Welcome to Coven, my most active work in progress (WIP). Currently coming in at just over 36,000 words, this collection of short stories will introduce the members of a modern, benevolent coven of witches. I can clearly imagine their stories eventually spanning multiple volumes, but as with all of my other full-length works in progress, first I need to finish this one.
We begin with Jade. Enjoy!
Coven. The word drew Jade’s eyes to the poster tacked up on the public notice board. She let her salad fork with a juicy bite of grilled chicken come to rest in its plastic tray and focused instead on the poster. Why did that word stand out? She stood up and moved closer. Words like sisterhood, circle, love, power, peace, connection overlaid the larger lighter print, but Jade felt she hadn’t even seen these bolder words until stepping nearer. The word coven pulled her in, and she wondered why.
Jade reminded herself the question was academic. Working at Mertz-Blanchard, the medium-sized ad agency in town, she always felt compelled to study advertising of all kinds and learn what she could about which strategies succeeded in catching the public’s attention and motivating the consumer to act. Still, this felt different, and even after trying to convince herself that her interest was purely professional, Jade felt something more, something in her chest, a yearning.
She shook her head a little and pulled out her phone, framing the poster on its screen. Rav in the graphic design department could pick it apart for her, tell her everything she needed to know about why this ad had caught her eye. Holding her phone steady, Jade watched as the word coven suddenly became bolder and bigger in the image on the screen, as if literally jumping off the poster toward her. She gasped and jerked backward a step, her eyes flying upward to the paper, but of course, nothing on it had actually changed.
“Jesus!” she swore, still feeling her heart race, “I need to get more sleep!” Jade raised her phone again and hurriedly took the photo, before striding back to the bench where she’d been having lunch. As she gathered up her purse, closing the salad tray, she couldn’t help throwing one last glance at the poster before turning away to begin the short trek back to the office.
Back at her desk, 15 minutes later, Jade pulled the photo from the cloud drive onto her work computer. She realized she hadn’t even read the rest of the poster when she’d stood in front of it, and though she chided herself for it, she felt safer studying the details on her computer. Here in the office, all such things were strictly business. Just below the collage of words an abstract illustration showed a circle of women, their arms resting on each other’s shoulders, entwining one to the next. Below that, the words
We call all our sisters to join us. If you belong, you will know.
At the bottom, a URL. Jade felt the same yearning rising up inside of her before she could guard against it. Reflexively, she clicked the X to close the image and opened her email to compose a quick message.
Saw this poster on my lunch today in the triangle downtown. The word coven really jumps out at me.
Jade paused for a moment in her typing, thinking uncomfortably about how precise those words actually were.
Hoped you could have a look when you get a minute, and let me know what they did to them to make them stand out so well.
Clicking send, Jade smiled, anticipating his response. She really liked Rav. He possessed the quick wit and dry sense of humor, seemingly so requisite for designers, but he balanced it out with a hidden generosity of spirit that he gave freely to anyone he found genuine and intelligent.
He’d made mention a few times since Jade had come to the agency two years ago, that he appreciated her talents and her distaste for the petty office drama. Jade hadn’t known whether he was flirting with her, but they’d hung out a few times, especially at the office parties whenever one of the execs landed a big client or got a signature on a large media contract.
Right now, she needed to clear her mind though. She’d left her weekly monitoring of the social media campaigns for after lunch today, something she tried never to do, but it had been one of those mornings. Roland Blanchard, “Roley” to all the higher-ups, was on one of his tirades about the general manager’s “incompetence.”
Anita, one of the partners had gone all around the office spreading the news. “Roley’s on tilt today. Just keep your heads down.” Jade couldn’t decide if it was worse being blindsided by Roland’s mania or knowing that it was going to be one of those days, but she’d had to change her plans and make sure the project proposal she was working on for him was finished in case he decided to turn his ire on her.
Luckily, she hadn’t seen him all morning, but that had done little to reduce her anxiety which was why she’d gone out of the office for lunch in the first place. Now, she wasn’t sure her lunch time had helped calm her nerves at all.
She also couldn’t ignore the little question that kept popping into her head. She felt sure that the weird little poster incident was probably due to stress and lack of sleep, but she couldn’t figure out why the word Coven had attracted her in the first place or why just looking at the poster kindled such an unnamable desire within her.
After work, Jade walked to the little meat market/grocery not far from the agency and bought some fresh salmon and a few other ingredients. Hopping off the bus just a block from her apartment, she thought as she often did about how lucky she was to live in this city, to have her dream job, to not be burdened by student loans.
