The Pickman Sisters of Salem

This short story was previously published in October 2017 by Twisted Wings Productions in My American Nightmare: Women in Horror Anthology available only on Kindle.

pickman house

Everyone knows about the history of Salem, Massachusetts. I mean, every class at Meadowdale was forced to read aloud The Crucible by Arthur Miller in Mrs. Dorr’s English class. It was sort of interesting, at least more exciting than looking up the definition of new vocabulary words and writing them in sentences. But even while I read the part of Mary Warren, I never imagined that I would one day live in Salem with my Dad. We never discussed the possibility. I was aware that he seemed depressed, but so was I. Since Mom’s accident our lives were very different than they used to be. She had always been the one to keep things positive, always looking for that “silver lining” in every situation, but Dad never mentioned that he was unhappy with his job at the University and that he was actively applying for teaching positions elsewhere, which included out of state jobs that if he were hired would require us to move clear across the country. We never had that conversation; if we would have he would have known my feelings about such a drastic move – that as much as I hated living here in Lynnwood, I would hate living in Salem more. I knew that temperatures fell below zero degrees during the winter and that there were blizzards and hurricanes, and all other sorts of horrible weather conditions that I did not wish to experience. Why would anyone choose to live somewhere like that? Seriously. Subjecting oneself to such extreme weather conditions was unthinkable for me. But Dad and I never had that conversation. He never asked me my opinion. I never had the option of saying, “No, I don’t want to move there” and by the following September we were living in a small two bedroom apartment on Lafayette Street with Dad holding a position of Professor of English Literature at Salem State University and I attending my Sophomore year at the local high school.

Life sucked. It sucked more than it ever did in Lynnwood. At least there I knew where things were, I understood what was expected of me even if I chose not to fulfill those expectations. Here, in Salem, everything was different; the buildings, the people, the food. It was strange and I felt even more like an outcast than I did back home in Washington. No one understood me at the new school; not the faculty, not the teachers, and most definitely not the other students. Yes, I was a fascination for my peers at first being someone who wasn’t born and raised in New England. They had questions for me and occasionally a curious student would seek me out at lunch to sit and ask me stupid things about coffee, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Grey’s Anatomy with only a few of my peers being interested in my unusual hair color or the multiple facial piercings I boasted, which, by the way, are not the standard for a Pacific Northwestern teenager, but the novelty soon wore off and by early October no one cared about me any longer. I was just “The Freak from Seattle”; many of my peers didn’t even bother to learn my name so I didn’t bother to respond when they addressed me with their uncreative nickname.

The only individuals that seemed to pay any attention to me were Jack Foster and Nick Howe. They had been best-friends since middle school and appeared to be nearly invisible to the majority of the student population; it was the strangest thing to witness. They weren’t popular by any standard and they weren’t part of any other social clique within the school. They were a couple of loners. They each seemed to possess a gift for blending into the background so that no one bothered or bullied either of them because they didn’t seem to acknowledge their existence. Neither of them seemed bothered by this, in fact, they used it to their advantage by constantly stealing things from other students without any sort of negative consequences. I was continuously entertained by their outlandish behavior, which kept me amused and invested in spending time with them and I think they continued to pay attention to me because each of them believed that they actually had a chance to “get with me”, even though neither of them were my type. Jack and Nick had interesting stories to share about our teachers and classmates, and because their families had lived in Salem for generations, they knew a lot of the city’s history, not to mention what stores would sell me cigarettes even though I wasn’t eighteen yet and what places had the best pizza, tacos, and Chinese take-out.

After our awkward introductions at lunch on Taco Tuesday in mid-September, I spent practically every weekend hanging out with the guys. Nick would sneak us into movies, and the occasional pub, we’d have twenty-four hour Doom marathons and spend afternoons smoking and listening to music. All the same sort of activities I did with my friends back home. So when the guys suggested that I meet them one Sunday night around midnight at Lafayette Park, I didn’t question them; I just did it. I snuck out of our apartment around eleven thirty knowing that I would be early, but I didn’t care. I liked walking around the city at night. It was peaceful and quiet, hardly any traffic on the streets, but I knew that would be changing the closer we came to Halloween. Dad and I were warned by our elderly neighbor, Mr. Woodbury, that Halloween was a big deal here in the Witch City and that people from all across New England were eager to attend the various celebrations and events that the city hosted. He encouraged us to stay away from the historical district at all costs and for Dad to take an alternate route to work as Route 114 would be nearly impassable particularly on the weekends leading up to the holiday, but being as it was still over a week until Halloween I was unconcerned about the traffic or tourists.

