Witch's Windsong: A Coon Hollow Coven Tale
Chapter One: The North Wind
Bare tree trunks in the ravine cast crooked shadows over the frosted grass, like spirits slipping through the mists of the Otherworld. Taking caution, Keir touched a hand to the grounding forces of his hematite and river pebble amulets around his neck. When a sharp wind struck him at the crest, he zipped his parka’s collar closed.
He nodded to his coyote familiar Waapake, and they descended through an ice-brittle thicket. Though Keir had hiked these woods his entire life, the stand of willow trees along Owl’s Tail Creek was a destination he frequented during late winter, searching for signs of spring. In addition, he came that night to gather willow branches for new wands to use at February’s upcoming Imbolc sabbat.
Halfway down the slope, while disentangling his pant leg from hawthorn saplings, a gust whistled past, slapping the silver feather earring against his neck and chilling his ears. Hawthorns were known for marking entrances to the Otherworld. A few of the wind’s shrill notes bent and twisted around trunks, sweetening into a haunting female soprano. He glanced around for a trickster faery or a songbird that’d arrived in the hills of southern Indiana by chance too soon. Finding none, he pulled his knit cap lower.
Ahead on the narrow trail, Waapake, waited, yipping a prompt, his charcoal tail straight and stiff as a frozen twig, his eyes a blaze of yellow.
Heeding the warning, Keir proceeded with caution, alert for signs of dangerous magic. Every few feet lower, the wind blew harder, unexpected in the protected, shallow valley. “The creek’s sure a wind tunnel today,” he said as he caught up to the coyote. “Think that’s an early spring blowing in?”
Waapake’s coarse silver guard hairs raised along his spine.
“I agree. It’s unlikely to arrive on a northern wind.” Keir scanned the area, still unable to gain a view of the ravine’s heart through the wild thrashing of brush and branches in that direction. He pressed forward. The restless wind whipped in fitful gusts, as if tormented by an opposing force. He’d encountered such torturous gales deep in ravines before. During those few times, he’d needed to corner a storm’s fury into a talisman that could be used to drive illness or unwanted spirits away from his coven clients.
By age twenty-five, Keir had served five years as one of the coven’s two seers. In that time, he expanded his practice from simply foretelling futures to harnessing the natural and supernatural worlds in order to heal physical and spiritual ailments. Acting as a shaman, he attempted to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Chuquilatague, from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Grateful for receiving such invaluable instruction, Keir strived to honor his teacher by aiding his fellow coven members.
But this night, with air at the ravine’s crest dead calm and absent of any sign of an approaching storm, Keir hadn’t expected to find a localized disturbance. With gloved fingers, he fumbled in his coat pocket, hoping he’d left Tall Sam’s snuffbox there when he collected it during yesterday’s visit. He located the palm-size rectangular tin, a keepsake from Sam’s departed grandfather. Though the corners exposed base metal beneath worn silver-plate, the lid still gleamed with the initials C.G.B. The empowered spirit of Clement George Byre, which lived on past the man’s death, normally resided within the small box but had recently become displaced. Strangely, the spirit of a badger had taken up residence and cast him out.
This unexpected fierce wind might enable Keir to drive the animal far along the creek bed; hopefully out of the coven, where it wouldn’t bother Sam’s family or neighbors. If Keir could harness a southbound gale blowing through the waterway corridors, the critter’s spirit might sweep from Indiana and be deposited into the mighty Ohio River.
Keir removed his gloves and pried the lid open. A gust whirled around him, sending the lid several paces uphill. As he retrieved it, his fingers numbed to a dull blue. In the reflection off the metal, his blue eyes stood out against red, windburned cheeks.
Waapake snarled at the whipping wind as it smacked his ears. Unable to subdue the force, he leapt one way then another, contorting in a comical dance that took him howling into another barbed thicket.
Convinced and pleased the job for Tall Sam was completed, Keir replaced the snuffbox into his pocket. Before he wriggled back into his gloves, strains of that same female voice skirled through upper boughs. Her panicked notes splintered ice from the bark.
His curiosity heightened, wondering why spirits would be active on such a cold winter night. Keir called to Waapake and pressed forward.
Though the creek had been iced solid for nearly two months, the pool kissed by the willows stood open … but not necessarily free. Its surface remained captive, churning under control of the unrelenting winds.
Moonlight on a willow always held mysticism for Keir. Under direction of tonight’s last quarter crescent all living things were encouraged to release energy that caused them harm or no longer served them. However, as winter neared an end, this purging could not be ignored—he as well as all creatures must follow its command.
