Witch Myth- A Yew Hollow Mystery, страница 1
Beneath the Yew
by Alexandria Clarke
DBS Publishing LLC
Copyright 2016 by DBS Publishing LLC
In Which I Receive a Cold Welcome Home
The weekly town meeting was already in session, so I slipped through the back door of the town hall, hoping to go unnoticed, and dropped into an empty chair near the rear of the room. I slumped down, arms crossed, and glanced around. Nothing about my tiny hometown had changed in the several years since I’d left Yew Hollow and moved to New York City. It seemed exactly the same, from its festive autumn decorations to its overly polite inhabitants. The town hall itself could’ve done with a little retouching. Then again, the faded yellow paint seemed to gather the townspeople together in a sunny hug, encouraging them to voice any concerns they might have about their boring small-town lives.
A handsome middle-aged man stood at the podium, leading a discussion about the town’s yearly revenue. He called for a vote. “All in favor of increasing the admission prices for our fall festival this year?”
The majority of the room put a hand in the air.
“Good, that’s settled,” he said. “Thanks, everyone.”
The mayor took over the podium as the handsome man returned to his seat.
“Thank you, Roger,” the mayor said. “Next on the agenda, it’s time to discuss everyone’s favorite town event: the Legend of Yew Hollow reenactment.”
I closed my eyes, half-wishing that I had the power to make myself invisible. If the town was talking about the legend reenactment, it could only mean one thing. My mother was here.
“Ms. Summers,” the mayor said, gesturing to someone seated in the front row. “If you will.”
Sure enough, the familiar outline of my mother rose from the front row amidst whispers from the townspeople. My mother was a strange woman, willowy and soft spoken, swathed in several layers of flowy, colorful fabric that swished behind her as she took the podium. But there was another reason my mother’s presence elicited suspicious murmurs from the townspeople.
She was a witch.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t kidding. Even more unfortunately, every female born into a witch’s coven was gifted with “abilities” as a birthright, which meant that I was a witch too. It was one of the reasons I’d left Yew Hollow right after my eighteenth birthday. I’d never been comfortable with the strange history of my family. The Summerses were quite legendary in town. In fact, my ancestors were the founders of Yew Hollow.
My mother held up her hands, and silence fell in the town hall.
“As you all know, Yew Hollow’s busiest time of year is approaching,” she began. Though she spoke quietly, her voice resonated to the very back of the room. “Halloween is just around the corner, as is our reenactment. If you would like to volunteer to help us plan it, we’ll have a sign-up sheet for you at the end of the meeting. As for today, we would like to take the opportunity to remind you all of how our town came to be. The majority of our coven is here—”
More muttering arose from the crowd. The situation in Yew Hollow had always been odd. The townspeople, though aware of our coven’s presence, never fully trusted us. My family’s witchcraft wasn’t just a gimmick to attract tourists. It was real. As such, the townspeople had to deal with a myriad of strange happenings over the years. Our coven was home to over twenty witches, each with their own agenda. What with all the rituals and spells, the mortals of Yew Hollow were bound to notice the bizarre occurrences. Birds flew over the town in unnatural patterns, the weather shifted in the blink of an eye, and the witches themselves often acted impulsively. It was no wonder we made most people in town uncomfortable.
My mother’s voice rang out across the crowd again. “Let us begin with a retelling of our history. The town of Yew Hollow was settled in 1693, when our ancestors fled the injustice in Salem and sought a safe place to settle down—”
I was out of my seat and through the back door before she’d even finished her sentence. Leaning against the outside of the building, I heaved a sigh of exasperation. I’d only been in town for a few hours and already felt overwhelmed by my family’s weirdness. I couldn’t bear to hear the story of the stupid town again. It had been drilled into my head as a child.
I pushed myself away from the town hall’s exterior, finding the familiar path toward the center of town. The street, lined with trees in transition from summer to fall colors, was empty. Nearly everyone was at the town meeting. I longed for the bustle of New York. The city had been my haven in a way. For one, I knew my family would never leave Yew Hollow to seek me out in New York. The city almost made it easy for me to feel normal. There was only one problem with New York City. It had a lot of ghosts.
Each witch was gifted with a speciality. For example, my mother could see about thirty seconds into the future. Not very useful, if you asked me. I, on the other hand, had the lovely pleasure of communicating with the dead. It wasn’t something I could control. Dead people just sought me out. And New York? Lots of dead people.
At first, I had tried to capitalize on my talent. I’d opened a business in New York to offer my services to the public. I rented an office and everything, with Morgan Summers: Psychic Medium printed in professional font on the front door. Unsurprisingly, most people considered it a scam. Every once in a while, some senile old woman came in claiming that her late husband was trying to contact her from beyond the grave. More often than not, though, it was the dead who wanted my help, and regrettably, they never produced a corporeal form of payment. Broke and at a loss for what to do, I had no choice but to return to Yew Hollow.
