The spell complete, Brian gathers the remnants of the witches together and together, the group sets them on fire.
The wind picked up, howling around them. The flames leaped higher and they could imagine they heard screaming coming from the center. Shuddering, they kept chanting and singing. The flames engulfed the ash mass, consuming it completely. Nearly thirty minutes later, the last flame dwindled and went out. Nothing was left of the witches, not even a mote of ash, a fleck of metal, a sliver of bone.
The tarp that had held the ashes was as clean as when they laid it down. Experimentally, Brian approached the edge of the tarp, crossing the orange line. The anticipated tingle didn’t come. He felt nothing but sleeping earth once more. Grinning, he walked to the edge of the tarp and picked it up. The ground was whole beneath it. Fresh green grass grew thickly, obscuring any scars that might have been left behind.
Cynthia Finley knelt beside him. She put her hands on the ground, prostrating herself as if she were praying. “It’s gone,” she whispered. “The turbulence that dwelt here. I never realized it was there until it left. It’s gone now. They’re truly at peace.” Sighing, she stood. “I’m so sorry my brother died, but I see that his death wasn’t in vain.”
“I wish we could have done that years ago,” Chase said. “Then maybe Dad would still be alive.”
His aunt hugged him tightly, bursting into tears. “We had to come to this place at this time,” she murmured. “It couldn’t have been done sooner. It had to be now. I don’t know why your dad had to die, Chase. I will never understand my brother’s death. But he died a hero trying to protect his family, his friends and home. Nothing can ever take that away from him.”
They got in the car and left. The others gathered around, cleaning up the bowls and other implements.
“Is that it?” Sweet asked. “Is it over?”
“No,” Brian said. “That was just the beginning. We’ve deprived him of that source of power, but he’ll have backup plans. Something will still happen Thursday night. Be sure of that and be ready. There’s something in that mausoleum, something we didn’t get rid of or kill.”
“Is it Mr. D.?” Jordan asked.
Brian tilted his head as if listening. “I don’t think so.”
“No,” Andre answered, definitively. “He’s not in there. Something else is there. Whatever it is, we don’t ever want it to get out.”
Exhausted, but proud of their accomplishments, they went home. Sleep came easily for Brian that night. He didn’t have any disturbing dreams. Instead, he dreamed of the crystalline pool and the fresh, clean water.
Wednesday morning, Brian woke with a headache. He felt slightly feverish. A hot shower and some breakfast would make him feel better. The weather was muggy, warmer than the last few had been. The air hardly moved and heavy clouds padded the sky. He didn’t feel like doing much, but today was Cliff Finley’s funeral. Brian and Miles were both pall bearers. The funeral was set to start at 10:00.
The Casey family ate a light breakfast of toast and tea. None of them felt like a heavy meal. By 9:30, the were at the church getting last minute instructions from the priest. Jordan’s family joined them there. Heath was another pall bearer. Chase and Marissa sat together in the front pew with his grandparents, aunts and uncles. His mother was still in the hospital. Dora didn’t want to put off his funeral, but the doctor adamantly refused to allow her to come.
The church filled to capacity, with standing room only. Brian looked around, wondering if they were really here to pay their respects, or if they came because of how Cliff had died. Though the real story was a secret, the idea that someone had been killed by a build up of methane gas was rather sensational. Since there had been swamp fires before, it was believable enough to get by.
The service started and the priest walked in with his deacon. Everything went by fairly quickly. Sitting next to Jordan, Brian let his mind wander until the priest asked if anyone would like to get up and share memories of Cliff.
Miles stood first, buttoning his suit jacket as he walked forward. He smiled warmly at everyone, thanking them for coming. “Not all of you know me. I’m Miles Casey. Cliff and I have been friends practically since birth. We grew up together. I’ve never known such a great guy. I have so many memories of him, I can’t even talk about them all, or I’d be here for the next twenty years.” That got a slight chuckle from the congregation.
“Cliff Finley was a great friend, a wonderful family man and a good teacher. It seems like there wasn’t much he couldn’t turn his hand to and he didn’t mind sharing what he knew with others. He told me more than once that the way to make a better world was to make better people. So, I’m here to promise him that I will do my best to follow his footsteps and share my knowledge with others. Maybe I can help make a better world too. Cliff, my friend,” he turned to the closed coffin. “The light in this world got dimmer the day you were taken from it. I miss you.”
He took his seat again and Heath walked up. “Hello, everyone, I’m Heath Barrett. I grew up with Cliff, too. I moved here when I was a teenager. My folks were from here, but moved away, only to return when I hit puberty. They said I was such a trial, they needed a less stressful place to live.” Everyone chuckled. “Cliff actually introduced me to my lovely wife at a party. She didn’t like me much. I’d managed to sneak out of the house with some of Granddad’s shine and I was feeling no pain. But that’s another story. To say I was smitten would be an understatement. I was also royally screwed by my behavior. Cliff gave me what he liked to call a prayer meeting.” More scattered laughter.
After the soft laughs dwindled away, Heath continued. “What it really was, was a beating. See, the beautiful girl I’d managed to insult, was his favorite cousin. After our call to prayer, he made me apologize in front of all our friends. That beat down was a wake up for me. Even at my young age, I was well on the way to developing a bad drinking problem. Cliff made me see that my behavior was unacceptable. He also talked to Jackie and convinced her to give me another chance. Thirty years later, I’m still grateful. I still have a chipped tooth where that crazy swamp rat hit me. Goodbye, my friend.”
© 2017 Dellani Oakes