Scrunchy Eyes

* SUBURBAN NIGHTMARES * TAINTED LOVERS * RISING PARANOIA * GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS * MONSTERS REVEALED *

Friday, 24 March 2017

Runestone Witchgirl

  
By MARK GORDON PALMER   


You may see their trunks arching in the woods   
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground  
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair   
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun . .  

 ['Birches' — by Robert Frost]   


I'm huddled up in a secret, and quite rightfully abandoned, place on Dartmoor tonight — taking shelter within the ruins of an old farmhouse; right up close to one of the wildest, densest, most ancient areas of woodland that you could ever hope to find.

Or more likely — never find. Because no local, or ex-local, would ever dare mention this forbidden patch of land they really don't know anything about — to you. No map would ever stab such a well kept secret in the heart. It remains hidden to the most curious of tourists or moorland explorers; to the National Park Authority; to the Duchy of Cornwall; to all the local Tourist Information Centres — even to the National Trust and Samuel Rowe —  thanks to a hugely powerful and very damaging (mainly to the kidneys and ovaries — of any that do tell) use of moorland witchcraft to protect it.


I only found out about this place myself, by luck — from a local girl that I met a few days ago in a nearby pub. Yeah — she broke the golden rule. But before that night, I had the witch's location down completely wrong. Now I worry about her safety — the girl's I mean, not the witch's — and my safety. And I'm worried about my kidneys too.


I feel like I'm somewhere that I shouldn't be, even before I get there. Crumbly ancient walls around me have been ground by the elements into cavity-pocked stumps of moorstone teeth. Mockingly youthful braces of shiny barbed wire just about hold together some of those unsightly gaps in the granite to help it regain some dignity of old, while loose handfuls of home-churned, limestone cement have been stuffed inside great holes of decay — to try and improve the landscape's smile. But the repair work shines a little too revealingly — like gritty silver fillings — in the unyielding little girl stare of a Margaret Murray moon. One that lowers itself as close as it can to the ground — all swollen and certain — to quietly pry.


I’m here to find a witch. I mean like a real witch; not a bitch of a witch. Not some pretty girl from Wingham in Kent with a penchant for asbestos-blue knee highs and now, since moving to Exeter, the shortest little black dress in the West ( — Country that is, not the Wild, Wild kind). A girl you go out with for a whole year because you know she's a dead cert (to lose your virginity to) even though twelve months go by and you still haven't had more than a quick peck on the cheek from her; a girl who thinks she’s more important than you are just because she’s studying Latin or Greek and you — an archaeology student from Halifax with just about enough spare cash to buy yourself a couple of pints a night — are like mutton dressed in a second-hand suede jacket (a slightly underwhelming, surface wound only-shade of blood red to be fair — as garishly bright and as cheerfully cheap as a sad little clown's plastic nose) that she bought you for your birthday; bought it off an ex-boyfriend called Ashley. A coat of very limited colour, but that transformed you into her sacrificial . .


fucking,


lamb.


Prime Halifax lamb.


But that’s enough about me.


Let’s talk about the Witisham Witch  — the real deal. The pointy-hatted, potty-mouthed tormentor of tiny kids and local cats; the seducer of husbands  the vengeful creature that haunts the landscape. Some say that she's the ghost of a greedy pirate looking for gold; looking for hearts to eat out loud, and scrape off the bouncy red leaves that carpet the ground. But she's not —  she's a witch.

It was quite some trek to find this place. The howling night sky spat freezing cold rain at me — all the way across the moor. It stung my face as cruelly as the little pins I found stuck in the chest of a locally made crochet voodoo doll that I bought from a Witisham church jumble sale, yesterday lunchtime. Or the sore-looking red pockmarks on a super rare porcelain Vixiana the Witch Doll's face — that I came upon, in Padbury market, just the other day.

Still I kept on going, despite the hint of increasing witchcraft all around me. Stumbling along the makeshift route that I'd plotted for myself over the last few weeks — straight into this wild and palpitating heart of darkness.

This gouged-out, ivy-strung and lichen-bound, long-forgotten home that I eventually found, and now find myself hiding inside, once belonged to two local farmers; perverted middle-aged men who died in a deliberately started fire — burnt to a cinder along with their kin, on July the 4th, 1969. It was a fire that many believe was started by the witch herself, either through the power of menstrual red lightning that snaked out from the tips of her fingers — or from the strike of a Cost-It match.

Many of the villagers at Witisham had known that the girl blamed for starting the fire up at the old farmhouse was a young witch — except for the two farmers, who had fallen in love. Even though they hadn't — it was just a spell.

These two stupid old men had moved in together after their wives had upped — and fucked — all their friends, and left them. Up on that lonely common, to this carefree, drunken duo — the witch wasn’t a witch at all. Even when she started drinking milk straight from the udders of their two little goats: Gemma and Gertrude — like something from the twisted pen of a deviant Brother Grimm — she still wasn't a witch.

One night, she did the same trick to a visiting accountant from Totnes who had supposedly left early to catch the last train for home . .

From behind a dirty bedroom window the farmers watch in silence as the long, thin pipe of this modern-day Pan bounces up and down like a magician's wand, occasionally marking its scent across the backs of their bucking girl's legs — down there; in the comfortably warm setting of a hay-stacked barn.

The exposing light of a swollen harvest moon — that comes bleeding profusely through the propped open door — adds a suitably red light district haze to the increasingly unnatural acts on display.

The two farmers watch silently as the man's excessively hairy, crouching legs shake like a buck in a rut and his flawlessly smooth, shaven chest heaves up and down — as pumped-up and urgent as an artificial respiration bag in emergency action.

This frenzied, beautiful new girl of theirs (but not a witch) turns and gobbles the gruff accountant up — just like the nympho trolls that hang out under the Witisham bridge on a Saturday night do to the weekenders from Bristol. The ones that dare to leave the safety of their tents, up on the moors, after dark.

And when she ate both their goats raw and kicking and laid the intact bones down on a bed of white straw — to return to life the next day, both still clearly Gemma and Gertrude, with no evidence of almost being curried (let alone eaten) alive the night before — she still wasn't a witch. Although when she made a raging log fire start up in the fireplace just by clicking her fingers, they did begin to wonder . . But she still wasn't a witch. That kind of stuff — they thought — was only for the tourists to buy their way into.

Neither was she a witch to the two teenage sons of the farmers. Boys as feral as the semi-wild ponies whose ancestors once bred with the royal mares and ran free through a tapestry of forest, but now trek a lonelier path across the moors — across a shaven landscape dotted with the inquisitive cars of tourists.

These two boys — raging young colts defiantly not gelded by any kind of authority, but freed by the coming of age — play games without rules in the middle of a rusty playground full of their very own gathering of local fillies, and occasional mares in their chemist shop fishnets. And then spit with fresh rage and a foal's thirst for milk, through the zips of their well-worn trousers, upon finding out that the weird woman waiting at home for their frail old fathers to return from a late night session down at The Speckled Trout — isn’t just waiting for the same thing to happen again that night: at all.

She crawls into their bedrooms, one at a time, crouching and tiptoeing into their beds so quietly — like a baby learning to crawl — that they don't even realise, at first, that she's there. She wears nothing: just the tight gold necklace that one boy's dad gave her for her birthday last year bought from a drunk old man with a long white beard, down at the Trout.

This necklace, the old man tells the wide-eyed farmer — who's clearly had a few too many as well, and can barely stand  is more than a love charm my friend. He points out the small red stone that's attached to one of the chains — no bigger than a thumb wart, of which he has many, and that glows like a Land Rover's brake light in the gloom of a booth: It's a fuck charm. And it'll last you forever.

She was a wonderful lover; a gentle and caring lover  to them both. To them all. Well, maybe not that caring  and a little too rough at times. But men or boys, or both at the same time  it made no difference. Girls too  she loved the attention of teenage girls on their way home from school in the afternoon. Or the more leisurely pleasures of their mothers and fathers after the morning run was over, after some quick foreplay in the corner of the playground. Old women sought her out - the eldest she’d ever had being a hundred and one; more than ready to be rejuvenated in a prickly-nailed caress. But to all those she seduced  she was never a witch, as such. Although, for sure, she was. And not just a witch that was — a witch that still is.

