The Initiation (Chapter Twelve)
"There shouldn't be a ritual," Deborah blazed back, her face dark and intense.
"You agreed in the meeting – "
"I agreed we had to do whatever it took to make us strong. But – " Deborah stopped and scowled.
"But some of us may not have believed she'd pass the tests," Faye interpreted, smiling.
Diana's face was pale and angry. The diadem she wore seemed to give her added stature, so that she looked taller even than Faye. Moonlight shimmered in her hair as it had off the blade of the knife.
"But she did pass the tests," she said coldly.
"And now you've interrupted a ritual – broken it – while I was calling down the Powers. I hope you have a better reason than that."
"I'll give you a reason," Deborah said. "She's not really one of us. Her mother married an outsider."
"Then what do you want?" Diana said. "Do you want us never to have a real Circle? You know we need twelve to get anything done. What are we supposed to do, wait until your parents – or the Hendersons – have another baby? None of the rest of us even has both parents alive. No." Diana turned to face the others in the group, who were standing around the inside perimeter of the circle. "We're the last," she told them. "The last generation in the New World. And if we can't complete our Circle, then it all ends here. With us."
Melanie spoke up. She was wearing ordinary clothes under a pale green fringed shawl that looked both tattered and fragile, as if it were very old. "Our parents and grandparents would like that," she said. "They want us to leave it all in the past, the way they did and their parents did. They don't want us digging up the old traditions and waking the Old Powers."
"They're scared," Deborah said scornfully.
"They'll be happy if we can't complete the Circle," Melanie said. "But is that what we want?" She looked at Faye.
Faye murmured coolly, "Individuals can do quite a lot on their own."
"Oh, come on," Laurel put in. "Not like a real Circle. Not unless," she added, "somebody was planning to get hold of the Master Tools and use them all by herself."
Faye gave her a slow, dazzling smile. "I'm not the one searching for the lost tools," she said.
"This is all off the point," said Diana sharply. "The question is, do we want a complete Circle or don't we?"
"We do," one of the Henderson brothers said. No, Chris, Cassie corrected herself. Suddenly she could tell them apart. Both the brothers looked white and strained in the moonlight, but Chris's eyes were less savage. "We're going to do whatever it takes to find out who killed Kori," Chris finished.
"And then take care of them," Doug put in. He made a gesture of stabbing.
"Then we need a full Circle," said Melanie. "A twelfth person and a seventh girl. Cassie is both."
"And she's passed the tests," Diana repeated. "Her mother was one of us. She went away, yes, but now she's come back. And she brought her daughter to us just when we need her. Just exactly when we need her."
Stubbornness still lingered in Deborah's eyes. "Who says she can even use the Powers?" she demanded.
"I do," Diana replied steadily. "I can sense it in her."
"And so do I," Faye said unexpectedly. Deborah turned to stare at her, and she smiled ingenuously.
"I'd say she can call on Earth and Fire, at least," Faye continued, maddeningly bland. "She might even prove to have quite a talent."
And why, Cassie wondered dazedly, did that make hairs on the back of her neck stand up?
Diana's brows were drawn together as she gave Faye a long, searching look. But then she turned to Deborah.
"Does that satisfy your objection?"
There was a beat. Then Deborah nodded, sullenly, and stepped back.
"Then," said Diana, with a quiet politeness that seemed to overlay an icy anger, "can we please get on with it?"
Everyone stood away as she returned to her position. Once again she lifted the dagger to the sky, then to the cardinal points of the compass, then to Cassie. Once again she spoke the words that had sent chills down Cassie's spine, but this time she finished them uninterrupted.
Earth and water, fire and air,
See your daughter standing there.
By dark of moon and light of sun,
As I will, let it be done.
By challenge, trial, and sacred vow,
Let her join the Circle now.
Flesh and sinew, blood and bone,
Cassie now becomes our own.
"That's it," Laurel said softly from behind Cassie. "You're in."
In. I'm in. Cassie knew, with a feeling of wild exhilaration, that nothing would ever be the same again.
