Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
Serves to advance an honest mind.
If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
Lives a woman true and fair.
- "Song" by John Donne
The Witch's Name
On the day that Jill Lewin's most curious adventure began was the day that the weather in the local park turned most curiously strange.
The wind was conspicuously absent from the park, leaving the whole of it swelteringly hot. Not a breeze stirred the trees nor an errant zephyr any water.
Hammerly Park was a park like many others; it had a small and mostly ornamental pond, it had a common area that was filled mostly by grass and a few sparse, small trees, and it had an area for cars to park. And it had one more thing, which was not unusual for parks, but the sheer number of them was indeed odd: trees. Trees filled every corner of the park that was not taken by grass, water, and parking spaces. Evergreens, willows, oaks, and more trees created the illusion of space that wasn't quite there.
The park was entirely too hot, and because of the strange weather, Jill found herself mostly alone in the park.
It was a place very enjoyable for dogs, and on that particular day Jill Lewin's dog Rick was amusing himself immensely while she followed behind him, prepared with a plastic bag and a grimace to pick up any presents he might leave her.
Rick sniffed his way over the fallen leaves, searching for some particular doggy smell that Jill just couldn't catch, and the thought crossed her mind that he might never find what he was looking for, and she might be cursed to forever follow him, bag in hand.
Unerring as an arrow, the shepherd mix led her this way and that between the trees, snuffling through the leaves like a pig hunting truffles.
There were thick groupings of trees that were dark, and in places were thick enough to obscure any and all view of what lay on the other side of them, and it was one of these that caught Jill's attention.
The leaves of the thick grove whispered together and shivered in an unseen wind.
It was at the barest edge of her vision, but it grabbed her wandering mind and she just couldn't look away. The deepest, darkest part of the grove, which wasn't very dark at all, was getting darker. And deeper, as if the very fabric of reality was twisting away to reveal--what?
It pulled and pushed, and a faint scream that was not human at all wound its way out of the grove. Rick pulled at his leash, and Jill tightened her grip on the worn leather. She plunged her other hand precisely into the right place in the messenger bag that was shoved up under her armpit and felt the familiar smoothness of the butt of the gun tucked therein.
It wasn't a large gun, but it was a gun, and for the most part that was what mattered to muggers and would-be rapists. A woman armed was a woman who was untouchable, and Jill was a proud member of the local chapter of her armed women's group that practiced weekly at the shooting range.
Another short scream--more inhuman this time--came out of the tiny wood, and Jill curled her fingers around the gun and tried to tell herself that she wouldn't really need to pull it out.
She looked around for any help from other people in the park, but the trees around her were conspicuously absent of dogwalkers and passersby. Not curious for Hammerly Park on a day as oddly hot and windless as this one.
When the blur of motion finally came from the center of the trees, it made her eyes swim and her head so dizzy that she had to look away, which was probably what saved her from passing out when more blurs emerged from the trees.
A few feet away from the trees was when each blur became a horse with a rider on its back, but the horse that was farthest from the trees--and the first blur out of the grove--was the one that convinced Jill that it all was some kind of stunt pulled by local performing art students. That horse had more legs than any horse should rightfully have, like some kind of triplet set that had failed to completely divide from a single egg, though it didn't seem malformed at all. And only one dark, shining head rose from one set of dark, strong shoulders.
Upon its back was a boy, and on his face was a look of such sheer desperation that it made Jill's heart ache to see it.
The other three riders were hooded and cloaked in white, mounted upon black horses. And each of them carried a sword.