It only took fifteen minutes to reach the park. I sat on the wooden bench nearest the traffic lights and watched them switch from red to yellow to green while I smoked and waited for the guys to show up. The occasional vehicle drove by, though there weren’t many businesses opened at that time of night. The guys both lived on Endicott Street about the same distance to the park as our place, but east instead of south. I stood up as soon as I saw them approaching and we headed down Lafayette towards the fire station. When we reached the intersection we turned right onto Derby Street and left onto Liberty, which brought us to the Old Burying Point Cemetery. I hoped that this wasn’t the “wicked awesome” thing they wanted to show me because my Dad had brought me here the first weekend we moved to Salem. He was so excited to show me all the interesting museums and historical places that our new “home” had to offer. I think it was his lame attempt to make me be “okay” with our move here, but well, yeah, epic fail on his part.

“So, what’s so special about this place?” I asked, as the three of us casually walked through a small wooden gate and up to the front doors of the gray building with red trim that stood adjacent to the cemetery and the Salem Witch Trail Memorial. When I had visited over the summer I hadn’t paid much attention to this building, but it was clear we weren’t supposed to be here at that time of night, but the guys didn’t seem to be worried about getting caught. It was quiet, even the parking lot across the street was vacant.

“Seriously? I can’t believe you just asked that. You’ve been living here since June and you don’t know whose house this is?” interrogated Jack, furrowing his brows and pursing his thin lips.

I shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe I don’t really care about all the boring tourist, witchy bullshit. It’s all kinda sketchy anyway.” I grabbed the pack of Benson and Hedges from the pocket of my hoodie. I nodded at him. “Why do you care so much?”

Nick stepped towards me causing me to stumble backwards. “Cuz it isn’t all crap, Chloe. A lot of what you hear about Salem is legit. Sure, Hollywood plays up the magic stuff, but like, all of it’s real, like, even the story about The Pickman Sisters.”

I sneered and lit a cigarette in silence refusing to look at either of them in the eye. I flicked the spent match onto the ground and watched Nick bend over and picked it up. I snickered to myself. Was he for real? I was skeptical about all the hype the city made about the witches and witchcraft, but I was just a little curious about what they were telling me and wondered how it connected to us being here in the middle of the night. I waved my cigarette towards the front of the building that overlooked the memorial. “So, tell me about this.”

“Yeah, so like, this is the oldest house in Salem,” Jack said, “It was built for this guy named Samuel Pickman. He was a founding member of Salem, but he died a couple of years later and during the Trials his three daughters lived here; Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth.”

“They were hot,” commented Nick, glancing at me then peeking through the left front window.

Jack nodded, examining the double windows opposite where Nick stood, looking for a way to get in. “And even though most of the single guys in the village proposed to them, none of the sisters said yes, which may not be weird now, but back then it was mad sus.”

I took a slow drag on my cigarette and exhaled. I was bored.

Jack motioned for us to follow him around the corner onto Liberty Street as he resumed the story, “The sisters were accused of witchcraft, probably cuz most of the women thought they were wicked shady. The sisters didn’t really hang out with any of them except when they went to church. So like, one day in August, a neighbor came by with a loaf of bread she baked and caught the sisters sucking the souls out of some village kids.”

“What?” I chuckled, unintentionally exhaling smoke into Nick’s face.

“The kids’ souls were how they stayed young,” he scowled.

After completing his thorough examination of the window, Jack hopped over the stone wall and led us to the back of the house, which abutted Charter Street. We casually walked along the exterior wall of the building as a car slowly drove past. I finished my cigarette and flicked the butt into the street, anticipating Nick’s retrieval of it, but was quickly disappointed as his attention was focused on Jack.

“The sisters were put on trial, found guilty, and were hanged,” he approached the rear door of the building while he spoke, “But before they took their last breath they cast a spell so that they could be resurrected during a full moon on All Hallows’ Eve.”

“And you believe this bullshit story?” I tucked my hands into the pocket of my hoodie and shook my head. “Resurrected? During a full moon on All Hallows’ Eve? That’s Halloween, right? And isn’t the moon supposed to be full on Halloween this year?”

Both of my accomplices seemed to ignore the mocking tone of my voice. Nick glanced from Jack, to me, to either end of the street doing his earnest to be alert of any possible intrusions. “Yeah, it is.”

“The resurrection spell is written in their spell book,” continued Jack as he removed a screw driver and set of keys from his jacket pocket, “which is kept inside this building, but it will only work if it is cast by a virgin.”

“Really? Well, I guess those sisters have a chance with you two here,” I pointed to each of them, as I laughed at my own joke.

