“There are secrets in this world. Secrets you were never meant to know. Secrets that would bend your mind and twist your tongue. These were secrets that were there in the beginning, and will be ever present, in the end. And the end will come to her, in time.”
To become a witch, sacrifices must be made.
And to each coven, there are different costs, different prices that must be paid before one can be granted the powers of a full blood witch.
Each coven has their own rites, but for the Witches of Auchi, it was and has always been to face the trials of the River Orle, in Auchi.
They all stood at the river bank clad in blue bubas. It was a dark evening, and the cold breeze swept through them like an impatient spirit.
There was always a risk when it came to magic. Always a cost. Doreen knew it well. As she looked at Chichi, who knelt in front of them, her body facing the river, she hoped she knew it too.
Doreen took a step away from the flank of witches. “Nkechinyere,” Doreen said, her voice sounding like that of a god. “Stand.”
Chichi stood. Her hands were shaking.
Doreen walked slowly to her side. “You don’t have to do this,” she whispered, “say the word, and I will take us all back home.”
Chichi looked at Doreen. She was scared. Oh gods, Chichi was scared. Doreen had seen that fear before, when she was attending school for the very first time. She was so little. Of course, she decided that the mortal schools weren’t for Chichi, but that was after.
She was scared, Doreen knew, but Chichi wanted this. And Doreen was powerless to stop her.
When a Witch apprentice turned 18, they had a choice. To either perform the initiation rites and become a witch, or leave to never return. Chichi had picked the former, and Doreen’s heart had broken in a million pieces. A witch’s life was hard. Like everything under the sun, it came at a cost.
Doreen turned to face the coven, all of them in a line looking stonily at the river. They had all been through the trials. They had all seen beneath the river.
“My witches,” Doreen called, her voice carrying over miles, “we have come today to initiate,” she looked at Nkechinyere now, “Chichi, our daughter, into our coven.” She looked at the witches present, all from different parts of the world, all with different temperaments. Her eyes lingered for a while when she got to Teni. “Are there any objections?” She looked at all of them. This time, there was a challenge in her eyes. A fire nobody dared cross.
And nobody did.
She nodded. Then to Chichi, she whispered, “Be careful.” And aloud, “Go forth, Nkechinyere, into the river of our ancestors and face the trials of the Witches. May fortune favour you. May the gods guide you.”
“May the gods guide you!” The witches chorused.
Chichi entered the water.
It was cold.
Oh gods, it was cold.
Chichi shivered and thrashed as she went deeper and deeper, the darkness gripping her, taking her, dragging her in and the—
She was in the outskirts of her old village, somewhere in Anambra. There she was, a little baby, barely a day old, wrapped in a nylon bag, crying, weeping. For food as much as for love.
Then there was Doreen, dressed in dark faded blue, a bag in her hand, looking down at the child, with care, with pity. Doreen muttered words and moved her hands, blue sparks coursing through her body. Finally, she said something in a language that the world hadn’t heard in centuries, and all the people in the village turned into frogs. Doreen picked up the child and continued on her way.
“You must face your past,” a voice said behind Chichi. She spun, her fists out. But there was nobody there.
“You just face your fear,” the voice said again from behind her. Chichi spun again to see a woman in blue, a veil covering her face.
“I’m not scared,” Chichi said, her chin up. But her voice trembled, her hands shook.
“You were abandoned by your parents,” the woman said, “by your village, your people. And that fear has followed you, through every doorstep, every relationship: you are scared to be left, to be thrown away like you were when you were barely a child.”
Chichi said nothing. Tears flooded her eyes, but she didn’t move.
The woman’s voice was unrecognizable, though, it rang familiar in Chichi’s ears. “To be a witch,” she said, “you must see your fear, face it. It may conquer you, or you may conquer it, but you must face it all the same.”
Chichi clenched her fists. The tears flowed freely through her eyes. She gasped and sobbed. “I’m sorry,” Chichi said, “I’m sorry, I’m just…” She breathed in and let the breath out. “I’m scared,” she said as she looked at the woman. “I’m scared to be alone. I’m scared that everyone will leave me one day. I’m scared that Doreen will hate me.”