Diana was unclasping the silver necklace she was wearing. Cassie's eyes were drawn to the crescent moon pendant that hung from it. It was like the one on the diadem, Cassie realized – and like Deborah's tattoo.
"This is a token," Diana said, fastening the chain around Cassie's neck, "of your membership in the Circle."
Then she hugged Cassie. It wasn't a spontaneous gesture; it had more the feeling of a ritual.
Next she turned Cassie around to face the others and said, "The Powers have accepted her. I've accepted her. Now each of you has to."
Laurel was the first to step up. Her face was serious, but there was a genuine warmth and friendliness in the depths of her brown eyes. She hugged Cassie, then kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I'm glad you're one of us," she whispered, and stepped back, her long, light-brown hair fluttering slightly in the breeze. "Thanks," Cassie whispered.
Melanie was next. Her embrace was more formal, and her cool, intellectual gray eyes still intimidated Cassie. But when she said, "Welcome to the Club," she sounded as if she meant it.
Deborah, by contrast, was scowling as she stepped forward, and she hugged Cassie as if she were trying to crack a rib or two. She didn't say anything.
Sean hurried up, looking eager. His hug was a little too long and too close for Cassie's taste, and she ended up having to extricate herself. He said, "Glad you're in," with his eyes fixed on her nightgown in a way that made Cassie wish it were flannel instead of light cotton.
"I can tell," she said under her breath as he stepped back, and Diana, standing beside her, had to bite her lip.
Under normal circumstances the Henderson brothers might have been even worse. But tonight they didn't seem to care if it was a girl or a block of wood they were embracing. They hugged her mechanically and stepped back to watch again with their angry, faraway eyes.
And then it was Nick's turn.
Cassie felt something inside her tighten. It wasn't that she was attracted to him, exactly, but… she couldn't help feeling a slight inner tremor when she looked up at him. He was so handsome, and the coldness that surrounded him like a thin layer of dark ice seemed only to enhance his looks. He'd stood back and observed the entire ceremony tonight with such detachment, as if none of it affected him one way or another.
Even his embrace was noncommittal. Sexless. As if he were merely going through the motions while thinking of something else. His arms were strong, though – well, of course, thought Cassie. Any guy who had an – arrangement – with Faye would have to be strong.
Suzan smelled of perfume, and when she kissed Cassie's cheek, Cassie felt sure she left a smudge of cherry-colored lipstick. Hugging her was like hugging a scented pillow.
Finally, Faye came. Her heavy-lidded eyes were gleaming enigmatically, as if she were aware of Cassie's discomfiture and enjoying it.
All Cassie was aware of was Faye's height and how much she herself wanted to run. She had a panicked conviction that Faye was going to do something awful…
But Faye simply murmured, as she stepped back, "So the little white mouse is tougher than she looks. I was betting you wouldn't even last through the ceremony."
"I'm not sure I did," Cassie muttered. She desperately wanted to sit down and gather her thoughts. So much had happened so fast… but she was in. Even Faye had accepted her. That fact could not be changed.
"All right," Diana said quietly. "That's it for the initiation ritual. Normally after this we'd have a party or something, but…" She looked at Cassie and lifted her hands. Cassie nodded. Tonight, a party could hardly be less appropriate. "So I think we should formally dispel the Circle, but go on and have a regular meeting. That way we can get Cassie caught up on what she needs to know."
There were nods around the circle and a collective breath released. Diana picked up a handful of sand and poured it over the line drawn on the beach. The others followed suit, each pouring a handful and smoothing it down so that the circle's outline was blurred, erased. Then they distributed themselves among the still-lighted candles, some sitting on the sand, others on out-thrusts of rock. Nick remained standing, a cigarette in his mouth.
Diana waited until everyone was quiet, looking at her, then she turned to Cassie. Her face was grave and her green eyes were earnest. "Now that you're one of us," she said simply, "I think it's time to tell you what we are."