“Keep joking, but like, the spell’s real. I’ve seen it. The book’s in a glass case on the second floor. It’s opened so you can see writing on a couple of the pages. I don’t know if like, the spell was on one of those pages, but the book’s in there.”

I was impressed. I was certain that the grimoire was as fake as the story they were sharing with me, but I was really curious to see it for myself. “So why not just go check out the book when the museum’s opened?”

“Can’t, this place has been closed since Emily’s accident,” frowned Nick.

Jack spun around to face us, his glare clearly visible even in the dim light. “Accident? Really?” he paused and looked pointedly at me. “Since Emily’s suicide.”

I was startled by the anger in Jack’s voice. “Suicide? A girl killed herself in there?” I motioned to the building.

“Yeah,” Nick turned his back to Jack. He mumbled, “I heard she was trying to steal the grimoire, but somethin’ bad happened to her while she was inside. My Wiccan friend thinks it’s because the book is cursed or warded.”

“Warded?” The only place I had ever heard of wards was in one of my favorite video games. “You mean, like a magical shield in Skyrim?”

“Yeah,” Nick nodded. “Just like that.”

“I don’t get it,” I said, “Wards don’t cause damage, they protect against it; they’re defensive, not offensive, so how would a ward kill anyone?”

“You’re an idiot,” Jack spat over his shoulder. He had returned his attention to the locked door. “This isn’t a video game, Chloe, this is reality. Wards can cause offensive damage, too.”

This was too fantastical for me to believe, but I wanted to see that book for myself even if it was filled with recipes in old English that I wouldn’t be able to read. My popularity would soar and perhaps I’d be able to make some real friends at school and not feel so isolated, or perhaps I’d get caught and expelled forcing my Dad to move us back to Washington. Either way I looked at it, it was a win-win situation for me.

“So, how are we going to get into this place?” I asked, walking over to Jack to get a better view of what he was doing. He tapped the end of a key he had inserted in the lock a few times with the handle of the screwdriver and when he turned the knob the door opened.

He smiled. “Like that!”

It was darker inside the building than it was outside. The dirty windows barely allowed the outside light to filter through so I closely followed Jack, who had a micro LED flashlight that easily illuminated any area he aimed it at. If I had charged my phone I would have been able to use its light, but the battery had died almost as soon as I had left our apartment. Normally it wasn’t a big deal because no one other than my Dad, Jack, or Nick usually called me and since Dad was asleep when I left, I didn’t expect any incoming calls, but the light would have come in handy as we walked through the cluttered interior of the building. I bumped my shin, knee, and elbow on the edges of numerous things that I had difficulty identifying in the dim light.

Nick was the first to start up the stairs to the second floor. Jack and I followed just a few minutes later after doing a general sweep of the bottom floor. We found the opened grimoire sitting inside a glass case, just as Nick had described it to us earlier. The case and most of the other furniture in the building possessed a thick layer of dust, indicating that no one had been inside for any significant length of time in a very long while. Jack unlocked the case with a small silver key that was fixed on the ring of keys he found in a drawer under the register and gingerly slid opened the drawer that held the book. The guys pointed their flashlights at the exposed pages illuminating them with bright light. The black ink was faded, but some of the words were still legible. I glanced at Nick then to Jack waiting for either one of them to grab the grimoire, so we could get out of there before we were caught, but they just stared down at the pages with mouths agape.

“Really? Are you that afraid to pick it up?” I scoffed. “It’s just an old book.”

I reached down and flipped the cover closed. The texture on the outside felt rough against the skin of my palms and I considered that it had been crafted of leather or some other animal hide. The cold metal of clasp that was used to keep the cover closed scraped the tips of my fingers, but I didn’t bother securing it. The sound of my heart pounded in my ears as the adrenalin surged through my body. I knew that at this point if we were caught by the police I had just added burglary, and possibly grand larceny, depending on the value of the book I was gripping against my chest, to our list of crimes, which prior had only included trespassing and minor vandalism.

“Chloe!” yelled Jack.

“What?! Isn’t this the plan, to steal it?”

Nick hesitated, “Well, like not really …”

My confusion had to be clearly evident on my face. “If we aren’t here to steal it, then why the hell are we here?”

As I held the book against me, the intoxicating aroma of the grave drifted into my nostrils; it was a subtle combination of chemicals, dirt, grass, mustiness, and burning wood with a hint of vanilla. I waited anxiously for one of the guys to explain to me what our purpose was for being there, because clearly I had no clue.

Nick glanced at Jack who, with terror covering his face, was shining his light in my direction as he spoke. “We weren’t going to touch it. Just read it, like, without removing it from the case.”

