Burn the Witch
Cheryl clacked away at a pair of keyboards, one for each hand. She was watching as databases full of information spilled their contents across the monitors, searching for discernable patterns. Her eyes traced fevered lines across the data as it flew past. She would punctuate this with groans and commands stabbed into the keyboards. She held a ruler to the screen and ran her finger along the edge like she was underlining passages in a text book. Then she felt a firm tap on the back of her head. She was familiar with the tap. It had occurred three times prior, each time pulling her up through the countless fathoms of her concentration. Being yanked from her focus caused her a sort of phantom, non-physical pain, something she called the ‘psychic bends.’ She pulled a folded paper triangle from her hair and threw it at Hunter, like a yellow shuriken.
“You’re making them out of legal pads now?” Cheryl asked, turning back to her work.
“It’s all Bart had,” Hunter replied.
“You confiscated the other paper,” Ian said.
“Because I keep having to pick them out of my…” she waved claw hands around her head, “You guys are literally in my hair.”
“Bored,” Hunter mumbled.
“Don’t make that my problem. What’s Soph doing? Can’t you bother her?” she said to Hunter.
“She’s busy with some wizard shit.”
“What about you?” she turned to Ian, “It’s April. I’m sure you can find somebody’s taxes to do.”
“I’m not going outside,” Ian said.
“Because the touring guitarist for Earth, Wind and Fire is looking for you?”
“Fair. But if you break my concentration one more time I’m likely to go nuclear and the both of you know I won’t feel guilty for anything I do in a blind rage.”
“Yes, mom,” Hunter said. His posture snapped upright and he folded his hands.
Cheryl produced an arc of electricity between her palms, and paced toward Hunter, “Unruly mental patients are often treated with electroshock therapy. Makes them nice and docile.”
“I brought a book,” Ian said, waving his book in the air.
“Roland always comes prepared,” she said to Hunter, “How about you? Can you read?” she grabbed Ian’s book and tore the spine down the middle, handed half to each, “There you each read a half. Then write each other a book report when you’re done.”
She plopped back down in her chair and returned to work. Moments later she felt a tap in her head. She slammed her palms down on her desk and drug her nails across the surface as she clenched them into fists. Energy cracked around her body, starting at her hands and feet and winding its way up her arms and legs, rippling across her torso. She stood, wrapped in a flickering net of hissing electricity. It coalesced into a glowing blue aura, encasing her. The paper football, lodged in her hair, was consumed by orange stripes that raced over its surface, leaving black flakes behind. She brushed the ash and ember away and turned to Hunter and Ian with glinting black eyes.
“Is there anywhere else you guys can go to be morons?” Cheryl said, her voice crackling with digital noise
“Why is your voice doing that?” Ian asked, raising his eyebrow.
“Sounds like my pirated Disco Biscuits mp3s,” Hunter said.
“Has this happened before?”
“No,” Cheryl said, “You idiots are doing this.”
“This a major spike in your power level,” Ian said, “We should keep an eye on this.”
“Your going to get a major power spike if you don’t leave me in peace and quiet. And please take Smokes Quantity with you.”
“I think it would be prudent to take precautions. Like medical observation.”
“Unless you can reach through time and drag Holly Jones back here, I’m not sure you’re going to find many doctors who could handle this sort of thing.”
“Still, we should keep an eye on you,” Ian said.
“I’m fine. I’ll be even better when you two find something else to do.”
“Have you seen your eyes?” Hunter said, holding up a spoon he fished out of an empty container of yogurt.
A blue Ford Focus waited at the green light for the gridlock to drain. The driver rubbed his shaven head and leaned on the horn, hoping that might unlock the entire city.
“Fuck,” he shouted, full throated at the windshield. He looked in the rearview and remembered his passenger, “Sorry, bro. Traffic’s bad today.”
The driver pulled a pack of cigarettes out of the lining pocket of his bomber jacket. He jerked the pack and a cancer stick popped into his mouth. He whipped a Zippo through the air and with a clank, a flame leapt out. He held it to his cigarette and drew deep. He exhaled in a relaxed sigh. The car filled with a dense white cloud. He snapped his head back at his customer.
“You don’t mind, right?” he displayed his smoke between two fingers.
The the green light changed yellow. The driver honked. The light changed red and he cursed, pounding on the steering wheel.
“There’s no fucking reason for this traffic,” he shouted.
“They’re still cleaning up after the Battle of Mckinley Field,” the passenger said.
“*EHHHHNT*. Wrong. The Battle of McKinley Field never happened, bro,” the Uber driver said, “It’s a cover story for whatever they’re doing now. To. Cause. This. Fucking. Traffic,” he blasted the horn with every work.
“What?” the fare asked.
“Never happened. Liberal media propaganda.”
“To what end?”
“To control you, bro.”
“To do what?”
“Whatever they want.”
“And what do they want?”
“To control you.”
