A WEEKEND IN PARIS
A WEEKEND IN PARIS
They sat in one of the arrival halls at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
“Do you want something to eat?”
“Yes please, Dad, I’d like an ice cream.”
James looked around and saw an ice cream stand close by. “Let me go get you some from there,” he pointed. “I’ll be right back.”
After he left, Anne slunk deeper into her seat. She caught sight of a little boy staring. He was young, almost her age. He sat about three or four seats away. The boy was watching her intently, like there was no one else in the arrival hall. At first, Anne assumed that he was looking at something or someone else. She even checked behind her and all around, just to be sure that she was in fact the source of the boy’s interest.
But when she saw there was nothing interesting near her, Anne had to conclude that she was the one that the boy was watching. Watching, Anne thought to herself. That boy is watching me.
She looked away, trying to focus her attention on something else—but the boy’s gaze remained on her. She decided to do something about the unnecessary interest the boy was showing. Anne turned her attention to the boy and stared right back. He was just a young boy, with brown curly hair. He was holding a lollipop in his hand and as he licked it, he kept staring at her.
Anne continued to stare at the boy. All she had to do was to stare intently at him and recite a short spell in the boy’s direction.
Almost immediately, the boy started coughing. As he coughed, he threw away the lollipop and grabbed his stomach. His parents stood up in alarm and began calling his name. But rather than responding, he started vomiting. In no time, a small crowd had formed around them.
Anne kept her gaze on the boy. When the crowd blocked her view, she closed her eyes to mentally conjure his image, so she could keep focussing on the boy in her mind.
James returned with the ice cream. As he sat down by his daughter’s side, Anne opened her eyes and smiled at him. “Vanilla ice cream?” she gushed. “That’s my favourite.”
James took one glance at the crowd and sensed what had happened. “What did that little boy do to you?”
“I didn’t like the way he was staring at me—he was making me feel uncomfortable, so I decided to make him feel uncomfortable too.”
“Maybe he suspected who you are.”
“Suspected? He wasn’t a witch like me.”
“He doesn’t have to be a witch to sense that you’re one. There are people who have sensory gifts. They can simply tell by looking at you.”
“Well, next time he should be careful who he goes looking at.”
James chuckled. “He’s just a kid. At that age, all he would be able to do is sense that someone is odd—but he would not understand why, who they really are, or what repercussions there might be after identifying them in a crowd.”
“I felt like killing him.”
“It felt that bad?”
Anne nodded. “He was really making me feel uncomfortable.”
“Some people might make you feel uncomfortable, but you have to learn to ignore them, otherwise you might lose focus on what you intend to do.”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
“It’s inevitable that you will come across such people, but you can’t go wasting your spiritual energy on all of them. How many would you hurt? Ten, twenty, a hundred?”
“There are that many of them?”
“Yes, my dear. There are almost as many witches as there are those who can sense our presence. You have to get used to that.”
“Too bad for him. Anyway, next time he should simply mind his own business.”
At that moment, Anne saw a tall thin man walk up to her father. He was dressed in a bowler cap and a long black suit. He had a thin moustache and thin lips. “Monsieur James Taylor?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Welcome to Paris,” the man said. “I have been sent to pick you up.”
Anne held her father’s hand as they followed the tall man out of the arrival hall with their luggage.
She tugged on her father’s hand. “That man recognised you so easily!”
“That’s because he knows me—from previous trips. I told you they’re expecting us.”
The tall man led them to a black limo. He held the door open while they climbed in. He then dropped their luggage into the boot. He got in behind the wheel and eased the limo out of the parking lot. Once they were outside the airport, he drove them through several interconnected streets.
“This city is beautiful!”
“Yes, my dear. You will enjoy our stay here. And it’s also very important for us all to come here every year.”
James nodded. “Yes, especially for us, as witches.”
At the mention of the word ‘witches’, Anne glanced at the driver in the front before shooting a glare at her father.
“Never mind, there’s nothing to worry about. He knows who we are.” James said with a smile.
“Yes, he does. And so do the people we’re going to meet.”
Anne was now more relaxed. They soon reached a gated estate. After driving through its well-paved streets, the limo drove up to a black gate. Immediately, the gate slid open and they drove in.
Inside the compound, there were large trees with lush leaves and several ornate water fountains. The grounds were paved with grey interlocking stones, and so were the pathways that led up to the main house. On each side of the pathways were well-cut lawns and well-trimmed gardens. Flower hedges showing off well-trimmed edges lined the pathway.
When the limo stopped, the driver came to open the door for them. He grabbed their luggage, then led them up a short flight of stairs into the main house.