“Seriously?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “So, the two of you aren’t as bad-ass as I thought. Pity, I was just starting to like you, guys.”

Jack was the first to notice the flashing of the red and blue lights through the small dirty windows. “Shit!”

It was obvious that someone had spotted us skulking around the building and called the police, more than likely it had been a security guard from the Peabody Essex Museum across the street. I scanned the room for places to hide while considering if it was even worth the effort to attempt to evade the police. I wasn’t a fool and understood that getting caught had been a real possibility for us, but instead of viewing it as a bad situation to be in, perhaps it was really a good thing. If I was caught the chances of me being expelled from school was a probability, which might force my Dad to consider moving us back home. If I replaced the book, our only crimes were trespassing and minor vandalism and because we were under the age of eighteen we would most likely be sentenced to community service. No big deal, really.

Nick scampered over to the nearest window intending to peek over the sill, but Jack pulled him back down before he was able, scowling at him and vigorously shaking his head. He pressed his index finger to his puckered lips as he pointed to Nick then directly across the room at a space behind a small round end table and high back chair. Nick silently nodded as he gingerly moved to take his hiding position.

Jack looked at me as he pointed to himself then a tall counter positioned on the other side of the room. I understood that he would be hiding behind it and nodded as he quietly crossed the creaking floorboards and maneuvered himself in the tight space between the counter and wall.

The banging of the front doors brought a wave of anxiety over me, as a police officer checked the integrity of the lock. I realized that they would be examining the rear door that we entered through on the Charter Street side of the building. I was running out of time. I had to find a place to hide or confront the officers when they entered the building and accept responsibility for my criminal behavior. I inhaled, shoved the grimoire under the front of my hoodie, and scurried down the stairs pausing at the bottom. I watched as the police officers’ shadows passed by each window, lingering at the one just a few feet from where I stood. Could they see me? The thudding of my heart within my chest made it difficult to hear Nick’s frantic whispers as he called my name from his hiding spot upstairs. I ignored him as I headed towards the front entrance. The doors were locked with a deadbolt that I could easily open by flipping the thumb turn, but if I did, if I made my escape while the officers entered through the back door, I would be leaving Jack and Nick behind with the likelihood of being caught.

As soon as I heard the banging at the back door, I flipped the turn of the lock and grasped the knob forcefully pushing the door opened. I sprinted over the threshold and into the small yard in front of the building, clumsily climbed over the stone wall and ran down Liberty Street as fast as I could. I never once glanced behind me. I rationalized with myself as I ran through the night that the guys would only get a slap on the hand because of the influence their families had within the community, but I was worried that I had ditched the only two friends I had in Salem and that they would hate me for it.

I allowed myself to rest once I had reached the entrance to our apartment building. I forced my breathing to return to normal before entering. I didn’t want to wake my Dad because then I would be obligated to explain what I had been doing out this early in the morning. After a few minutes of calming myself down, I walked through the glass doors and took the elevator to the fourth floor. I entered our apartment as quietly as possible and was relieved to find that my Dad was still asleep in his room. I glanced at the clock on the living room wall. It was a little after two; I had only a few hours before I was expected to be up and ready for school. I switched on the floor lamp and sat on the living room carpet, gently removing the grimoire from beneath my hoodie.

The cover of the old spell book was clearly made from pieces of hide that had been crudely stitched together creating an unusual abstract pattern. I traced my index finger along the intertwining body of the metal snake ornament that decorated the top right corner of the book opposite the spine, the eyes of which were two small red gems and whose mouth appeared to be biting the cover of the book keeping it smoothly stretched out. I gazed briefly at the matching ornament on the bottom corner. Between the two corner snake adornments was a ring made of a similar, if not the same metal, which I easily determined was the clasp used to secure the book closed. Within the center of the circle I noted a cut of about an inch in length. I explored this curiosity with my index finger, but quickly withdrew the moment I felt the line of small prickly hairs along the slit. I slowly flipped open the clasp that had secured itself when I hid the grimoire beneath my hoodie and as I did the slit slowly opened.

“What the f –” I shrieked and shoved the book away and sat with my knees pulled up to my chest, staring at the grimoire a foot away from me. There was no logical explanation for it. What I saw wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. I may have failed biology last year, but I had a descent understanding of what defined life and knew that a book was an inanimate object. It wasn’t alive.

I rubbed my eyes, hoping that it cleared my vision while convincing myself that I was just overtired … or perhaps I had finally lost all sense of reality. With fearful curiosity I crawled over to the spell book, positioned myself in front of it, and peered down at the cover. The black pupil and brown iris of what appeared to be a human eye focused on me, following me whenever I shifted.