Jade’s grandmother, the one the whole family called crazy, had left a small fortune in trust for Jade, her only grandchild. No one had thought “Nonnie” had any money at all, but it had been plenty to send Jade to a good college, especially with the help of the scholarships she’d earned.
Turning the last corner onto her street, Jade saw the light green VW in the driveway which meant she’d find her roommate Macie upstairs. The thought widened Jade’s smile. Roomies all through college, Jade and Macie had seen no reason to let a good thing go when they graduated. When Jade got the offer from Mertz-Blanchard where she’d interned her senior year, the girls had popped open a bottle of champagne, because it meant they’d both get to stay in the city they’d fallen in love with.
Macie’s job teaching third grade didn’t pay extraordinarily well, but like so many other things Jade loved about her roomie BFF, Macie neither took advantage nor acted weird about Jade picking up the financial slack for her from time to time. They joked often about being the perfect couple if only they were lesbians, but like all things that could’ve complicated their immaculate friendship, it was just a joke. At the door, Jade turned her key in the lock, thinking how excited Macie would be about the salmon.
An hour and a half later the girls giggled together between the last few bites of their delectable dinner. With a waning glass of wine in her hand, Jade realized the tensions of the day had almost left her, and it brought her mind back around the strange poster. She’d forgotten to check for a reply from Rav before leaving the office.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Macie chided her. “Your work face is coming back. Get that off of there.”
Jade shook her head mirthfully at her roomie who’d learned to read her so well over the years. Though she couldn’t imagine why, she felt hesitant to tell Macie about the poster, so instead she recounted the “Roley rampage,” ending the story with her own extreme good fortune to have managed to avoid seeing him all day.
“Sounds like excellent work to me,” Macie said raising her glass in Jade’s direction.
“Cheers!” Jade concluded, and the girls stood up at the same time to clear away their dinner plates. Jade let the warm feeling from the wine win her over entirely as she fell into a familiar comfortable rhythm with Macie washing and drying dishes.
“We’re perfectly in sync at the sink,” Macie laughed and Jade giggled, lifting some soap bubbles to blow right at her roomie’s nose.
A while later, after winding down with the girls’ favorite guilty pleasure TV show, Jade lay alone in her bedroom, streaming through her phone to catch up on anything she’d missed during the day. Just about to turn it off and flop over into her favorite sleeping position, Jade found her fingers lingering over her camera roll. She hadn’t planned to pull up the picture of the poster again, but feeling safe and secure in her bed and still a bit mellowed from the tail ends of the wine’s influence, she let her finger tap on the folder and soon found herself staring again at what had so rocked her world in the daylight.
Now with a full stomach, her bedcovers drawn up to her chin and the comforting closeness of all her familiar belongings and talismans surrounding her, Jade felt more sure than ever that low-blood sugar and stress had caused her midday sensation. The image on the phone certainly wasn’t changing, or anything from the poster leaping out at her now.
What did rise again, inexplicably, that feeling of longing, the attraction to something she felt lay hidden just behind the actual words on the poster, and Jade tried vainly to make sense of it. For the umpteenth time, she carefully took in all the elements printed on it. She’d been in this business for several years now. She should be able to pinpoint why the poster evoked this yearning feeling within her, but nothing about that made sense.
A few minutes later, feeling extreme mental fatigue setting in, Jade reluctantly closed the photo and put her phone on her bedside table. She set her alarm for 20 minutes earlier than usual and vowed to take a look at the website printed on the poster tomorrow before she left for work in the morning.
When Jade awoke, just shy of eight hours later, she stared at the time on her phone in confusion for a moment, but quickly remembered why she’d decided to give up the few extra minutes of sleep. Her eyes darted to her fuzzy robe hanging on the back of her bedroom door, and she shivered in anticipation of the three cold steps between it and her bed. I could just browse it on my phone, she thought wistfully, but she knew she couldn’t trust herself to stay awake if she stayed in bed, not to mention she wanted to see the full desktop view of the site to be sure not to overlook any aspect of it. She shivered in anticipation, but she could feel the yearning to know more about the mysterious poster’s origins as if she’d somehow felt it all night, even while asleep.
Jade slid out from under the covers and winced as she trotted over to her robe and pulled it on. She shoved her feet into the fuzzy slippers and pulled the robe tightly around herself as she shuffled over to her desk and opened her laptop. She yawned as she sat down into the comfy office chair. She’d bought a pair of these for Macie and herself last Christmas.