I trudged onward, my feet unconsciously carrying me into the nearby town square. The large yew tree at the center of town, Yew Hollow’s namesake, came into view. It seemed even more massive than I remembered, its gangly branches reaching up and out like the gnarled fingers of an old man. The tree was one of the only things I liked about Yew Hollow. In our practice, yew trees often symbolized rebirth and protection from evil, among other things. I always felt a sense of peace and mindfulness in the town square that seemed to radiate from the tree itself.
As I neared the tree today, though, something felt off. The usual tranquil vibes were absent, replaced with a strange anxiety that seemed to settle in the pit of my stomach. At first, I wondered if it was simply because I hadn’t been near the yew tree in over ten years. Auras could change, especially those surrounding a force of nature.
Then I noticed something large and unmoving at the base of the tree and stepped forward for a closer look. As I realized what the object was, I backed away so quickly that I tripped over a wayward root and landed on my ass, breathing hard and trying not to panic. I couldn’t stop staring at the strange shape sprawled beneath the shadow of the yew tree.
It was a body.
In Which My Motives Are Questioned
The woman was clearly dead. Blood soaked her clothes and the ground around her. As I caught my breath, I automatically glanced around, hoping that no one was in the vicinity. Then I stood up, wiped the dirt from my hands, and forced myself to take another look. Another detail soon caught my attention. A crudely drawn pentagram had been etched into the dirt around the woman’s body, each of its points corresponding to one of her limp limbs. In addition, strange items littered the area. I noticed a silver chalice tipped on its side, several burnt black candles, and a bloody dagger all within a few feet of the woman’s body.
The knowledge of two things struck me at once. One, this was a ritual sacrifice, and two, the only people who were once known to perform sacrifices in Yew Hollow were my own.
“HELP! MURDER! MURDER IN THE TOWN SQUARE!”
A third fact crossed my mind. I was in deep shit.
The doors of the town hall burst open, spilling the townspeople out in hordes. The commotion was unfathomable. Within seconds, I was surrounded. People pushed and pulled to get a closer look. Parents yelled at children to stay back or go home. Several women burst into tears, and someone even vomited into the shrubbery at the edge of the square. But nobody dared to step within five feet of me or the body.
The square fell silent. Dread seeped into every pore of my body. I turned to face the voice and watched as the crowd parted to allow my mother through. As she stepped forward, her gray eyes lit with a fiery intensity, I raised my hands above my head and said the most cliché thing I could possibly think of.
“I didn’t do it.”
For a moment, she only stared at me. It figured that the first time my mother and I see each other in over ten years, she finds me standing over a dead body. Seriously, if I wasn’t considered the rebel of the family before, I sure as hell was now.
Then, she said, “I know.”
My shoulders sagged in relief, but it was short-lived. The crowd jostled again, this time to let several uniformed police officers make their way to the yew tree.
“Step aside, step aside,” one particularly corpulent cop grumbled as he and his comrades began to push the townspeople away from the area. Another officer laid a tarp over the body, while yet another began to string garish yellow crime-scene tape from one end of the square to the other.
The corpulent cop approached me. “Step aside, young lady.”
I did as asked. My three sisters, Malia, Karma, and Laurel, had found their way through the throng and now stood behind my mother. As I joined them at the edge of the square, each of them pulled me into a long embrace. I sank into each hug. I had missed them the most, and my first few hours back in town had already exhausted me.
“Where’s Wren?” I asked.
“Your brother’s at the house,” my mother responded in a tone that indicated she was less than pleased with Wren’s whereabouts. “He refuses to come to the town meetings.”
“What are you doing home?” Malia, my eldest sister, asked.
But before I could respond, someone else shoved their way to the front of the crowd. It was the handsome man who had spoken first at the town hall meeting. Up close, I could see that his good looks didn’t hold. His thin face and narrowed eyes conveyed only two emotions: rage and suspicion. He stepped over the caution tape and approached the corpulent cop.
“Chief Torres! This woman”—his finger shook as he pointed to me—“was discovered standing over the body. Why haven’t you arrested her yet?”
Chief Torres cast a lazy look in my direction, regarded me from head to toe, and said to the man, “Mr. Parris, does it look like that rather petite, relatively clean young lady is capable of committing a grisly crime like this?”
Parris sneered. “Don’t you see what family she comes from? She’s a damn witch. I’ve had enough of this shit. It’s aggravating enough to put up with all of their bizarre rituals and spells, but murder? Where do we draw the line, Torres?”
“I didn’t murder her,” I said, shaking off Malia’s hand on my arm to step between Parris and Chief Torres. I glared defiantly up at Parris. “I found her.”
“Oh, really? Can you prove it?”
I hesitated. He had a point. No one had been around to vouch for my innocence, except the girl with the golden retriever, who’d only seen me curiously inspect the body. For all she knew, I was the murderer. I looked around for her, but the majority of the crowd had dispersed, taking her along with it. Parris, apparently, took my lack of eye contact as a confession.
