Angels' Coven.
Copyright 2014, 2018 by Raymond Johnson. Third edition.
Cover photo provided by Creative Fire. (www.iStockphoto.com).

For Helen Duncan.

"If you take (a copy of) the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Whereas our bible IS the wind and the rain." - Henri Matisse.

In the early 16th century a young boy discovers that his older sister has been imprisoned for the crime of heresy and witchcraft. He races to her rescue only to discover that she has confessed to the crime in order to avoid being tortured and has been sentenced to death by hanging. She informs him of secret diary in which she has recorded all her so-called evil deeds and instructs her brother to destroy it therefore keeping their family name unsullied. However, upon his return journey he is recognised as being related to a witch and promptly executed.

Over four hundred years later the remains of their family home and the tattered diary are discovered forcing the boy to return from the grave, keeping his promise to his sister, seeking out the diary to destroy it.

 

 

Chapter 1 - A Brother's Love

My chest heaved, trying to catch breath, as I ran uphill at full pelt, willing my legs to move ever faster, while the rain poured down my face stinging my red cheeks. My body needed rest, just a few moments would have done, but my sheer will repressed the ache within my muscles as I forced myself to run. The smooth cobblestones beneath my feet were slippery causing my worn leather boots to slide against the ground and I knew it wouldn't be too long before I took a tumble.

The smell of salty sea air wafted up my nose indicating that I was nearing my destination with the stockade alongside the docks, along with the so-called courts of justice and the hanging yard. Originally created to put the fear of death into potential smugglers, the hanging yard had been put to other uses in recent years, with innocent people used as scapegoats for society's problems.

As the surface of the cobblestones beneath my feet turned to gravel and the view ahead of me was filled with ships I quickly turned left trying to locate the stockade entrance. It wasn't a location I had visited before and certainly not one I would want to visit again. I darted my eyes behind me then forward once more trying to make out what could possibly be a prison complex, but with so many warehouses and official buildings it was difficult to tell. In the distance ahead of me was a large building made of brown bricks, looking somewhat newly built. There was also a human shaped statue in front of it but from my location I couldn't tell what it depicted. It may have been Lady Justice in front of the courts which was likely adjoined to the stockade. It was just an educated guess, I had no real idea.

After a few deep breaths I hurried, while my boots clomped against the gravel road beneath my feet, trying my best to control my panic. With each step the loose gravel moved, in effect aiding my haste increasing my stride, so long as I kept balance. Maybe God was on my side after all.

There were sailors around as well as tradesmen looking at me bewildered as to why a young boy was running along the docks in the rain.

"Hold your horses!" I gruff voice said to my right.

A sailor leaning on a mooring post smiled at me while resting his hand against the top of his head keeping his hat firmly secured in place. On the ground next to his feet were the remains of a smoker's clay pipe. I couldn't tell if he had discarded it after use or simply was unaware that he had dropped it.

"I'm looking for the courthouse," I quickly said in a fast tone of panic, "Is that it over there?"

I pointed in the direction of the new looking building I suspected housed the courts then wiggled my hand as if to dismiss my own comment.

"I don't mean the courthouse," I said shaking my head frantically, "I'm looking for the stockade, I need to visit someone. They need my help. I need to see them, please. I can't just leave them..."

The sailor let out a rough laugh before heaving himself up from the mooring post.

"So your daddy's been up to no good has he?" He said while continuing to laugh.

"Not exactly," I said firmly.

The sailor approached. Something about his appearance along with his general manner exuded a sense of kindness about him, but he appeared more than a little tipsy especially as he wobbled on his feet.

"You're right that is the courthouse but it's closed on Sundays," he said while pointing at the building ahead, "The prison cells run alongside. I'm sure if you ask nicely they'll let you in, just give them a sob story and they'll let you visit your daddy or whoever he is."

The rain appeared to lessen its fall as the sailor spoke those words. I wiped the remaining moisture from my face using my sleeve only to smudge it further.

"Thank you," I said to the sailor before quickly running ahead.

The brief respite gave my legs enough time to restore their energy and I found I was able to run fast without too much difficulty. It wasn't more than a minute that I made it to the far end of the docks and to the large, bricked building. I stopped momentarily then glanced back toward the sailor in the distance who had sat himself down on the mooring post once more. He was watching me as if making sure I had reached my destination but I had yet to find the exact location of the stockade itself.

