Part 6: The Challenge
Story Written by James Rada, Jr.
“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.
Thirteen-year-old Sarah Adelsberger said nothing when she arrived at her Aunt Anna’s house in Graceham on the first warm day of 1973. She should have been happy or at least in a good mood with the 68-degree temperature and sunshine. She also knew she hadn’t killed her teacher, and she wasn’t responsible for her classmate Christine Weber’s death either. It was a burden lifted from her conscience, but it had been replaced with another problem.
“What’s wrong?” Aunt Anna asked as she mixed some herbs and spices to a stew cooking on the stove. She looked like a witch at that moment.
“Nothing,” Sarah muttered.
“Sure seems like something’s wrong. You’re usually not so quiet. Are you having bad dreams?”
The dreams of Mrs. Zentz, her science teacher at Thurmont Middle School, had seemed too real when she had them. Sarah knew now that they hadn’t been her dreams at all, but projections meant to anger her.
“No, but…” Sarah looked her aunt in the eyes. “I suppose you already knew that!”
Anna Eichholtz stopped what she was doing and rinsed off her hands. “What are you talking about?” she asked as she dried her hands on a dish towel.
“I know about the dreams,” Sarah said. “I know you used me.”
Anna gave a light snort. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never used you. I’ve tried to help you.”
Sarah jumped up from her chair. “You tried to help you! You used me to get what you wanted.”
She hadn’t wanted to say anything to her aunt, but once she started, everything started to spill out.
“What I wanted?” Her aunt smiled. It was a nasty smile Sarah had never seen on her aunt before. It scared her.
Her aunt said, “As I recall, you’re the one who killed two people.”
“No, I know that now! Stop lying!”
Sarah turned and sprinted from the house. She ran across a field to Hoovers Mill Road. Then, she kept running until she reached her house.
* * *
Sarah’s nightmares returned that night. Mrs. Zentz attacked Sarah and tried to kill her. It didn’t anger Sarah now, though. Mrs. Zentz hadn’t killed her when she had a reason to. She hadn’t even been angry with Sarah for sending the birds to attack her, or rather, thinking she had sent the birds.
“I’m not afraid,” Sarah told the dream Mrs. Zentz. “You’re not real.”
Mrs. Zentz opened her mouth and growl came out. Her teeth lengthened and sharpened. Her hair grew shaggy. Spikes poked out of her back, and her fingers lengthened into claws.
The sudden shift startled Sarah, but she quickly calmed down.
Then the dream monster attacked, and Sarah screamed.
* * *
Monica Adelsberger ran into her daughter’s bedroom, still pulling her robe on. Sarah lay on her bed thrashing and yelling in terror but still asleep.
Monica shook her daughter’s shoulder. “Sarah, wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”
Sarah didn’t wake, but she quieted down.
Monica patted Sarah’s cheek. “Wake up, honey.”
Sarah calmed somewhat at her touch. Then her eyes opened, and Monica saw her daughter’s blue eyes had turned pale, so only the pupils showed.
Monica drew back sharply. She knew what this meant. She had seen it before. Something supernatural was in control of Sarah. It wasn’t a demon or spirit; Monica had fought that type of possession before. It had to be another witch.
Sweat beaded on Sarah’s brow, and her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Monica pulled sweat-dampened hair off her daughter’s face.
“Don’t be angry, sweetheart,” she whispered into Sarah’s ear. “Don’t give into the anger. Release it. She can’t control what isn’t there.”
* * *
Barbara Zentz startled the women of her coven when she walked into the clearing. Donna Eyler even screamed as if she was seeing a ghost.
Kate Montgomery looked from Barbara to Anna Eichholtz and back. “Anna said you were dead,” Kate said.
Barbara held her hands out to her side. “As you can see, I’m not. I’ve been … indisposed for a few days, but I’m back and ready to take my place among my sisters.”
The women in the circle nodded, but Anna shook her head. “I lead the coven now.”
“But you lied to us,” Kate said. “You told us Barbara was dead.”
“A slight miscalculation.” Anna’s light-blue eyes narrowed. “One that can be corrected.”
“You aren’t more powerful than me,” Barbara said.
“I don’t have to be. I have the coven’s power.”
Barbara had hoped Anna would give up her quest for power when she saw Barbara was alive. Unlike most witches who tried to work with nature rather than force it to their bidding, Anna would not give up her power now that she controlled the power of the witches in coven. The only way for Barbara to take back leadership of coven was for Anna to give up the power or for her to die.
“A coven is not for one person to control,” Barbara said. “You lead a coven, otherwise, you are a thief not a witch.”
Anna laughed. “You sound afraid, Barbara, because I’ve done what you are afraid to do.”
“We won’t let you control us!” Barbara shouted.
“I could care less about you,” Anna said.
She waved her hand, and Barbara grabbed at her throat. She dropped to her knees trying to catch her breath.
“Do you understand now? Even if you had used your power against me, it is the power of one. I have the power of many.”
Barbara knew what was coming and managed to throw up a shield, but when Anna’s power hit, it still felt like being punched in the face. Barbara staggered back but held onto the shield.
Anna struck again, and the shield broke with ease. Ease for Anna. It hurt Barbara so much she screamed.