“That’s what I thought,” he said.
“Everyone was at the town meeting!” I argued. “Of course no one saw me!”
My hand bunched up into a fist. Nothing would have pleased me more than to knock the satisfied smirk right off of Parris’s smug face, but Chief Torres came between us, his enormous belly forcing us apart. I felt Malia’s hand tug on my elbow, so I retreated to the empty space between her and Laurel. Flanked by my sisters, I felt their collective auras box me in, quelling the heat that had risen within me at Parris’s accusation.
“Enough,” Torres said. He clasped Parris on the shoulder. “The young lady—what’s your name?”
“We’ll have Ms. Summers come in for questioning,” Torres continued, attempting to placate Parris. “You know as well as I do that we can’t go arresting people all willy-nilly.”
“My daughter is innocent,” my mother interrupted. She’d been standing in silence behind my sisters and I, letting the situation unfold. That was how my mother operated. She liked to feel out the tone and direction of an argument before she involved herself. When she finally did, she tended to make an impact. “I saw her walking through the square a few minutes ago. She only found the body, like she said.”
Chief Torres raised an eyebrow, skeptical. “Ma’am, you were in the town meeting. How could you have seen your daughter?”
My mother only smiled and raised a delicate finger to tap herself on the temple.
Parris threw up his hands in disbelief. “She had a vision. Of course. Torres, are you buying this bullcrap?”
Chief Torres seemed unwilling to take sides, but he said, “Settle down, Parris. Yew Hollow operates differently than other towns. You know that.”
“Fine,” Parris said. He spun around to face my mother. “If your visions are so damn special, you should be able to tell us who the murderer is.”
“That wasn’t shown to me,” my mother responded.
“Has no alibi,” Parris finished for her. He strolled closer to the body. “Look at this! All this crap—candles, drawings in the dirt, daggers—it’s obviously witchcraft.”
“That’s dark-magic shit,” I snapped. “Black candles? An upside-down pentagram? No one in our coven is stupid enough to invoke the dark. It’s not even real witchcraft. It’s for assholes who don’t have their own powers.”
“And yet you seem to know an awful lot about it,” Parris said.
The urge to physically damage Parris’s pretty face rose in me again. My sisters must have sensed my agitation, because both Malia and Laurel tightened their grip on me.
Chief Torres, ever the white flag, intervened again. “I understand that we’re all a little shaken up,” he said. “It’s only natural after a tragedy like this. Parris, this is a matter for the police. As a key member on the city council, we’ll keep you updated on our findings. For now, it’s probably best you head home and cool off.”
Parris glared at him, standing his ground.
“Go on, then.” Chief Torres made a shooing motion at Parris, as if Parris were a clingy puppy.
Parris’s eyes narrowed, but he finally stepped away from the body. He stalked back over to where I stood, towering over me. My sisters drew back, but I remained in place, staring unblinkingly up into his face.
“I’m watching you,” he said in a low voice.
“You flatter me,” I deadpanned.
He stormed away then, across the square. As he passed Chief Torres, he said, “Don’t be an idiot, Torres.”
As Parris’s retreating figure disappe
“A little?” I repeated.
“You know how some people are,” Torres said. “They don’t trust things that they don’t understand. Unfortunately, though, he’s right. I’m going to have to ask you to come down to the station with me. Routine questioning, you know. After all, you were the first one on the scene.”
There was an undertone of doubt in his last sentence, as if maybe he wasn’t as convinced as it first seemed that I wasn’t involved with the crime. Still, I nodded.
Dusk was falling in Yew Hollow. As Chief Torres led the way to the police station, the sun sank beneath the tree line, dusty golden streaks refracting off of the red and orange leaves. I took a deep, steadying breath. I’d forgotten how naturally beautiful Yew Hollow was. New York was all exhaust and dirty rainwater, while Yew Hollow smelled fresh. Its scent, crisp and clean, was reminiscent of apple orchards and cinnamon. All I wanted to do was sit out on the old porch with a cup of tea and watch the fireflies dance around. Instead, I followed Chief Torres in resolute silence. My mother and sisters trailed along behind me. The townspeople still outside watched us pass, their facial expressions ranging from apprehensive to downright terrified, as though our procession were a freak-show parade. I supposed, in some ways, it was.
The police station itself was bustling with movement. Yew Hollow hadn’t seen a murder like this since its legendary early years. These days, it was a relatively sleepy town. As such, the small police force was already beside itself. The phones were ringing like persistent alarm clocks, and every officer seemed deeply ensconced in some element of crime solving.
Torres led me toward the back of the station, into the one and only interrogation room. It was empty, save for a desk, two chairs, and a spot lamp. I rolled my eyes. Yew Hollow was the epitome of a stereotypical small town.
At the door of the room, Torres held a hand up to prevent my mother and sisters from entering. “Sorry, ladies. We only need Ms. Summers.”