Witchy and the Stack, страница 1
WITCHY IN THE STACK
Witchy in the Stack
Copyright © 2011 by Zeb Rafferty
WITCHY IN THE STACK
“What’s that Dad?” asked Charli.
“That,” said Dad “is the Stack.” He jerked his head in the direction of the huge, rusting, steel pipe which jutted out of the ocean, far from the shore.
“What’s it for?”
“Well Charli, some people say it’s for the waste water.”
Charli crossed her eyes and raised her eyebrows. “Huh?”
“Well you know how all the water from our house goes down the sink?” said her father.
“Like poo and wee as well,” giggled Charli.
“Yeah,” said Dad, “the toilet too. Well, it’s taken away to a lake where it stays for a year and slowly it gets turned into clean water. Now, they’re building a huge tunnel, deep under the ground to bring it back here to the beach and then send it far, far out to sea. The Stack is right at the end. It’s a shaft that goes deep down under the water to the tunnel.
“OK. I get the part about the tunnel but why do they need the Stack?” said Charli.
Dad scratched his chin. “Well, I haven’t really thought about it but I guess it’s for the workmen so they can get down to work on that last part of the tunnel. But you know what?” He looked at Charli, his blue eyes twinkling.
Charli shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.
“I think we’d better go take a look,” he said.
Ten minutes later they were paddling out through the choppy blue waves in their yellow kayak.
“First the wharf, then the point, then over to the stack,” sang Dad.
Charli leaned her head back against her father’s chest and watched as gradually the wharf came closer and closer.
On warm sunny days at high tide, large groups of high school kids would gather there to jump off; cheering for whichever boy or girl could do the wildest flip or make the biggest splash. Older fishermen spent their days casting their lines in graceful arcs through the air, until the heavy lead sinker would tug the baited hook to plummet down into the deep. They boasted about their biggest catches or spoke in soft anxious half-whispers about the huge fish which had just got away.
Today though, the wharf was deserted. No wait; there was someone, a woman. She seemed to be looking down on them as they drifted under the wharf, past the oyster-encrusted pillars.
Charli moved forward and twisted her neck to look up. Sparkling dust floated down onto her hair. No, it wasn’t dust.
“She must be feeding the fish some bread,” said Dad. He shook a shower of breadcrumbs off his head.
Then Charli couldn’t see the woman anymore so she looked down under the surface of the water, at the swaying seaweed and the rocky bottom far beneath.
“Dad, why do stingrays want to hurt people?” she asked.
“What? Oh, stingrays?” said Dad. “Well they don’t really try to hurt us. Actually, we kill them. Some of the fishermen just catch them and leave them dead on the beach or throw them on their gardens to rot.”
Charli thought about this for a moment.
“But they can sting us can’t they Dad?”
“They can, but only when we get too close and give them a fright.”
Charli, who had been trailing her hand in the water, pulled it out anxiously as Dad continued to stroke the kayak smoothly through the gentle swell.
“Next to the point, the point,” he sang.
“What’s the point?” asked Charli.
“See how the cliff stretches towards those rocks and then it stops. Like a face looking out to sea. Well that you see, is the point.”
“You mean where that person is standing?” said Charli.
Sure enough there was a silhouette; someone was standing on the rocks at the end of the cliff.
By the time they got closer however, there was no one there. Exposed to the open sea now, they felt the surge of the swells lift them up. The waves were larger and the wind began to whip at their faces.
“I’m cold,” shivered Charli. “Do we have to go out there?” She pointed out to the open sea.
“Well my sweet, it’s not far now and the journey back will be quicker with the tide and breeze behind us.” Dad looked back over his shoulder at Charli and began to sing, “but for now, it’s to the Stack, to the Stack.”
Charli’s eyes widened with excitement. There ahead of them was indeed the Stack.
“What is it though Dad? I mean it looks like a chimney doesn’t it but how can there be any smoke if it comes out of the sea?”
The Stack looked much bigger now. It was taller than a large house. Charli could see that someone had painted Danger, Keep Off in white paint on its rusted surface.
“Let’s have a good, close look shall we,” said Dad. His voice seemed to be changing. It had a hiss and a croak and a rattle in it that hadn’t been there before which sent an icy shiver down Charli’s spine.
“Witchy!!!” he cried and began to paddle harder.
“Dad, stop it!” yelled Charli. “It’s not funny.”
“Witchy!!!!” He screamed louder and higher.
Charli twisted around to see whether her father was joking. There were still some breadcrumbs in his hair and on his arms. They sparkled with a green glow. Dad’s eyes were large and wild but the pupils were the tiniest black dots.
“Witchy, your servant has brought you a child!!”
“Dad, cut it-” Charli fell silent. On top of the looming Stack stood a figure. She looked a bit like the woman who had been on the wharf but now her hair was a long tangle of seaweed. Her face wasn’t skin; it seemed to be made of oyster shell.