The statue was indeed of Lady Justice and was tall, way over ten feet in fact, standing atop of a pedestal that was stained by green moisture and black mould. Clearly the bright marble statue was new but placed on top of an old base. I just hoped it represented a modern version of justice replacing the old with something far more compassionate, yet I knew deep down it was just a meaningless statue.

I walked at a fast pace closer to the courthouse then towards the dark alleyway than ran alongside. The stench oozing from the barred windows of the building opposite revealed to me I had reached my destination. There were large puddles lining the potholed muddy ground with only a scarce amount of gravel left to protect its surface which I had to avoid as I tentatively approached the two thick oak doors of the stockade. Something about those doors filled my body with trepidation as though the wood itself had soaked up the poor unfortunate souls who had been executed inside only to then live for eternity within its walls. For a moment I thought I heard their screams within my head but it was likely just my imagination.

There were two cracked stone steps in front of the doors which I ascended very slowly, taking care to hold back my emotions for my sister needed me to remain strong if I had any chance of setting her free. As for a plan of escape however, I had none.

Very timidly I knocked onto the door causing no sound whatsoever against the bulk of its thick oak panelling. I then took are large intake of breath and hit the door three times with increased force.

"Anyone?!" I called out as my own bad breath reflected back at me, "Please, I need to talk to someone."

I listened intensely and while there were the faint sounds of voices inside it was difficult to distinguish if it was in response to my knocking. I knocked again, this time using the base of my fist, hitting against the door three more times.

"Anyone there?!" I called out again.

There was then the sound of footsteps treading against the wet muddy gravel behind me as the kind, yet partially drunk, sailor from earlier approached with an air of urgency about him. I stepped to one side as he climbed the two steps.

"Open up!" He yelled while repeatedly banging his fist hard against the door, "Open up. There's a child here who demands to see his imprisoned father!"

I let out a sigh of relief as I heard the jangle of keys as someone on the other side began to unlock the door. It then squeaked loudly as the jailer inside heaved it open, taking quite some effort, before cautiously poking his head around the side. He glanced at us both in turn.

"Visiting is by appointment only," he quickly told the sailor while eying him up and down, "Besides it's Sunday today."

"This poor innocent child needs to see his condemned father as is his right," the sailor told the jailer in no uncertain terms, "Are you going to let him in or do I take this up with the magistrate?"

The jailer still partly hiding behind the door very slowly shook his head.

"This place is full of drunkards, he'll see his father once he's sobered up," the jailer said.

I quickly moved closer to the door letting the guard get a clearer look at me from his obscured view.

"It's not my father I'm here to see," I told him with a haste while practically trying to pry my way inside, "It's my sister. Her name's Cordelia, she was put on trial yesterday, but never returned home. Our mother is elderly she can't make it here, so I've come alone to..."

The jailer was taken aback.

"Oh, you're here to see the witch are you?" He said in a hushed tone, "It's a good thing that you came when you did. She's due to hang on the morrow."

 

Chapter 2 - Pleading For Sanity

The jailer granted my request due to the kind help of the sailor who I could not thank enough. I was allowed to enter the dank confines of the stockade leaving the sailor to wait for me outside. The thick oak door was securely closed by the jailer who then began to lock the huge iron bolt into position.

"Give me a minute to note this down," the jailer said as he calmly headed over to his desk opposite the entrance licking the tip of his quill before writing.

I gazed my eyes around the stockade and the long dark corridor ahead of me eager to get to see my sister once more. The thought of her being hanged for a crime she did not commit incensed me, but I was sure it was just a mistake and she would be freed once the judge reassessed the case.

"And you are?" Asked the jailer, quill in hand, standing beside his tatty desk.

I took a step closer before responding. The feathers on his quill tickled against his face stubble but he didn't appear to notice. His upturned nose gave the appearance of being someone of noble breeding but his rough accent was one of someone of the lower classes. I wondered if he was the type of person who felt he was noble in his choice of career while at the same time fooling himself as to his importance.

"I'm Timothy," I replied with a timid tone.

"And you're this Cordelia girl's brother, yea?" He asked for the sake of getting me to confirm it.

I nodded but remained silent while he wrote down my details for his records.

"Right well sign here," he said holding out the quill pen for me which I retrieved before looking down at the written notes upon the desk.

The dim flicker of candlelight, which emitted from a very small candle stuck to a blob of melted wax on the corner of the desk, was totally inappropriate for a room so large. Even if I could read I wasn't sure I could clearly make out the words.