Once inside, they walked into an impressive living room. There were leather sofas, a polished marble floor, expensive paintings on the walls and pots of exotic flowers.
They were greeted by a woman dressed in a flowing white gown with red and blue embroidery. She waved a hand that was heavy with diamond rings. “Monsieur James Taylor,” she said with a French accent.
“Madame,” James bowed and kissed the hand she had offered him.
“It has been a while, yes?”
James nodded. “Yes, Madame. It has.”
The woman turned to gaze at Anne. “And who is this young girl with you?”
“This is my daughter, Madame. Her name is Anne. Anne, this is Madame Sylvia.”
“Good day, Madame,” Anne said.
“Your daughter, you say? My, what a beautiful young girl she is. How old are you, my dear?”
“I am ten years old.”
“Isn’t she too young for this trip, Monsieur James?”
“I am confident in her abilities, which is why I have brought her with me.”
Madame Sylvia nodded. “I see. I am impressed already. Well, you may go to your room for now. I know you have both just arrived from a very long trip, so you must be exhausted. Off you go!”
The butler led them up the staircase and down a lavish corridor. He opened a door on the right and stood aside. “Your room, Monsieur.”
James smiled. “Thank you very much.”
Once the door had closed, Anne jumped on one of the two beds. “This bed is huge!”
“Yes, the estate is quite impressive. This place is well over seven hundred years old.”
Anne gasped and sat up in the bed. “Over seven hundred years?”
“That’s right, Anne. That’s why we come here every year for the meetings. Her family is one of the oldest ruling witch families in Europe.”
“Yes, Madame Sylvia is a direct descendant of a very powerful family that lived in the early ages. It’s a very exciting story and she always tells it well.”
“Really? I would love to hear her stories, Dad.”
James smiled and patted her head. “I’m sure that when we’re through with tonight’s meeting, she won’t mind indulging you with her family’s rich history.”
“Wow, so now I have two events to look forward to! The Eiffel Tower and Madame Sylvia’s stories.”
“And tonight’s meeting, Anne.”
“Yes, and the meeting. You promised to tell me more about it when we get here.”
“It’s a very important meeting amongst our kind—the most powerful witches in the US and Europe gather here in this house once a year to make a special sacrifice to the Master.”
Anne sat up. “How many witches will attend this year?”
“We number about one hundred in all. I’m sure most of the others have already arrived. They’ll be in their rooms waiting for the time to assemble.”
“What’s the sacrifice?”
“A new-born baby of not more than twenty-four hours.”
“A day-old baby!”
James shook his head. “No, not a day-old baby. A baby that is not yet a day old.”
“Where do we get a new-born baby?”
“Not us—it’s Madame Sylvia who makes this arrangement. We just take part in the ritual.”
“That's good. It would’ve been impossible for us to get such a tiny baby in this city!”
James laughed “Nothing is impossible, but Madame Sylvia saves us the trouble. She hosted this meeting for over thirty years and always does a great job with all the arrangements.”
“What happens if she doesn’t find a baby in time?”
“Enough of your questions now, young lady. Let’s unpack and rest. The meeting is a long one; it starts at midnight and finishes right before sunrise. We’d better sleep a little.”
Meanwhile, Madame Sylvia was welcoming two other guests—a man and a woman.
The butler ushered them into the living room. Madame Sylvia shook their hands and smiled warmly. “Monsieur and Madame Bardin, you are most welcome to my home. My, hasn’t it been a while since I last saw you two!”
The man nodded. “Yes, Madame. It has been almost a year since my wife Lucille and I were last here.”
“Ah, of course. Time goes by so quickly! You must understand why I have called on you?”
“Yes, indeed, Madame. We are ready for the task.”
“Of course you are,” Madame Sylvia smiled.
“Indeed, Madame,” the woman nodded. “We have prearranged everything, and merely need to confirm that it will be the usual order.”
“Yes, the usual. Do you remember it?”
“How could we ever forget? One new-born baby, less than twenty-four hours old.” Mr. Badin said.
“A perfectly healthy baby,” Madame Sylvia pointed out. “Perfect and healthy.”
“Of course, Madame.” Mr. Bardin replied.
“Good. Go and get it for me,” Madame Sylvia waved them away.
Outside the estate, Mr. and Mrs. Bardin waved down a taxi and got in. They gave directions to a hospital in downtown Paris and the driver drove off.
A short while later, the taxi cab stopped outside the hospital. “Would you like me to wait for you?” the taxi driver asked, counting the money they had given him.