Unlike the torment endured by the creek, the willows’ graceful branches danced gayly and indiscriminately with either partner, wind or water. The trees’ frosty party skirts, dotted with swells of potential leaf buds, shimmered in the subtle light.
When the rhythm of the dance changed, the skirts swished and swirled. Colliding branches chimed with magic—the voices of faeries, breathing their songs into ears of those willing to listen; soft but distinct above the rustling forest and keening wind, they invited Keir closer.
As he stepped onto the bank, once again the song beckoned him, this time from beneath the oldest and largest willow. Compelled to comply, he could only resist long enough to call to Waapake. Upon receiving no response, Keir succumbed, his fears suspended.
He ducked underneath the swaying branches and entered another world.
The cacophony of noise and jarring energy ceased; stillness and diffused moonlight caressed his soul. Faeries, alight on the bower’s curtains, tinkled with song and shone with thousands of pinpoints of white light.
Keir bowed his head to those nearest. “With your blessing, please grant me a single branch to use as a wand.” No response dissuaded him. Pocketknife in hand, he cautiously began cutting a thick branch that would serve him well to conduct moon magic on the sabbat. As he sliced through the wood, he heard the woman’s angelic voice.
She gasped, then choked into a fragmented verse. Her urgency rang clear, not obscured as before by the wind:
Beware what lurks near this shoal.
Loss, festered and fresh, intends to claim your kind soul.
From the weight of her message, Keir lost his balance. Searching for the invisible female, he fell against the tree’s trunk and called out, “Who are you?” Worried by her meaning while mystified by her unusual magic, Keir grappled with the bark to regain his balance. Was this a psychic perception triggered by the Otherworld beings? He clutched the cut branch and examined it as best he could, despite the dim light. Nothing seemed unusual. Willows could connect to the subconscious mind; he’d received premonitions in their presence before—only flickers of insubstantial images, lacking the clarity of the woman’s impassioned words.
He pocketed an end of the collected branch, parted the tree’s curtain, and stepped out. The wind persisted. If only the willow could calm the surrounding area, he could use the stream’s pool of reflected moonlight to scry for understanding.
A frigid gust spider-walked down his spine; the storm had intensified. He shuddered with a feeling of dread, then scrambled to his feet and left the tree’s protection. Standing tall against harsh gales, he called for Waapake.
Keir shivered. He and his coyote familiar often shared so much magic between them, acting with one mind. Akin to an old married couple, verbal or gestured communications were often unnecessary or reduced to subtle glances.
Waapake’s silence, combined with the woman’s worrisome foretelling, made Keir coil his muscles tight, anticipating the slightest threat.
He leapt a few paces higher on the rocky bank, filled his lungs, and cried out, “Waapake!” But the north wind stole his air, rendering his voice a squeak even to his own ears. Keir faced south and sucked in another lungful before calling to his familiar. His voice did project but bounced back from ice-covered trunks. He waited, hoping his call carried through the trees.
No reply from any direction—save for a chill blast that battered his face and froze the breath inside his nostrils, as if intending to steal the life from his body. Ferocious coldness snaked through his windpipe into his chest, pounding with a sharp ache. What unspeakable force was this?
Panic riveted through his veins and set his legs into motion. Although years of hiking had trained his muscles, he powered across the ravine wall faster than ever before. With whatever breath the vicious wind allowed, he called to every direction, “Waapake! Where are you?”
Gasping, he paused to scan the incline and sucked in another deep breath, which was stolen before he could exhale.
Adrenaline powered him to descend and jump the creek to search the other side. Ignoring the pain of his dry, stinging eyes, he scoured the forest for signs of movement or a glimpse of the charcoal and tan fur of his dear companion.
When his eyelashes crusted nearly shut with ice and a freezing ache clutched at his heart, Keir leapt back across the creek. He trudged toward the crest, still sputtering Waapake’s name.
At the crest, he gulped the calmer air and wheezed, “Damn you! Who are you? Show yourself. You warn me, then torment me. What do you want?” Hands on his knees, he panted and scanned for any movement in the hollow.
Though treetops still rustled below, only a slight breeze wafted to meet him. It caressed his cheek with a sensuous tickle but exposed nothing.
Desperate and confounded by his inability to reap information from nature, he bellowed across the ravine for Waapake. Into the night he called until the name rasped raw against his throat.
© Copyright 2018 Marsha A. Moore. All rights reserved.