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Authors: Graham Joyce

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BOOK: Dark Sister
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Nothing was happening. Tania was
also lying on her back, sheets drawn up to her waist, her doe-eyes gazing at
the ceiling.

"Perhaps you're trying too hard," she said.

Alex turned over and bit the pillow.
Tania's sympathy was even more provoking than Anita's

Hitherto, the evening had gone
well. Tania had turned the kids on to something called "Cowboy's
Glory", which was nothing more exotic than the beans on toast Alex could
never get them to eat. The children, by now accustomed to Tania's presence, had
gone to bed without too much fuss. Alex's party-piece lasagne had turned out
well, and the first bottle of claret had given way to a second. Then Amy had
come downstairs at the wrong moment to find her daddy removing Tania's blouse
and sucking Tania's brown nipple.

"What are you doing?" Amy had wanted to know.

After Amy had been settled again, Tania and Alex
removed to the master bedroom. But there, despite a lot of spirited wrestling
and imaginative foreplay, the point had somewhere been lost. And though his
body couldn't give him an erection, his mind was still ablaze with lust. Alex
didn't want Tania's sympathetic clichés or her banalities; he wanted a night of
deep sex. The kind of sex that went on until the early hours, and then even
further, the kind of sex that left you sore. He wanted Tania to help him prove
that Anita had a problem and he didn't; that Anita was being passed over by the
angels of lust and he wasn't; that where Anita exuded something dispiriting and
deflatory
, he was still clean.

At first he felt this was some kind of punishment
cooked up for him by Anita. Then he changed his mind and thought it was all
Maggie's doing. Then he wanted to blame Tania. He felt angry at her, lying
there staring up at the ceiling, but he couldn't think why. So he settled for a
compound resentment of all three women, lying in the dark in a sullen, curdled
silence; but of the three, mostly he cursed his wife.

Maggie came to on the floor, lying on her side inside
the circle. The censers had burned out but the scent was still heavy in the
air. The candles had burned down. Ash was lying next to her, one arm round her.
Her throat was dry. There was a slight tingling throughout her body. She
reached outside the circle for the bottle of mineral water and gulped it back.
Then she noticed something about Ash.

"Ash!
Ash!"
She put the bottle to his lips and trickled mineral water into his mouth.
He
.coughed and came round, blinking at her. He groaned.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I feel fine.
Weird but fine.
Really.
What about you?"

"A bit shaky.
Otherwise fine."

"Was it like your last time?" said Maggie.

"Nothing like it."

"Ash haven't you noticed anything?" Ash
looked puzzled as he drew himself up. Maggie nodded at his lap. Ash had a
monster erection. His cock was pointing straight up at the ceiling, engorged,
the swollen head bobbing slightly as he looked down at it.

"Goddess!
You've come
back to me!" He sat on the floor, looking delirious with happiness. Maggie
got up and placed a hand on each of his shoulders. She hoisted herself over
him. "I owe this one," she said, gently lowering herself down the
length of his shaft, "as a gift."

"Goddess!" he said. "Goodness!"

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY-ONE

Sam's
nightmares wouldn't go away. There was a fat rat scuffling
in his dreams. Waking
from these nightmares, he would see the old lady lurking in his room.
The rat-rider.
For when he awoke it was as if he came back
from these bad dreams clutching a black fragment, a ragged swatch of the dream
itself, and that torn piece of dream was the old woman. She could appear
anywhere in the shadows of the unlit room.
As the coat draped
over the back of a chair.
As the
lampstand
in the corner.
Among his box of toys.
Under the bed.
Oh, she would fade shortly after he'd woken
up, too soon for him to wake anyone else, but not before she'd let him know she
was there.

Amy had returned from one of her mother's visits to
Liz with a vague sense that she must protect her brother. Liz had hinted and
tapped her nose in a frightening way, leaving her with a feeling of
responsibility.
Remember me,
Liz had whispered,
remember me.
When
Sam became hysterical at the thought of sleeping another night alone, Amy had
surprised her father by offering to let Sam into her room.
Jealous
of her space, like so many growing girls, Amy had up until now almost always
refused Sam the opportunity of even
looking
in her room.

Alex moved Sam's bed into Amy's room. Then
one night Amy was awakened by the sound of Sam crying and pleading in his
sleep. She saw him sit up in bed and gaze across the room, eyes wide open. Amy
looked over and saw an old woman in black clothes, firmly embedded in the wall.
Only her head, hands and feet were visible, protruding from the wall. The rest
of her torso was elsewhere, seemingly sunk behind the wallpaper and plaster as
if it was made of Styrofoam. She was eyeing Sam with a vicious smile.

"Sam," Amy whispered.

