The harvest moon is in the sky and the coven of three have gathered to offer up their thanks. And ask for some stuff. Hazel wants the Goddess’s love, Rose wants happiness, and Daisy wants a guy with a rocking body. But not all is as it seems. In fact, very little is…
There were three of them, as always. The harvest moon sat pregnant above them, the blood of the goddess making her glow red above the horizon. They found a spot in the woods where tree felling had left behind a narrow corridor all the way to the distant hills, above which the moon shone a crimson blessing upon their ceremony.
The spells were simple; wishes of love and good health, and maybe a nice bra in the winter sales.
Hazel spoke first. ‘Goddess of all that lies above and beneath the Earth, hear our prayer. We come to you in supplication, begging for all that is good in our lives.’
Rose went next. ‘Goddess of every living creature, heed our request. We come to you in supplication, asking for happiness and joy in the year to come.’
Daisy finished up. ‘Goddess of women everywhere, listen to us. We come to you in supplication, asking for a good man with a good heart and a rocking body.’
As silence fell on the clearing, the fire crackled and spat as if in reply. There was no reply, of course, not that any of the women were expecting one. Hazel believed, staunchly and without doubt, but since there’d not been a reply in the twenty four years she’d been worshipping, she didn’t expect one now. Rose was on the fence, about many things, and she was grateful enough for the fellowship the coven brought her. Daisy, for the most part, was here for the hot chocolate and laughs. She’d have liked an answer, just because she really did want a man. And the bra.
They waited with breaths held, before expelling them at the same time and turning to the picnic basket. A few minutes later, they sat in a circle, wrapped in blankets and sipping the vodka-enhanced hot chocolate for which Hazel was famous.
‘We should invite more people next year.’ Daisy said. She braced herself for the onslaught, which came soon enough.
‘Three is a sacred number, Daisy, as well you know. You know, I sometimes wonder how seriously you take this.’ Hazel snapped.
Daisy let out a long sigh. ‘I know, I know, it’s just so lovely being here, at this time of night. It seems a shame we can’t share it with more people. The goddess is all about spreading the love, isn’t she?’
Hazel sniffed and Rose chuckled to herself. There was a long silence which was, depending upon whose head you were in, either contented, amused or edgy. Hazel, disliking confrontation despite her best efforts to find it in everything she did, broke the silence.
‘The three of us are a coven. We can’t just break that coven because we want to have nice chats. This happens four times a year, don’t you feel you can just manage with Rose and I for those times?’
‘Of course I can.’ Daisy leant forwards, resting her hand over Hazel’s. ‘I’m not criticising you, sweetie, it was just a thought.’
‘Dark moon tonight.’ Rose blurted out. For once, Daisy and Hazel were unwittingly united as they both wondered whether Rose was trying to change the subject or just saying the first thing that came into her mind. The latter was likely, it being a habit of hers.
‘Aye, the goddess is bleeding.’
Daisy winced. Everything came from the goddess as far as Hazel was concerned. Everything. ‘Those oranges are dark’ someone would say and Hazel’s reply would be something about them containing the stained heart of the goddess. It was, of course, stained by the patriarchal system under which women had laboured and slaved for centuries.
Daisy ran her own business and holidayed everywhere from the Seychelles to the States. She felt, for the most part, very well cared for by the evil tyrannies of the patriarchal system, but she wasn’t going to say that. That would make her a traitor and she liked the hot chocolate far too much to risk being branded as such.
‘What makes it so red?’ Rose asked. Daisy almost bit her lip, but couldn’t help beating Hazel to the answer.
‘It’s lower in the sky, so the light passes through more atmosphere. That means the particles deflect the blue light we normally see, allowing the red part of the spectrum to be more visible.’
‘Really? Wow, that’s cool.’
‘Yeah, I thought so too.’
They shared a moment’s geekiness, both ignoring the frosty silence coming from the third corner of their triangle. Daisy leant back and sneaked a peek from the corner of her eye. Hazel was staring down into her drink, brows crushed together. Was she about to cry? A shiver ran through Daisy. She prided herself on being a good person, but at that moment she felt anything but.
‘I mean, that’s the science, but you know what those guys are like. They’ll make up any old bullshit if they think people will believe them.’
Hazel nodded at that, but remained silent. Daisy winced but did the same. She wasn’t going to back track any further. The science was right.