My hands flew up to cover my mouth in an attempt to hold in the screams that threatened to escape. I didn’t want to wake up my Dad, who would demand an explanation as to how I had come in possession of such an object.

“This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real,” I repeated as I braced myself, reaching down and flipped open the cover of the grimoire.  The first page read: Grimoire of Conjuring and Alchemy, and was followed by pages filled with elegant penmanship, though some of the words I read I were unfamiliar and other pages were written in a language I wasn’t able to read at all, but soon I found the one specific spell that Jack and Nick referred to as the one used to resurrect the Pickman Sisters.

I read the page in its entirety. It required a virgin to light a black candle made of wax on All Hallows’ Eve during a full moon. He or she was to read aloud the written incantation while doing the accompanying hand gestures, which were described in detail on the page. I was intensely curious to know if this spell was real, if it held any power or if it was fake witchy bullshit like the rest of the so called magick of Salem. I closed the book and yelped in surprise. I had completely forgotten about the eye on the cover. I quickly removed my hoodie and wrapped it around the grimoire; I didn’t want that eye to continue to look at me. It really creeped me out. I hid the book under my bed and went to take a shower and get ready for school.

As I walked to school, I thought about Jack and Nick. Would they even acknowledge me when they saw me? Each morning they waited for me at my locker with a hot Moccachino just for me. Now, I didn’t know if they still considered me their friend, and if they did, I was certain that they were going to be angry that I ditched them at the Pickman House. Fuck my life.

To my surprise when I arrived the guys were waiting for me as usual looking as if they were ready to pounce on me like lions on a zebra. Nick handed me my coffee as he sipped his own.

“Thanks,” I smiled, accepting the Styrofoam cup. “You guys aren’t mad?”

“Nah,” Jack shook his head as he bit into his cruller. “We ain’t mad.”

“Did you guys get caught?” I questioned, as I opened my locker and placed my backpack on one of the empty hooks.

“Yeah, but like, it’s nothing,” explained Nick, leaning against the locker next to mine, “The cop that caught us is sleeping with my Mom.”

I quickly swallowed the gulp of coffee in my mouth before I spewed it all over him. “What?!”

Nick nodded. “I know, right?”

“And they didn’t even notice the grimoire was missing,” whispered Jack. “They’re idiots.”

I couldn’t believe we had gotten away with it. I smiled, completely satisfied with the results of our evening mischief. I handed Jack my coffee cup as I grabbed the notebook and textbooks for my first two classes; Geometry and World History.

Jack leaned into me as he handed back my cup. “So, where is it?”

“Under my bed.” I visualized the grimoire wrapped in my hoodie and sitting amongst the dust bunnies and forgotten socks. “It’s …”

“Creepy?” offered Nick.

“Yes,” I nodded. “Very.”

“Did you sleep with it under your bed?” the look of alarm on his face worried me.

I shook my head and swallowed more delicious coffee, seeking courage within the caffeine. “No, I haven’t slept.”

Jack pointed to himself then his best-friend, “Neither have we.”

“Yeah, we were like, wired,” explained Nick. “So, we just played Doom at my house ‘til it was time to leave.”

The first morning bell rang causing a frenzy of activity in the corridor around us as our peers rushed to their respective homerooms.

“All Hallows’ Eve’s only nine days away. We need to make plans,” said Jack, glancing around.

“For doing the spell?” I asked, downing more than half of the coffee left in my cup, wishing I had another.

“Casting, Chloe … casting the spell,” he corrected, crumbling up the bag that had held his breakfast. “And yeah.”

“Do we have to do this somewhere specific?” I asked. I hadn’t read anything pertaining to a particular place in the grimoire, but I knew that Jack and Nick had more knowledge about this sort of stuff than I did. We started walking down the hall towards the stairs. The guys had homerooms on the first floor while mine was there on the second.

“No.” Jack mimicked a jump shot as he tossed the bag into the trash container. “Unless the grimoire says it does.”

“It doesn’t.”

“How do you know? Unless …” Jack and Nick exchanged looks, then focused their eyes on me. “Holy shit, Chloe! You read the grimoire, didn’t you?”

I looked away from both of them and mumbled, “Yeah.”

“So, like it didn’t mention doing the spell in a specific location?” asked Nick.

“Nope,” his eagerness to hear about what I had read chased away any feelings of regret. “But it mentioned all that other stuff that you guys already talked about and a black candle.”