“Witchy!!!” Dad barked again.
The sea became rougher and the wind was much stronger so that Charli’s long hair was plastered against her face.
The woman clapped her hands and jumped up and down.
“A child, a child!” she shrieked. “Bring her to Witchy.”
They were almost at the Stack now. Charli felt a terrible cold fear in the pit of her stomach. She bit her lower lip and desperately tried to think but she couldn’t. Nothing, it was as if her mind had completely frozen.
Dancing up and down, Witchy rubbed her hands and leered madly down at the kayak.
“Bring her to me,” she said.
Charli turned again to look at her dad and as she did an idea flashed into her mind.
“Dad,” she whispered. “Dad, remember. It’s me Charli. Can you remember when I was born?”
Her father ignored her and stroked the kayak through the water. They were almost close enough to touch the Stack.
“Dad, how did you feel when I was born, when you took me home, my first smile, remember how you would spend hours making me laugh?” She thought for a moment, “when I first said Dad?”
Dad stopped paddling. He looked around as though he wasn’t quite sure where he was. Then he looked down at Charli. His face widened into a smile.
“I remember,” he said and he ran his hand through her long brown hair.
“Paddle Dad, quick, get us back home.”
Dad dug the paddle into the water and the kayak veered away from the Stack and began to head towards the distant shore.
Witchy raised her hands. The sea began to boil and the wind howled at them, directly into their faces. It seemed as though they could make no progress against it. Charli shivered as if ice had settled on her shoulders and was dripping down her back. She looked back.
“Charli,” shouted Dad, through gritted teeth. “Count my strokes for me. Help me now, come on, together.”
“One!” they shouted together. Dad leaned forward and pulled them through the water. “Two!” their voices were stronger. “Three!” A wave lifted them up and they sped through the water.
“We’re going to make it,” roared Dad as sweat poured off his face.
Then Charli shivered again and the hairs on the back of her neck began to stand on end.
Although they had traveled some distance now and the shore was nearer, they could hear Witchy’s voice as though she was whispering directly into their ears.
“My curse for you,
Is that forget you will,
And when you do
And when think you,
Of only you,
And no one else,
Then return you shall,
To come back to me
And together with Witchy
You will always be”
Abruptly the wind died, the swell dropped and they were back at the beach, out of the water, dragging the kayak up onto the sand.
Dad stood looking back out to sea. He rolled his neck and shoulders to ease the stiffness in them.
“That was wild, you enjoy that?”
Charli looked at him for a moment. Then she knew his memory of the witch and their escape was gone. I wonder if I should say something to make him remember, she wondered, but she shook her head at the thought.
“Um, yeah, kind of but now I’m hungry,” said Charli.
“Right, how many toasted sandwiches do you want?”
“Four,” she said, chuckling.
Later that day, Charli lay on the sofa watching cartoons on TV. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this tired before. Perhaps it was the salt air, she thought. She flicked through the channels without really being able to concentrate on any of the programs that came on.
After a time Dad came in munching on an apple.
“Charli, I want to watch the news for half an hour.” He said and rubbed his shoulder, wincing in pain, then sat down gratefully on his favorite chair. “Is that OK?”
Charli ignored him and began to flick through the channels even more quickly.
“Charli, you’ve been watching television all afternoon. I’m going to put the news on now, ok?” said Dad, his voice soft.
Charli continued to stare at the TV but she couldn’t enjoy it with him there watching her.
“You always stop me doing what I want. I don’t like you. You’re a big meanie!” Charli threw the remote control onto the floor, jumped up and ran to her room, slamming the door as she went.
Dad stared at the remote for a moment then walked away with his head bowed.
Lying back on her bed, Charli felt a little guilty. She stared at the ceiling. She felt angry with Dad for causing the whole situation. He should have let me watch what I wanted, she thought. Then her eyes grew heavy and she sank deeper and deeper into the soft mattress until she began to dream she was under the sea following the sting rays.
It was dark when she woke but for some reason everything was wet. She realized with horror that there was dirt in her eyes and mouth. She was covered in a dark, oozing slime and worse still there was something there that seemed to be moving - moving towards her. She stood up. This wasn’t her bedroom. The ground shook. She staggered backwards until she slammed into a wall. Feeling the curved rough metal with her hands she groped her way around. And then as her eyes began to adjust to the darkness she saw it. Its eyeless, twitching face pierced the rotting earth.
It was a giant worm. Charli screamed, the worm hesitated then slithered towards her. She looked down to realize she was standing on dozens of writhing worms, each one as wide as a grown man and much longer. She scampered away but it was no use. More and more worms were coming up from under the ground towards her. Some were dark red, others were light pink or striped.
Charli edged backwards until she reached the wall. Wiping mud from her eyes, she realized that she was sobbing as the worms slithered closer.
“Think, think,” she screamed at herself. “This is like Dad’s worm farm.” She remembered watching her dad assemble the plastic black tubes into the farm and empty the contents of a cardboard box into it.