Mr. Bardin shook his head. “No, we might be a while.”
As the taxi drove off, Lucille accosted her husband. “Edmund! Why would you let him drive off? We won’t be here long, the arrangement’s already in place. All we need to do is meet the nurse and collect the baby, that’s all. No waiting, no delays.”
Edmund nodded. “I know, darling, but we still have to be cautious. It’s better to use a different taxi to return to Madame Sylvia’s estate. I don’t like using the same vehicle twice.”
Lucille shrugged. “We talked about this last year, remember? What if we can’t get another taxi in time?”
“Yes, but I never agreed with you. Think about it—this is better than worrying about loose ends. These taxi drivers are very observant, and we cannot afford to be working with loose ends in this business.”
“Business? That’s a nice term to use.”
“Every year, we get a baby for Madame Sylvia and she pays us handsomely for it. What would you call it? A hobby?”
Lucille smiled. “Please, let’s not waste time arguing about what we do. The nurse must be waiting for us.”
“You’re right, I’ll call to tell her that we’ve arrived.”
They walked into the reception of the hospital and made their way to the waiting area. They found empty seats close to the back and sat down.
Shortly after Edmund and his wife had taken a seat, a nurse walked in. There was nothing special about her—she looked like every other nurse in the hospital with her small white cap, white dress and white shoes. She stood by the wall, her eyes skimming over everyone in the room. She was searching for Edmund and Lucille. When their eyes met with hers, she nodded at them and turned to leave the reception area. The Bardins stood up a minute later and walked casually towards the delivery ward.
Walking confidently, the nurse went into the nursery and scanned through all the babies there. She was looking for the baby she had selected earlier. When she finally spotted the right one, she picked it up and wrapped it with a shawl. The nurse then left the nursery and met the couple in the corridor.
She handed the child to them as they approached her, then turned to leave. Edmund and Lucille also turned and left. They had not exchanged a single word in the hospital.
After exiting the hospital, they crossed the road and walked to a nearby market. Edmund hailed a taxi. He and Lucille settled into the back seat.
As the taxi sped away, Edmund smiled at his wife. “So, what do you think?”
“What do I think about what?” Lucille asked, examining the baby in her arms.
“About the business—our business.”
Lucille smiled as she continued to examine the baby. “Business is good.”
“Yes, as long as we have clients like Madame Sylvia, business is always going to be good.”
Suddenly, Lucille gasped, startling Edmund. “What is it?”
“It’s the baby.”
“What’s wrong with it? Isn’t it healthy?”
“He is healthy, but look at his back!”
Edmund peered closely as Lucille unwrapped the shawl further. There was a large red mark on the baby’s back. It was a deep and dark contrast to the pale skin of the infant.
“Maybe she forgot?”
“How could she? This isn’t the first time we’ve worked with her,” Edmund frowned as he pulled out his smartphone and began dialling, clenching his fist as he waited for the call to be answered. “What is this? The product has a stain!” He screamed into the phone.
Lucille held her husband’s arm, trying to pacify him, but he ignored her. “Didn’t you check the back before you picked this one? How could you be so careless? No, no, no—you don’t apologise for such a blunder. You make up for it immediately. We’re coming back to get the replacement right now.”
The taxi driver glanced at them through the driving mirror. “Are we going back to the market, Monsieur?”
Edmund held up his hand. He was still listening to the nurse on the other end. “What? There’s no more? But that’s impossible! All have defects? Damn it!”
Edmund lowered the phone and sighed.
“Do I keep going, Monsieur, or do I turn back?” the taxi driver repeated.
“Keep going,” Edmund said in a tired voice.
Lucille stared at him. “Aren’t there any others?”
Edmund shook his head.
“Oh god, what do we do now?”
“She said they might have another one in few hours, but she’s not sure.”
“That’s risky and we don’t have the time. What are we going to do? We have to do something!”
“I don’t know, Lucille. What do you think we should do?”
Lucille bit her lip and contemplated the baby. “It’s perfect. There is nothing wrong with it.”
“Except for the mark,” Edmund pointed out. “That mark has ruined everything!”
Edmund looked at his wife. “What?”
“Has it ruined anything yet?”
“Of course it has. Come on, this isn’t our first time! We’ve handled this many times before and the instructions are always the same: it must be perfect. This ruins everything.”
“No it doesn’t.” Lucille tapped the taxi driver’s shoulder. “Please stop here.”
Edmund grabbed his wife’s arm. “What are you doing?”
“Just trust me,” Lucille replied, as the taxi parked by the curb.