“Right,” he nodded. “Well, it’s going to be insane here on All Hallows’ Eve. We won’t be able to find a quiet cemetery or park and I don’t think we can get away with getting’ back into the Pickman House.”

“Although that would be the best place for it,” bemoaned Jack. “The Memorial’s going to be crowded with every wanna-be witch in New England.”

“Hey, what about Salem Woods?” Nick suggested. “Like, no one’s going to be hangin’ around there that night; they’ll all be at the Common.”

As the second morning bell rang we were in agreement; the Woods would be the perfect place for us to meet.

###

The days leading up to Halloween were busy in the city, but uneventful for me. As Dad and I were warned by Mr. Woodbury, it easily took twice as long, if not longer, to drive anywhere within the city especially if traveling on Route 114, which meant Dad’s usual five minute commute home took thirty minutes the Thursday and Friday prior to the thirty-first. Attempting to travel anywhere near the historical district was impossible and my midnight walks on the weekend were disrupted by tourist who were usually drunk and obnoxious. I was continuously overwhelmed by the number of people and couldn’t wait for the holiday to be over.

The guys and I hardly spoke about our plans for that evening, perhaps it was our uneasiness with the situation or that we were concerned that if we spoke aloud about it our plans would be thwarted by someone or something, but the sly affirming nods and unspoken exchanges when the subject of witches were mentioned, which at this time of year was often, allowed each of us to know that we were invested and ready.

Even though I unwrapped the hidden grimoire only twice during the time leading up to All Hallows’ Eve and both times the strange eye was shut, I experienced many restless nights filled with strange and disturbing dreams that I didn’t share with anyone, some of which left me mentally and physically exhausted with distinct images of horror buried within my mind while others just filled me with subtle feelings of fear and dread. Whether the disconcerting grimoire caused these nightmares or whether it was the anxiety I was experiencing about the planned spell casting, I will never know

The three of us met in front of my apartment building the night of All Hallows’ Eve since it was closest to the woods. My Dad was not concerned nor did he require any justification from me about heading out so late that night since he was aware that the whole city was celebrating. He was uninterested and retired as usual to his bedroom around the time I left our apartment. With the grimoire in my backpack, the three of us walked down Lafayette Street, past the University, and turned onto Pickman Road. We followed the street through the quiet neighborhood until we came to the cul de sac where we turned on our flashlights and entered the woods. Jack had convinced me earlier that day to not bring my phone, saying something about the electromagnetic energy interfering with the magick. Honestly, I didn’t understand a word he said, but trusted that he knew what he was talking about.

We walked a few hundred yards into the woods until we found a natural clearing that Jack determined was the perfect place for our spell. The full moon was easily visible from where we stood and provided us with a surprisingly decent amount of light. I switched off my mini flashlight and slipped it into the back pocket of my jeans. Jack removed the black candle from his jacket and placed it on the ground. He handed Nick a box of matches. Nick had been responsible only for bringing himself and since he was the only virgin in our little threesome; he was automatically selected to be the one to light the candle and read aloud the spell. It took him a few tries, but once he had the candle lit, I removed the grimoire from my backpack, unwrapped it, and handed it to him.

He looked at the cover then turned over the book to examine the back. “Creepy.”

“Yeah, well, wait ‘til you unclasp it,” I warned. “It gets creepier.”

“What is it made of? Leather?” asked Nick.

Jack took a step closer cautiously avoiding the lit candle that had placed on the ground in front of Nick.

“Something like that,” I said. “Some sort of animal hide.”

“It’s made of human flesh,” Jack stated excitedly.

“What?” I didn’t think I heard him correctly.

“Human flesh. You know, like skin,” he explained, “from the kids that the Pickman Sisters kidnapped. Once they were dead, Ann and Mary stripped the flesh from the bodies while Elizabeth stitched the pieces together to make the cover.”

I felt my stomach turn and knew I was about to vomit. What Jack was telling us sounded like a plot in a horror movie I had just seen on Netflix last week, but this wasn’t a movie; it was my life and as much as I wanted to believe his words were false, there was a part of me that knew the words he spoke were true. Not to mention that I had a dream just last night that seemed to verify that what he was telling us was truth. That book was bound in human skin and I had kept it under my bed for over a week.

Nick swallowed audibly as he lifted the circular metal clasp. The eye slowly opened; its black pupil focused keenly on Nick, who dropped the book with a scream.

“Holy crap!” Jack exclaimed, as he leaned over to retrieve the abandoned book. “There really is an eye. Even I thought that part of the legend was bullshit.”

I righted the candle that had been knocked over and handed Nick the box of matches. He squatted down and relit it as tears spilled from his eyes. He was scared.

