The witch was chasing me through the dark wood, getting nearer and nearer by the second. I tried to be brave; to remember the skills that my master had taught me and to channel the strength of character that Mam had instilled deep within. But my heart was pounding. My fingers were trembling. My breathing was heavy. The sounds of her feet pounding up Hangman’s Hill grew louder with every stride I took. I dare not look back, for she was feared across the land. The most experienced and trained killer of them all had only one goal tonight; to hang the thumb bones of a spooks apprentice around her neck.
I weighed up the options. Days of travel across the County, nibbling only on the most meagre portions of Cheese had left me weary. The pouring rain of the past week meant my boots were heavy. I would never make it to the farm and the sanctuary of Mam’s room. I had to turn and fight. For the first time in my life, I looked straight into the eyes of Grimalkin. I was frozen still. Her lips were painted black, and when she opened her mouth, I saw that her teeth had been filed to points. I will never forget the way in which she smiled at me, like a cat toying with its pray.
“Do you call that a Chase?” Grimalkin said, readying her blades. ” You’re a disappointment. I’ve heard so much about you, and despite your youth, I hoped for more. You are a child and not worthy of my skills.” “Then let me go, please,” I begged. “They told me that you like a kill to be difficult. So why don’t you wait? When I’m older, we’ll meet again.” I believed what I said in this moment. It seemed inevitable that our futures were intertwined, but I hoped Grimalkin’s desire for a challenge may give me the years I needed to give her the battle of her life. I would train in the Spooks garden, for every hour of daylight the County provided, before one final dance with death in some years time. But it was not to be.
“Come here, child. Rest your head against me and close your eyes. I will make it swift.” I nodded, lowered my head, and approached her, my heart racing. Tears flowed down my cheeks, I thought of the Spook, Mam and my last thought was of Alice. It was as if she could sense my resignation, as I heard her begin to chuckle with glee. But that brief moment of triumph, that lapse in concentration, was premature. I flicked the Spook’s staff from my righthand to my left. And with all the speed and strength that I could muster, I drove it hard at her so that the blade went straight through her heart, pinning her to the trunk of the tree. She uttered no sound and fell to the ground. As the limp body of the witch assassin lay at my feet, for the first time I truly felt that this was my purpose. I was the seventh son of a seventh son, raised to the fight the dark. I had just killed the head of the Malkin Clan, the strongest and deadliest witch to roam the land, I am Tom Ward.
As the blood moon cast its red shadow across the burnt-out barn, I ran down to the farm where I had spent many a happy moment with my family. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I ran through the kitchen and headed for the staircase, but a more powerful emotion hit me. I saw the oven and dining table and could imagine the sound of laughter and happiness as the whole family tucked into a hearty meal. The feeling of longing for these times and the comfort of Mam was more powerful than ever.
I snapped back to reality and fumbled up the staircase, located the old wooden door and locked myself in, waiting for the onslaught which I prayed would not come. Would I see the Devil approach? Or would he simply materialize out of the empty air? No sooner had that scary thought entered my head than I heard terrifying noises from outside–loud bangs, thuds against the walls, and the house began to shake. Next, powerful rhythmical thumps came from above. Something heavy was pounding on the roof, I could hear slates falling into the yard. As suddenly as they had started, the sounds ceased, and in the deep silence that followed, the house itself seemed to be holding its breath.
Then there were more noises, but from within the house; from down in the kitchen. A rocking chair. I could hear it clearly, creaking as its wooden runners made rhythmic contact with the flags. My heart leaped. I’d heard that unmistakable sound so many times as a child. She was back! Mam had come back to save me. Of course she wouldn’t leave me to face this horror alone. I reached for the key, unlocked the door and rushed downstairs. As I rounded the corner, expecting to be reunited with the most important women in my life, sitting in her place was a nightmare vision. I hadn’t remember that Mam’s chair had in fact been smashed to pieces by the witches who’d raided the house. I was foolish. I had left the sanctuary of the room and betrayed everything the spook and Mam had done to protect me. Sat in Mam’s rocking chair was the Fiend.