“Why did we stop here?” Edmund asked, adjusting the baby in his arms while the cab sped away.
“You were the one going on about no loose ends earlier,” Lucille retorted. “I’m just following instructions.”
“By leaving us stranded in the street?”
Lucille pulled her husband by the hand. “No, not in the street. I deliberately stopped the cab outside a supermarket.”
“Lucille, what are you thinking?” Edmund protested as she dragged him into the supermarket and led them to the cosmetics section.
Edmund sighed when his wife began to scan through the different items on display. “Okay, I get it. Tell me, what are you looking for? Let me help.”
“It’s fine, I’ll let you know once I find it.”
Lucille stopped searching. “I found it,” she announced, waving a small box in her hand.
“Great, what now?”
“We cover up the mark and salvage the situation.”
Edmund frowned at the makeup kit, then glanced at the baby he was carrying. “Is it really a good idea to disguise the mark with makeup?”
“Yes, it’s an excellent idea and that’s what we’re going to do. Madame Sylvia will never notice.”
“But what if she does?”
Lucille shrugged. “Then we blame the nurse who gave us the baby.”
“She’ll be angry at us. Madame Sylvia will definitely be mad at us.”
“No, she won’t. How long have we done this business with her?”
Edmund rubbed his chin. “Well, it’s been a long time now.”
“Not just long, Edmund—very long. We’ve had this deal with her for several years. And in all that time, has she ever been disappointed with us?”
“No, not once.”
“And she will never be. This will be easy to fix with makeup.”
“Are you sure, Lucille? Are you sure it’ll work?”
“But she might still find out. Think about it—one bath and the makeup will wash off.”
“A bath? Who are we kidding? Have you ever seen any of the children we gave the Madame playing in her estate? What do you think she does with them?”
“Do we ever know what our clients do with the babies we give them?”
“No, seriously, Edmund. Just think of her and her social status. What do you think she’d need the baby for—every year, at the same time, less than 24-hours-old, perfect, no ailments?”
“Some sort of cult ritual, maybe?”
“Exactly, so there are no baths involved. We shouldn’t be bothered with what Madame Sylvia might think or say, because if it really is for a ritual, then the baby will be dead soon enough. Who’s going to worry about a birthmark when it’s gone?”
Edmund ran his hand through his hair. He glanced at the baby again, then looked at the makeup kit in his wife’s hands. “You really think it could work?”
“Pay for the kit. Leave the rest to me, okay?”
“Wait, let me just call the nurse,” Edmund said, pulling out his phone.
“Again?” Lucille asked.
Edmund nodded with the phone close to his ear. “I need to tell her that her fees will be halved because of her stupid mistake.”
Lucille grinned at her husband. “That’s a smart businessman’s attitude. I’ll take the baby to the ladies room to apply the makeup. I won’t be long.”
A couple of hours later, they were back in the living room with Madame Sylvia. She was smiling widely as she caressed the baby in her arms. “Isn’t he lovely?” she cooed as she held the baby up, with its back facing the Bardins—a clear and unblemished back.
Lucille and Edmund exchanged glances before nodding. “That’s exactly what we thought when we saw him at the hospital,” Lucille said quickly.
“Yes, you’re right. As usual, you have both delighted me.” Madame Sylvia gestured at a black briefcase next to her. “I am most grateful. Your payment is in this briefcase.”
Edmund picked up the briefcase and bowed. “Thank you very much, Madame. We are always glad to be of service to you.”
Madame Sylvia nodded as she waved them off. She turned to one of her assistants. “We are ready. Make sure everything is well-prepared.”
Anne was still with her father in their room. They had been relaxing and watching television when they heard a blaring horn.
Anne turned to her father. “What’s going on?”
“It’s the siren to inform us that the meeting is about to start,” James explained. “Quickly, we can’t be late!”
The meeting was to be held in the gardens. By the time they arrived at the door leading outside, they found a queue of people. Inside the door were two women wearing black gowns, standing by large baskets.
Once Anne and her father reached the door, one of the women reached into her basket and handed them each their own black gown. The other woman then took out two black candles from her basket and handed them over.
Anne and her father put on their gowns before carrying their candles out into the enormous gardens.
There was a blazing bonfire in the centre of the garden. Next to the fire was a marble altar. James and Anne joined the attendees, each taking a position in a circular formation around the bonfire and holding their black candle with both hands, waiting for an assistant to light them.
Anne looked around and saw two women standing near a cradle, which contained the new-born. Madame Sylvia was also in the circle. After a while, she approached the bonfire, knelt down and began to offer silent prayers.