“That’s circular logic.”
“I know, right? It’s some insidious shit.”
“My sister was at Mckinley Field that night. She saw it.”
“Your sister is a crisis actor, bro. Wake up. Take the red pill.”
“My sister isn’t a crisis actor. She spent her teenage years grounded because she was a terrible liar.”
“Well you know how chicks are. They get hysterical over nothing. Hallucinated the whole thing. The CIA probably drugged her and planted the memories. Maybe they finally finished genetically engineering Jedi. They’re doing that you know?”
They sat in silence for a block or two.
“You know what the big problem is?”
“What?” the passenger sighed.
“Jesus Christ, man.”
“Exactly. Nobody has Jesus anymore. The world is overrun by pagan thugs.”
“Let me off here.”
“Dude, we’re still blocks away.”
“Fuckin’ beta cuck,” he said as the passenger slammed the door. The driver rolled the window down, “You better give me a good review in the app. One more strike and I lose this job.”
The driver parked his car on the street. He set his feet on the ground and cinched the red bows on the laces of his knee high Docs. He hoisted his skinny frame from the car and moped toward the to door to his apartment building. He muttered to himself as he made his way down the hall to his door. Standing outside was a woman in professional attire.
“This is what I’m talking about,” the driver smiled, “They deliver ass to your door now? At least some things are still right in this world.”
“Tucker Winkle?” the woman said, smiling and tilting her head.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” she stepped toward him and pinched the flap of his coat and pulled him closer.
“Are you full service, or what?”
“You could say that,” she pulled back the flap of his jacket and slipped in an envelope, “In fact you’ve just been served,” she started to walk away.
“Hey,” Tucker grabbed her arm, “You can’t get me…”
She twisted around on one leg a drove her knee into his crotch.
“Get you what? Hard?” she said, walking down the hall.
“I think you broke it,” he cried, kneeling.
“Really? I didn’t feel a thing.”
Tucker stumbled into his apartment, his face wet and red. He threw his keys on the floor. They landed, nestled in a pile of dirty clothes. He pulled the envelope from his coat and read the contents. He balled the letter up and tossed it. He pulled out his phone and dialed on the cracked up screen.
“What do you mean what do I want? Bitch,” he said, “You’re not getting a dime from me. Your kid isn’t my problem. Not. My. Problem. Fuck the court. Then you shouldn’t have spread your legs, slut,” he tossed the phone.”
He switched on the television. Every station was rehashing the months old footage of the Battle of McKinley Field. It turns out alien invasions are news cycle proof. He glared at the screen fixated everytime Sophie appeared.
“Witch,” he hissed, “Fucking witch.”
He opened his laptop and logged into his favorite echo chamber. He began to type:
Thread creator: thedemiurgedidnothingwrong69
Re: The Whore Priestess
It saddens me brothers that so many of us feel the way we do, but yet none among us has taken it upon themselves to the actual hard work. Each day we allow this whore of Satan to walk the Earth, is stain on my soul. On our souls and that of our beleaguered nation. This witch can be suffered no more.
A stiff knock came at the door, “Mr. Winkle, open up, it’s the police, “said a woman’s voice.
“And your landlord,” croaked an older woman.
Tucker gritted his teeth.
Since none of you have manned up.
“Mr. Winkle, open up, or we will break the door in,” the officer shouted.
“And you’ll pay for it,” the landlord said.
Tucker stared up at the poster of Van Helsing pinned to the wall.
It will have to be me.
Tucker retreated to his bedroom and cobbled together an outfit, out of bits of previous cosplay ventures, in an approximation of that of his hero. From his closet, he fished out two handheld crossbows he had picked up at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in 2002. He even had the bolts to match. He spent the last 13 years carving them. At first as means to relieve his anxiety. But as his anxiety festered and fed on social media, the once meditative activity turned into preparation for a war. He stood in the living room as the police battered at his door. It splintered and scattered across the floor.
“Down on you knees and your hands behind you head,” the cop bellowed.
“I don’t allow women to tell me what to do,” he fired a crossbow and struck officer in the eye. Her partner ducked behind the door jam and the landlord screamed.
Tucker shot her in the throat, then jumped out through an open the window. He scrabbled down the fire escape as the remaining officer shot at him from the window. He fled into an alley and disappeared.
“This is such a trip,” the woman in pigtails and knee high socks said, sipping a mug of herbal tea, “The High Priestess, wants to join our coven.”
“Well, I’m shopping around at the moment…”
“Why do you want to join our coven?” said a woman in long black hair and dress.
“Like I said, I’m just weighing options. I just feel like I need some sort of life and structure outside of vigilantism. I mean the hours are all over the place. Nights, weekends. But since I work with my best friend and boyfriend, it’s like, who can I talk to when work is nuts. It’s not that they're not good listeners it’s just, they’re in it too. I’d be preaching to the choir. I mean, it’s not like…”
“How’s it feel to be famous?” said another woman in a purple jumpsuit with crystals sewn into it..