I was on holiday with my parents near Dartmoor a few years ago, and I found myself reading, in a dusty old book that I found; almost like it was waiting for me to find it there — from a second hand book sale in a small local church, up at South Witisham — a chapter that details some ancient woodland, not far from Ashburton. It’s here that the author believes the young witch that tormented and burnt the two farmers and their sons is imprisoned — in a perpetual state of rage. I promised myself that I would come back one day and find the wood. And then find,

— her. Because she's still in there.

This young, ravishing witch that once lived, in peace, on the outskirts of Witisham: in a rustic circle of stone and clay; under a roof of ancient moss and childlike flesh, was now trapped behind whispery, gossipy bars of bark. All thanks to a punishment spell from a more powerful coven of local witches  — one on the side of justice. Trapped like a common criminal from the prison up at Princetown — if a little bit more of a rustic place to be in, and that smells of all that ancient moss that I told you about earlier.

The trees that surround her now — forestation that once survived the restless slaughter of King John — were often spliced open, according to legend, to heal the sick. Three bodies at a time were bound, and the one in the centre cured of all ills. But although the witch now finds herself with enough wood to cure all the sick between Witisham and Brixham  she is unable to free herself of her captivity through the one adaptable spell she knows.

Because there is a problem . .

The witch needs more flesh to bind with the wood and complete the dark rituals of old. Rituals that not only cure the sick, but also allow her to free herself of imprisonment; to roam the moors again for longer; to fuck the locals more often  and to carry on drinking herself stupid in all her favourite pubs.


The local flesh the witch has already worked her way through — used in ruined rituals on birched back skin; skin neatly carved with Futhark runes but spat out in death as The Will of the Bitch — is now running dry. There can only be so many hitchhikers that can disappear on the moors without further trace. She needs a real outsider — one that nobody will miss, and who comes to her of their own free will. There is more power to be gained for the hunted, in capturing the hunter . .


I should, at this point, tell you a little bit more about the healing rituals that first started in the ancient woodland up at Witisham, many centuries ago and that are rumoured to still be carried out, in secret, today. This may also explain why the people of Witisham are feared by so many that live in the Dartmoor area. The rituals, I've read, have often been applied to unwelcome strangers as well, and so if I vanish in a Wicker Man-like way, then maybe this diary will alert you to the people that had it in for me.

First: the cushioning bodies, in all the rituals, had to be young. That was essential   healthy fresh teenage lungs to be squeezed like wet sponges. So tightly squeezed, in fact, that their tender bodies would often collapse at the knees  or buckle at the back.


The screaming youngsters that had been provided for such awful sacrificial and medicinal purposes, often sank into a permanent coma — or to a life scarred by brain damage when the boards against their skulls were tightened hard against older, bigger skulls and the younger bone lost the fight, and cracked. Some just dropped dead from shock.


Others, not many, quite enjoyed the process and used some of the tricks they had learnt in the woods — some of that process of terror and pain — with lovers they would later come to meet.


Those crazy Witisham kids: odd-shaped boys and girls that bend in the middle and smell as sweet as the rapeflower honey they like to eat, when roaming the moor — straight from the hive; using a twig. It's no surprise they grew up so rotten — the way they were treated from birth.


Young bent bones would so often crack that greenstick fractures were the main cause for kids to go sick from school. Their softened-up bones would sway inside trouser legs, dangle within shirt sleeves or poke out from beneath plaid school skirts like over-chewed milkshake straws; coming out in sympathy with the smooth but damaged branches that sway in the nearby wood and snap on a stormy night.


There were more fractures in the whole of Witisham on a weekly basis than chicken pox, tonsillitis, or the common old cold. All from just playing in the local wood. There was never any suspicion or concern raised. Those that could, or should, wouldn't have dared.


In many of the secretive sapping rituals held in those ancient overgrown woods, where the sick villagers were placed between especially lithe and wildly long-haired (if the many illustrations in the old book I found are anything to go by) local boys and girls, the weakening adults would often live longer than the young healthy bodies that sandwiched them in — as a result of the tightening process. All the illustrations show the terrified ones chosen to heal the sick, trying not to cry — spilt tears in a healing ritual apparently making any sickness about three times worse. But spilt blood — from the splinters of the wood — being a favoured result.


Second awful ritual fact: Not only were the practices undertaken for healing — but they were also just as often used for deliberate punishment, and death. Deliberate horrific death — instead of just the accidental kind. In such repulsive acts as these, just one body would be squeezed between the well-worn, stained and bloodied, hacked-up chunks of ancient oak — with no cushioning flesh on either side to protect it with. Not this time.


More rarely, and on a really bad day — three bodies could be picked for the punishment ritual at the same time, just like the three that get picked for healing. But the thick timbers were tied tighter this time, and additional sharp slithers of slender sapling would be slowly pulled across exposed flesh resulting in a paper cut effect on the skin, but over and over again — until milky sap bled, along with the blood. Just like the spit that drips from the mouth of a baby, it would dribble across the flesh and the timber and into the soil of the moor — like a swallowed up dirty secret. And then all three necks were cut with the slithers of sapling — to save any further damage to the prized planks of wood.


In the case of the Witisham Witch, six teenagers from the village lost their lives in the punishment rituals that she was subjected to, until everyone gave up and left it to the local coven of good witches, and a few of their far more powerful friends, to cast a collective spell and keep the witch trapped in those lonely woods forever. Or at least until they could all figure out something a bit nastier to do to her —  which they did figure out and do to her; every few years. As well as keep her in the woods.


It wasn't a pleasant read, any of this — not my first choice of a bedtime story. But research is all part of a good blog, and I've got a strong stomach and a good blog now: The Rabid Explorer, if you want to check it out — both thanks a nightly bottle of tonic wine from The Blow Fly corner shop in Barsham. The owner there tells me they import the wine from somewhere in Paignton, and it's starting to rival Buckfast for its mythical hallucinogenic effects — a drink that many still blame for the constant local sightings of monster fish in the Dart and thigh-high goblins up at Oakdown Bridge.


I've been resting for a good few hours now, and wearing my see-in-the-dark, night vision goggles that I bought yesterday —  from a cat-protecting charity shop in Postgate, and that don't really work. Everything's gone totally misty green thanks to these, as if the world is all seasick and there are no discernible shapes to be found in all the queasiness out there. I couldn't even see a shuffling pony move in my direction until it brushed against my left arm just now, and hurried away when I screamed at it. At least — I think it was a hairy pony.


Until I set off, I'm keeping the goggles on — I don't want to see what I'm sitting in. The outhouse that I'm huddling inside rustles with litter, chunks of plastic, and it's too cramped to stand up in. It also smells like a baby's nappy and reminds me of my Auntie Ella's newborn that I have to look after, for a tenner, whenever I go back home and on the nights when she goes to Every Second Wednesday Bingo at the Halifax Dirty Spade Club.


Now I am a baby here too: trapped and forgotten in a lonely, terrifying, rustic cot in the dark; shivering as I listen to the wind whistle and shriek across the moor and defiantly dart in and out of the crumbling stone walls around me  a sound like the screeching, rusty brakes of a bike. The rain grows heavier and noisier too, as it pounds down on the lopsided corrugated iron roof that I have shifted slightly to the left to be under.


Later, I will brave the raging storm and the legendary ghosts; the sleeping campers and the shuffling ponies — and hunt for the wicked witch out there. Until the dawn sun slowly rises — like a hangover in a watery sky. Then I can't wait to make my way back to the guesthouse that I've been staying in for my first few nights on Dartmoor, before roughing it like this. I can't wait for another cooked breakfast from Mrs Maypole and her two daughters: sausages, fried bread and crispy local bacon — all piled as high as Hound Tor.


