I was walking down a dark alley, hands in my pockets. I was coming back from my bô-jutsu class. My wooden stick was hanging on my back. It made me feel better to have it near me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t always walk around with such a weapon without a good reason.
Tonight in particular, the class was just an excuse to have this rowan stick.
When I reached the middle of the street, I stopped dead in my tracks, my senses alert. My eyes slid from right to left. Further on, a large dumpster offered me a dangerous blind spot. The driving rain prevented me from having a clear view of the area around me, large drops fell on my hood and dripped onto my coat.
Suddenly I saw a movement a few steps from me. I moved cautiously forward and a dark shape plunged towards me. I took immediiately my hands out of my pockets and threw a mixture of salt and iron filings at the thing. There was a scream and the mass recoiled further into the alley. With a nimble movement, I grabbed my wooden stick and drew it across, ready to lead a second attack. I was focus, and then launched a forward strike. The creature leapt to the side and then stood up. It walked towards me and its face finally appeared, lit by the only streetlight in the alley. It was a woman, quite tall and dressed in a grayish dress. At first glance, this lady with long black hair and pale skin looked quite normal. She tried to coax me in that direction.
- Why do you attack me, young man? She said in a meek voice.
- There are strange assaults in this neighborhood. People are attacked and drained of their blood. They always come out alive but some have serious after-effects, I answered.
- Oh, and you surely want to inform me about this potential danger?
I tightened my grip on my weapon. The blood stains on the top of her dress, her long, filthy nails and her pointed shoes were all clues that allowed me to safely say:
- You are the danger. You’re a blood witch.
She laughed almost ferociously and looked at me like a predator. The witch seemed unaffected by being discovered.
- Who will believe you, kid? No one! I can keep collect all the blood I need and you can’t do anything about it!
- There is no need for anyone to believe me, because even alone I could defeat you!
My confidence seemed to confuse her a little. She frowned and looked me up and down. Perhaps she was finally beginning to see me as a threat? Anyway, she leaned over and plunged towards me, her nails in front. I dodged her by pivoting on the side and then gave a powerful blow of my stick on her back to make her fall. Face down, the witch was at my mercy. She turned around, now giving me a frightened look.
- How do you know about witches? How do you know that iron, salt and rowan make us weak?
- I am a spook and I hunt creatures from dark!
She screamed as I swung my rowan stick one last time, this time to knock her out.
In the old days, my ancestors locked witches in deep pits sealed with thirteen iron bars, leaving them there to rot. Sometimes they would also kill them and eat their hearts to ensure they never returned. I was repulsed by these techniques, especially the second one. Fortunately, today we had less extreme ways of putting these creatures out of action. I didn’t know if the old spooks would have approved, but I did. I blessed the witches with a ritual based on holy water and absolution of their faults. These acts, as innocuous as they may seem, broke all their ties with the darkness without any hope of returning to it. She forgot all of their spell and every action linked with the dark.
Once that was done, I got up and went back to the main street of my town. I saw a policeman still on work despite the late hour and came to talk to him with a panicked voice.
- Sir! I found an unconscious woman in the alley over there! Come quickly, I think she’s bleeding!
I led the man to the ancient witch and, keeping my panicked look, added:
- I was walking by and I… I found her lying on the ground… I heard there was some assault in the area so I thought I’d let you know.
The policeman nodded, but his look shifted to the stick on my back. I had thankfully cleaned it before I went looking for anyone.
- You did good, kid. May I ask why you have a wooden stick?
- I’ve just come back from my Bo-jutsu class. I’m finishing quite late and I was hoping not to run into any problems…
- I understand. You go home carefully, I’ll call my colleagues.
I finally left that sinister alley, walking away quickly. I didn’t like lying, my father always told me that I had to be honest with others. Of course, he was right, but he didn’t hunt witches and goblins at night. Centuries ago, being a spook was not accepted, nowadays there was no other choice but to act in the shadows.
After several minutes of walking, I heard the bell of the city cathedral ring. It was already eleven at night, I would have a hard time justifying such a delay to my parents. I was living in a large family, but that didn’t mean that my father and mother would forget me.
I arrived at the foot of our building and quickly climbed the stairs. Once on the seventh floor I entered as quietly as possible. My father was getting up early to go to work with my older brother on a farm outside the city. Maybe he was already asleep at this time…
The apartment was pitch black and silent. Maybe if I walked very quietly then…
- Tom? called a female voice from the kitchen.
I tensed up. No matter how hard I tried, my mother always surprised me when I was late. Despite her long days as a nurse in the maternity ward, she was still very attentive, even though it was becoming superhuman at this point. I really hadn’t made a sound this time…
I walked to the kitchen and greeted my mother with a smile. I still had a hard time lying to her. I always had the impression that she knew exactly what I was hiding from her.
- Where were you? she asked, pointing to a chair.
I put my stick against the wall, took off my coat, and sat down at last. I answered in a tired voice:
- I was coming back from my bô-jutsu class. You’re the one who signed me up for it, remember?
- Yes, I remember it very well. I also remember that he finishes at ten o’clock and that he is half an hour’s walk from here. So that doesn’t explain why you’re back so late.
I sighed and apologized:
- Sorry, I’l come home early next time.
- I hope so. Especially because, knowing you, you’ll still be up all night reading those old notebooks your grandfather left you.
- These journals are fascinating! It’s a shame they’re so incomplete, I’m missing out on a lot of information because of that…
- They’re just stories after all, right?
She gave me an enigmatic smile. I had the impression that she knew more than she was willing to admit.
- It’s time to go to sleep Tom. You have school tomorrow, she reminded me.
I sighed, she was right but I didn’t want to end the conversation yet.
- .. what if what’s in these notebooks is true?
- Come on, boy, there’s no such thing as witches, is there? Otherwise this world would be a dangerous place. Besides, we’d know about it, wouldn’t we?
- I’ve read somewhere that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to make people believe he didn’t exist. If witches were real then they might try to hide as much as possible, don’t you think?
- Of course, but then they would be difficult to find. How can they be distinguished from other women?
I wanted to tell her that we could feel it when we were in the presence of the dark, but Mom would say that I was mad.
I stood up and picked up my stick, smiling.
- You’re right, so I feel like saying that witches are all women who are not like you ?
- Come on Tom, you have a very sad and wrong view of the world! Go get some rest, you’re talking nonsense!
I smiled and left. I was lucky enough not to share my room with any of my six brothers. I was most peaceful. I put my stick on my desk and sat down on my bed. I turned on the bedside lamp, impossible to sleep without it. I was still afraid of the dark, despite being fourteen. It was a detail I was careful not to tell the others.
I picked up one of the old leather-bound books on my nightstand. These journals were so old that the ink had faded in places and some pages were missing. Yet, every night I read again and again the adventures of this hero who was my namesake. Tom Ward, the spook