"Just there," the jailer said pointing at the bottom of the sheet of paper.

I signed with a cross then handed the pen back to him.

"Right," he said while giving the sheet of paper a quick glance, "Now you're not to make physical contact with the prisoner, no handing over any personal items, food, drink or keepsakes, and no discussions of the like of plans to escape. You got that? You're just here to say your goodbyes and nothing more. And I will be listening so if you break these rules you'll be required to leave. Do you understand?"

"Yes," I responded softly.

"And if by any chance you or any member of your family wish to witness her execution on the morrow that is your right, but you'll have to be here by eight o'clock sharp," he said matter-of-factly.

I closed my eyes holding back my tears.

"I've no desire to witness that," I whispered.

The jailer walked over to his desk and started rummaging through the scattered items on top before remembering where he had placed the item he was looking for. He then walked over to a wooden shelf attached to the wall and retrieved a small rusted key.

"Your witchy sister couldn't be trusted so she's been placed in the most secure cell we have, behind an iron door, this key'll open the flap," he said.

He picked up the tiny candle from the corner of the desk using his bare hands, prising it away from the blob of wax, and carried it down the dark corridor.

"This way!" He called back at me.

I followed him down the narrow unlit corridor that was lined either side by wooden doors some of which revealed light from around their frames. Those cells must have contained barred windows giving their occupants at least some sense of humanity. But it was clear the iron door at the far end hid a fully darkened cell, without even leaking a spec of light from around its small viewing hatch, as the jailer unlocked it whilst holding up his small candle. A ghastly smell of urine wafted up my nose that overpowered the stale smells that already filled the stockade. The jailer wiped his nose as if to acknowledge the smell but took it all in his stride, it was just a normal day for him.

"Oi!" He yelled into the small open flap in the middle of the door, "You've got a visitor!"

He waved the candle from side to side to get my sister's attention. There was a slight incomprehensible mumble in response as well as the sound of her shuffling to her feet.

"I'll be at my desk and I can hear everything so don't break no rules or nothing, or you're out," the jailer said to me.

I ignored his words and stood on tiptoe trying to peer inside the small flap, however all I could see was darkness.

"Cordelia!" I called out with a loud whisper, "It's me. Are you well? I needed to see you. I didn't know you were tried until yesterday. I came as soon as I heard. Mum gives her love and is praying night and day for you..."

I felt Cordelia's clammy hand hold onto mine which had the effect of realising the floodgates that held back my tears. I could no longer speak nor catch my breath.

"Timothy," she responded in a broken voice, "I need you to do something for me most urgent. I need you to trust me and do exactly as I ask."

I nodded but she couldn't see me in the darkness. It had taken me all my effort to remain silent as I knew all too well I would bawl loudly the moment I opened my mouth, but it was essential to respond verbally to her request.

"Yes," I said as my voice trembled.

I couldn't hold back my repressed emotions any further and burst into tears, crying loudly, while constantly squeezing Cordelia's cold sweaty hand. I knew it was the wrong thing to do for I needed to remain strong for her sake more so than my own.

"Whatever you want," I added as my voice wavered.

There was silence and I guessed my emotional outburst had caused Cordelia to start shedding tears. I cursed myself within my mind, forcing all my will to remain strong, while caressing her hand. She then sniffed before letting out a loud breath.

"There's..." she said before clearing her throat, "I need you to return home quickly and fetch my diary. It's in the bottom of my trunk at the base of my bed. When you find it, destroy it immediately, throw it into the fire, but on no account must you open it. Just get rid of it. Promise me you will do this."

I was confused and wondered why she deemed that as important for there was a far more pressing matters to attend.

"Yes, yes," I quickly replied, "But we need to get you out of here. The jailer told me that tomorrow you're to be... so we need to contact the judge and plead for a reprieve. Mum will write a letter, she's good with words, and I'll deliver it, then we'll get a delay and possibly a retrial."

"No!" Cordelia replied in a loud whisper.

"I can't think of any other way to get you out of here," I said in a tone of panic, "We don't have money for bribes, we don't have any friends of high class or authority, there's a kind sailor but I don't see how he can help..."

Cordelia held my hand even more firmly than before causing me to grit my teeth at the pressure of her grip. Any tighter I would have likely broken a finger.

"You don't understand," she said tearfully, "I'm guilty. I'm a witch and I deserve my punishment. Now promise me you will destroy my diary before the rest of our family is cursed by my evil deeds."