I have no reason to look for the witch. I mean — it's not like I have to. I'm not a trained journalist, and I can't write fiction. Nobody pays me for my stuff at The Rabid Explorer, and I only get about seven hits on there a day. Yeah —  nobody cares! I even hated history at school, despite being in the middle of an archaeology course right now — at Exeter University, not far from here. I'm in my second year, and everyone still avoids me. They all think I'm a freak and a loner, just because I believe the world is full of ghosts and demons. But what do they know? It is.


So I'm going to prove them wrong, and take the pictures to do that — fake them if I have to. But I won't have to. I know that the witch is real. So many witnesses have told me that she still haunts the woods up there. Witnesses like the old man I met in a Totnes pub. A bombastic hulk of a pensioner with a bushy white beard full of little pork crackling scraps — a beard the length and shape of a traffic cone.


I had a white traffic cone in my bedroom, when I was a boy. I've no idea where it came from or why it was there. Or even why it was white, and not red. But I played with it for hours — pushing little cars around it and pretending that I was on a roundabout in Halifax city centre; trying my best not to fear the shadows that formed on the walls around me as darkness fell across the room.


My parents often never came home until early the next day; leaving me alone all night when they went out to local clubs — forcing me to sleep in the bath as my bedroom was always too full of monsters. In the bath I could reach and turn on a light by pulling on a cord that dangled down to the top of my head — unlike the switch in my bedroom, that was far too high up the wall to reach, even when standing on a chair: I often ended up falling to the ground when at full, desperate stretch.


'The witch  she's real,' the old man says. 'She's real alright. I saw her in those woods myself. Young and pretty and wearing nothing at all except the skin that her mamma gave her. Great big eyes that look like green traffic lights, but that quickly shrink right down to the size of gobstoppers. And then they glow right back at you — like a light that can blind in a flicker of an eyelash.'


'I see,' I say — a bit too challengingly. Suddenly thinking that I’m the Halifax version of Sherlock Holmes — on the trail of the local hound. 'So you mean a light that beats even the brightest rays of . . of the most powerful illegal laser pen . . you can ever buy?' Sold to an underage boy, like me — 'I know the kind. I remember scaring dog walkers in the park late at night with one of those.'


I found this laser pen, called the Red Cobra, online —  when I was thirteen. And I bought it on my mum's credit card. It was something that my over-protective mother and pillar of the community — well, she worked in the local bakery and knew a lot of other mothers — never found out about. She found out about the payment, but she had no idea it was me. My brothers — they'd always been trouble. Me — I was a silent angel.


The pen was thick and had a switch like the trigger of a gun. I stared at the magical red light it shone, for at least ten minutes, and a little green dot then appeared in my vision — like a curled up, sleeping little fairy in the dark whenever I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. She's been there ever since. One day I hope she'll uncurl, yawn and go away. Maybe she's even a witch . .


I push the point to the old man again: 'Could it have been a laser? It could have been, couldn't it?'


'Fuck you!' he shouts, and swigs his drink.


But I’m only testing him. I don’t really believe the Witisham Witch is a group of local kids playing with laser pens, or pushing a girl from their class forward to pose as the witch —  to pose without shame. For pictures . .


'You sir, are a cunt,' he tells me quietly, sounding a bit like Oliver Reed once did The Curse of the Werewolf is my favourite film of all time. Or was it The Legend of the Werewolf . . ?


Anyway, being called a cunt really hurts. It hurts because I actually do believe his story — I always did always imagine the Witisham Witch to have eyes like he just told me she actually does have: glowing green like that in the dark. Enticing you in. But I also know that I have to keep pushing for the truth, at whatever cost — or potential risk of bodily harm. If only because I don't know what else to say: 'So — be honest — could it just have been some kids playing around out there? In the dark. Trying to trick you?'


'Gorrrrdon . . Fucking! Hell! Fuck you twice, boy. Fuck. You. Twice! Once for boring me shitless. Twice for good luck. Ha I'll fuck it to bits!'


I wasn't entirely sure if all that was a threat — or a come on. It was sort of arousing though: 'I’m sorry,' I tell him. 'But I have to ask this stuff. That’s what being a paranormal blogger is all about. I go for the deeply weird and the fucking crazy — no offence. So I have to dig a little deeper in the shit. To get to the truth.'


'Yeah, if you say so   and maybe it was just that. Kids playing around. But if you find her  look at her tits instead, boy. Just look at her tits instead.'


He laughed at this. And I laughed at this too. But a girl at the bar, called Sam — known to all as Dartmoor Sam — also told me the same story. About the witch — the real Witch of Witisham. And she didn't seem to have any reason to lie. She was too pretty. And didn't have a beard shaped like a traffic cone, or red onion and cheese breath.


The witch was once cornered in the woods, Sam told me, where the ancient oaks the elders still grow.


This witch — she'd murdered two teenage girls. She grabbed them as they played in the stream at Buckfast and force fed them a tumbler of poison made from wild red toadstool juice. She mixed the juice with some of the glutinous white star jelly that’s often found scattered across the moors. Some say this mysterious substance is either stag’s semen, leftover frog’s spawn — or government conspiracy in origin. Finally, she added a few of the little green wrenton berries that only ever grow in secret — under the ivy.


The teenage girls both erupted in spittle and sores after drinking that concoction, and then: 'Clawed at the mattresses on their beds until they reached the floorboards below, and then dug away those as well. They spent their final minutes in fits of agony  wild punching pains straight to the middle of their stomachs.'


But she didn’t know the story about the randy farmers being burnt alive: 'I don’t think the witch ever set fire to anyone — or anything. She gave those farmers a curse instead, that literally sent them mad — caused their testicles to swell to the size of jam doughnuts. It was a kind of witchy herpes. This curse, they say, lives deep in her pussy juice.' And hearing her saying all that made me blush. 'It can only be passed on through unnatural intercourse. Or natural — depending on your point of view.


'The fucked-up farmers carried her into the woods to have their wicked way. Carried her there like a sack of potatoes, slung on their sturdy, warty old backs. But it’s pretty risky just licking on any part of the skin of this witch, especially if she doesn’t want you to — especially if you go straight to her cunt. And forcing her to go down on you, that's just an invitation to get yourself a great big bulbous blister on your cock — as big as that under the chin of a toad  that’ll spread like a bush fire, and pop your prostate in a rage of heat.


'Even a little deep kissing isn’t too pleasant if she decides to lubricate your tongue with her acid-like venom  venom that’ll coat the surface of your tongue in pretty pink slime that bubbles the flesh. And if you stick your thing inside her, yeah - like a fidgety pig to a snake . . she’ll bite off its head.'


'Not nice,' I say, without thinking. Well, I was kind of thinking: about my cock being bitten off by a witch. 'Anyway  I feel their pain.'


'Don't. They don't deserve your pity . .'


'Only joking,' I mutter, and finish my pint  order another one quickly.


Sam rolls her eyes at me, and carries on talking: 'What the local lynch mob did to that witch after they chased her into the wood — as punishment for the things her so-called sinful body did to the farmers — nobody knows for sure. Those farmers were violent drunks — fuck your wife or girlfriend types —  and you better not make a fuss. They were hated by nearly everyone in the village, but they also happened to employ nearly all those same people, on their land. They also had a sister who was screaming for vengeance — threatening jobs if she didn't get it, and if they didn't get it for her.


'But it took a long time — maybe days, for the villagers to carry out the punishment. First they used poles of iron to beat her around the head and groin, then flayed her body with thick leather belts threaded with barbed wire. But she's still in those woods, despite all this — I'm sure of it. The witch still lives. The punishments only enhanced her powers — made her stronger. Her suffering made it easier to perform the kind of witchcraft that causes the same kind of pain right back.


'She won't ever come out of the woods either — she waits for others to go and find her. Boys like you, James. Probably just like you.' And she strokes my cheek with a soft middle finger, and then takes it away and licks the tip.


'What’s a fidgety pig?' I ask her, jumping back a few minutes to the start of the story and trying to cover up my second blushing of the night, now added to an unplanned hard-on — one that started rising up, under skinny black jeans, right after she licked her finger at me.