Some of the other witches struck at Anna with different spells, but Anna’s power included theirs. Her shields easily deflected the spells.
The fire in the center of the clearing flared, spitting out fireballs. The women ducked and rolled out of the way of the flames. Anna would have jumped out of the way, too, but her shields stopped the flames.
Then she saw Sarah shamble into the clearing.
Sarah was tired and her head ached, but she had pulled herself out of the nightmare with her mother’s help. Now she had to stop her aunt.
“It’s over, Aunt Anna,” Sarah said. “Stop this before more people get hurt.”
“Sarah, Sarah,” Anna said in a soothing voice. “I am protecting you from people who would hurt you if they had the chance.”
“I don’t know these women. They aren’t causing me pain.” Sarah rubbed her temples. “You are.”
“I can stop the pain.”
Anna lifted her hand and threw Sarah backward. Monica ran out of the woods to help Sarah.
Anna laughed. “You shouldn’t have come, Monica. This doesn’t concern you. You walked away from this life.”
“And you pulled my daughter into it!” Monica yelled.
Sarah threw her arm out, but nothing happened to Anna. Instead, a hard wind blew through the clearing, nearly extinguishing the fire. Mrs. Zentz was right. Sarah had power, but she couldn’t control it. She had never been trained.
Anna raised an arm in Sarah’s direction. Sarah wanted to create a shield to block whatever her aunt would do, but she didn’t know how. She felt her mother’s hand on her back, and Sarah felt a shield form around the two of them. Although Sarah saw nothing, the shield felt oily for a few moments. Then the feeling vanished.
Anna’s blue eyes widened. She frowned. “Poor, poor, Sarah. You must worry over whether the police will find out what you did to Christine. Did Sarah tell you she killed a girl, Monica?”
Her mother didn’t reply, or if she did, Sarah didn’t hear it. She was caught up in a vision as if she was Christine Weber collapsing beneath the weight of thousands of birds. They clawed at her and pecked at her. Sarah screamed in pain, and a bird pecked at her tongue. She saw the birds. Many of them had their eyes closed as if they didn’t want to see what they were doing. Amid the pain, she could feel a presence pressing on them from behind, forcing them to attack when they just wanted to fly away.
“No!” Sarah screamed, although she wasn’t sure whether she said it or just yelled it in the vision.
She hurt all over. Her hair. Her toenails. How could Christine have endured all this?
“Stop, please stop,” Sarah pleaded.
And the birds stopped. It was as if they were frozen in air. She wasn’t free of them, but they had stopped the attack, which is what Sarah had asked.
Was she finally controlling the birds? Did she want to control them? Mrs. Zentz had said magic shared was more powerful than forced magic like her aunt held. The birds might not be witches, but they were influenced by magic.
“Can you help me?” she asked.
The answer came from far away not from the flock of birds surrounding her. “You can make us.”
“I don’t want to do that. I want to stop the woman who is keeping you here.”
“Yes, we want to go,” the voice said. Were the birds speaking to her as one?
“Then help me stop her.”
“We are afraid.”
“I will give you the power to protect and control yourselves.” Sarah thought she could do this. Her mother’s touch had given her control, without controlling her like Aunt Anna had.
“We would be free?”
“Yes, but first she must be stopped.”
Sarah remembered her mother’s whispered voice when she had been caught in the fevered nightmare Aunt Anna had created. Release it. She can’t control what isn’t there. Sarah had released the anger then and the nightmare faded. She tried the same thing now except with the power she felt within her.
She opened her eyes and dropped to her knees suddenly weak. Anna still stood with her hand out to her sides. The other witches were on the ground. Sarah still stood, and she could feel her mother’s hand on her back, soothing her and giving her control.
“You are strong, Sarah, but control is more important. Control allows you to take the power you want,” Anna said.
“Not if I’ve already given it away,” Sarah said.
The birds flew into the clearing. Anna shifted her stance, and Sarah could tell she had gone from attacking to strengthening her shield, expecting the birds’ attack.
They didn’t attack, though. They kept their distance, flying around Anna faster and faster. They started glowing red, but that shifted to orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Sarah wasn’t sure she was actually seeing it until she heard her mother gasp.
“What’s happening?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t know,” her mother said. “It’s beautiful. They look magical.”
As the colors shifted, the birds chirped and tweeted. It should have been a deafening chaos of noise, but the sounds blended so that Sarah could imagine it as a chant.
Inside the circle, Anna screamed, but the birds weren’t close enough to harm her.
“Are we free?” the voice asked.
“I don’t control you,” Sarah said.
The birds flew off in all directions. Sarah was sure when she left the clearing most of the millions of birds that had been invading Graceham for the past few months would be gone.
Anna was gone, but the birds hadn’t been close enough to attack. Yet, they had stopped her as Sarah had asked them to do.
She saw movement where her aunt had been. It was a crow left behind. Sarah walked over to the crow as it hopped around on the ground. Its wings didn’t look injured, but it couldn’t fly. Sarah was surprised only one bird had been injured in that swirling flock.
Sarah stopped near the crow, and it looked up at her with its blue eyes.
Sarah gasped and kneeled down closer to the crow. It didn’t move away. It just stared at Sarah.
“Hello, Aunt Anna.”
Who would have thought birds had a sense of justice?