“A thousand wriggly worms,” he had laughed. “They’re going to live under this rotting bark and then when they get hungry they’ll climb up through the holes in the ceiling to the next floor and eat the vegetable peelings we put out for them. They don’t have any teeth so it takes about 2 weeks before the food is soft enough, though.”
Looking around the room, Charli rubbed her hands on her shirt.
“Well at least they can’t eat me,” she said.
Hearing her own voice made her feel slightly less panicked. A particularly large worm nosed against her leg.
“I wouldn’t want to get caught in one of their tangles though,” she tried to laugh.
Just then, water began pouring down from holes in the ceiling. It can’t be raining inside can it? she wondered. The rotting earth beneath her seemed to give way. Her foot sank in up to her knee as more worms climbed up. If I don’t do something quick I’ll get stuck. Then another thought struck her – I could drown down here, I need to get up higher.
In desperation, Charli grabbed a huge dark worm and managed to climb onto its back.
“Up you go,” she shouted.
It reared and began to stretch towards the holes above. She just managed to take a deep breath as more water flooded down. The worm began to squeeze through the hole. Thwack! Her head cracked against the side of the hole and down she fell down onto the soft ground.
“I need a thinner worm,” she said, looking around.
The water was rising now, covering her feet. To her left she saw a smaller white worm. She ran over, jumped on its back and grasped a slimy segment with both hands.
“Come on Wormy! Let’s go!” she shrieked and the terrified worm squirmed and thrashed trying in vain to dislodge Charli from its back. Finding that this was no good it twisted upwards towards the ceiling. She pressed her head hard against the soft flesh of the worm and then they were up and through.
For what seemed like forever, they burrowed through rotten food, against other worms, moving slowly upwards until finally they reached the surface.
Charli let go of the worm and jumped down onto a gigantic piece of cabbage and subsequently realized that this was worse, so much worse than the level below. A swarming buzz deafened her. The air was full of very, very large flies. They circled her head madly banging into each other.
“Eww, gross,” she shrieked. Something seemed to be probing her shoes. With revulsion she looked down and noticed that maggots, the size of footballs were rearing up like disco rice or letter s’s as though they wanted to climb all over here. Then they flattened themselves to blindly do it all again.
What, with the flies, the stench of rotting vegetables and the maggots, it was just too much. Charli gave up, first a single tear trickled down her cheek and then she began to sob.
“Help me, is there someone there to help me, please?” she cried. She could barely hear her own voice. A large blue bottle fly hummed towards her brushing her ears with its fat, hairy legs.
Charli ducked her neck and shrieked.
She began to feel sick again as everything began to spin and then was gone.
Charli found herself standing before a girl of about her own age, who was sitting in a large cane rocking chair. The girl swung her legs and her eyes darted backwards and forwards until finally they came to rest on Charli.
“Who are you?” she said and pushed her blonde hair away from her face as her mouth split into a gap-toothed smile.
“Me?” asked Charli.”
The girl stood up and shook Char
“Hi,” said Charli, not knowing what else to say.
“Did you like the worms?” Madeleine giggled.
“Ewwww, they were so gross, and it was raining, oh and the flies”. Charli tried to smile.
“I know exactly how you felt,” said Madeleine. She looked back at Charli. “Sit down”.
Charli turned and found a creaky old wooden rocking chair behind her.
“Where are we?” she asked, sitting down.
“I think you can guess where you are can’t you?” said Madeleine with a sly smile.
Charli frowned. She looked at the curving walls of the room. It was circular like a pipe. Then she smiled. She knew where they were.
“Wait? No. You mean this is the Stack?”
“Yep,” said Madeleine, grinning.
“But how did I get here?”
Madeleine raised her eyebrows and glanced around the room. Just for a moment it seemed to Charli that the lights had gone out. Madeleine’s face was fuzzy as though it was made up of millions of tiny colored dots almost like a TV without very good reception.
Then everything went back to normal again.
“I was wondering,” said Madeleine “whether you want to try something new.” She leaned back in her rocking chair causing it to swing. “Something…..a little bit different.”
“Cool, I mean yeah!” shouted Charli. “It’s going to be fun right?”
Madeleine began to rock her chair a little faster.
“I think you’ll find it pretty……um..…,” she licked her lips, “…exhilarating. Now do what I do!”
Madeleine pitched her chair forwards then back. Charli did the same, rocking hers harder and harder until…….until…………… Charli felt her body become light, almost as if it was beginning to float. Then her chair gave one last violent swing and it was gone.
Feeling slightly sick in her stomach as the wind blew her hair Charli realized she was outside, standing on top of the Stack. The moon was full and her toes were trembling, curled over the edge of the rail. The space between each toe seemed to itch with a kind of fear mixed with excitement. Far below she could see the white, ghostly foam of the waves breaking against the bottom of the Stack.