'Like a little fat hedgehog but with extra sharp teeth a bit like those of a wild cat and hardly ever seen. It’s my favourite of all the creatures I share the wood with. They’re thought by some to be bad luck, and stories are told about how they suck the milk off cows, dangling on the end of teats until they get their fill. Or they will eat babies left alone in their prams in gardens — eat them whole and from the little toe up. Once they start chewing, they just don’t stop.


'The sound of the fidgety pig eating at night is like that of all the rocks on the tors coming alive and grinding together in the dark when nobody is watching — wearing down grey granite enamel to expose long-suffering decay. I feel the vulnerability of the fidgety pigs around me at night, all moving under the leaves in the dark — because underneath all those protective spines lies a much softer surface, one that’s so easy to slice open, or wound. A bit like I can be sliced open — or wounded, by hunters.'


Despite wondering whether she was trying to tell me that she lives wild in the wood, or was just talking silly  I knew at that moment one thing for sure: That I was kind of in love with Dartmoor Sam. I was in love with this girl with the long red hair — as cheerfully red as the brand new brick of a recently built Barratt Home. And in love with the gossamer green cotton t-shirt that she wears so well — a magical item of clothing that only seems to get more translucent the darker it gets outside, and the more the little candles in bulbous glass bowls get lit around the bar on the inside. And I notice at that moment too, that she isn’t wearing a bra. It’s hard to tell, but you can  tell. But then her boyfriend walks in on us, and I kind of think that I don’t love her as much as I did a few minutes ago.


But that was all way before the wild and crazy time we had in her room — just a little bit later that same night. And just ten minutes before finding out that the handsome young man she was fooling around with at the bar and that I thought was her boyfriend — grabbing and caressing his hands and buttocks like she was saving the rest of his body from drowning — wasn’t her boyfriend at all.


When I ask her, she tells me that — despite having just been biting down on the man’s plush pink lips by the Deal or No Deal fruit machine and sticking her tongue down his huge Adam’s apple-pocked, thick white throat: 'He’s just my brother, silly,' and cackles as my jaw drops wider. 'I swear it James — we were just playing.' She mock-punches my face — but no more actual words are needed.


I had to believe her.


You see — this isn’t Halifax anymore:


I'm in a rusticated war zone. I'm the man that's been handed the leftover scrumpy in a shared stone jar — the stuff half-made of dripped-in spit.


But to not drink this gloopy juice, and to not fit in — by not doing it with Sam, for instance — would also be to not discover the truth. And that's something I refuse to give up on — the truth. So to Anna with the cute knee highs from Wingham in Kent - I'm really sorry. But I hope you understand why I do what I do in the rest of this story . .


[Only kidding! She's not my girlfriend anymore. She probably never was, thinking about it. Open to any offers though . . Contact details on the blog.]


Right — so now you've got all the background facts you need. And that’s pretty much where I’m at too. Now it’s time to go: to head along to the wood to find the witch — the Wonderful Witch, of Witisham!
                      
                                   


And now I’m in the wood . .


Well, almost: I’m stumbling towards that fabled destination across a flat marshy common that's dotted with sleeping ponies and piles of raggedy rocks — historic giant boulders that seem deliberately left and discarded by childlike gods that have played here across the centuries, unseen.


And I can only stare in awe at the stretch of ancient woodland lit brightly by a sudden burst of moonlight that suddenly leers up in front of me, as the clouds start to clear. The waving tops of those trees bend towards me in the howling wind across a raised stretch of untouched land — like a prickly rash on a fidgety pig's back, as Sam might say.


I reach a good place to slip inside the wood quietly now — where the trees part in a freshly opened wound in the storm. I stagger deep inside a sudden central maze of wet musty willow trees that soon give way to ancient oaks with branches twisted and contorted in arthritic spasms.


The ground beneath my feet is fat, full and spongy. The sound my shoes make as they tread a slow path is the sound of outrageous sex — of forbidden threesomes. Like the one I had with Sam and her friend, last night.


Sam told me she'd met this silly, giggly little friend of hers in her last year at college — at the weekly Bi and Bo's Blind Date Night at the Pyro Bar in Torquay. She's a brilliantly black-haired girl with a nest of little brown moles scattered across her bony chest and all the way down her slender back — a back that curves in the shape of a shoe horn.


It may have all happened last night, but it’s still all I can think about right now. Even as I see the flames rise up and lick the wicker-like woven nest of branches above me — it’s all I can think about. Just Sam and that other girl, spitting and cursing and acting all possessed by the light of a bedside lamp. A green ivy-patterned lampshade casting leaf-shaped shadows across their young, bare flesh. The only item of clothing being worn by the girls is a single white sock that Sam keeps pulled over a slightly swollen right foot and that she says she never takes off.


'See what I can do,' shouts Sam, as she slides a slim long stick inside my erection — through a gateway that I previously thought should only ever be used as an exit. I never realised that losing your virginity would be like this: talk about a nightmare. Kind of a pleasurable nightmare, but still . .


The stick is like a posh leadless pencil and the colour of sour milk. Maybe it’s made of ancient ivory, or carved human bone, and then I notice the symbols etched gently down the side as well — unknowable at that moment.


The sliding sensation makes me want to urinate, or ejaculate  or run. But I know I can’t do anything at all, not just yet. It’s like being at a dentist and feeling a numbing needle slipping inside your cheek, and you just want to say: Right that’s it, and get up and go, but you can’t  it’s too late. I knew that to run away at that point would mean to inflict possible further injury on my body; a part of my body that I really like. You don’t stop plastic surgery mid-procedure do you? I mean  who would leave a face half set? And I was still, at that point  only half set.


But not for long. Because of this:


'Hey,' drawls Sam. 'I love your boxer shorts.' The ones that she has pulled down around my ankles, and that my nan gave me last year — with the gang from the first Star Wars movie on. Princess Leia right at the centre of attention, dressed in a hooded white cloak and clutching a ray gun. Is it a ray gun that she clutches? Whatever it is, I don’t know. I do know though — that I hate Star Wars.


Sam’s friend pulls my boxer shorts back up — she’s a fan of the movies and wants to slide up and down on the shorts, instead of up and down on me directly. Slim and taut, her silky hair is suddenly as luscious as a wet black pebble found on a beach, soaked in sun. Her blemish-free buttocks are quivering — as if in wild fever —  in the worsening cold of the room. A broken radiator in one corner — with a rusty hole in the middle; like an open mouth smeared with chocolate — makes clear that the cold snap indoors is here to stay.


Even with Sam’s now slightly annoying magic stick still sticking half inside me — like a thermometer in a little tight mouth — and that hurts and feels weird as hell, I was close to the edge. As soon as Sam’s friend had started her slide. Then Sam herself reaches across the bed and puts a hand down my shorts to help, as her friend rocks a bit faster — like a stressed-out commuter on a seat at the back. In her other hand is a length of string — threaded with acorn seeds: 'You know where I'm going to put this, don't you?' she tells me with a wicked grin, and then it all gets a bit too much for me when I do find out.


'Oh f, f — fuck!' I stammer.


Sam quickly pulls out the stick, and the newly inserted string — at the same time — and it feels like I am suddenly unplugged from a wall socket, or from a finger in a leak that was holding me in. The wet result of all this, through the frayed cotton boxer shorts, dampens Luke’s once sympathetic face in a grey spreading cloud of shame. Half of Chewbacca’s right arm starts to glisten — like his matted fur is suddenly soaked with sweat.


I think Sam’s friend was hoping more for Leia’s involvement in all this, judging by the angle she was sitting on me and nudging me towards the Princess's direction as soon as I started to spurt — but you can’t have it all.


Back to the reality of the wood: The old man with the traffic cone beard — and yeah, same guy I met in the pub — has just stepped out from behind some purple and pink green shrubbery.