Her laptop stubbornly churning for at least a minute in its boot-up, Jade thought, not for the first time, that she probably should replace her two-and-a-half-year-old machine. Still, she knew the reasons why she continued to put off that purchase, not the least of which being that a sluggish laptop discouraged her, to some extent, from spending hours at home on work projects.
When she pulled up the browser and typed in the URL from the poster, Jade realized she was bracing herself. Still, she gasped when the word “Coven” appeared large and bold on the splash page. It hadn’t enlarged or appeared mystically. It simply took up most of the space on the screen. “What’s my deal?” she chided herself. She scrolled down and found the same image she’d first seen on the poster, the abstract silhouette of women with their arms entwined across each other’s shoulders.
We call all our sisters to join us. If you belong, you will know. The wording was the same too. Jade narrowed her eyes and continued to read. A call to the uninitiated, Friday night, August 26th at 7 p.m. Diamond ballroom of the Regency Hotel, 116 NW 5th street… Jade’s eyes fell away from the text.
“The uninitiated,” she said softly. There again, the excitement and desire rising within her. Why? Uninitiated. It could mean absolutely anything, and Jade tried to scroll down further to find more explanatory information, but found herself at the end of the page. She scanned the text again, no links. She scrolled back up to the top, but found no navigation bar and no links of any kind, just a static logo in the upper left of the screen, a rune-like symbol superimposed over twisted branches sporting both blooms and thorns. Googling the image itself brought back no relevant results.
She’d been to the Diamond meeting room. About 18 months ago, the agency had held a ridiculous team-building exercise there. Roland had been wordlessly absent from the group that day and the other partners had, throughout that afternoon, quite conspicuously not mentioned him or why he wasn’t present. Jade had enjoyed the silly, somewhat goofy antics of that exercise, if for no other reason that she kept getting paired up and put in groups with Rav. How different would it look for this gathering she wondered idly before catching herself.
You’re not thinking of going? she wondered silently. Come on, there’s ZERO real information here. For all you know, this is some kind of cult or some ridiculous cosplay event. The latter thought struck her as incredibly probable. Her beloved city hosted a long-standing regional comic con at the end of every summer. She’d even attended a couple times in high school and college. In the last few years, she’d heard several live action role playing groups were enjoying a resurgence.
If you belong, you will know. The words fit right in with Jade’s theory, but for some reason they filled her mind heavily and insistently.
“Well I don’t know,” she said softly. The early morning silence seemed to reproach her for speaking what felt now like a lie. Jade shook her head in utter confusion. She looked at the date again, the day after tomorrow. Was she really going? Asking herself the question seemed to flip a switch in her mind, and she realized she was, as if the decision were made for her, by some deeper unconscious part of herself.
A voice in her mind, that voice that always tried to reassure her and rationalize everything was screaming at her to find some “reasonable” justification for all this, but like the scenes she’d watched in movies where characters stared into the camera motionless and entranced while wild and crazy things happened all around them, Jade let her pragmatic brain rave on, feeling momentarily impervious to its demands, feeling pulled in and joyfully consumed by something greater, something utterly reassuring despite its utter mystery.
“Jade-Lady?” Macie’s voice startled Jade from her reverie. Jade turned toward her roomie at the sound of the pet name. “You okay?” Jade had no idea what her expression might be telling her empathic friend, but she quickly put on a smile.
“Just a little groggy,” she replied.
Macie looked somewhat suspicious, but said only, “I’m out of the shower now. Just wanted to make sure you were awake since you’re usually in there by the time I’m finishing up.”
“Oh yeah, all good. Thanks.” Jade knew she wasn’t fooling her BFF for a second, and she would have to think not only of a way to explain herself later, but also an excuse to be late to the weekly happy hour with their gang this Friday.
She felt a pang as Macie gave her a little wave and closed her door. She never tried to hide anything from Macie, but how could she explain the strangeness that seemed to have taken root when she’d first seen the poster and now felt like it was growing and flowering out?
She wasn’t sure about any of it, but she was sure that if she didn’t get in the shower soon, she’d be the last at the table for the morning meeting which was never a place anyone but Roland could take without admonishment. She winced, hoping the firm partner would be in a better mood today than yesterday. The last thing she needed amid this confusing and inexplicable upheaval in what she’d started thinking of as her predictable life was Roland laying into her….