The Murphysboro Ladies’ Book Club had become a coven so gradually that at first nobody had noticed.
Holly Lu was not having it. “This is beyond the pale, Katherine. Even for you.” Her eyes darted to the dribbly candles, colorful crystals, and reed-woven designs that now decorated the Andersons’ living room, purse clutched tightly in her hands.
Katherine looked up from the ritual notes she’d printed up, surprise melting to irritation, and gave a meaningful nod towards the kitchen. She could just hear Amy’s soft voice contrasting with the rise and fall of Sharon’s rapid babble, though she couldn’t make out what the pair were saying.
“I swear, this is just too much.” Holly looked pointedly at Susan, who’d only half taken off her coat.
Susan’s smile wavered, and she slipped her coat back up onto her shoulder. “It is a bit much, Kathy.”
Katherine’s eyes dropped back down to the page she was reading. “There’s no call to be so close-minded, Holly.” Her voice was carefully level.
“Close-minded?” Holly didn’t take the hint. “Katherine, I have been very very patient with the new girl and her… her eccentricities. She’s young. Finding herself. Experimenting. That I can understand, that I can tolerate. But this… pagan rituals?”
Mr. Sprinkles, the Anderson family’s six-year-old calico, watched the interplay with disinterest, sitting on the sofa with one leg raised high as she groomed herself.
“It does seem a bit… unchristian,” Susan said, though it came out as more of a question.
“The new girl’s name is Amy and she’s been a member of the Book Club for seven months.”
Katherine’s gaze held Holly’s over the edge of the print-out. “I’m getting tired of explaining to you that we’re a nondenominational organization. You’re allowed to say your Baptist prayers at Christmas and
Easter, Amy planned the Samhain party for Halloween.” She was careful to pronounce the unfamiliar holiday correctly, sow-in not sam-hane. “It’s the same thing.”
“It is most certainly not the same thing!” Holly’s face was reddening. “And it isn’t just the party. The prayer before Imbolc? The ritual to ask the gods for help passing her phlebotomy exam? It’s heathen!”
“Wiccan. Heathen is something else.” Katherine was fairly sure.
“Listen to you! You’re a good Catholic, Katherine. What would Father Paterson say if he knew how much you’d taken to Amy Forrester and her, her ways?”
“Oh, Amy and her ways.” Katherine didn’t exactly raise her voice, but it did gain an edge. “I swear, you’re going to give yourself a stroke if you don’t unclench that jaw, Holly.”
“Well.” Holly tucked her purse under her arm. “I can see that you’re too far gone down the devil’s path for reason. I wish you well with your… your Blasphemy Club, Katherine.” She strode to the door.
Susan followed, looking back and forth between Holly and Katherine with little darting glances.
Katherine followed them to the door. “You’re leaving? Now? Right when Sharon needs us?”
Holly opened the door and paused, halfway out. “You’re the one who needs help, Katherine. And I only hope that Jesus’s light can help you crawl out of this dark pit you’ve thrown yourself into. Come along, Susan.”
Katherine put an arm out to bar the shorter woman’s way. “You too Susan? Come on, you loved reading Practical Magic.”
Susan gave a half smile and ducked under Katherine’s arm. “I’m sorry, I have to go.” She slipped out the door.
“Well, shit.” Katherine slowly closed the door, honestly taken aback at how quickly things had gotten out of hand. Holly had always been a bit zealous in her Christianity, and out of all the book club members the most likely to challenge Katherine’s authority on minor matters. And Susan… well, Susan was a wildcard, the sort of woman who’d follow the loudest voice, and this time that’d been Holly.
Disappointing, really, but not terribly surprising.
Maybe Holly had a point. Maybe Katherine had gone too far in trying to accommodate Amy and her unusual beliefs. Maybe it was a step too far in choosing paganism as the Book Club’s theme for the year, letting Amy choose books tied to her faith, going so far as to head out to that little antique shop out in De Soto to get the curios to decorate her living room to fit that theme. Maybe she was endangering her immortal soul, trafficking with witchcraft.
But so what? Holly was a busybody that the club was better off without, and Katherine wasn’t the sort of woman who did anything by half-measures. And Susan… well, they were still on the school’s bake sale committee together, so Katherine would have ample opportunity to win her back. And if not? No big loss. Susan’s lemon bars never came out right, anyway.
Amy poked her head out of the kitchen. “Is everything okay? We thought we heard shouting.”
Katherine returned to the coffee table, shooing away Mr. Sprinkles and straightening the candlestick she’d knocked over. “Holly and Susan have elected not to participate in today’s ritual.”
“Oh.” Amy watched the cat scamper off out of the room. “It’s for the best. Their energy wasn’t really conducive to the work we’re going to be doing.”
“No.” Katherine put her laptop on top of the table, scrolling through her bookmarks to find the ritual she’d found earlier. “It wasn’t. How’s Sharon?”
“Better. As well as can be expected. Should I get the sage?”
“Yes.” Katherine straightened one of the sofa cushions. “You do that.”
Midwestern Requiem is a horror serial set in the mythic midwest of Southern Illinois’s Little Egypt, suburban sprawl trapped between the crumbling outlet malls and the endless fields of corn bisected by lost highways to nowhere. Kitchen witches and small-town teachers stand against eternal winters and the lies we tell ourselves under a land-locked moon.
During the solar eclipse a young girl goes missing from a school trip while everyone’s eyes are on the totality. The police, her parents, and her friends are at a loss to find out where’s she’s gone or even to explain her disappearance… but where the ways of the modern world fail, the traditions of old may yet hold hope, but magic always holds its price.
Midwestern Requiem is made available free to the supporters of my Patreon as an interactive serial – patrons can vote on the direction the story takes at the end of each chapter. It will later be made available through Amazon, though only patrons will have voting privileges.
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