The deeply trippy colours of the surrounding circular wall of foliage and ferns is a surprise exposed now by the searchlight he is waving around the clearing; a searchlight that looks more like a smoking incense holder the way he seems to be flicking a snake of ectoplasm in my general direction. But I think it's probably just the misty night air — gathering around the heat of the bulb.


The old man is wearing a thick white robe that hangs wide and open — with nothing underneath. His outline disgusts me but kind of turns me on a bit as well, especially when he calls Sam and her friend out from their pretty good hiding place of a stone kennel  long since abandoned and hidden by foliage, but still defiantly standing.


Both girls are naked.


They scuttle towards him like shaven spiders in the moonlight. I notice a deep red, sticky glow of light swirling around my feet and falling across my coconut-white legs in threads — I'm the fattest piece of fruit cocktail in a homemade jelly. I can't move, hardly at all - really powerful witchcraft: 'Undress him Sam,' says the old man. And she does — slowly. Then he grabs both girls by the arm, and places them right up against my shivering body.


They don't complain at all — Sam’s forehead is pressed against mine. Her red hair falls across my face; like streaks of blood from a nosebleed. And her friend is tied right behind me — back to back. I feel her breath on my neck as she cranes her neck round to whisper stuff to Sam. Sam’s own warm breath smells of yeasty beer — she’s obviously come straight from work. She smiles weakly as thick rope gets wrapped loosely around us.


Now the old man slips thick planks of roughly sawn wood down through the rope — he doesn't struggle to do this. A splinter gashes my side and a little trickle of blood spurts out. 'Shit, bet that hurt,' whispers Sam to me.


'What are you even doing here?' I ask her.


'You wanted to see the witch?'


'Yeah,' I say. 'But you aren’t the witch. You’re just Sam. Dartmoor Sam!'


'It’s all part of the ceremony,' she tells me. 'Young girls get tied either side of the afflicted — then sharp thin slithers of freshly sliced willow get wound around their bodies, like laces.'


'Yeah  I know. But these aren't laces. Just planks. You could build a garden shed with this lot.'


'Shut up! Those planks are made of willow. And very expensive. Or ancient oak. Anyway, let me finish  I’ve got OCD. So the wood gets strapped - bark side against the skin, and tied so hard with the rope that thick white sap spurts from the fresh wood across the flesh, just like it will do on us soon. And  ack!  that really hurt, didn’t it?' she cackles, as the old man ties the ropes harder, and twists a knot that acts like a handle  to tauten and tighten.


No sap comes out. 'I don’t think there’s much sap in a willow tree,' I tell Sam as I feel her friend, her back tied hard against mine — our buttocks squeezed together to form one single mound of quivering chaos — reach a small, freezing cold hand around my tummy button and start rubbing her palm gently against my slightly naturally shrunken manhood (thanks to the sub-zero temperatures we are in, and the fear of being about to die).


'What boxer shorts are you wearing? she whispers,  'Star Wars?'


I’m not actually wearing anything, nope — nothing! And she knows that. First reason she knows that is because she is wanking me off right now, in a slow frenzy. And second, she was watching as Sam took off every stitch that I had on, including my watch strap, round about two minutes ago now, and threw it all deep into the wood — very likely never to be found again. It's probably also the reason why my teeth are chattering like a ecstatic red squirrel and why — according to Sam — I've just turned a light shade of moonstone blue.


The shorts that I had been wearing, weren't even the Star Wars ones anyway. But, I guess I can pretend: ‘Yeah,’ I whisper, a bit late, as my erection goes limp. 'They sure are.'


I hope Sam doesn’t notice that I’m all damp now, which I guess I could blame on the very nearly early morning dew, as the old man comes back and tightens me closer up against her, until our lips are almost joined together. Her tiny nose wriggles against mine. She opens her thin, curling-at-the-corner lips and licks me with her overly long, weirdly thin and round — like a proper snake — studded wet tongue. She knows what her friend just did. Not that I care. I mean — I’m with both of them now. Not just Sam. But it’s Sam that I know I’m in love with. She blinks her wild grey eyes at me, like a fluttering moth, as if she knows what I’m thinking.


And then, as the old man mutters something about seeing us all in the morning, and leaves us all alone in the wood — which I'm now thinking could actually be quite fun — I notice that Sam’s eyes are no longer grey. They are glowing bright green. The old man notices too, and runs.


'What is this, what’s going on?' I ask, and try to reach for my mobile  in case I need to phone the police. Or some drunk at the Speckled Trout. No signal of course. Yeah — I'm a dead man standing.


'You want the witch?' she chatters, and shivers, as her friend decays behind me into a pile of ash  a mixture of human and willow ash.


The ropes fall to the ground and the planks collapse in shock. Sam grabs me hard by the hair and deep kisses me. Her tongue slides around in my mouth like it's lost. The night air is completely silent — muffled by the fluffy moon pillow of a nearby, sleepy, underage tree god.


Sam shuffles away; further inside the forest. She smiles at me. 'I’ll let you live.'


'What are you?' I ask her.


'What the fuck do you think?'


'A witch? Fuck that shit.'


'Thought you believed in the Witisham Witch?'


'Yeah, I do.'


Sam floats up in the air in front of me; like a life-size helium balloon. 'So believe.'


The old man creeps back slowly into the clearing. He stares at the pile of ash on the ground that was once Sam’s friend, or perhaps never was anything  then screams and runs off again. The trick on the stranger is over.


A petite and anxious middle-aged woman peers out from behind a tree. She wears a black cloak and a pointy witch’s hat. Nothing else — I can see her nipples shrinking in the dark with fear. She looks suddenly sobered up; like a party girl awaking from a good night out and still not really sure where she is. Instead of trying to say anything — she runs away too.


A twenty pound note flutters to the ground as her hat topples off a writhing mass of blonde, plaited hair. She’s younger than she looked back when she had the witch’s hat on. The white ghostly powder caking her face still ages her by about twenty years; but her body is tight and taut — dotted with woven black ivy and blue rose tattoos and a tummy button piercing that glows red in the moonlight.


As the fake witch disappears into the trees like a frightened child, she looks like she’s barely old enough to buy drinks at the local bar. Despite losing her outfit  she still looks more witchy somehow than Sam does. Even with Sam floating two foot off the ground and staring back at me with eyes that are shining green rays so brightly across my body that they light up the clearing around us with a magical, mystical haze.


Was the fake witch the old man’s daughter — or his granddaughter? Or just another girl from the bar that he knows. That wise old man; that charismatic charmer, who earns his living — he tells all who will listen long enough - by painting poetic chunks of landscape along the River Dart. Often, but deliberately not too often, he will ask a local girl to model for him — in his secretive studio upstairs. And not one of their parents will mind.


This enigmatic salt of the earth, who even claims to have a few of his own paintings hanging in the Tate Modern, but who many now say is being investigated for unlawful activity with young girls. In that: secretive studio upstairs. After hours.


As the thick-caked and brightly coloured paintbrushes get washed clean by furtive splashes of turpentine under stale taps, the gossamer white curtains get daintily closed. A canvas of naked flesh still drying reflects real life happenings on the sofa positioned against the far wall and that's covered in silk drapes; right next to a table where an unopened bottle of fine red wine stands  its glass dusted with cobwebs and an eye-commanding gold-leaf label. The wine bottle is only there to add character and never to actually get opened  bottles of local beer are the only refreshment this man needs, or his guests ever get.


But all the locals still love to share a pint with him; this man whose name I never find out — they still gather around him at a crowded bar as a log fire crackles and the old man’s dog sleeps on the sawdust floor soundly; curled up beside a bag full of half-squeezed tubes of oils and battered frayed brushes.


The old man thuds a half-swigged silver tankard of Last Ferry Ale from Dartmouth, down on a table behind him — and roars like he's in the worst pain imaginable, as another Friday night regular steps through the door. The embrace the slight man gets from this rampant beast with a tummy full of frothy beer is as tight and as hairy as that of the local mythological bigfoot.


