed out the door.
After a moment one of the farmers ambled up to the bar.
“You sent her to my compost heap, didn’t ya?”
“Gordon, that thing is so big you could fertilize the lower half of Scotland!”
The bar erupted in laughter.
“Let me borrow your cell. I’ll have to call my wife and tell her not to shoot the poor girl.”
Laughter rang out through the village for the rest of the evening.
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