At the same time, all the attendees raised their burning candles and began to hum an ancient song. Then Madame Sylvia stood up, she disrobed and stood before the gathering, naked. As if on cue, all the other female members disrobed.
Madame Sylvia raised her hands high into the air and began to wave them as she joined the congregation in humming the song. Everyone chanted and raised their hands high up into the air, in the direction of the full moon. They were reciting spells and incantations to summon the spirits in the sky to join them. As they sang, Anne saw them swaying from side to side, like tall trees being blown in the wind.
James nudged his daughter. “Go on, Anne. Sway like them.”
Anne nodded and began to sway.
Madame Sylvia let out a shrill howl like a wolf. She then began to stamp her feet and gyrate, shaking her body like she was convulsing. Anne turned to see that her father and other attendees were making the strange movements like Madame Sylvia.
“Move like us, Anne,” James urged. “Shake your body.”
Anne began to gyrate and shake her body violently.
Madame Sylvia suddenly stopped and straightened up, with her hands still raised in the air. It was a signal for everyone to stop dancing. “Now,” she declared. “We sacrifice the young, precious soul.”
Madame Sylvia beckoned the two women beside the cradle. “Bring us the sacrificial child.”
As the two women carried the cradle towards Madame Sylvia, Anne tugged on her father’s robe. He looked down at her with a frown. “What is it, Anne?”
“Is it time for the sacrifice?” she whispered.
“Yes,” he whispered back.
“But I think something’s wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I can’t explain it, but something is wrong with that baby.”
“Just keep quiet and pay attention.”
“Stop! Don’t sacrifice that baby!” Anne shouted without warning.
James was enraged. He glared angrily at Anne, while the other attendees began to murmur amongst themselves.
Madame Sylvia held up her hand, bringing silence to the gathering. “Monsieur James, is that your daughter interrupting us?”
“I apologise, most high one. It was a mistake.”
“A mistake? But she knew what she was saying,” Madame Sylvia said. “I explicitly heard her say we should not sacrifice the baby.”
“She is young, most high one. She does not know what she is saying.”
“Dad, I know what I’m saying! That baby should not be sacrificed. It’s the wrong one.”
There was more murmuring in the crowd. Madame Sylvia raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Really? The wrong baby? And how do you know this?”
“I just know, Madame,” Anne said. “I just know.”
Madame Sylvia shook her head. “You don’t know anything, child. Don’t you dare interrupt such matters again.”
Anne took a step forward. “Madame, please, listen to me.”
Madame Sylvia glared at James. “You’d better control this daughter of yours, Monsieur James.”
James nodded and pulled Anne back to her position. “Anne! What’s wrong with you? Why are you interrupting them?”
“Dad, that’s the wrong baby!”
“Shut up or I’ll be forced to send you away!” James snarled. He looked up at Madame Sylvia. “Please don’t mind her—my apologies, do continue with the ritual.”
Madame Sylvia turned to the women with the cradle and nodded at them.
The new-born was placed on the altar close to the bonfire. The two women bowed their heads before leaving.
Madame Sylvia pointed at a tall blonde woman in the congregation. “You, over there, what’s your name?”
“You may have the honour of sacrificing this baby to our Supreme Master.”
The congregation bowed as Sarah proudly stepped forward. Once she reached the middle of the circle, she knelt down in front of Madame Sylvia. “I am honoured to be of service to this coven today,” Sarah said.
Madame Sylvia nodded and reached for a bag on the ground next to her. She brought out a knife that had a short silver blade and a handle that was engraved with strange inscriptions. She held it out to Sarah. Sarah collected the knife and stood up then turned to face the congregation.
“We all know why we have gathered here today,” Madame Sylvia announced, while Sarah held the engraved knife high above her head. “We are here to renew our allegiance to our Supreme Master, Satan himself. By sacrificing this new-born, we are assured of both a renewal of our powers and a bestowment of rewards upon us. We are honoured and privileged to do this.”
Madame Sylvia turned to Sarah and smiled at her. “You may proceed.”
As Sarah lowered the knife and turned to face the new-born on the altar, the bonfire suddenly stopped burning. Everyone gasped.
Anne yanked her father’s robe sharply. “I told you there was something wrong with that baby, didn’t I?”
James glared at his daughter. “Be quiet and concentrate.”
“Concentrate? Concentrate on what, Dad? Is this normal? Does this usually happen?”
James shook his head. “No, this is the first time I’ve seen this.”
It was indeed strange. All the candles had gone out too. With no other source of light, the entire garden had been thrown into darkness.