Rose stood abruptly and raised her hands to the sky. ‘It’s so peaceful tonight. Do you think she heard us?’ She aimed it at Hazel and their unofficial leader raised her head. Daisy could have hugged Rose, but Rose might have taken it as more than a friendly thing. According to words hissed between Daisy and Hazel when they were first introduced to Rose, she wasn’t so much bisexual as everyone sexual. Rose would, in less discreet terms, go for anything with a pulse, fussiness being at the bottom of the ladder.
‘She hears everything. She hears everyone.’
‘If she hears everyone, why do we need to come out here and do this?’ Rose asked, with the innocence only gifted the really dumb or truly innocent. Daisy knew she wasn’t innocent in that way, but perhaps questions like this were innocent. Perhaps.
‘We aren’t here to ask for gifts of the goddess. That is part of it, but our true reason for being out here is to offer gratitude. Too few show her the proper respect and by coming out on one of her nights, and offering ourselves in supplication, we let her know how loved she is.’
‘Oh. Okay, that makes sense.’ A beat. ‘I hope she heard us, though, I could do with some happiness.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Daisy interrupted. They didn’t get to hear much about Rose’s life, normally because she and Hazel did all the talking. But it was also because Rose just didn’t communicate like other people. She spoke in sound bites, bursts of often-unconnected sentences that demonstrated a unique gift for multitasking but gave away very little. Up till now, Daisy had taken it as her preferred method of communication, but perhaps it was just an inability to speak more clearly.
Rose was still standing, twining her fingers together and chewing on her bottom lip. ‘Nothing much, just been a tough few months, that’s all.’
‘But I saw you last month. Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘It’s nothing much, I didn’t want to burden you.’
Daisy sat forwards, holding her hand up towards Rose. ‘Sweetie, it’s never a burden. We’re your friends, that’s what friends are for.’
‘Yeah, I just…’
Hazel stood and placed her hands on Rose’s shoulders. ‘Daisy’s right.’ Was there a hint of resentment there? ‘We’re your friends. We’re more than your friends, we’re your coven. You can tell us anything.’
Rose shrugged. ‘Mum got cancer a while back. She’s been fighting it, but it’s tough, you know?’
Daisy groaned. The big C. Was there anything worse? ‘What sort?’
‘It’s a bit of everything, as far as I can tell. Her whole body’s wracked with it.’
‘What did the doctor’s say?’
‘Oh, they’re still arguing over it. Some of them are trying to claim she doesn’t have anything wrong with her at all.’
‘What?’ Daisy and Hazel said at the same time. Rose nodded, in that exaggerated, slightly child-like way she had. ‘I know, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But mum’s strong, she’s dealing pretty well.’
‘But the doctors—’ Hazel started, then stopped abruptly, staring at Rose. Daisy didn’t see what lay in her friend’s eyes, but she saw Hazel’s face pale beneath the moon and her fluttering fingers go to her lips.
‘I’ve heard your thoughts about doctors before, Hazel Fitzgibbon, so your ill-judged indignancy sits badly with me.’
Daisy’s mouth fell open. Rose’s voice had changed, acquiring a new sense of purpose. In fact, Rose had changed completely. She stood straighter, her long tawny hair no longer whipping about in the breeze that freshened the autumn evening. Daisy stood and trod across the soil until she could see Rose’s face. Then she dropped to her knees.
‘You heard us?’
‘How could I not, with your constant bleating and requests. Do you have any idea how tired I am?’
Daisy tried to find an answer, but her brain had stopped working around the time Rose’s eyes turned a bright shade of green and started pulsing.
‘Goddess.’ Hazel’s voice was barely audible. The goddess glanced at her and sneered, then turned back to Daisy.
‘Do you know how hard I have to work just to keep up with the pesky sodding Christians and Muslims? There’s so much noise around here, all the damn time. You lot don’t make it any easier.’
‘But we worship you.’
‘No you don’t. You don’t even believe in me. This one does, but only because she’s a bit weird. You couldn’t care either way whether or not I exist. So do you really think I want or need your worship?’
Daisy bristled and rose from her knees. ‘Hang on, surely a deity’s power is proscribed by the number of her worshippers.’
‘What?’ the goddess’s eyebrows shot up and she sniggered. ‘What world do you live in? Do you really think belief is measured in numbers like that? Belief is something utterly unmeasurable. If it was as easy as that, I’d be handing out free miracles and promising an end to hell—’
‘But hell’s a Christian concept.’