(A creature that some say is a far better legend to have than a raped, vengeful witch that has trodden and flattened the name of a family of hard-working, good honest farmers ever since. A family that employs — still, to this day — so many locals, up on their land. A family that also still owns all that ancient woodland woodland they have threatened to illegally tear down, if all that untrue gossip about their shamed ancestors doesn't shut . . the fuck . . up!)


Or is this neatly woven backstory about the witch and the local farmers just some carefully cultivated lie, for people like me? For the strangers that come looking for oft-told legends after reading about them in those same old books that get kicked out on the street by Fidgety Pig Press twice a year  sold in all the local post offices and curiosity shops that pockmark the villages around the moors?


Books also discarded by day-trippers on the tors when the weekends are over — like the wet-smudged letters wrapped in little bags and dropped down the crevices between the tops of the rocks.


I once believed that those secret finds were intended for lovers to discover and unwrap one day, but Sam told me they are just little bags of suggested footholds left by rock climbers for other chasers of the dream to pick up she and her friends have been finding and burning them since the age of about ten.


But maybe those little bags sometimes hold real warnings. Not from rock climbers  but from other witch hunters to heed.


A warning to you,


a word to the wise:


Watch out for the pretty young witches,


that roam the moors,


and that make you fall in love,


— watch out for the girls,


like Sam.


Who as if by witchcraft,


. . definitely by witchcraft,


is now floating back down to the ground in front of me.


Still naked of course, which kind of makes sense — what goes up without any clothing, probably has to come back down the same way. I'm not complaining, but I do kind of wonder if I should offer my coat. And her mouth is wide open — as if she is hungry.


The rustling of the nearby willow tree branches suddenly starts up again, and small nocturnal creatures start scurrying through the leaves. It's as if all is well and returning to normal in the wood. I don't know what they know, but it sure doesn't feel that way to me.


Sam raises her arms above her head and wriggles her fingers. 'I am your Witisham Witch that you've been seeking — looks like you've just found me James!'


'That's so cool,' I say, a bit stupidly, and her arms drop like stone.


Sam scowls at me, and twitches her hips: 'Is it? Sometimes it is. But don't think I have it easy. It’s not cool getting blamed for nearly everything that goes wrong around here: dead cattle; disfigured babies; foul-tasting water; shops closing; arcades being opened — the turning of Squire Bowman to stone. I was even blamed for a local pet cemetery being desecrated last week. Yeah well —  actually that was me. But it might not have been. And that makes me sad.


'In here  in this wood  I am lost. I can never be found. I can hide in the trees or sleep deep in the soil for hundreds of years. I can do whatever I like. But I can’t ever leave. And I really like you. I feel like I’m in actual love with you, and I don’t think I can be  can I? Or that it can even be allowed  that witches like me, can fall in love?'


'Why can’t it be allowed? What’s to stop it? Are you dead or something?'


Sam grins at me playfully  her slim pink lips upturn and curl back to reveal two little rows of extremely sharp-looking, baby white teeth: 'Kinda! But not now. Just  really alive. You are an outsider and you came looking for me. You believed in me enough to do this. Hardly anyone believes in witches these days. It's all bigfoot, black cats and UFOs. But I'm the real deal. A real witch. Just me and a few others now  the last of our kind. We float, we do spells and we turn our best friends to ash.' A tear drips down her left cheek — she licks it away when it reaches her lips. 'Because that's the kind of thing we do.'


I have to cheer Sam up. I've got a genuine naked teenage witch in front of me and she seems to be in love — with me! But if she carries on like this, I'll be heading back to Halifax alone tomorrow: 'Are you the only witch in Devon — from Witisham?'


(And, err  are you on Snapchat?)


'The only witch around here? No way! There's another one right nearby — in Dittisham. And I think about three in Cornwall — Louise Miller, who was on The Voice last week. And crazy Nancy, from Padstow — my best friend.'


'More of a best friend — than Star Wars Alice? Ah, well — anyway, that's so cool. About the lots of witches bit. And you. I always did believe in you.'


'Yeah, I know. That’s what I’m saying. That kind of belief is so rare. Actually — I've never known it before, from an outsider. You and me were part of an approaching ritual — a fake one, led by the old man you met in the pub. He really has it in for you. But I knew it was all going to happen, and I played along with it — everyone is scared of that creep. He's harmless enough, but he knows people — you know what I mean?


'Ah, but I didn't mind. It's just a bit of fun. Even though I think he was taking it a bit too seriously. And you know what — I wasn't even asked to play the main role! I wasn't even the head witch this time. Apparently I don't look convincing enough. So that honour went to little Jenny.'


'Oh right, Jenny with the pointy hat. Yeah — she was pretty good as a witch. But she didn't have many clothes on, which probably did help make it seem more real. I always knew the Witisham Witch would be pretty much naked, for some reason — from the pictures I'd seen in a book maybe. You know — with the farmers, and their two boys. In the haystack.'


'Uh yeah . . But what the old man and Jenny didn't know — was that the ritual was becoming real. You being there with me: an outsider; a believer; my lover — meant that the freeing ritual I have been seeking, for so long, was finally possible. And then, when Star Wars Alice died after the ropes were pulled too tight around her neck — the ritual was complete.


'That’s why she became a pile of ash. It wasn't me that made it happen, not directly. It was going to happen anyway — without a sacrifice, the freeing ritual that had kicked in wouldn't have worked. I didn't even realise myself that a ritual like this could go from fake, to real — so fast. I mean, not long ago I used to try all the time. Then over the years I got bored and gave up. I really do think the only reason it worked this time around, was probably something to do with love. With love, my love!'


'You made those ropes tighten around her neck, didn't you?'


'No! Well, yeh — maybe. So what? It’s sad and all, because Alice was my best friend — second best friend. Maybe third. But she would have sacrificed herself for me, had I asked her to. Or if she had known her best friend was a witch — a real witch. And how much I've wanted to escape my imprisonment in Witisham, and these bloody woods where I am bound to return to for at least three nights a week, and most days  as part of my punishment.'


'A bit like an electronic tag?' I say.


'A bit. Oh James, I just want to travel far away from here and explore the outside world again. Or at least go to London and live there.'


'Or Halifax?'


'Yeah, or Halifax.'


But there's something important she's forgotten, so I prompt her: 'And, you've waited ages   for something else. To be in love — remember?'


'Yes  yes, James! And be in love  my pretty little Childe. My brave boy Limpety. My Walter's cheese that I stuff in my mouth. Ha!


'My mischievous randy woodland pixie with the big fat tongue, from Lapping Tor. My wishty beastie from Wistman's wood with the darkest growl and the hairiest — '


'Stop  stop!' I laugh — before she can say any more, as I know I'll be rapidly be going off her soon if she carries on like this. 'I get it. But I'm just a boy from Halifax. I don't think I can live up to all that other stuff. Anyway, so what do we do next?'


'Let's slit open a horse and fuck each other inside it.'


'Oh god, that sounds really weird. But really good weird. Can I still be a vegan, if we do it in a horse?' Then I have a sudden guilty flashback about Mrs Maypole's bacon.


'Yeah — of course! I'll find us one that's just died of natural causes if you like. Or you can buy some more condoms from the 24/7 garage up at Axwood on the way back home and I'll show you the secrets of a six-handed tantric at the Bowerman place, for sixty quid. We can do both!'


'And then?' I ask. 'I mean, after buying the condoms — that I'd prefer if you did to be honest, as I get really embarrassed by that kind of thing. And then after the tantric stuff, and the weird bit in the horse — what do we do then? I like to plan ahead — even the crazy shit.'


(You could go back to Halifax, if you like — with me.)


(And after all that, I'll go back to Halifax — with you.)


'Hmm, well — after Jen, Mike and Martha's cottage for the massage . . maybe just come back here. Maybe just stay here forever!'


I must look a bit disappointed  I am a bit disappointed.


'Nah, not really,' she giggles. 'Probably just anywhere that's out of here. And out there. I don’t know where. Anywhere! Everywhere! Probably London . .'


'What about the horse? You forgot — '


'Yeah — sure. That too!'