“Let’s not panic,” Madame Sylvia said. “We are witches, aren’t we? Nothing should bother us.” Then ordered one of her assistants to relight everyone’s candles.
They rekindled the bonfire and it began to burn brightly again.
As the garden lit up, Madame Sylvia turned to Sarah “Please, you may proceed.”
But as Sarah raised the knife again, all the flames went out. The crowd gasped in the darkness and started to murmur.
“It’s alright,” Madame Sylvia said. “This is a bit odd, I must say,” she muttered. She instructed her assistants to once again restore light to the garden.
“I know this is odd,” Madame Sylvia called out. “But as witches, we operate in the realm of the odd, remember? So, let the ritual continue.”
Sarah nodded and stepped forward. She glanced at Madame Sylvia for approval, then turned to reach the new-born. At that moment, it was as if she suddenly froze. The knife she was holding slipped from her hand and clattered noisily onto the marble altar. Then she collapsed.
The congregation was taken aback, whispering nervously to each other as they stared at Sarah’s body on the ground.
“It’s fine,” Madame Sylvia said calmly, stepping towards the altar. She bent down and held Sarah’s wrist for a while before letting it drop. Madame Sylvia then stood up with a smile. “It’s fine,” she said again. “She seems to have transitioned into the spirit world. We know what death means during a ritual of such importance, don’t we? It means that the Master has a great use for her. Isn’t she honoured to have been taken like that? Isn’t she?”
The crowd nodded. Some were still murmuring, while others were unsure of what to say.
“So,” Madame Sylvia continued. “We shall continue with the ritual. I believe that this baby has white powers. And we know what it means to kill a new-born that has white powers, don’t we? It means that we’ll get even more rewards from our Supreme Master and Lord of Darkness.”
The congregation cheered at the news.
“And in order to complete this sacrifice, I will call on one of us, a very young witch—in fact, one of the youngest in our midst this year. I’m doing so because, as a young child herself, the white powers that this sacrificial baby possesses won’t have any effect on her.
“She is a special child indeed. She doesn’t just have a strong heart—she also has the strongest spirit amongst us all present here today.”
Madame Sylvia turned to a naked teenage girl next to Anne and beckoned to her. “Come over, our dear child; come over and complete the sacrifice for us.”
The teenage girl glanced around, uncertain if Madame Sylvia had meant her.
James smiled at the girl. “Go on. Go and complete the ritual.”
The girl nodded and walked to the centre of the formation. Madame Sylvia picked up the knife and handed it to her.
She then walked up to the new-born child. She raised the knife to the air and brought it down with force. A shrill cry broke out as the knife pierced the baby’s heart. The naked girl raised the knife once more and brought it down sharply—again and again and again. Soon, the altar was soaking with mangled flesh and blood.
The congregation cheered as the blood of the new-born flowed freely into a chalice that had been placed underneath the altar.
Madame Sylvia retrieved the knife from the young girl and picked up the chalice. She then raised the chalice and addressed the crowd. “This is the pure, undiluted blood of our sacrifice. Now we await the arrival of the Supreme Master. We welcome him into our presence for his blessings and powers.”
The candles began to flicker. Then there was a roar of thunder and flashes of lightning.
The entire congregation fell to their knees.
“Behold,” Madame Sylvia proclaimed, while on her knees. “Behold, my fellow witches, behold! The Master has arrived.”
The Master towered above them all. His eyes were burning flames, and from his nostrils he breathed out smoke. His skin was dark and scaly. As he walked, his feet left imprints on the ground. He suddenly roared, “What have you done, you fools?”
When no one responded, he surveyed the congregation. His gaze fell on Anne. “You over there—Anne, is it?”
Anne was trembling as she nodded. “Yes, Master.”
“Come, come to me, my child. Come stand by my side.”
James was as surprised as everyone else. He nodded, urging his daughter. “Go on, Anne, quickly!”
Anne hurried over to stand by the Master’s side.
He placed his hand on her shoulder. “Only this one has brought me any joy—the rest of you are fools. Complete fools! I ask once again, what have you done?”
Madame Sylvia blinked and looked up slowly from where she was still kneeling. “Master, our Lord, we have completed the annual sacrifice to your honour and glory. We are ready for your blessings and rewards.”
“Blessings and rewards? How can I reward your folly and foolishness? How can I?”
Madame Sylvia and the others began to exchange glances with one another.
“Foolishness?” she repeated. “What do you mean, my Lord and Master?”
He pointed at the new-born on the altar. “You killed my child, you fools! You killed one of my children.”
Everyone gasped in horror.