Cassie's breath caught. So many bizarre things had happened to her since she'd come to New Salem, and now she was about to hear the explanation. But strangely, she wasn't sure she needed to be told. Ever since they'd brought her here tonight, all sorts of things had been arranging themselves in her mind. A hundred little oddities that she'd noticed about New Salem, a hundred little mysteries that she'd been unable to solve. Somehow, her brain had begun putting them together, and now…
She looked at the faces around her, lit by moonlight and flickering candlelight.
"I think," she said slowly, "that I already know." Honesty compelled her to add, "Some of it, at least."
"Oh, yes?" Faye raised her eyebrows. "Why don't you tell us, then?"
Cassie looked at Diana, who nodded. "Well, for one thing," she said slowly, "I know you're not the Mickey Mouse Club."
Chuckles. "You'd better believe it," Deborah muttered. "We're not the Girl Scouts, either."
"I know…" Cassie paused. "I know that you can light fires without matches. And that you don't use feverfew just in salads."
Faye examined her nails, looking innocent, and Laurel smiled ruefully.
"I know that you can make things move when they're not alive."
This time it was Faye who smiled. Deborah and Suzan exchanged smug glances, and Suzan murmured, "Sssssss…"
"I know everybody's afraid of you at school, even the adults. They're afraid of anyone who lives on Crowhaven Road."
"They're going to be more afraid," said Doug Henderson.
"I know you use rocks for spot remover – "
"Crystals," murmured Diana.
" – and there's something more than tea leaves in your tea. And I know" – Cassie swallowed and then went on, deliberately – "that you can push somebody without touching them, and make them fall."
There was a silence at this. Several people looked at Faye. Faye tilted her chin back and looked at the ocean with narrowed eyes.
"You're right," Diana said. "You've learned a lot from just watching – and we've been a little lax with security. But I think you should hear the entire story from the beginning."
"I'll tell it," said Faye. And when Diana looked at her doubtfully, she added, "Why not? I like a good story. And I certainly know this one."
"All right," said Diana. "But could you please try to stick to the point? I know your stories, Faye."
"Certainly," Faye said blandly. "Now, let me see, where shall I start?" She considered a moment, head tilted, and then smiled. "Once upon a time," she said, "there was a quaint little village called Salem. And it was just filled with quaint little Puritans – all-American, hardworking, honest, brave, and true – "
"Faye – "
"Just like some people here we all know," Faye said, undisturbed by the interruption. She stood, switching her glorious black mane behind her, clearly enjoying being the center of attention. The ocean, with its endlessly breaking waves, formed a perfect background as she began to pace back and forth, her black silk blouse sliding down just far enough to leave one shoulder bare.
"These Puritans were filled with pure little thoughts – most of them. A few just may have been unhappy with their boring little Puritan lives, all work, no play, dresses up to here" – she indicated her neck – "and six hours of church on Sundays…"
"Faye," said Diana.
Faye ignored her. "And the neighbors," she said. "All those neighbors who watched you, gossiped about you, monitored you to make sure you weren't wearing an extra button on your dress or smiling on your way to meeting. You had to be meek in those days, and keep your eyes down, and do as you were told without asking questions. If you were a girl, anyway. You weren't even allowed to play with dolls because they were things of the devil."
Cassie, fascinated despite herself, watched Faye pacing and thought again of jungle cats. Caged ones. If Faye had lived in those days, Cassie thought, she would have been quite a handful.
"And maybe some of those young girls weren't so happy," Faye said. "Who knows? But anyway, one winter a few of them got together to tell fortunes. They shouldn't have, of course. It was wicked. But they did it anyway. One of them had a slave who came from the West Indies and knew about fortune-telling. It helped to while away those long, dull winter nights." She glanced sideways under black lashes toward Nick, as if to say that she could have suggested a better way herself.
"But it preyed on their poor little Puritan minds," Faye went on, looking sorrowful. "They felt guilty. And eventually one of them had a nervous collapse. She got sick, delirious, and she confessed. Then the secret was out. And all the other young girls were on the hot seat. It wasn't good in those days to get caught fooling around with the supernatural. The grown-ups didn't like it. So the poor little Puritan girls had to point the finger at somebody else."