I want to play a trick on her suddenly. Because doing that kind of thing — may feel more like normal. I realise now that I'm sinking into some kind of unsalvageable weird. So I get an idea, because this could all still be some kind of practical joke on me — even one with some great special effects. So: 'Stop! Stop it now Sam!' — I scream at her, my face contorting in pain. And I'm pretty fucking convincing too  I feel my own fake trauma and start to panic.


She grabs me by the shoulder and I feel an exposed left nipple on her almost flat — but really smooth, and still pretty amazing — chest, rest against mine. A nipple as hard and perfectly formed as a little plastic pellet from a replica toy gun. It’s one on one now — rubbing together slowly as she sways against me in the dark. Moving like she's trying to soothe me, but not really knowing quite why.


It’s a weird connection we make. One that sends a thickening and tumbling sensation right through me — a tummy-dragging dip on a playground ride. Deep inside my groin it goes. Then up and through my heart and skull on heavy, fluttering wings. Spilling seed in secret inside of me — nothing to wipe up this time. Because I think I've just ejaculated — inside my brain.


This is one weird orgasm I'm having and I don’t want it to stop. Why hasn't this been in my life before? It's probably just some kind of fucking witchcraft thing again — not me at all. Just: Sam being Witchy Sam.


Oh well, if it feels as good as this . .


'What’s wrong? What is it? What’s wrong?' she asks me.


'Huh?' For that brief moment, when everything suddenly felt so right, I completely forgot what was supposed to be so wrong. It quickly comes back to me, and I grab Sam by the waist: 'I can feel my legs getting hotter, Sam. They feel like . . They feel like they’re actually burning, and turning to ash. I thought it felt good at first, but it’s becoming death. My whole body is turning to ash. You’re the witch  so help me Sam, so help me . .'


'Turning into . . What's that  ash? Then it sounds like I may, I may have . .'


'All of me. All of me turning to ash. Even my, you know what. That went first. Is this some kind of, some kind of  evil witchy thing that happens?'


Sam slaps my back. 'You fucking twat,' she screams at me.


'Wha  what?'


'You’re lying. Cunt!'


Her language, for some reason, shocks me. I feel bad, and a little bit afraid. I smile back at her. 'Yeah, well. You lied for nearly all of two days. Not telling me you were the witch you were going on about. And if you are lying about being a witch now, then you're double lying  I think.'


'Point. Yeah. About not telling you I'm a witch. That’s cruel on you, a bit. But even more cruel on me back — even if I do very, very, very, very slightly deserve it. And if you want to try and trick me again — that you're melting or whatever, then try not to break up the gag with a pause for a fucking orgasm! Especially not a Sa'tala Me'ach ejaculation — in the brain. It's the kind of internal orgasm where you get to see a tiny little hand leave the soul and grasp for salvation around the white of the eye. To a witch, it's more obvious that you're done — than a filled-up condom.'


The moon glows brighter suddenly, as if there has been a power surge in the night sky. The trees cast shadows across our naked flesh and our bodies cling together again, like frightened children cowering in the dark. Our lips press together for a few minutes as our mouths open wider — restless buds embracing spring. Sam reaches down to the ground and picks up some of the discarded rope that bound us all together as a threesome earlier, and a few long planks of the willow. 'Let’s go,' she tells me. 'Before the rest of that pub comes back to find us looking for another stupid legend to cast me as.'


'Why do you need the rope?'


'I’ll show you later. Are you excited? To dance with me — to dance around the dancing tree?'


I nod my head, wrap an arm around her, and enjoy the feeling of being lifted off the ground; towards the tops of the trees and higher  to a view across all of Dartmoor that makes me cry. 'Yeah I’m excited,' I tell her. 'And not scared at all.'


But I am.


I open one eye, and look down at the fast disappearing sight of the wood and a group of matchstick men running towards the clearing we were just in: 'Hey  you old man! Yeah  you and your drunken old farts from the pub. That sound you can hear is the laughter of the witch I’m with  a real witch. You better get used to that sound, right? Me and the witch  we’re going to send you all crazy!'


Because I think that — with me being in her life right now — this girl I love is going to be going right back to doing what she does best: being the famous Witisham Witch but stronger than ever before. And not just around Dartmoor. Now she is free to travel as far away with me, as she likes. Spend some time in a city like Halifax getting my revenge on a family that I hate — because they all hate me. And then some even bloodier revenge on all the students back in Exeter that hate me too. It's going to be a busy few weeks. Years even . .


Sam's not the fancy dress kind of witch with the pointy hat and broomstick and black cat on her lap. She's not the kind of witch that people like the old man running around below us make up for people like me. No — Sam’s the real deal. And that means no more serving behind that stupid bar — ever again. She’s just quit her job, right? And no more sleeping rough in the woods at night either. Well — unless I'm with her. Ok, Sam? We have places to go, you see — faraway places. Or not so faraway places, if she changes her mind about living in London — maybe we’ll just end up staying right here after all, in the wood. In this ancient and mysterious wood — forever out of reach. But also, forever near.

                                   


‘Wake up!’ Sam hisses at me, and I roll out of bed.


I take a moment for my brain to catch up with my lolloping body: 'Where’s your friend?' I ask her.


'What friend?' It's hard to concentrate: she is wearing a witch’s hat, and nothing else. She crouches down beside me; poised on top of a red lily of a duvet  like a pale white frog ready to jump. I make a memo to self that Sam, if she turns out to really be a witch, like in my dream — actually would be the kind to wear a pointy hat and have a broomstick. I'm also pretty sure I can hear a purring sound right now from under the bed. Then I realise it probably wasn't a dream at all — the bloody scars from the tight binds on our bodies last night, that I've just noticed, pretty much prove it.


'What friend?' I laugh. 'Are you serious? How about the friend of yours that turned to ash last night?' (Part of me still reckons that the missing third of our threesome is probably just down the road at Don’s Café right now  getting breakfast.) ‘Good trick though, if it was even a trick. Which I know it, err, may not have been.’


'I know right?'


'What do you mean you know right?'


'When she turned to ash in front of us, or rather  behind you. I've never done that before. I didn't even realise I could do it. I'm more of a witch than I knew I was!'


I don't reckon she is lying now. Part of the reason for that is suddenly remembering flying across Dartmoor on her back. I even took a selfie, and so I check to see whether it's there on my phone. 'Ok,' I tell her. 'You're a witch.' And then I quickly look at the video I took of our threesome the night before.


I'm quite sad that Star Wars Alice is really dead though. I thought that maybe she’d just done a runner last night and emptied out a bag of ash on the ground that she'd hidden under her skirt.


And then, as if I need any further proof of Sam's credentials as a bona fide witch, she starts floating about six inches above the duvet — revealing a slither of orangey red pubic hair that's almost too slight to be seen. It was black before — as a witch's cat. And shaven last night — more fucking witchcraft!


The colour of the fine new hair matches that of her head — striking red and autumnal. I'm sure this is deliberate. She knows I love the colour of her hair, and all redheads. And then I notice something else on her body that slipped past me last night: her tattoos — all the ones that she has just below her belly button and that look really great but that I thought were nothing important — now seem to be symbols of some kind; maybe even ancient runes. The previous night they just looked like cool squiggles, but that was after about six pints of cider, and a few bottles of Paignton red.


She really isn’t the Sam I first met anymore. Even though she sort of is.


'You're sweating,' I tell her, as a glistening trickle of sweat reaches the round bulge of her tummy button and collects  around it   like the water in a rock pool collects around a lone rock when the tide goes out.


'All witches sweat. We have a heart rate of 170 bpm — all the time.'


She grabs my hand and cuts my palm with the tip of a razor-sharp fingernail, painted black. Blood drips slowly out — like water draining from a wet dishcloth. She smears the thickening liquid across her tattoos. My blood, like paint, highlights the unknown lettering. Not just tattoos then —  more like carvings.


'Now you are mine  like forever and ever. And like  ever!' she smiles, and her teeth look stained with greyness and death.  No longer as white as they once seemed in her room or even in the wood, in the dark.