“Yes,” the Master roared. “Are you confused? Didn’t you see my mark on him? Didn’t you? Even when I gave you signs of my disapproval, you still went ahead and killed him! Only Anne here was sensitive—yet despite her warnings, you sacrificed one of my children.”
Madame Sylvia was waving her hands. “No, but my Lord, we didn’t get any signs from you.”
“You lying scum,” the Master spat. “You stupid, lying scum. Did you not ask yourself why I had killed the woman trying to sacrifice him? Did you not wonder? I gave you signs to prove my displeasure with this baby’s sacrifice. But still you chose to kill my son.”
Madame Sylvia cried out and bowed down low. “We didn’t know, great Lord and Master! We didn’t know!”
“Your denials and pleadings irritate me, Sylvia,” the Master hissed. “You know what I want.”
“I know, great one,” Madame Sylvia said. “Revenge. I promise I will correct this by giving you the revenge you desire.”
“Then do so quickly,” he demanded.
Madame Sylvia sent for the Bardins in a hurry. When they arrived, they were shocked to see the crowd gathered in the garden, with a bonfire and naked women in their midst.
“You tricked our congregation!” Madame Sylvia shouted. “You brought us a wrong baby! Confess to your wrongs. Confess to your failings.”
The Bardins exchanged glances. They knew it was futile to deny what they had done. In addition, they were frightened by the horrific sight before them.
It was Edmund who finally spoke. “I apologise, Madame, but we were running out of time.”
“Running out of time?” Madame Sylvia raged. “You idiots! Do you know what you have done to us?”
Edmund shook his head. “I can only imagine, Madame. What can we do to make things right?”
“You must fetch another new-born,” Madame Sylvia spat. “One who is untainted. And you will do so right now.”
The Bardins nodded and hurriedly departed from the venue.
After they had left, the Master shook his head. “I am greatly disappointed in you, Sylvia,” he rumbled. “After so many years of pleasing me, you decide to fail so stupidly and pathetically.”
Madame Sylvia fell to her knees. “Please, Master, don’t be angry with us! I promise you that we will make things right.”
The Master scoffed. “You of all people should know that I am not one to be taken in by pleadings for mercy and forgiveness!”
He patted the shoulder of Anne, who was still standing by his side. “You should have listened to this young member of yours. Had you done so, then my wrath would not have been so severe.”
Madame Sylvia and the other witches continued to beg and plead.
In time, the butler rushed in. “The Bardins, Madame Sylvia! They are here.”
“With a new-born?”
“Yes, Madame,” the butler nodded. “They are in the living room.”
“Ask them to come here right away,” Madame Sylvia directed.
The Bardins were ushered back into the garden. Edmund was clutching a cradle in his hands. He looked at Madame Sylvia with horror and terror in his eyes.
“That was quite fast,” Madame Sylvia said.
“It’s the least we could do to make up for our initial mistake, Madame,” Edmund replied.
“Is this baby pure and without blemish?” Madame Sylvia demanded.
“The baby is perfect, Madame,” Edmund swore, placing the cradle in front of her. “You can have a look for yourself.”
Madame Sylvia peered into the cradle. She dipped her hands and brought out the new-born baby. It was wrapped in a white cloth, shivering in the cold night. Madame Sylvia turned the baby upside down as she examined its body closely. Satisfied, she placed it back in the cradle.
She then turned to the Master, who had been watching silently. “Master, behold! The new-born infant is here and ready to be sacrificed.”
“So, at last Sylvia has decided to do the right thing,” the Master drawled.
“I am very sorry for the initial failure, my Lord and Master! Please forgive me and my coven.”
“Sorry? Forgive? Are you out of your mind, Sylvia? I am the Lord of Darkness. There is no room for such emotions in my Kingdom,” the Master roared. “But before anything else, sacrifice the baby. Who do you choose to do the deed?”
Madame Sylvia pointed at one of the female witches. “She can carry out the sacrifice, Master.”
The Master regarded her for a while before he shook his head. “No, I want the honour of killing this new-born to be given to the one who has pleased me the most.”
Madame Sylvia frowned. “And who might that be, great Lord?”
“This girl, of course.”
While the congregation whispered anxiously amongst themselves, the Master turned to Anne. “You will have the honour of killing this child for me.”
Anne nodded and stepped forward without hesitation. She picked up the engraved knife and walked up to the cradle. She picked up the new-born and placed it on the altar.
She then raised the knife above her head, pausing to look over the other attendees. While the congregation were now chanting with eager anticipation, the Bardins were holding each other tightly, watching the scene before them in disbelief and trepidation.