“You know, maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” I offered, touching Nick’s arm. “We don’t have to do this.”

Jack grabbed Nick’s elbow and pulled him into a standing position. “Yeah, we do. This is the plan. We’re not quitting now. We’re sticking to our plan. Right, Nick?” He forced the grimoire into Nick’s hands. “We ain’t pussies. We’re bad-asses and we’re doin’ this.”

Nick sobbed, staring down at the eye, which looked back at him. I swear it seemed to be taunting him, silently challenging him to open it.

“Nick,” I pleaded. “You don’t have to do this.”

Jack placed his right hand on Nick’s shoulder and opened the cover of the book for him with his left. “Let’s find that spell so we can get this movin’.” He glanced over to me. “Where is it, Chloe?”

“I don’t think this is – ”

“I don’t care what you think,” interrupted Jack. “You’re either with us or not. And if you’re not then: ‘Bye, Felicia!’.”

I was worried about Nick. I wanted to leave, but I felt responsible for him and for all of this since I was the one who stole the book. I couldn’t walk away from this now. I reached over in silence, glancing at Nick on occasion as I flipped through the pages until I located it.

“You sure you want to do this?” I asked.

He nodded, forcing himself to smile through the sniffles. “Yeah.”

He was lying, but what was I going to actually do about it? Jack and I took a few steps away from Nick so that we stood on opposite sides of the black candle. Nick took a few minutes to read through the spell. There was accompanying hand gestures that he was required to do as he read the incantation. After a few minutes he began with the first gesture.

“Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth, asleep within the arms of death,” he said, as he shifted his wrist and fingers of his left hand into the second gesture. “Restless in thy unholy bed; hanged and buried, long since dead,” he spoke shifting the book into his left hand so that his right hand was free to make the next gesture. “Breathe in deep and blink thine eyes; it is time for thee to rise.” He paused, as he studied the words in the book. The tears had dried and his voice had taken on a deeper tone as he continued with the next hand gesture, “Raise thine arms up toward the moon; life is thine, chaos now strewn.” He dropped the book to the ground allowing for the use of both his hands for the last gestures, “Time for Salem thee to greet, resurrected, on thy feet! From thine grave, thee are all free, as I sayeth, so mote it be!” With the last phrase Nick spoke the flame of the candle flared about a foot above the wick then went out.

I was startled, took a few steps back, and tripped over the root of a nearby tree, falling to the ground. The air pressure around the area distorted, causing my head to hurt. I tried to call out to Jack and Nick, but I couldn’t hear my own voice and I wasn’t sure if I had lost it or gone deaf. I looked around for the guys and panicked when I didn’t see them. I tried yelling for them again, but still heard nothing, everything had fallen unnaturally silent. As I stood I felt the air around me shifting. It felt like a warm summer wind. I blinked my eyes a few times and noticed what looked like heat waves rising from the earth where the black candle had been set by Jack. Within the movement a figure began to take shape and form, followed by another figure, and then a third.

This couldn’t be happening. I must be dreaming or hallucinating, maybe when I fell I hit my head on a rock or something. There was no way that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I was so mesmerized by the appearance of the forms that I hadn’t noticed Jack and Nick had come to stand on either side of me.

“Fuck yeah! It worked. It really worked!” cheered Jack, holding up his hand for a high-five that neither Nick nor I gave him.

“So you can see that?” I pointed to the shadows a few feet from where we stood.

“Hell yeah, I see them,” laughed Jack. “We did it!”

“We did it? We did it?” I felt the panic rising within me. “Jack, what the hell did we do?”

Three women appearing to be in their late twenties dressed in typical Puritan clothing approached us.

The tallest of the three spoke first, as she scrutinized us. “Pray tell, which of you cast the spell?”

“’Twas that one, Ann,” pointed the second woman to appear, as she approached Nick, sniffing the air as if she were a dog. “He be the virgin.”

Wordlessly I took a step in front of Nick, who had peed himself, before the woman could get any closer to him.

“Now look at her, Elizabeth. She be foolish,” chuckled Anm, gesturing to me, as she glanced over her shoulder at the giggling woman standing slightly behind her.

The woman who had sniffled around Nick reached out and pushed me aside as she pulled him forward.

“No!” I grabbed Nick’s arm. “Leave him alone.”

“Peace, child. We just be givin’ him his reward for our resurrection,” smiled Ann. She raised her hands with palms toward the ground and fingers pointing in Nick’s direction. “Sisters!”

The other women obediently copied her hand gesture.

“Bend his back and twist his bones,” chanted Ann, “hear them not his countless groans.”

