Illustration by Anthony Azekwoh

“I get scared at night. The shadows, they feel alive. I’m scared they remember me.”

-Lydia, A Witch of Auchi

Sandra was tired.

She’d been working for close to ten hours on the desk and needed a bloody break. She silently cursed Tobi under her breath for making her take his shift, but it was the way he asked, the way he looked at her, his deep brown eyes, the curve of his lips…

She shook thoughts of him out of her head as she steadied herself on the desk. Right on time, it seemed, as an old man with faded cloths and a scar that ran through his left eye came shuffling towards her.

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“Sorry o, madam,” he said. His voice was raw, strained. “I’m looking for my grandson. Maybe you’ve seen him around here.”

Sandra scrunched her eyebrows. “This is the elevator, sir.”

The man looked. “My grandson wasn’t around here?”

“Sir,” Sandra said, calmly. “If your grandson was around the elevator, I would know.” She saw his clothes, his eyes, his general demeanor, and her heart softened. He reminded her of her own grandfather. She added, “But I can help you look for him.”

“Thank you,” the man said, nodding and smiling. He had strong teeth for someone his age.

“So, what does he look like?” she asked, standing.

The old man continued nodding. “That’s a good question.”

Sandra waited for a moment, and then two. “…Sir?”

“Yes?”

“I asked you what your grandson looks like?”

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“Oh, oh,” he said. “Well, he’s a boy.”

Sandra’s eyes narrowed. “Your grandson is a…boy.”

“Yes,” he said, nodding.

“Uhm…” she said.

The old man was saying something, Sandra was sure he was going to say something, when he keeled over and began to cough.

Sandra rushed out of the elevator and held the man. “Baba,” she said, tapping him. “Baba.”

A hit, then a scream, then a flash, and then, the world was black.

 

***

Mace looked at the woman sprawled on the floor and smiled. He was about to reach to touch her when he saw Doreen coming in and decided instead that the ceiling was very interesting.

As soon as Doreen stepped past the building threshold, she closed her eyes and shuddered, and she wasn’t a woman who shuddered a lot.

Jericho checked his gun and nodded to Doreen. He had taken off his costume and was scratching his chin. “You were right,” he said. “The gun feels…normal now. Hollow.”

“They found a way to bind magic,” she said. “All but their own.” Doreen looked weaker now, somehow. Her skin was paling and her voice was hoarse. Jericho knew that if he wanted to kill her now and take the money, now was the time. But there were two problems. The first was that, he didn’t know where she had hidden the money.

And the second was an even harsher truth—he wasn’t sure the bitch could die.

Jericho fished through the woman’s pockets and came out with the keys. “Got them,” he said, tossing them to Doreen.

“Good,” Doreen said as she caught them and wiped a bead of sweat off her brow.

The four of them entered the elevator. Doreen tapped a section of the panel, and a key slot appeared.

“I hope you’re all ready,” she said. “Or you’ll all die here. Painfully.”

Jericho grunted. Mac sneered. Scorpion whimpered. Doreen inserted the key into the lock. The elevator went all the way down into darkness, into the basement floor where witches dwelt.

 

***

Funke Aminu was sitting at her oak desk and signing a paper that would kill at least three communities. But the blood was necessary. They had plans, and those plans needed to be paid for.

She heard the elevator ding and sighed. “Who ordered Dominos again?” She said as she stood up. “I sha hope it’s the double cheese, or it’ll be one of your heads.” She left her office, which was carved into the cave wall, and entered the empty foyer.

Doreen stood there, dressed in a navy blue gown, her hands in its pockets, her eyes hard. “I’m just dropping in,” she said, giving a small smile. “No pizza, I’m afraid.”

“You’re a brave woman,” Funke said. “I’ll give you that—you have balls coming here, breaking the Pact. You really do have balls. Pity you’re about to die with them.”

Doreen shrugged and took a step forward. Funke didn’t like how comfortable she was. “I’m going to die someday,” she said finally, “but that day is not today.”

“I hate you.” Funke said.

“And I never understood why.” Doreen said. “Your mother loved me.”

“My mother?” Funke laughed the first laugh she had laughed in years. “She hated you.”