Faye held up her own long, tapering, scarlet-tipped finger, trailing it across the seated group like a gun. She stopped in front of Cassie.
Cassie looked at it, then up into Faye's eyes.
"And they did," Faye said pleasantly. She withdrew the finger as if sheathing a sword, and went on. "They pointed at the West Indian slave, and then at a couple of other old women they didn't like. Women with a bad reputation around the village. And when they pointed, they said…" She paused for dramatic effect, and tipped her face up to the crescent moon hanging in the sky. Then she looked back at Cassie. "They said… witch."
A ripple went through the group, of agitation, bitter amusement, exasperation. Heads were shaking in disgust. Cassie felt the hairs at the back of her neck tingle.
"And do you know what?" Faye looked over her audience, holding them all spellbound. Then she smiled, slowly, and whispered, "It worked. Nobody blamed them for their little fortune-telling games. Everyone was too busy hunting out the witches in their midst. The only problem," Faye continued, her black eyebrows now raised in scorn, "was that those Puritans couldn't recognize a witch if they fell over one. They looked for women who were offbeat, or too independent, or… rich. Convicted witches forfeited their worldly goods, so it could be quite a profitable business to accuse them. But all the while the real witches were right there under their noses.
"Because, you see," Faye said softly, "there really were witches at Salem. Not the poor women – and men – they accused. They didn't even get one right. But the witches were there, and they didn't like what was happening. It hit a little too close to home. A few of them even tried to stop the witch trials – but that only tended to arouse suspicion. It was too dangerous even to be a friend of one of the prisoners."
She stopped, and there was a silence. The faces surrounding Cassie now were not amused, but cold and angry. As if this story was something that resonated in their bones; not a cobwebby tale from the dead past, but a living warning.
"What happened?" Cassie asked at last, her own voice subdued.
"To the accused witches? They died. The unlucky ones, at least, the ones who wouldn't confess. Nineteen were hanged before the governor put a stop to it. The last public executions took place exactly three hundred years ago… September 22, the fall equinox, 1692. No, the poor accused witches didn't have much luck. But the real witches… well…" Faye smiled.
"The real witches got away. Discreetly, of course. After the fuss was over. They quietly packed up and moved north to start their own little village, where no one would point fingers because everyone would be the same. And they called their little village…" She looked at Cassie.
"New Salem," Cassie said. In her mind, she was seeing the crest on the high school building. "Incorporated 1693," she added softly.
"Yes. Just one year after the trials ended. So you see, that's how our little town was founded. With just the twelve members of that coven, and their families. We" – Faye gestured gracefully around the group – "are what's left of the descendants of those twelve families. Their only descendants. While the rest of the riffraff you see around the school and the town – "
"Like Sally Waltman," Deborah put in.
" – are the descendants of the servants. The help," Faye said sweetly. "Or of outsiders who drifted in and were allowed to settle here. But those twelve houses on Crowhaven Road are the houses of the original families. Our families. They intermarried and kept their blood pure – most of them, anyway. And eventually they produced us."
"You have to understand," Diana said quietly from Cassie's side. "Some of what Faye has told you is speculation. We don't really know what caused the witch hunts in 1692. But we do know what happened with our own ancestors because we have their journals, their old records, their spell books. Their Books of Shadows." She turned and picked something up off the sand, and Cassie recognized the book that had been on the window seat the day Diana cleaned her sweater.
"This," Diana said, holding it up, "was my great-great-grandmother's. She got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, and so on. Each of them wrote in it; they recorded the spells they did, the rituals, the important events in their lives. Each of them passed it on to the next generation."
"Until our great-grandmothers' time, anyway," said Deborah. "Maybe eighty, ninety years ago. They decided the whole thing was too scary."
"Too wicked," Faye put in, her golden eyes gleaming.
