The sun was just beginning to rise over Ricateen Mountain, casting an orange glow on the city below. With the rise of the sun, came the rise of the people in Pendulum. Fresh snow blanketed the city in thick sheets, undisturbed on the cobble streets. Smoke rose from the bakery’s chimney while early risers shrugged on coats and hats to head into the cold. One man in particular, Silas Shepard, closed his front door silently so as not to wake his wife as he left for work. Silas was a worker in Pendulum Mines. He had shovelled coal five days a week for forty years to make enough money to feed his family. Silas took one look at the snow up to his ankles and quickly soaking through his trouser legs and decided to walk, the car was no good today. Snow was a good sign for the mine’s production workers. It meant demand would be higher and he might be able to get in some over time. He had been looking at earrings over in Gostin’s Jewellers that he thought would be the perfect anniversary gift for Mrs Shepard.
Taking a shortcut through Walnut Walk would mean he would get to the mine’s quicker but he would have to go past the clock tower. He hesitated, no one liked going past Pendulum’s clock tower on their own, even grown men like Silas. For therein lie witches. That was what his father used to say. For as long as Pendulum has been around, so have the witches lived in the clock tower. It gave him shivers, thinking of those young girls never seeing the light of day. Silas vaguely remembered an old neighbour of his from when he was a child. Wanda Herschen was her name and she was beautiful. They always were beautiful, the mothers of those girls. Wanda got knocked up by her boyfriend who lived with her at the time. Silas couldn’t recall his name, he had long since moved on from Pendulum. That was the first sign; the baby was born out of wedlock. The next was that Wanda had passed on during the birth. The fact that she was a girl sealed the deal, the baby was a witch child. The other witches wasted no time in collecting the child and bringing it back to the clock tower. No one argued either, everyone knew the consequences. As much as the witches scared the citizens, they had saved many lives too. If the witch children were not taken away then Algernon would come back. Even thinking his name made Silas shiver, he pulled his jacket closer around himself. Algernon the Great, the last wizard left. Silas was raised on the stories of Algernon, he heard them all. How Algernon had burned a whole orphanage to the ground and killed one hundred people just because there was a witch child living in those walls. He was a tyrant, confined to live out his days in the forest under Ricateen Mountain. Pendulum had raised their glasses and toasted the witches who had cursed Algernon to stay away from the city. All that was required to keep the curse was a witch child. No one knew what happened to the girls, just that they were never seen. It gave Silas goose bumps just thinking about it. Best not to let it control his mind, think of witches and wizards and you’ll meet one. He knew they were just girls, barely of age, but still they were witches and witches were not to be trusted.
The mine entrance was a fifteen minute walk from the clock tower, he would have to go around it and skirt the forest to make it in time for his shift. Thinking of anything but witches, Silas tried not to stare at the rising tower before him. He kept his gaze to the snow at his feet. The sound of footsteps nearly stopped his heart. There were many and they were just metres away on the other side of the tower. Silas slipped behind a wall that jutted out slightly from the rest of the tower just in time. Four figures stepped out of the building’s back door. Three of them wore cloaks deep red in colour. The fourth figure was a small girl, she looked barely sixteen. She was barefoot in the snow and wearing the nicest dress Silas had ever seen, a dress made for royalty from the finest satin slightly grey in colour compared to the virgin snow. They were in the entrance to the forest now; just far enough away for Silas to remain safely hidden while also able to hear what was being said.
‘Hold her arms.’ One of the red cloaked people commanded. From the pitch of the voice, Silas determined it was a woman. He took a wild guess and assumed all of them were women from their similar stature and long painted fingernails.
The two other women wearing cloaks grabbed the barefooted girl’s arms tightly. So tightly that Silas could hear her whimper in pain. He just about stopped himself from shouting out.
‘Please. I don’t want to… You can’t!’ The girl shrieked. The woman who spoke slapped her hard across the face so hard her own hood fell down. She was beautiful, blonde curls let loose on her shoulders and high cheek bones that seemed to make her eyes bigger and filled with vexation.
‘Poor little Izzy.’ The woman purred with genuine affection. She held the girl’s face where she had hit it, softer this time and almost motherly.
‘Sybil you do it.’ She said flatly. Quickly and smoothly, the shorter woman broke the girl’s neck. One smooth twist and the girl’s body fell limply to the snowy floor.
‘Do you want me to start Ephrina?’ The murderer asked. The blonde one shook her head so she must have been Ephrina. Ephrina took a knife from a sheath on her thigh and began to cut the girl’s stomach open with no sympathy. As if she were a wild hog they had caught and intended to disembowel.
Silas couldn’t take it any longer. He stepped out from his hiding place, moving in a daze toward the woman and not fully sure of what he was doing.
‘Stop! Murderers! Leave that girl alone.’ He yelled, trying to seem threatening which is hard when you’re shaking uncontrollably and facing three adult witches. The three remaining women looked at him with shocked expressions which quickly turned to smiles.
‘You may have this one Magdalene but no mess.’ Ephrina looked toward her taller companion who smiled malevolently while Ephrina went back to digging out the girl’s innards until she pulled out her heart and snapped it free of her chest. Magdalene pushed her hood back and Silas was struck again by their obvious beauty. Magdalene had skin darker than he had ever seen with glossy black hair tossed over one shoulder and lips that couldn’t have been redder if she had just drank a gallon of blood. She reminded him of Wanda, they had the same eyes.
‘Goodness, it must be my lucky day!’ Magdalene squealed with joy, clapping her bony hands together.
Silas felt his body go cold, in that split second when he realised what was about to happen he only had one thought. He wished that he had bought those earrings sooner.
He fell into the snow, clutching his chest and gasping like a fish deprived of water. Magdalene kicked him onto his back causing his to spasm in pain. She stood over him with a heeled foot on his chest pushing him back into the crisp snow that melted in contact with his skin.
‘I bet you regret finding us now. How will your wife find you I wonder, hm? Perhaps mauled by wild dogs. That sounds fun!’ Her words barely registered in Silas’s brain. His ears were ringing and his chest was on fire. Just before his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he swallowed his tongue, he felt a soft peck on his cheek. Then nothing.