The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 13, Part 8: “In the Clutches of the Witch” [section 3 of 7]

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“You can’t catch us both,” I hissed at the witch, for that was clearly what she was.

“You won’t abandon your friend here – no matter how much you think you should,” she said calmly. “Besides, I don’t need to catch you – I don’t have to do anything at all.

“I have a legion under my control who will do it all for me.”

I scoffed. “Where?”

“There,” she said, pointing to the gallows. “Many of the dark ones you sent swirling about died there. Denied a proper burial elsewhere, they hover in mindless spectral fellowship under the Dark One’s protection. But others swore revenge on that scaffold – and their rage keeps them visible and well-defined, and prevents them from turning into spectral splotches as their fellows did. But they knew not how to obtain the justice for which they longed, or they were unable or unwilling to pay the price. Now their vengeance is my own, and through it, and the power of the Dark One, they are mine to command.”

No sooner had she said the word when the eight wretches dangling from the gallows fell to the ground and began lumbering toward us. Another eight took their place, took the drop, fell limp, hit the ground and began lumbering behind them. Another eight stepped up to be hanged, but by then I’d stopped looking at them, and had dropped to the ground on the other side of a tombstone from Ian and the old woman. Crawling on all fours, trying to keep out of their line of vision I moved towards the oncoming horde.

They weren’t like zombies in the movies; they were alert, purposeful, if slow and shambling.

But they were directed – their will was no longer their own. Because of that – and the effects of the potion – they took no note of me. As I observed them, I noticed they were all barefoot. Of course, I realized, they would be – even if they’d been sufficiently affluent to have owned shoes in the first place, others, desperate for a pair, would surely have stripped the corpses of them, prior to burial. As with the creature, it gave me a useful point of attack, even as I remained unobtrusively at ground level.

Writhing between the tombstones, I moved closer to the front of the line, until the nearest was less than a meter away. I stopped, wrapped the tie, chain and charm around my left hand and wrist once again, and waited. As it drew within the length of my forearm, I struck, pressing the charm against its ankle. Next instant it stopped, letting out a gasp that sounded like the prelude to a scream that never came, as the flesh melted from its bones and the bones crumbled to dust.

I scrambled to catch up with the rest of the line, even as I kept my head below the top of the tombstones, pressing the charm against a foot or an ankle of each, not stopping to see them fall before moving on. By the end of the second column, I was a couple of meters past the end of the tombstones, and could simply lay on the ground, rolling over to each one in his or her turn and causing each one to fall apart.

I heard the old woman again howling in fury, but was too busy dispatching her legion to pay much attention, even when she began muttering words utterly unintelligible to my ear.

The stench of decay arose once again.

 

 

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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