I closed my eyes tightly while her words span inside my head. She had clearly pled guilty to avoid torture and to receive a swift execution but she wasn't genuinely guilty. There were no such things as witches and she was being used as a scapegoat for something far more sinister.

"Don't say that!" I cried as warm tears flooded down my cheeks once more, "You know it's not true, you've done nothing wrong. You need to fight and plead for clemency. Don't give up, please don't."

Using her fingers Cordelia gently stroked my hand before parting our touch. My bare hand felt cold as it remained solitary waiting for her grasp once more, however it was clear she had no intention of doing so.

"Promise me!" She said firmly in a crackly voice, "Please do as I request, I beg of you."

I nodded vigorously as tears flew from my cheeks. I took my hand back then leant my face closer, looking through the small hatch within the door, trying to catch even the slightest glimpse of her within the pitch darkness.

"I promise," I said softly, "I'll do it right away."

 

Chapter 3 - My Demise

It wasn't more than a few minutes later that I left the stockade with the intention of keeping my promise to my sister. I also intended to ask our mother to write a note pleading for clemency which I could bring back with me to present to the jailer. Even if it just delayed matters a little we could at least put together some kind of appeal, not that I had any real knowledge of how the law worked.

The rain was light, the kind of hazy rain that was easy to cope with yet would eventually soak through all clothing with prolonged exposure. I decided it would be best to walk home rather than hurry, to avoid slipping over, but that in itself was causing me mental anguish.

Once I left the muddy alleyway next to the stockade I turned right, heading past the court building, towards the dockyard entrance. The sailor was nowhere in sight.

The sky was grey but there was still plenty of daylight left and I guessed it must have been early afternoon. I just hoped I could carryout my promise as well as return with a letter from our mother on time. If not the only other opportunity would be the following morning and I wasn't relishing the idea of witnessing the alternative if I failed.

My heavy boots trod heavy against the gravel path of the docks as I headed at a steady pace taking one firm step at a time making sure not to lose my grip. My feet already felt wet as my worn leather shoes soaked up the rain like a sponge.

The moment I reached the dock's entrance I turned right, heading down the hill of which I had ran up with so much force earlier. The journey down felt so much easier on my feet but my mind could not relax and enjoy the moment due to the task in hand. I also had to concentrate as to not slip against the smooth surface of the cobblestones or trip over one that rested unevenly.

To my pleasant surprise I saw the sailor waiting at the bottom of the hill along with a group of other men as if waiting for someone. I was sure they weren't waiting for me so I intended to simply greet them while passing on my journey home.

"That's him there!" The sailor told the others as I made my approach.

"It's good to see you again," I said nodding my head in a customary gesture not being able to tilt my hat due to not wearing one, "I'm busy with a most urgent errand so unfortunately have no time spare."

The group of men spread out and two of them made their way past me as if heading for the docks. I glanced at them momentarily before the sailor started talking again.

"So who was that again you went to see at the cells?" He said while stroking his rough unshaven chin.

I began to feel uneasy, something about his mannerisms seemed different than before and it was clear by the expression on his face that he didn't want me to carryout my task. He must have guessed that I intended to do all I could to set my sister free.

"It was my sister," I replied softly.

There were footsteps behind me and it was clear the other two men hadn't headed for the docks after all. My heart began to beat with increased force.

The sailor waved his hand at me with a rolling gesture wanting me to continue while nodding his head. I couldn't believe how such a kind man could change so quickly.

"And..." he said, "Tell us her name."

I was sure he already knew but just wanted me to confirm for the sake of letting his sailor chums hear. As I glanced to his right I noticed one of the men was dressed in a smart suit and wore a large rimmed hat. If he was a fellow sailor I guessed he was someone of high rank, possibly even a captain.

"Cordelia," I whispered.

"Say that again!" The sailor said.

"Cordelia," I responded a little louder.

The man in the black suit casually walked over to me with both his hands resting behind his back, but I was sure his calm manner hid something far more sinister. He gave me a false smile as he made his approach.

"And what is your name boy?" He asked in an upper class accent.

"Timothy," I replied with my voice trembling as I looked up at him.

The man took a large intake of breath and turned his gaze toward the others before looking back at me. I felt so small in his presence both physically and emotionally.

"Well Timothy, do you have any idea what your, dare I say, loving, caring, big sister has done?" He asked while his eyes bored into me as though reaching into my mind.