The woman nodded. “Wise,” was all she said. And then—
They were in a house now, and two children ran around. Twins. They were chasing each other through the parlour. A man and woman sat on the chair, watching, smiling.
Chichi looked at the people as she walked closer. They couldn’t see her, she knew. But something called her to them, the way the woman’s eyes twinkled, the way the man’s lips curled when he smiled.
“You must face your anger,” the woman said from behind her.
“I don’t…” Chichi was saying, “I don’t understand.”
“You must face your anger,” the woman repeated.
Chichi looked at the people again and then the children running around. They looked a lot like…
“She turned them back?” Chichi said, her voice rising as she spun to face the woman. “She turned them back?”
“Face your anger,” Chichi completed, her fists balled. “They’re bastards, both of them!” She screamed as she crumpled into a heap. “They threw me away and left me…left me to to die.”
The couple smiled and laughed more as their children continued to play. Chichi looked at the scene before her with tearstained eyes and a torn heart. “Why didn’t they want me?”
“You must face your anger,” the woman said, her voice sounded empathetic this time. A little.
“Why didn’t they want me?” Chichi asked, her eyes to the ground. “Why?” She cleaned her tears and stood up; her legs were shaky. “I hate them,” she said. “One day, I’ll find them, just to tell them that. Just to show them how much I hate them.”
She looked at the woman in the veil and they—
were in the council meeting with the other witches and Chichi was seated by Aunty Eve. Funke of the Witches of Blood and Tears was saying something to her, a vial of blood in her hands.
“You must face your shame,” the woman said as the sphere of blood floated into Chichi’s hands.
Chichi saw the scene and understood. “I want to be powerful,” she said. “But it feels…wrong. I feel wrong sometimes. Evil.”
Chichi turned to face the woman, but they were in the darkness now, on the river bank of Orle. The water churned and moved through, it looked cleaner. The woman with the veil was there, standing.
“You must face your past,” she said.
Chichi furrowed her eyebrows, “but I’ve already faced my…” she stopped talking when she saw a girl running through the forest, two…things chasing her. The girl was young, but her eyes were old. Chichi could have sworn she had seen her before, but where…
The girl knelt at the river bank and muttered words, blue sparks in her hands.
Chichi was about to say something when the scene glitched, and she was in a dark room in the cave where the witches did their business.
The woman in a veil was there. Blue fire in her outstretched hand.
She didn’t say anything. She just stood there.
Chichi took a step forward.
Until she was in front of the woman.
“Do I just, I don’t know, touch the fire?” Chichi asked.
The woman remained silent.
Chichi took a deep breath and touched the blue flame. Her whole body lit on fire. She screamed and screamed and—
She was on a table now, her body felt cold.
Her breath was mist in the room as she shuddered.
No, she thought she shuddered.
She thought she breathed.
She wasn’t moving.
She wasn’t breathing.
And that was when Nkechinyere realised that she was, indeed, dead.
She wanted to scream, but her vocal cords had long since lost their spirit. Her eyes were open and unseeing.
She lay on a flat wooden slab in the dark clearing of a dark forest with nothing alive.
Nothing had been alive there for centuries. Except them.
They crawled and slithered, and jittered and prowled. To see them was to see chaos, destruction itself. Their faces had been taken and their bodies turned into…things.
They stood above Chinyere, the two sisters, and looked down at her, their bloodied faces staring down at her naked body. Their blood dripping down their slimy skin. She saw them smile, and her cold blood, ran even colder.
Chinyere screamed, and this time, her voice obeyed and then—
She was on the river bank in Doreen’s arms. She was looking at her, smiling at Chichi’s wet self.
“Nobody conquers the trials,” she whispered, still smiling, “but we all face them.” She covered Chichi with a shawl as she willed her to stand. “We have a new convert,” she called to the other witches who were also smiling now. “Hail Nkechinyere, of the Witches of Auchi.”
“Hail Nkechinyere, of the Witches of Auchi,” they chorused.
Chichi gave a quick sideways glance at Doreen but as the others came to congratulate her, she smiled too. But deep inside her mind, in the recesses where the dark things hid, her nightmares were gearing up, waiting for her to slip up, and rest.
All art by Anthony Azekwoh