by MD Maurice
a reformed witch remembers her demonic companions
|Torrential rain had battered her window panes for an hour before the storm had finally claimed her lights. Olivia contemplated closing up and heading home but immediately rejected the thought of facing her tiny apartment, reheated Chinese takeout dinner and yet another Friday evening alone. She recovered a book of matches from the desk and set about lighting the candles strewn about the shop, chasing off the darkening shadows with a soft, sage and pumpkin scented glow. It was better to be alone here in the shop when someone…anyone…might brave the weather to dash in for a bit of a herbal remedy or last minute curio gift.
How many years had she run the place now? A decade? At least long enough to see her once charming New England fishing village slowly become a tourist trap destination. Every summer season the crowds advanced, taking selfies in her picture window and clambering onto the monstrous whale-watching boats that leached poison into the harbor. Olivia felt the bad mood descending. She grabbed a rag and began to pace about the store, tidying up to keep her mind occupied. She began organizing what she playfully nicknamed as the “shelf of evil”, a corner curio cabinet filled with figures and occult-themed knickknacks that the tourists seemed to love. She reached toward the back to retrieve a particularly dusty sculpture. She drew it closer into the light of the nearby candle and regarded the crude figure.
It was a novelty take on the old adage, “see/speak/hear no evil” but instead of the traditionally posed monkeys, this statue was a series of three tiny, cinnamon-colored demons. These were stereotypical characterizations of demons, complete with horns, cloven hooves and red, pointed tails. The demons sat, side by side with one covering its eyes, one covering its elven-like ears and one holding both claws covering its mouth.
Olivia set it down and stared hard at the trio of demons. What had been their names? She could no longer recall. They had been a riotous and nasty bunch for sure but, at least for a time and for a young, lonely witch, they had been lively companions. The three demons had properly tempted, cajoled and guided her in her dark pursuits but they had grown insatiable and she had been unable to keep up with their demeaning demands. In the end, she’d had to bind them. The statue had been a bit of comical license on her part but it was oddly fitting.
Astaroth, she now recalled the name, had been a biter. She still had the white scars where he’d delivered a particularly violent bite as punishment for not casting a spell on the local woman who ran carrier pigeons. Astaroth had hated all birds but found the pigeons and their keeper particularly abhorrent. He had encouraged Olivia to craft nasty spells against her and her flock, and pretty much anyone else who crossed his path. Olivia thought perhaps he had been jealous of their wings, having been stripped of his own so long ago.
Olivia picked up the figurine, trying to remember the time when she’d spent those years learning from and tormented by the trio. Suddenly another name popped free from her memory, Baphonet. Her eyes focused on the demon covering its eyes. Baphonet’s eyes had been black, obsidian pools. He could look into her, see whatever she was coveting but also what she was afraid of too. He had been the cruelest of the group by far. He showed her all the nasty looks people had flung at her back, showed her all the banter and teasing she managed to miss or ignore. Those black pools delivered visions that turned her soul blacker with every reveal. She remembered how long it had taken her wounds to heal, and how much effort it had taken her to turn back from the darkness and change her path before it had become too late.
Mammon had been the last demon. In so many ways he had been her favorite, as well as the most destructive of the three. The “hear no evil” demon had been exceptionally skilled. Mammon had been the insidious foe whispering in her ear, the voice in her head goading and guiding her toward her own ruin. He was the cooing cajoler of her nightmares. He was the one who urged her to act on her dark impulses, to sever almost all her ties to the light. Mammon had made her an instrument, and played her to perfection. He had been her nearly constant companion, her most trusted friend. She could still hear his syrup-sweet voice in her ears, promising everything she wanted; power, acceptance, love, in exchange for being the attentive and mendable pupil. She felt a familiar tug somewhere inside her. A phantom need stirred and she heard faint whispers of a former life.
Olivia abruptly pushed the figurine away. The three demons seemed to flicker in the candlelight. She grabbed an old headscarf from a mannequin and quickly wrapped the statue up in it, breathing easier as the three demons disappeared in the folds of fabric. She placed the figure away in a box under the stairs. She hadn’t wanted to replace it on the shelf with the other items.
The former witch breathed deeply of the healing sage-scented air. Those three demons had been part of her old life, one filled with compromises and broken promises, darkness and devotion to an evil that delivered her only to pain and despair. In a last ditch effort to save her soul, she had bound the trio and turned toward the light. What she had lost in the bargain had been substantial, her strongest powers and her immortality. Still, she knew she had chosen well even if sometimes it seemed as if she had traded one type of loneliness for another. The demons slept and while they did, the witch had become a healer. Today, the counsel she listened to, the visions she saw, the actions she took were all exclusively her own. She lived in the light and acted for the good. Olivia had made her home a community that respected and appreciated her. She lived a simple life, alone but not isolated or exiled.
The lights in the shop suddenly flicked on with a snap, bathing everything in fluorescent light. Olivia saw that the rain had stopped and bodies where once again moving about on the street outside. She heard the jingle jangle of the shop door opening. The Healer felt a smile spread across her face as she stepped forward to greet her customer.