I shook my head not wishing to know, yet knew he was intending to tell me anyway.

"She gave worship to Satan," he said matter-of-factly as though he was saying something he was certain of, "Offering her soul to him, allowing him to cast evil upon this peace-loving land."

I was beginning to think he wasn't a sailor after all and may have in fact been a preacher, for other than accusing her of spiritual crime he had yet to tell me what she specifically did. I was starting to have doubts if she had in fact been accused of any criminal act defined by law.

"How..." I said while my body shook with nerves, "I mean what... um, did..."

"She was witnessed," the man casually responded guessing at my repressed question, "Then after the witness told others of her impropriety, that said witness expired in a manner most gruesome."

I continued to stare up at the man in black before glancing my eyes toward the sailor who had once been so kind, then toward the other men standing at his side. I was still aware of the other two men behind me sensing their presence.

"So what is this errand that's most pressing you need to attend?" The man in black asked.

I was sure he could tell if lied to him, so instead only intended to tell him a partial truth to see if that would satisfy his curiously.

"I was hoping I could get my mother to write a note of leniency on my sister's behalf to be presented to the jailer or judge," I said trying my best to remain calm.

"My dear boy I would accept no letter," the man said while shaking his head, "Your sister is to be publicly hanged tomorrow and that's final. If I had the power to change anything I would make it sooner."

It only then dawned on me as to who he really was. I should have known due to his attire and tone of voice.

"Then I should be on my way," I said holding back my tears, "My mother needs me, more so than ever now, and I need to tell her the news."

As I attempted to take a step ahead he quickly stood in my way blocking my path knowing that I hadn't told him the complete truth.

"What did your sister tell you?" He asked.

I quickly shook my head with vigour.

"She didn't tell me anything," I said in an excited tone of panic, "You can ask the jailer, he listened to the whole thing, we just exchanged goodbyes and we cried, but we said nothing else."

The man in black knelt down in front of me engaging eye contact on an even level resting his hand on my shoulder. His deception of pretending to act caring didn't fool me for one moment, and there was no way that I was willing to betray my sister's wishes.

"I will speak to the jailer but I'd prefer to hear the truth from you," he said in the same calm tone as before, "Is there anything she mentioned, evidence for example, that she spoke of that may be beneficial to this case?"

I vigorously shook my head causing him to rest both hands upon each of my shoulders.

"Bear in mind that any new evidence could even prove her innocence, so if there is anything pray tell," he said.

The memory of the urgency Cordelia stated of needing to destroy the diary came to my mind. Whatever it contained it was clearly something she wanted hidden and couldn't be anything that could prove her innocence.

"There's nothing," I said as my tears overflowed down my cheeks, "I need to get home to my mum, she's lame, and she needs me more than ever now."

The man in black slowly shook his head then clambered to his feet while letting out a loud breath.

"At this very moment your mother's burning in Hell," he said calmly, "And you're soon to join her."

He glanced behind me where upon I immediately felt someone grab at my neck. A pool of bright red blood pooled at my feet as I tumbled to the ground. My throat had been sliced so cleanly that I didn't feel any pain but I was well aware of what was happening as my life faded away.

 

Chapter 4 - Four Hundred Years Later

The warm glow from a bright light shone down on me as I stared up at it from the surrounding tunnel of darkness. It reminded me of the experience I felt just after death, on my way to the afterlife, but this time I was returning. It may have been many a year since I made my promise to Cordelia but I still intended to keep it and I sensed her diary had been discovered.

A deep intake of fresh air filled the lungs of my soul as I sat up sharply in the very same location as where I perished. Part of me imagined that I would awake in the same puddle of blood in which I fell, but not only was the puddle long gone but the cobblestones had too, replaced with a thick black coating of compressed tar.

The light from above illuminated the area with a yellow glow that reflected against the leaves of the tress causing them to look grey rather than green. It was an odd way to light a street at night and I was sure to discover a lot more oddities in the world which I once called home.

Heaving myself up from the ground I looked in both directions trying to get my sense of direction. Something about the incline of the street appeared different than before and I was sure it appeared steeper, but it could have been my imagination caused by the smoothness of its surface or even an illusion created by the artificial yellow light.

While far larger than what I was used to seeing, there were the unmistakable outlines of cranes silhouetted against the night's sky in the distance atop of the hill, so tall they appeared to be attempting to pierce the moon as it shone above. Clearly the docks still existed and part of me felt pleased that in so many years it hadn't completely changed.