The smile on the old woman's face turned
into a sneer. She rotated her head slowly, until she was looking, her face
green and rancorous, at Amy. Then she faded.

Amy got out of bed and put the light on.
Sam was whimpering. She climbed into bed beside him and cuddled him until he
fell asleep, just as her mother and father had done with her when she was
smaller.

In the daytime, Sam would never set foot
in the cellar playroom alone. If he did go down there, he would cling to his
sister, and if she tired of him, he would cling to Dot's collar.

One day, in the excitement of a game
with Amy, he almost forgot his troubles in the playroom. As he raced across the
room, the rug slipped from under his feet and he cracked his head. The rug had
shifted to reveal the face, more prominent than before, and more malevolent.
The rust-coloured stain bubbled moisture, glistening on the bare concrete as
they looked on.

Amy touched the stained floor, and the
rust colour transferred to her finger. "It's wet," she said quietly.

She looked at Sam. He seemed very small.

"Wait here."

"No," said Sam.

"Dot's here. You'll be all right."

Sam hooked his hand under Dot's collar and
slithered behind her. Amy ran up the stairs and into the kitchen. Sam heard her
drawing a stool across the floor. Then he heard a cupboard opening, a
rustling, and Amy climbing down from the stool. In a few moments she was back
in the playroom.

She had something in her mouth. Sam and
Dot watched as Amy stood before the face in the floor. She stood over it in
silence, as if she was thinking hard. Her arms hung lifeless at her sides, her
head was bowed slightly, drawn into her shoulders. She stayed like that for a
long time.

Then she pushed her tongue out of her mouth. Sam
glimpsed a small object sitting on her tongue, before she drew her head back
and spat it violently at the face on the floor. The object landed in the middle
of the face.

Nothing happened. Dot sneezed, but
Amy stood her ground. Then the face began to blister and bubble in tiny spots.
It peeled back, like old paint, and within five seconds the stain had disappeared.
In the middle of the floor was a single dried bean.

"What did you do?" said Sam, still hanging onto Dot's collar.

Amy picked up the bean and settled the rug back into place.

Alex appeared in the doorway.
"You kids are too quiet for my liking.
Everything all
right, Amy?"

"Yes," she said, pushing past him.

Sam followed her out, and so did Dot.

 

 

 

 

THIRTY-TWO

 

 

 

 

 

"Listen to this," said Maggie. She and Ash were
lying in bed,
candles
flickering, empty wine bottles gathering in number, sound of wind and rain
lashing at the window. She was reading to him from Bella's diary, pieces she'd
read herself many times.

 

A drives me, she
drives me and drives me, my wicked dark sister.
Always
having me do the next thing and the next thing until I know I shall lose my
wits.
I'm out of patience with her but she's too strong for me, and
knows it, and she does so keep on at me until she has her way. I am weak, for I
know that without me she can do nothing. So why do I let her drive me?

Last night it was on
the heath and I performed the shifting, and it has done nothing but left my
wits in shreds and I can hardly hold this pen for trembling. No, I'll not talk
of it, not even in this secret journal.

Only my dark sister knows.

Oh, the blackbird.

And A. says I'm too
careless with my coming and going. But I say to her that she is the one who
drives me hither and thither. A. says I'll pay for indiscretion, but I've told her
if I pay, then she'll pay too, and she
knows
it.

All this because I give
a
herb
scrying
and a love simple
to one who lives near and came asking for it. What can we do, when they ask us?

 

Maggie closed the diary. "Why was she
so paranoid, do you think?"

"Old Liz will tell you enough stories
to answer that. There was a wise woman near her who was thought to have dried
up a spring. When she died the villagers pulled her cottage down brick by
brick. This wasn't the Middle Ages, this was forty years ago. She probably had
reason to be paranoid."

"Who?" said
Maggie.
"Bella?
Or the mysterious A.?
You said you thought of them as the
same person."

"I
do. A. is Bella's alter-ego, I assume. She gives her the excuse to go and do
the things she really wants to do. The dark stuff, the things she can't face in
herself."

"You
mean Bella was a schizophrenic?"

"I
suppose so. Something
like
that. Maybe not barking
mad, but certainly hiding behind this A. character she's always complaining
about. See how she always blames what she does on A.?"

"I
don't see it like that. I think A., whoever it was, was another witch.
A separate person altogether.
Leading
Bella on."

"The
way that diary leads you on?"

Maggie
wasn't happy about that remark. "What are you getting at?"

"Never mind."

"No.
Say what you were thinking."

"It
was what we were saying about paranoia. You're steeping yourself in a lot of
heavy craft these days. If there's one thing I do know, it's that the craft has
also got a dark sister, and her name is paranoia."

"I'm old enough to know the
difference."