‘Exactly. But you still talk about it like it’s fact. That’s how much those bastards have expanded since they turned up. Little brat.’ She spat to one side. Seeing Rose spit, even though she knew it was the goddess, was somehow more disturbing than everything else.
‘Goddess.’ Hazel’s voice was even louder now and both Daisy and the goddess gave her a look before resuming their discussion.
‘Okay, so it’s unmeasurable, but surely the more believers you have, the more powerful you are? I mean, there has to be some logic to that, doesn’t there?’
‘You’d think that. But it doesn’t work that way. I could have one believer, but if they gave me everything, the way this one does, I’d be richer than if I had a thousand Sunday church goers who bitch about their next door neighbours and pinch things when they think no one’s looking.’
‘So Hazel is your ideal worshipper, then?’
‘Hell, no. Come off it, Daisy, you know her as well as anyone. She’s a complete nut case. I mean, the belief is there, but she’s not living by my creed. She kills spiders and wasps, she doesn’t offer succour to any strangers and her every other thought is about how bloody lonely she is.’
‘Really?’ Daisy stared at her friend. She and Hazel had talked about men a while back, but Hazel had been supremely unbothered by them. She said she was happier alone and had really meant it. Or at least, that’s what Daisy had thought.
‘Are you sure?’
‘What, surprised your friend isn’t telling you the truth?’
‘Goddess. You stole my mother.’ Hazel’s voice was stronger, now, and accompanied by her rising to her feet. Daisy took a step back as she felt something like a warm wall press against her. Hazel had her hands held up before her, palms facing the goddess.
The goddess herself – and Daisy realised that, in her head, she had looked a lot like Rose – merely raised an eyebrow and folded her arms. ‘I’m sorry?’
‘You stole my mother. She gave her life to you and when she lay dying, you ignored her. You took her from me my entire life—’
‘I remember your mum. A bit fruity like you, but much nicer. Died of cancer, didn’t she?’
‘Why didn’t you save her?’
‘Sorry, Hazel, that’s not what I do. She was getting on, though, s—’
‘You stole her from me.’
‘So you said.’ The goddess rolled her eyes and gave Daisy an exasperated look. ‘This is exactly what I’m talking about. Doesn’t matter if they’re Christians, Jews, Muslims, or you guys. You still want to blame the big guy for your own screw ups.’
‘I’ve waited twenty years for this.’ Hazel snapped before Daisy could respond. The next moment, something bright and sharp sped from Hazel’s hands and buried itself deep in Rose’s chest.
There was a beat of complete silence, during which Daisy thought she could hear the forest breathing. Then Rose’s body toppled slowly forwards until she crashed to the forest floor. More silence. Daisy’s mouth was open, but she couldn’t find the words. Hazel was utterly still, both hands thrust out before her, lips curled in a snarl.
‘What did you do?’ Daisy asked.
‘I killed the goddess.’
‘No you didn’t, you killed Rose.’
‘I killed the goddess.’
‘But you love the goddess.’
Hazel shook her head and stalked across to the body. ‘I loath the goddess. I’ve worshipped her my entire life, waiting for this exact moment. Arrogant bitch.’ As she reached the corpse, another bright light filled the clearing. Rose’s body shimmered, brighter and brighter until Daisy was forced to cover her eyes. When she took her hand away, the body was gone, along with Hazel.
Daisy was alone. With a picnic, some incense and a flask filled with vodka-enhanced hot chocolate. She took some deep breaths and examined the forest around her. There was no one here. What the hell had just happened? Without waiting for the answer she knew wasn’t going to come, she unscrewed the flask and took a long draft. Once her coughing fit died down, she settled herself onto the blanket and dug into the picnic. Rose said she was bringing sausage rolls and they would only go off if she didn’t eat them.
As she settled her back against the tree stump and lifted the flask to her lips again, she realised she would have to find a new coven. On the plus side, since Hazel wasn’t running it, they could have more than three members, and that Ann Summers party Daisy had been thinking about. And if, as she had the feeling was the case, Hazel had just become the goddess, there would be nothing funnier than having an underwear party in her name. It was just the sort of thing she’d have hated.
Still, she was going to miss Rose. She raised the flask up to the moon. It was even redder now, bleeding out into what was left of the night.