“Itshem-a-ham-it-a-Ann-i-ka-mys-ti-ca,” responded Mary and Elizabeth in unison.

“Nick,” I pulled his arm, urging him to move away from the Pickman Sisters. “I think we should get out of here.”

“Shrink his size and trim his weight,” continued Ann, “add two legs and shift his gait.”

“Itshem-a-ham-it-a-Ann-i-ka-mys-ti-ca,” repeated the others.

I glanced over my shoulder at Jack expecting to see concern in his face, but instead found a menacing grin as he watched with what appeared to be eagerness and delight.

He caught me looking at him. “Isn’t this fun?”

“No,” I responded, to which he shrugged.

“Change his skin to fur and claw, sprout some whiskers on his jaw,” recited Ann.

“Itshem-a-ham-it-a-Ann-i-ka-mys-ti-ca.”

“Nick, come on! We really need to get out of here!” I yelled, “Now!” I yanked his arm more forcefully, but he didn’t move.

He turned his face to me. Tears ran down his cheeks mixing with the mucus draining from his nose. He blubbered, “I can’t, Chloe. I can’t.”

I realized he was paralyzed. I glanced at the witches, then back over my shoulder at Jack. What had I done?

Ann said, “Through the night he now shall prowl.”

“Change …,” uttered Mary.

“Him …,” said Elizabeth.

They shouted together, “Now!”

Nick’s body shimmered as if a cloud of fireflies had attached themselves to his clothing. I felt the temperature of the air shift again and saw the waves of heat encompass his body as it began transforming as they had commanded; his clothing fell to the ground as he shrunk in size, fur replaced his skin, his arms changed into legs, and he grew claws and whiskers. He dropped to the ground and attempted to escape by scampering between my feet and running off in the direction we had entered the woods. Unfortunately he wasn’t quick enough and Elizabeth, the prettiest of the three sisters, moved unnaturally fast from her place beside Ann and pounced on him, scooping him up with her hands, giggling as she did so.

“Ahhh, my lovely” Ann said, as she bent over and retrieved the opened grimoire that lay at her feet. She closed the book and held it against her chest, just as I had the night I stole it from the Pickman House. She looked over at me and Jack, who had moved so that he was standing beside me. As she stared at me her eyes seemed to shine a peculiar glow in the dim light that the full moon provided.

“Pray tell, what ails you, child?” she questioned.

I was speechless.

Mary tilted her head as she studied me. “Do you not believe in witches?”

“I believe in witches,” Jack said, raising his hand.

Before tonight I didn’t believe, but with what had just happened I wasn’t so sure any more.

“Sisters,” called Ann as she walked in the direction of Pickman Road. “Let us descend upon Salem and gather souls for our sustenance.”

I couldn’t allow that happen.

“No!” I yelled, jumping in front of Ann, intending to stop them, but not sure exactly what I could do to prevent them from carrying out their evil intentions. If everything the guys told me about the Pickman Sisters was true, which I was sensing it was, I couldn’t just allow them to kidnap and murder kids so that they could live. As I saw it, I either had to keep them trapped until they died from not being able to feed on the souls of kids or have the city evacuated, but neither option was within my capabilities at the moment and Jack was no help, he seemed unconcerned about the witches’ intentions, in fact he seemed excited that they were here. It was clear to me that I really didn’t know him at all.

“Would you be a good Christian child?” asked Ann. “You love God?”

“What?” I asked, confused by her question. “No, I’m not Christian.”

“Pray tell, why do you stop us if you be not Christian?” asked Mary.

“I don‘t want you hurting anyone,” I explained. “I don’t have to be Christian to feel that way.”

The witches cackled.

“Child …,” explained Ann, “you have a faulty understanding of who we are. We made a vow that we intend to keep. Vengeance shall walk Salem this night. We are what we always were made to be and you have not the skill to stop us.”

“Aye,” agreed Elizabeth, as she kissed her newly acquired familiar, wriggling in her hands.

Mary scurried up to me and began sniffing around me like she had Nick. Disgusted and fearful of having her so close, I pushed her away and looked to Jack hoping to find some support from him, but he was only annoyed by the attention the Pickman Sisters were giving me. I turned back to stand face to face with Ann, whose eyes glowed as she stared into mine. Her gaze penetrated me, paralyzing me as she wormed her presence inside my head. I felt a moist warmness crawl up my back as my scalp tingled, it felt as if it was trying to crawl off of my skull. Invisible fingers gripped my neck, strangling me making it impossible to take a breath … and then I heard a voice … a voice screaming. Someone was being transformed into something inhuman just as Nick had … and then I realized – it was me.

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