"Really?
I know you've been working something against
Anita and Alex."

Maggie was surprised. "How did you
know?"

Ash produced a strip of leather with five
knots tied in it. Each of the knots was signed with a crude alphabetical
representation. "These five letters wouldn't add up to the name of anyone
we know?"

"Ash!"
said Maggie, not at all annoyed. "You've been rooting through my
handbag!"

"I'm
getting very fond of you, Maggie, but ligatures? Just be careful. It's a wrong
path."

Maggie
looked away. The rain and the wind beat against the bedroom window.

Whatever
Ash's objections, he swallowed them and indulged Maggie. She practically took
over the business at Omega for him, and trade flourished in her hands. What
could he say? If he lost some of his old customers, he gained three times as
many new ones. Maggie also had a shrewd idea of how far Ash's integrity could
be stretched. There was a lot of junk she could have stocked— bogus products
carrying extravagant claims, miracle cures, lucky silver pixies—which she
didn't. She respected his "what you see is what you get" philosophy
on merchandising, and never tried to breach it.

He
indulged her for what she'd done for him. And Maggie found in him a companion
and lover who
was
excited by spontaneity. If they
wanted to wake up at a ridiculous hour and go walking by a lake or in the
woods, they did so. One time they drove in a thick night fog to a flight of
canal locks, just to hear what the place sounded like when you couldn't see it.
Dawn, midnight, and dusk.
These were the goddess
hours, the moments imbued with magic capability. Sometimes, however, even Ash
balked.
"No, Maggie, no!
I'm not going out on the
heath on a night like this. Listen to that wind!"

"But
that's what Liz meant about flying indoors. It's why we felt like we were
crashing into the ceiling. Next time we have to fly outside."

"Not
in the middle of winter, we don't. Go back to sleep."

 

But
Maggie lay in the dark quite unable to sleep. The wind outside, far from
deterring her from a visit to the heath, only stirred something in her breast.
She looked tenderly at Ash sleeping beside her, but she heard voices in the
wind. Something was calling softly from the heath, and from the hills beyond
the heath.

She
did not know what was calling her, or if the voices were all inside her head.
But it was beautiful, eerie, a low chorus of women's voices. One of us, they
sang, you have always been one of us. It pulled her like the moon pulling on
the tides. She was approaching her period; she felt the mysterious blood
connection. How could she tell Ash? He was a man. How could she ever tell .him
about voices he couldn't possibly hear and was never meant to hear?

There
was a rumble of thunder. She knew it was a night for her to go. She slipped out
of bed and tiptoed to the window. Ash woke up, blinking sleepily at her. She
kissed his lips. "I won't be long. Don't worry."

"Not
flying, are you?"

"No.
It's a Macbeth night. I just want to feel it a little."

Ash
groped for his shirt. "I'll come." She wanted to tell him it was a
girls' only night, but she was touched by his loyalty. It was the allegiance of
a sleepwalker.

 

Ash
drove steadily toward the heath through the rain. There was the first spear of
lightning. The rains lit up against the headlights, swirling silver sparks.

"What is it?" said Maggie.

They were about halfway to the heath. Ash
blinked into his
rearview
mirror. "For a minute
I thought somebody had been following us. But it's nothing."

"And you said I was paranoid."

They reached the heath and parked the car.
The trail was pitch-black, but by now they knew their way in the darkness. The
rain had stopped. The storm had passed overhead, but there was still the
distant rumble of thunder and the occasional fork of lightning. The
afterbreath
vapours of the fission and the smell of ozone
touched everything. The earth was fingered with mist. Maggie breathed deep. She
felt her powers magnified, quadrupled. She danced along the path ahead of Ash.

"The goddess!
Hecate
! All around us! She passed by this way! Smell
her!"

The grass was heavy with rain. The
standing stones were wet, glistening with water droplets, exuding their own granite
odours. Maggie walked round the circumference of the circle, inside, brushing
her hands against the nine stones. Then she stepped quickly out of her clothes.
She pressed her naked shoulders and her thighs to the wet, erect granite,
luxuriating in the suck of heat from skin to rough stone and the transmission
of cold from stone to bone.

"Come
on, Ash! Feel the rain between your toes!"

"It's fucking freezing!"
he countered. But she was on him, pulling his sweater over his head. Giggling,
the pair fell to the ground, rolling in the wet grass. Maggie got up and danced
away. There was another feeble flash of lightning, seeming to come from behind
one of the stones. Ash stood up and stared into the darkness.

"Did you see something, Ash?"
Maggie was breathless. She put her hand on his arm.

Ash continued to gaze into the
blackness. "I don't think that last flash was lightning."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know."

 

 

 

 

BOOK: Dark Sister
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