At the bottom of the hill, where the road had once adjoined the main road of the village, there was nothing but a narrow lane running alongside a scarce wood. This lane too was lit with the strange yellow lamps giving off an eerie glow that gave me a chill of fear as I stared at the entwining shadows of the tree branches. The irony of a ghost being afraid wasn't lost on me and I forced myself to remain brave as I headed down the hill and into the lane.

It was only after a few moments of traversing into the direction I thought was home that I realised I wasn't in a lane as I had first envisaged. In fact it was an alleyway between rows of houses. It was clear I had gone the wrong way and there must have been another street nearby but it was imperative that I reach the location of what remained of our cottage as quickly as possible.

I quickly stopped startled by the unmistakable noise of a fox in the distance. Reminding myself what I now was and remaining confident I continued ahead as I saw the fox carrying the remains of discarded food within its mouth. It didn't notice me as it scampered in my direction without a care in the world simply passing by with no fear.

I continued ahead down the alleyway hoping to get a clue as to indicate my sense of direction. I just hoped our cottage still stood but I knew after so many years it would be unlikely.

As I reached the end of the alleyway, heading out into the main road, my face lit up and I smiled brightly once I spotted the church spiral indicating the location of the village square.

 

Chapter 5 - My Home

Traversing at night wasn't a good idea and I only wished I had waited before my return, but alas in the afterlife day and night never existed so it didn't cross my mind upon making my return. The village square had been built upon, with only the church and its surrounding land remaining, the location of my cottage was hidden deep within the woods and was going to take me quite some time to find even though the sun was already rising.

The shrubbery and twigs felt strange underfoot as I traversed my way hoping that I would soon find something familiar. The ground didn't react to the heaviness of my thick leather boots leaving no imprint of my presence yet within my mind I still imagined the sound of breaking twigs and rustling grass. It took me a few minutes before I realised not all of the sounds were within my imagination as there was movement ahead.

"Over here!" I heard someone call out in the distance.

There was also the sound of gentle hammering and manual labour among a hum of overlapped voices. Instinctively I slowed my pace, then almost as quickly as I slowed I sped up, heading towards the commotion. At a small clearing in the trees were around twenty people, digging inside a series of shallow trenches, as though searching for something buried inside. The foundations of a stone wall, coated with thick black ash, were visible protruding from the ground while a woman wearing next to nothing scraped a metal implement across its surface. She then took out a clear bag and placed the sample inside.

"Do you think anyone was inside when the place was torched?" A very tall man with a scruffy unkempt face asked as he approached behind the woman.

"Without remains there's no way to tell," she responded calmly without turning around.

The man was wearing short trousers revealing his bare legs just as the woman was, however her legs were smooth and shiny whereas his were entangled with hair. I couldn't tell if it was due to modern fashion or whether the man was just scruffy, either way it was something that would take me a long time to get used to.

"Where's that barrow got to?" Another male voice from behind me called out.

There were continued overlapped voices as I stared at the remains of the outer wall of the building. It was clearly the shape of my home but a lot of the cottages in the area where built with similar design, and the surrounding woodland made it impossible to tell. What was once the village main road was buried under hundreds of years worth of soil.

"Is that you Mick?" The woman examining the wall said.

"I'm just fetching the barrow!" He called back to her as he had already wandered off without her noticing.

"Okay!" She replied.

I took a few steps closer trying to picture our cottage and its position within the confines of the trench. With part of it still buried along with a huge fallen tree laying along one side it was difficult to imagine. I couldn't even figure out which was the front or back. As to the burnt ash coating the wall I wondered when it had been set alight. Luckily my mother had been awaiting me in the afterlife on the day of my death, with my sister joining us later, so they hadn't suffered a burning. But I still didn't relish the notion of our beautiful home being burnt down due to the misguided notion of us being a family of witches. With all the years that passed however it may have been burnt as a simple method of demolishment, decades or possibly hundreds of years, after it was abandoned.

"Is someone there?" The woman asked before quickly turning to face me.

Her eyes stared right through my body to the trees beyond as she turned her gaze from one side to the other. I wondered if she sensed me on another level. She blinked a few times then continued examining the wall.

"You alright Lizzy?" A female voice asked.

"Yes I'm fine," she replied.