“Potato, potato,” Doreen said. “We were best friends for a while. She was a strong woman. Good, sometimes.”

Funke took a curved dagger from her left sleeve hand and slit her wrist. But the blood didn’t pour to the ground, it swirled in the air, lapping up the molecules, building, forming, until it was a long scarlet sword. She threw the dagger to the ground.

“I’m going to enjoy killing you,” Funke said. “Every last drop.”

“But why?” Doreen said. “I never hurt you, not in any way I remember.”

“You flount the rules of the covens. You act like you’re a god and do whatever the hell you feel like.” Funke spat, and Doreen scoffed.

“What?” Funke said. “My mother suspected, and I followed it up. You are a strange woman Doreen. If you are still human anymore. The time is coming, fast, when all will be revealed. When all your secrets will be laid bare. Are you ready?” She licked her sword. “Are you ready for the revelation?”

Doreen shrugged, removed her hands from her pockets and spread them out. “If you want to kill me,” she said, “do it with your sword, and not out of boredom.”

Funke rushed her.

In any fight, there are always a handicap. The handicap here was the simple, obvious fact that Doreen had no magic. But Doreen had been on the earth for centuries. She had learned almost all forms of martial arts there were. Her body, even without magic, was a deadly weapon.

But as Funke charged her, blood sword in hand, Doreen knew it wouldn’t be enough.

All she could do, really, was buy time.

Funke swiped and Doreen dodged, but the dodge was slow and it almost took her head off. Doreen lashed a kick to Funke’s side, and she grunted. But she got hold of Doreen’s leg and threw her to the far wall.

Doreen was slammed against the stone, and vision doubled. It hadn’t done that in a long time. “Ow,” she said, as she dropped to her knees, looking up to see Funke striding towards her.

“You’re many things,” she said. “You’re a heathen and an abomination, but you’re not a fool, Doreen. Why did you come here?

A large boom exploded through the caverns.

Doreen looked up, wiping blood off her lip, and smiling at Funke. “That.” She sprang and gave Funke a right hook that sent her sprawling.

Her three thieves came running, the case in hand.

“We got it,” Jericho shouted at her. “We have to go. Now!”

They ran to the elevator.

Doreen could hear the footsteps of the other Witches of Blood and Tears coming. Funke had numbers on her side. Doreen only had a minute at most, but she know that when in need, play dirty tricks. Funke’s mother had taught her that.

“Catch,” Doreen said and threw it to Funke who, though a trained professional, could not stand but catch a ball thrown at her, like any human would.

“What…” Funke was saying until she looked. It was a blood sphere, the kind they had at the coven. This blood, she could feel it, it was Doreen’s blood, but it was mixed with…

As Doreen ran to the elevator, she remembered why exactly she had picked this particular gang to enact the robbery. They were good thieves… but they were better gunpowder specialists.

The sphere in Funke’s hands exploded, and she screamed. Not a scream of pain, but of rage. The scream followed them as the elevator went up. It followed them as they left Elephant House, and it would follow them for the rest of their lives.

 

***

Jericho took another swig of beer, seated on a mound of wood. “We did it,” he said.

“We actually did,” Mace said, whittling a piece of wood. “I always knew we would.”

“That was,” Scorpion said, his fingers trembling, “breath taking.”

Doreen looked at her motley crew and snapped her fingers. The briefcase appeared. She handed it to Jericho with her hand still waiting. Jericho sighed and handed her the blood colored case.

Doreen nodded. “You’ve all helped me, so I will not kill you. Today.”

She turned to leave when Jericho called. “I took a peek into the box, woman,” he said, throwing the can into the dirt. “I’ve heard of things like that, but I’ve never seen one up close. What you’re messing with is the darkest of all dark magic. I wouldn’t mess with that.”

Doreen stopped in her tracks. “I’m a dangerous woman, Jericho. Understand.”

Jericho watched her go, the woman in a dark blue dress as she sauntered into the darkening sunset. A thought gnawed at him him as he opened another can of Bullet. The thought that one day this women woman shrouded in magic and mystery would come back. He took another swig, hoping to all the gods he was wrong.

But he was hardly every wrong about things like these.

***

Read The Witches of Auchi: “The Plans” (Chapter 1)