"They hid the books and tried to forget the old knowledge," said Diana. "They taught their kids it was wrong to be different. They tried to be normal, to be like the outsiders."
"They were wrong," Chris said. He leaned forward, his jaw set, his face etched with pain. "We can't be like them. Kori knew that. She – " He broke off and shook his head.
"It's okay, Chris," Laurel said softly. "We know."
Sean spoke up eagerly, his thin chest puffing out. "They hid the old stuff, but we found it," he said. "We wouldn't take no for an answer."
"No, we wouldn't," said Melanie, casting an amused glance at him. "Of course, some of us were busy playing Batman while the older ones were rediscovering our heritage."
"And some of us had a little more natural talent than others," Faye added. She spread out her fingers, admiring the long red nails. "A little more natural – flair – for calling on the Powers."
"That's right," said Laurel. She raised her eye-brows and then looked significantly at Diana. "Some of us do."
"We all have talent," Diana said. "We started discovering that when we were really young – babies, practically. Even our parents couldn't ignore it. They did try to keep us from using it for a while, but most of them have given up."
"Some of them even help us," Laurel said. "Like my grandmother. But we still get most of what we need from the old books." Cassie thought about her own grandmother. Had she been trying to help Cassie? Cassie felt sure she had.
"Or from our own heads," said Doug. He grinned a wild and handsome grin and for an instant looked again like the boy who'd gone racing through the hallways on roller blades. "It's instinct, you know? Pure instinct. Primal."
"Our parents hate it," said Suzan. "My father says we'll only make trouble with the outsiders. He says the outsiders will get us."
Doug's teeth showed white in the moonlight. "We'll get them," he said.
"They don't understand," Diana said softly. "Even among ourselves not everybody realizes that the Powers can be used for good. But we're the ones who can call on the Powers, and we know. That's what's important."
Laurel nodded. "My grandmother says there will always be outsiders who hate us. There's nothing we can do but try and keep away from them."
Cassie thought suddenly of the principal holding the hanged doll by the back of its dress. How apt, he'd said. Well, no wonder… if he thought she was one of them already. Then her mind drew up short. "Do you mean," she said, "that even adults know what you – what we are? Outsider adults?"
"Only the ones around here," Diana said. "The ones who grew up on the island. They've known for centuries – but they've always kept quiet. If they want to live here, they have to. That's just the way it is."
"For the last few generations, relations have been very good between our people and the outsiders," Melanie said. "That's what our grandparents say, anyhow. But now we've stirred things up. The outsiders may not keep quiet forever. They might try to do something to stop us – "
"Might? They already have," Deborah said. "What do you think happened to Kori?"
Instantly voices rose in a babble as the Henderson brothers, Sean, Suzan, and Deborah burst into argument. Diana raised her hand.
"That's enough! This isn't the time," she said. "What happened to Kori is one of the things our Circle is going to find out. Now that we're complete, we should be able to do it. But not tonight. And as long as I'm leader – "
"Temporary leader. Until November," Faye put in sharply.
"As long as I'm temporary leader, we'll do things when I say and not jump to any conclusions. All right?" Diana looked around at them. Some faces were shuttered, expressionless; others, like Deborah's, openly hostile. But most of the members nodded or gave some sign of acquiescence.
"All right. And tonight is for initiating Cassie." She looked at Cassie. "Do you have any questions?"
"Well…" Cassie had the nagging feeling that there was something she should be asking, something important, but she couldn't think of what. "The guys in the Circle – what do you call them? I mean, are they wizards or warlocks or something?"
"No," said Diana. "'Wizard' is an old-fashioned word – it means a wise man who usually worked alone. And 'warlock' comes from a word meaning traitor, deceiver. 'Witch' is the proper term for all of us, even guys. Anything else?"
Cassie shook her head.
"Well, then," Faye said. "Now that you've heard our story, we have just one question to ask you." She fixed Cassie with an odd half smile and said in a sweet, false voice, "Are you planning to be a good witch or a bad witch?"