I took a step back as an older woman with frizzy hair and a very bright orange coloured blouse approached. There was kindness about her facial appearance yet appeared to dress far younger than her actual age.

"Not spooked are you?" She asked the woman known as Lizzy causing her to smile in response.

"I don't believe in all that nonsense," she replied with a slight giggle, "Whatever went on here back then was no more supernatural than nature itself. Just primitive backward people trying to control their lives by believing in the occult and harming others in the process."

What was she saying? I thought to myself. We were totally innocent, we did nothing to hurt anyone. How dare she suggest such a thing?

"I'm sorry!" Lizzy quickly said placing the back of her hand against her mouth and taking a step back from the wall.

"Are you sure you're okay?" The older woman asked her.

She nodded in response and sniffed away a tear.

"Maybe I am spooked, just a little," she said as she took a large intake of breath, "It's just the thought of people in those days believing in such nonsense that has me on edge."

The older woman placed her hand on Lizzy's arm.

"You should take the rest of the day off," she said softly while giving her arm a gentle squeeze, "Get some rest, a nap if necessary..."

"Oh, I can't we've got so much to do," Lizzy quickly responded while shaking her head, "We've got a lot of loose soil to sift through yet."

"It'll still be here tomorrow," the older woman said.

My eyes widened and I let out a yelp as the scruffy man from before literally walked through my body pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. I jumped to one side taking a tumble to the ground.

"Woah!" Lizzy yelled out resting her hand in the centre of her chest, "You scared the living daylights out of me!"

The man gave her a look of confusion as I clambered to my feet.

"Seriously, go home and get some rest, I mean it," said the older woman.

"But um, oh, right, if you think it's best," Lizzy agreed.

The man with the barrow looked on for a few moments, shaking is head while repressing a smirk, then continued pushing it along the rough ground. Its front wheel appeared damaged in some way, with the black rubber rim flattened against the ground causing it to wobble from side to side. I was sure it wasn't designed to work that way but who could tell in the modern world in which I found myself.

From what I could gather, as I made my way round the dig, all that had been found were the foundations and part of the outer wall of a cottage with no sign of any possessions, yet it was the disturbance of Cordelia's diary that forced my return. I wondered if it was still partially buried, possibly being brought back to the surface at that very moment. I then began to think about the trunk where Cordelia had hidden it.

"What about the trunk?" Lizzy said behind me.

I quickly darted my head around to face her knowing full well she must have read my thoughts.

"I could return to the museum and go through the trunk we found," Lizzy continued while addressing everyone, "I think its contents may be important, especially that book."

"It's my sister's diary," I said out loud.

"That diary," Lizzy corrected herself.

I smiled brightly, it appeared I had a living assistant albeit without her being fully aware that I existed. My task was going to be a lot easier with her help.

"Well just as long as you feel up to it," the older woman responded.

Lizzy clenched her fists with excitement before making her way towards the far side of the dig to a dirt pathway. I followed her only to have to quickly dodge the man pushing the wheelbarrow again as he headed in our direction wobbling it from side to side.

 

Chapter 6 - The Trunk's Contents

The journey back to the museum was the most unusual experience I had ever had in all the years of my existence. We traversed in what I could only describe as a tin box on wheels that moved at an almighty speed, faster than any horse in full gallop, until we arrived at a church-like building used as the museum.

Lizzy was overexcited, rushing inside the building, causing me to momentarily lose sight of her until I eventually found her in a large hall that resembled a library. There were all kinds of books lining the walls on row after row of shelves as well as some odd looking artefacts including animal skulls.

Lizzy was leaning over a desk at the far side of the room writing something down. I calmly walked over to her.

"Is this what you wanted?" A man asked wearing a brown jacket with patches on the elbows.

Lizzy nodded, her face brimming with enthusiasm, as the man dragged in the wooden trunk that rested upon a small table on casters. The once smooth shiny varnished outer of the trunk was totally black with ash that peeled away from the blistered wood. Even the top had twisted out of position bending the otherwise impenetrable lock.

"Its contents have been categorised but nothing's yet been fully examined," the man said, "The sheets are very delicate so don't even attempt to unfold them, and two of the herb jars are cracked."

"Don't remind me," Lizzy said in a light hearted tone while letting out a smile, "I was sneezing non-stop when we first discovered them."

"What about the diary?" I asked standing at Lizzy's side as though part of the conversation.

"And what of the diary?" She asked the man.

He hesitated before responding as though he didn't realise at first what she was referring to.