Anne brought the knife down with vicious strength and determination. As the infant’s shrieks tore through the night, the Bardins gasped, horrified at the way Anne hacked ruthlessly at the new-born. When she was done, she waited for the blood to drain into the chalice, then picked it up and handed it to the Master.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” the Master asked, after he had taken a long sip from the chalice. “To be served by someone I greatly admire. And now, you may share in the rare honour of sipping from the same chalice as your Master.”
The entire congregation gasped as the Master handed the chalice to Anne, who did not need any prompting—she lifted it to her lips and drank the remaining contents.
Once she had finished, she smacked her lips in relish and bowed low to the Master. “Thank you, my Lord, for granting me this rare privilege.”
The Master chuckled. “How sweet it is to hear your voice and words of allegiance to me.”
“As further proof of my allegiance—not just to serving, but also pleasing you,” Anne added. “I wish to redress the anger and disappointment you must feel towards this coven, my Lord.”
“How do you plan on doing that?”
Anne turned and pointed her finger at the Bardins. “By sacrificing these two incompetent fools.”
The Bardins were aghast. They turned to Madame Sylvia, who was indignant at Anne’s boldness. “Who do you think you are to make such a suggestion?” Madame Sylvia scowled.
“I know who I am,” Anne replied. “I am the one the Master favours—and to show gratitude for his favour and make amends for your failure, I suggest that these two be sacrificed.”
“Shut up, you spoilt brat!” Madame Sylvia hissed. “You’d better know where your place is in this coven!”
“What makes you think that she doesn’t know her place, Sylvia?” the Master asked, speaking for the first time since Madame Sylvia and Anne began arguing.
“But Master,” Madame Sylvia protested. “She is just a newcomer. She has no right to propose such ideas so openly.”
The Master seemed amused. “Is that so? She does not have the right to do what is pleasing to me?”
“But…but…” Madame Sylvia stuttered.
“Don’t waste my time or intrude upon my enjoyment and pleasure,” the Master cut in. “I want their souls now. Kill them.”
Before Madame Sylvia could make any more protests, the rest of the coven grabbed the Bardins. Their pleas were ignored as Anne approached them with the ceremonial knife.
Madame Sylvia watched in shock as Anne sliced each of the Bardins’ throats. As they writhed and bled to death on the grounds of the garden, Madame Sylvia was visibly shaking with rage.
The Master beckoned Anne. “You have pleased me greatly, Anne. And I want to reward you for giving me such pleasure. Tell me, my dear child, what is it that you desire? Choose anything and it will be yours.”
Anne smiled sweetly. “I want to have all that Madame Sylvia has, my Lord. Everything that she possesses and controls, I want for my own.”
Madame Sylvia gasped. She looked up at the Master with eyes full of fear and pain. “Master, she can’t make such a request! You know me well, my Lord. I have served you for many years. I have been faithful and dedicated. I have run this coven to the best of my abilities to meet your expectations. You can’t give her any part of what I own and possess. No, you can’t listen to her!”
Madame Sylvia opened her mouth to reply, but realised that it would be futile to argue. It was he who had promised Anne anything she desired. If he failed to honour that, it would mean that he was not the Supreme Master over them all—the one who could grant all their wishes.
“Sylvia, did you say ‘I can’t’?” The Master repeated.
Madame Sylvia sniffed, wiped tears from her eyes and shook her head. “No, Master, I was wrong. Forgive me please.”
“I am glad you know this. Now, put Sylvia on the bonfire.”
Before Madame Sylvia could react, several attendees grabbed her. She was tossed into the bonfire, screaming. She shrieked and writhed like a worm on the bonfire as her body was engulfed in the hot flames.
Eventually, she tumbled out of the bonfire. Her skin had been burnt completely. The once glamorous and extravagant Madame Sylvia had been reduced to a ragged skeleton with charred bones that were still smouldering.
At this point, the Master addressed the entire coven. “You are all witnesses to what has happened here today. Henceforth, Anne is your new leader. Everything that Sylvia had before is Anne’s to use and control as she deems fit. None of you should ever question her authority or supremacy. She is to be revered, served and feared at all times.”
“Yes, great Master,” the congregation replied in unison.
There was a loud rumble of thunder and several streaks of lightning across the sky. When everything fell quiet, the Master was nowhere to be seen.
The congregation turned to Anne. One by one, they all knelt down and bowed their heads to their new leader—even her father, James did so.
Anne smiled upon the crowd before her.
She was now the new leader of their coven.
She could not have asked for more from the Master.
Now, she could not wait to do more of the Master’s bidding.