Continued from Part 1…
Cass waited for nearly a week before the witch made her next move. He had ordered the mayor to have all of the town’s children sleep in the local church at night, insisting it was for their safety. That was mostly bullshit; churches offered squat in the way of protection, but at least the kids were now all in one place and, more importantly, the church was in plain sight of his room at the inn.
So he waited every night at the window of his room, eyes trained on the church for any sign of movement. It was on the sixth night, just as his patience had begun to wear a little too thin, that the street lights began flickering and dying out. It started on the North end of Main Street, and continued toward the Church, until everything was pitch black.
It was a cloudy, moonless night, making it all but impossible to see what direction the child might run off, but his ears caught a creaking noise near where he knew the church’s cellar door to be, followed by the distinct sound of tiny feet running away.
Cass went as fast as he dared, while keeping an eye out for any dangers under foot. Ahead, and too far away to provide any real light, fairy lights shimmered and danced in the swamp, silently beckoning.
The fairy lights disappeared and reappeared in a new direction every now and then, forcing Cass to make sharp twists and turns until it was becoming nearly impossible to keep track of which way led back to town. No matter how close to the lights he seemed to be, they were always frustratingly just out of reach. Around the sixth or seventh turn, they began appearing in multiple directions at once.
Not wanting to lose track of the child, he stopped and listened carefully to discern what direction the child would choose, but was met with unnerving silence; nothing, not even a frog or a cricket, could be heard. As he cursed his luck, a cold voice, high and sharp like the winter winds, broke the silence.
“Looking for this?”
Cass whipped around, drawing his gun from its holster in one smooth, practiced motion. The witch was only a few feet away, her claw-like hands set in an iron grip on the shoulders of the bewitched child, a boy no older than ten.
She was easily the ugliest witch he had ever seen, making no effort to mask her true appearance with a spell. She was tall and very thin; taller than him, in fact, with large bones that jutted out against her translucent, bleach-white skin. The toothy, rotten grin she regarded him with was a few inches too wide, and there were only dark pits where her eyes and nose should have been.
Although the moon was still hidden behind the clouds, Cass realized that he could see her so well because she was emanating a faint, eerie glow of her own.
“Let the kid go,” Cass snarled, and cocked his gun.
The witch ran her claws across the boy’s chest, and up his neck. The boy did not move, still under her spell.
“…or what? Guns can’t hurt me…” she cooed, bringing one claw up to trace along the boy’s cheek. Her ragged nails cut through his flesh, leaving a thin line of blood, but the boy still did not squirm, didn’t even whimper; he just stared ahead.
“This’un can.” Cass fired the gun without another word. The bullet sailed clean through the witch’s head and she crumpled to the ground, releasing the child from her grip.
Cass ran to the boy, getting to his knees and giving the boy’s shoulder a firm shake. “C’mon, son. Ya need to get up…C’mon…”
The boy groaned, but did not budge. Cass tried to just scoop him up and run, but lifting him was impossible. It was like he was made of lead.
Just then, the witch sucked in a ragged breath and rose to her feet in one single, unnatural movement. She hovered above the boggy ground for a moment, and then let out an angry shriek that rattled Cass’ head. The boy, surprisingly, reacted as well; he blinked a few times rapidly, and then let out a scream of his own, before scrambling onto his feet and attempting to run away.
He didn’t get far. With a sweeping gesture of her hand, he was lifted off the ground and tossed him several feet away, into a tree. Cass expected to hear a sickening crack, but instead he heard a slithering, rustling sound of leaf as the tree branches were magicked into holding the boy in place.
The witch turned to Cassius. “I told you…guns can’t hurt me,” she cackled, smoke billowing from the hole in her head.
“I know,” he said with a wink. She lifted her hand again, this time flinging Cassius against a nearby tree. He had barely slid to the ground when she lifted him once more, and held him in place.
“Tell me, what did you hope to gain, exactly, by bluffing?” she asked, leering down up him from just a few feet away. Green spellflame danced in her claw.
“Space and time, mostly,” he replied with a grin. The witch’s mouth opened to counter, but Cassius did not wait; he lifted his left hand, palm up, and a stream of fire hit the witch square in her sagging chest.
She let out an ear-piercing shriek, batting at the flames and then rolling to the ground. Unfortunately for her, witches burned fast.
“WHAT MAGIC IS THIS?!” she bellowed and writhed upon the ground.
“Ain’t magic,” Cassius replied, half distracted as he patted out the fire that had started on his sleeve. It seemed his flame thrower needed a little…tweaking.
“THIS ISN’T…I WILL…you…” The witch’s threats died almost as soon as they began; there was now more fire than witch. Cass was confident it wouldn’t spread to far; they were in a swamp, after all.
Once he was sure she wasn’t about to spring back up on him for round three, Cassius made his way over to the boy. With no witch to maintain the spell, the tree had let him go, its limbs reverting back to their original state. Thankfully, the boy was still breathing, but Cass couldn’t shake him awake no matter how long he tried.
Cassius eventually gave up and effortlessly scooped him up, flinging him over his shoulder. By now, dawn was breaking through the trees, making it easier to orient himself. He took out his compass, and then began walking East, in the direction of town.
“Kid, you awake yet?” he asked, after about a half a mile of walking. He gave the boy a light shake for good measure. No response, just the same even breathing.
After another half-mile, Cass began to notice that it wasn’t getting any lighter out. In fact, it seemed to be getting dark again.
Storm must be comin’…
He gave the boy another half-hearted shake, expecting nothing, and then checked his compass again.
It read that he was walking West.
“What the…” he murmured, and gave it a shake. There had to be something wrong with it; he’d been walking almost perfectly straight, give or take a few sidesteps around trees and deep water with questionable looking “logs” in the middle.
The compass continued to point West. At least…he thought it was pointing West. It was too dark to see anymore.
Cass set the boy down against a nearby tree, and began searching through his coat for the torch he had brought. There was no more witch to sneak up on, so there was no reason to keep awkwardly stumbling through the darkness.
For a moment, he considered lighting the torch with his flame thrower, but luckily found the good sense to just use a match. No need to accidentally set any nearby trees (or the boy) on fire, after all.
“Kid, it’s gonna be hard to carry you and this torch at the same time…I hope you plan to wake up soon…” he muttered under his breath.
Cass squatted down and placed the torch between his knees, fished out his matches, and lit one. The boy said nothing, but Cass heard shuffling coming from his general direction, and saw a bit of movement in the faint light of the match.
“…you’re awake, that’s good,” he murmured in approval, and then lit the torch. Cass tossed the match to the ground, took the torch in hand, and stood back up to his full height. “Think you can walk?” he asked, holding the torch toward the boy to get a better look.
The boy grinned back at him from his slumped position against the tree. A wide, rotten grin.
Before he could strike the boy–witch–whatever it was, with the torch, it was upon him with an animal-like snarl. The thing’s eyes and nose melted into black pits, and its hands morphed into claws as it brought them up to Cass’ face.
“Sleep…” the creature commanded, raking its claws down Cass’ face. He tried to hit it in the back with his torch, but found his limbs were too heavy. Every last part of him was too heavy, in fact.
He fell to the ground, eyes sealing shut no matter how hard he willed them to stay open. The last thing he saw was the smoke from his torch as it hit the nearby water, fizzling out with a hiss.
To be continued…