"That's extremely fragile," he replied, "The leather cover's intact but the pages will likely crumble if you open it."

I felt relief upon hearing his words but I still wasn't willing to return to the afterlife until I had seen its condition for myself. It was imperative that no one should set eyes upon its contents.

To my surprise two more people entered carrying piles of small brown boxes resting them upon the floor next to the trunk. Each box contained a brief description of their contents written on their fronts making me realise the trunk had already been emptied some time ago.

"These artefacts where essentially baked when the cottage was set aflame so take extra care or they'll crumble in your hands," one of the people carrying the boxes said confirming what the man in the brown jacket had already mentioned.

"I'll be careful," Lizzy responded with a slight agitated tone as though they were questioning her professionalism.

She then retrieved a pair of very odd looking gloves from the desk and put them onto her hands while the other three people left the room. I was sure she was annoyed and had intentionally put on the gloves in front of them to show how professional she truly was.

Without any thought or spoken gesture on my part she immediately sought out the box that contained the diary and rested it on top of the desk. I leant in for a closer look as she removed the lid of the box. There was layer after layer of soft padding material that she removed before the dairy was revealed. The heart of my soul tingled as I saw the dairy resting at the bottom of the box looking like nothing more than a rectangular lump of stained leather.

"You're curious aren't you?" Lizzy whispered softly as she gently lifted the book out of the box.

I couldn't tell if she was talking to me on a subconscious level or herself so I remained silent, but I would have been lying if I said I wasn't tempted to peek inside.

She then held up the book toward the light as if trying to make out the pattern on the front but it was indistinguishable from the staining of so many years of decomposition. It may have survived far longer if it hadn't been bound in such a manner so I pleased that it had been.

As Lizzy rested the diary flat upon the desk and carefully attempted to open the cover it was clear that the entire book had clumped together in one solid state and would only crumble if forced apart. Cordelia's secret was safe.

My work was done and it was time for me to return to the afterlife. I headed over to the middle of the hall, closed my eyes and crossed arms resting each hand upon my shoulders. After a few deep intake of breaths I began to fade away looking forward to my eternal happiness once more.

"So they were witches after all!" Lizzy blurted out with excitement as she jumped to her feet.

 

Chapter 7 - Surprise!

It took no more than a brief second for me to reappear in the middle of the hall once more and to hurry over to Lizzy in an attempt to see what she had discovered. I had no intention of viewing the contents of Cordelia's diary, for it was personal and I always suspected contained details relating to a romantic encounter, but for Lizzy to conclude we were witches then there must have been something far more sinister inside. If Cordelia hadn't been convicted of witchcraft due to the act of unmatrimonial sex then what had she done? Before my own demise the judge informed me that she was witnessed offering her body and soul to Satan, leading me to make assumptions as to her real actions, had I been wrong all along?

Lizzy left the open diary on top of the desk as she hurried out of the room with excitement eager to tell someone what she discovered.

Very slowly I looked down at its contents trying to glance rather than read what was inside. The once silky white paper of the luxurious diary was in a dilapidated state and the page was torn in two due to the forceful opening by Lizzy, but some of the words were visible along with a diagram of a pentangle.

I couldn't look any further and darted my eyes away not believing my own eyes. In the hundreds of years spent in the afterlife I wondered why my dear sister had never mentioned it. My mind span as I tried to think clearly while I reminded myself that where were no such thing as witches and that my sister was innocent, even if on occasion she had dabbled in the occult.

"It's a spell book not a diary," Lizzy said with excitement as she came rushing back in while the man in the brown jacket followed behind.

I stepped to one side as Lizzy momentarily looked in my direction. For a moment she appeared to stare as though sensing my presence then dismissed it.

"I believe this belonged to the girl who was hanged for witchcraft," Lizzy told the man as she held the book in her gloved hand.

"Her name's Cordelia!" I quickly said firmly not wishing my dear sister to be referred to as the girl.

"Her name was Cordelia," Lizzy continued while still speaking to the man in the brown jacket, "She believed she could communicate with the dead, specifically angels, by mixing certain herbs together. Obviously it's all nonsense but at the time people felt it was blasphemous."

Lizzy started to read out the readable words on the open page of the diary while I closed my eyes feeling at peace that no one in the modern world would believe in its contents anyway. The diary would be viewed as the ramblings of a crazy woman and nothing more, for it wasn't possible to communicate with the dead.

THE END.

 

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