“Like I should have taken secret identities more seriously.”
“It’s not every day a witch makes the news,” the pigtailed woman said.
“I’m more of a sorceress, it’s hereditary...and my spells work.”
They were sitting in a repurposed retail space, in folding chairs in a circle, facing one another. The shadows of the passersby on the street, outside the window, drifted over them like ghosts.
“I cast a money spell once and three weeks later the bank credited me $50,” a small lady, in a pink cardigan said.
Sophie held her hand up and a ball of light formed. The shadows of the pedestrians bent toward it. One shadow didn’t pass. It was of a figure clad in a long, leather, authenticated by the Franklin Mint, Firefly browncoat. He wore a wide brimmed hat that came to a tall, flat peak. He stood in the door window, staring in, wielding crossbows. He cast a grim stare upon Sophie. She reached into her cloth satchel and pulled out a small, flat square of criss crossing metal and string. She pressed a button with her thumb and it expanded into a compound bow.
“You’ve brought an instrument of violence into our sacred space?” the violet woman said.
“We’re trying to purify our feminine energy,” the black haired woman said.
“This place used to sell porn,” Sophie said, standing and drawing her bow at the figure in the window.
The man opened the door and walked in, his bows trained on Sophie.
“The only good thing about witches is they gather in one place. Makes it easier to take out a bunch at once,” Tucker said, “Tell you what, you go down nice and easy, without a fuss and the girls get to live another day.”
“Sure, fine, let them go.”
“Drop your bow, drop to your knees and put your hands behind your hand.”
As Sophie dropped her bow as car roared up and parked in front of the store. Cheryl hopped out and stormed through the door.
“Hey, Soph, saw your bow went live and I was in the area so I figured I’d drop by and see how your weird party was going,” she said as she rummaged through her bag. She looked up and saw Sophie being held at crossbow point, “Who is this guy supposed to be? Are you a pilgrim?”
“I’m Abraham Van Helsing and I’m here to end that foul crone,” he pointed at Sophie.
“Foul crone?” Sophie said, laughing, “What did I do?”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Yes,” Cheryl said, “Why do you want end this foul crone?”
“She’s a witch.”
“How do you know she is a witch?”
“You’re not going to get me like that.”
“But you knew what I was talking about. You fit a type.”
“Enough. I am Abraham Van Helsing and I hunt witches.”
“Van Helsing hunts vampires.”
“You should have called yourself Matthew Hopkins,” Sophie said.
Cheryl and Van Helsing looked at her askance.
“Witchfinder General,” she said shaking her head at them, “Fake nerd,” she coughed.
“What?” Van Helsing shouted, “That’s enough. I will not be abused by a pair of demon whores.”
“Aside from what we’ve already heaped upon you,” Cheryl said.
Abe whipped back his coat and drew a pair of crossbows, aiming at their heads. Sophie kick her bow into her hand and drew back, aiming at his. Arcs of electricity arced up from Cheryl’s feet and wound their way up her body, wrapping her in a blue net.
“Pull either trigger and the arrow flies,” she said.
Abe’s eyes darted between them. He lifted the crossbow he had trained on Sophie and used it to guard his face. He pulled the trigger on the other. The bolt burnt to a brittle stick as it stuck the electrical shell around Cheryl. Sophie lowered her aim and let the arrow go. The silver shard slashed through Abe’s coat and exploded on the floor behind him.
“Ow, my coat,” Abe sped off, through the shower of sparks coming from the arrows bursting on the floor, as he fled. Cheryl and Sophie watched, working out their new puzzle.
“He’s trucking. Leg wound and all,” Cheryl said.
“I just grazed him,” Sophie replied, she waved her hand over Cheryl, “When did this happen?”
“It reflexively happened while I was telling Psamurai and Piper how useful I thought they were being.”
“Is Hunter okay?”
“Nothing he can’t walk off.”
“You’re growing as a person.”
“I know. I defined their usefulness as a transient state of being, rather than a permanent, defining trait acquired in utero.”
“I meant your restraint, but that’s cool too. So this a new skill?”
“It’s new to me. Maybe I was able to do it the whole time and just didn’t spend enough time with Hunter and Roland.”
“Maybe you're getting stronger.”
“Are you concerned I’ll go Doctor Manhattan on you?”
“Kind of. I don’t want you walking in one day all ‘power overwhelming.’ with glowing eyes and stuff.”
“My eyes turned jet black. It was awesome.”
“I just want to make you don't go Simon Vyx on us.”
“Vyx was more 'please love me'. I’d be more like 'worship me, plebs'.”
Sophie lowered her head and bit her lip, looking up at her through squinted eyes.
“You’re weren't the most patient person without superpowers. Or empathetic, or gentle.”
“Save some for my eulogy. I’m fine.”