'We can’t live like this though, can we?' I tell her quietly. 'Not in the real world. Keeping secrets?'


'Of course we can,' cackles Sam, bouncing up and down on the duvet with her legs crossed, as if playing on a trampoline. Her hair covers most of her face, and I feel like crying out loud in panic. Or in fear, and possible loathing.


Oh well. Again: if that’s the way it has to be . .


Time to get practical: 'Won’t the old man kill us, or burn us as witches when he finds us  out in the woods? Or hunt us down?'


'Nobody will believe him  he’s a stupid drunk.'


'What about the girl he got to dress up as a witch?'


'An addict  since she was thirteen. She’s not welcome in the village anymore, and lives on the outskirts of Dittisham. I always liked her, and I tried to be kind. I took her food and drink, and whatever else she needed. The old man  he uses her all the time.'


'One last question before we go  please?'


Sam floats towards me and lowers herself onto my lap: 'Þá hefir hann bazt, ef hann þegir,' she whispers. Whatever that means.


[It is best for him if he stays silent.]


'Oh go on then  ask away,' she relents, and floats up and down in front of me. It’s a trick that I’ve never seen done before  not even on Channel 4’s Sex Box.


'I was going to ask whether you wanted to go out into town for breakfast.'


'And now,' she whispers, floating up and down on my lap a little bit faster  outstretching her legs as if doing the splits, 'you just want to stay in?'


'How’d you know?'


'Easy . .'


'You’re such a fucking witch!'


'Oh, my god — right? Oh — yeah, baby, yeah. Yeah! I’m a witch. I’m an evil fucking — witch! I'm the Runestone Witchgirl. The Ninth Niece of — Salem! Believe it. Just believe it baby  — right? Believe it . . And stick it in me.'


Thick black prickles, as black and as bendy as the liquorice wands in a sherbet dip, burst through the skin on her back.


Fidgety pig, fidgety pig, fidgety pig . .


'Ah, fuck — yeah! Got your baby now, James. Got your baby in my fat little tummy. Got it deep inside me.'


Fidgety pig, fidgety pig, fidgety pig, fidgety pig . .


'Deep inside little meeee!'


Pig. Pig. Pig. Pig. Pig.


                          


The girl stands in the forest clearing and brushes off the white powder from her face.


She removes the cloak she wears and stands shivering, and naked  in the cold.


The old man walks towards her, running a few fingers through his pointy beard as he gets close.


'I’m sorry,' the girl whispers, 'I let you down. Running away like that. But I was so scared.'


The old man hugs her gently and runs a cold, wrinkly hand up and down her slippery back. 'You’re so young,' he cackles. 'Too young to have been here tonight. The mistake is all mine.'


'I want to go home,' she tells him, backing away. The old man smells of cigar smoke, and brandy. She tries to cover her exposed chest without making a fuss, but he grabs her bony wrists, and pulls her skinny little arms down beside her hips. He leans towards the wide-eyed girl and gently licks her neck. 'Disgusting — ' she mutters.


He chuckles.


'Fucking disgusting,' she can’t help keep from screaming at 'you old fucking pervert'  then regrets it straight away.


The old man pushes one hand between her defiantly closed legs while grabbing her neck with the other. She grimaces and tries to struggle as he pushes harder between her thighs. Eventually he gives up, but steps back to admire her body from a short distance — slim and slight. Tits almost the size of the jack that he rolls the bowls at — on the green of his club every Sunday.


'Are you going to kill me?' the girl asks him. 'I’m sorry for what I said just now. I only  well . .'


'You can go home,' he tells her. 'Stop being scared. You'll keep your job at the farm. Behind you, over by that tree, I’ve left you some clothing. Your father told me that the grey coat is the one you like best. And the tracksuit has been cleaned. I brought along your trainers too — the red and white ones that I kept after your last visit to Crein Place. I trust they still fit?'


The crying girl nods her head slowly; woven strands of banana yoghurt-coloured blonde hair fall down over bright blue eyes to writhe around — like baby adders fleeing the nest  in the green glittery dust of super cheap eye shadow.


But she has to die. The stupid girl was only supposed to scare away the boy from Halifax and keep the local legend of a witch alive. But when Sam transformed into a real witch in front of them all, well - that was a shock.


He didn't believe in real witches. Only in the use and practice of black magic to do actual harm. But the turning of Alice Furrow to ash and the floating in the air stuff - that took witchcraft to a whole new level. And this little girl in front of him, saw everything. Word would get around the village and he'd be ruined. Or worse: arrested. And if he ended up at fucking Princetown — there were many enemies inside that place who would strike him down dead with their bare hands, or cut off their own heads to allow another chancer a weapon to kill him with.


Being feared by all around him, was something he always welcomed. But being involved in the actual death of a local girl — it will now take a second death to cancel out the lengthening shadows of the first.


The old man picks up a thick stick from underneath the leaves and wipes away some grey fungus from where his hand grips the makeshift handle. He carved this handle — with an ornate fold-up pocket knife — as he waited all night for the girl to return to the wood in shame, after the witching trick failed. The weight of the stick is almost too heavy for the old man to lift above his head, but he manages, just about.


The mostly unsuspecting girl, with her back now turned — peering into the darkness to look for the promise of clothing — shrieks like a cat having its tail accidentally stepped on as the wood thunks against the back of her head and smashes her still-growing young skull into five separate pieces. Her ballerina-like body flounders slowly to the ground — a prolonged final act of defiance.


The only applause to the drama is the sound of the old man wheezing as he bends down to pick up the girl's carcass and walk the short distance towards a second clearing where he drops it deep into a makeshift grave of black moss and piles of damp pink leaves.


The body slowly sinks — until it reaches a firmer base. Then thick ancient roots slide around the still twitching flesh and pull it slowly apart; dragging great chunks away — leaving red skid marks across the billowing leaves and the bark of surrounding trees. Prickly shapes scuttle through the undergrowth in pursuit of meat.


The old man blows his fat bulbous nose, and rolls up a newly soiled handkerchief — to gently wipe inside each flaring, hairy, horse-like nostril. His beard is dotted with vibrant shades of blood, but he won’t know this until a lover mentions it to him later when he returns to one of the three sprawling estates that he owns in the surrounding area. On this night, it's appropriate that he resides at the old farm — the place that his ancestors worked on so hard, and with such brutality, to make a success. The same place where a vengeful witch supposedly once struck down two good men with her sinful wickedness, and the casting of spells.


There was never any witch back then of course. And his ancestors never raped any girl, witch or not — he made that up himself. Those two old farmers did a lot of bad things to a lot of people all across Dartmoor — but they didn't do that. Such stories were, however, very good publicity for all the books about local Dartmoor legends that he churns out from time to time at Fidgety Pig Press, under the name of Gilbert J. Shillabeen.


As a practitioner of the dark arts himself, such lies were easy to unfold in authenticity. And the young witches he now bred, and nurtured, were all just girls that he'd met at the bar — or had promised a parent to paint.


Sam was different — he found her sleeping rough in the wood. He didn't know much about her. It was almost as if she had sought him out first. But she became the most loyal of all his coven. She still liked to sleep rough — that was her choice — but he fed her, and kept her to a good standard. She also had free use of any of the rooms in any of his properties — whenever she wanted.


But oh fuck! I swear that I had no idea that Sam was a real witch. Maybe the original real witch from those stories of old — the ones he doubted were real. Maybe his ancestors really did rape and punish a local girl. There are many in Witisham who will tell you that evil runs through the same veins of all those who are descended from sin  and a sin against a witch is the most unforgiveable sin of all.


And yeah, I'll have another  a pint if you don't mind. A pint and I'll tell you some more . .


The old man doesn’t know it yet, but the next trick of this once fledgling young witch of his will be to kill one of the two men who now say they love her. But even the witch doesn't know just yet, which one of these two it will be



 THE END OF . . . 


  RUNESTONE WITCHGIRL     


 By MARK GORDON PALMER 





Sticks and stones will bend their bones . .

#scrunchyeyesfiction
#RunestoneWitchgirl