Fatigue clung to him like the red dust on his hiking boots. Anguish slowed his pace toward the bed.
“Sedona,” he whispered, nudging the girl’s exposed foot.
She mumbled while pulling the blankets to ward off the morning chill, but did not wake.
“Sedona, we can’t be late.” He tapped her foot again.
She thrashed in bed, knocking her stuffed owl to the floor.
“I changed my mind,” she said.
He picked up the tattered owl with only one button for an eye and handed it to her. Seems like yesterday when they bought the stuffed animal for her in Salem, he thought.
“You made a promise. I’ll meet you outside in twenty minutes with your gear.”
He shut the door after turning on the light.
“Twenty minutes Sedona.”
He heard the sound of the hapless owl hitting the door. A rare smile etched across his face. Not a morning person like her mother, he thought.
He surveyed the luxury resort while enjoying the morning silence. He would’ve chosen a sleeping bag under the stars, but he did not plan this trip.
The door to the resort suite opened, spilling light into the darkness.
“You're cutting it close on time. Did you pack everything on the list?” he asked, while tightening the straps on his backpack.
She pulled her pink beanie over her ears.
“Yes. Mom helped me with my packing last night. Dad. It's too cold. Can we leave in the afternoon?”
He reached for her slack backpack straps.
“You agreed to meet them before sunrise, and hiking will keep you warm.”
She winced from the straps tightening around her shoulders.
“Can’t we go after breakfast? I don’t have your military training to hike trails without a light.”
He checked the time on his watch.“Dove, your eyes will adjust,” her father said, mustering the strength for the dreaded task.
Ten individuals dressed in cloaks worked under torchlight in a remote part of the desert.
“High Priestess, what is wrong?” a black-cloaked figure asked.
The high priestess’ red cloak billowed in the breeze. She removed her cowl and peered at marks on the ground.
“Something has disturbed our sacred site.”
The other cloaked individuals turned their attention toward the conversation.
“High Priestess, is this an ominous sign?” The cloak figure asked, inspecting the disturbed earth.
Their leader took a clump of dirt in her hands and pondered the possibility.
“Probably an animal, but if it was a person, they covered their tracks. Go retrace each point with salt, and then go prepare the altar. We will continue with the ceremony.”
The black-cloaked figure removed an object from a box wrapped in red silk and held it toward the moon.
“Careful with that chalice! Place it between the athame dagger and the wicker basket on the altar. The rest of you prepare the fire.”
The high priestess extended her arms and closed her eyes, whispering an ancient incantation.
“Yes, High Priestess the group responded in unison.”
Did I make a mistake in trusting my ex-husband to bring our daughter? Our lord will not tolerate any mistakes, the high priestess thought.
Sedona watched the cloaked figures in the distance.
“I can go no further with you. Take the robe from your pack and follow the instructions from yesterday,” her father said.
“Dad, I changed my mind. I don’t want this.”
“Dove, you committed to this path. The Smilodon family keeps their promises.” Her father brushed a lock of blond hair from her face and gave her a hug.
She didn’t want to leave the security of his over-sized calloused hands.
“Go change into your white robe behind those rocks. I’ll meet you here after the ceremony.”
Sedona slumped from the heavy course materiel of the cloak. Flute music enticed her as she approached a group dressed in black cloaks gathered around a fire. The smell of smoke reminded her of family camping trips.
“Sedona, do you seek the illuminated path?” the high priestess asked from the altar.
“Yes, High Priestesses,” Sedona said while bowing at the altar.
The high priestess dipped the athame dagger into a viscous liquid. She made the sign of the four elements over the wicker basket full of bread on the altar.
“We consecrate this bread to the mother goddess in honor of the neophyte,” the high priestess said, lifting the basket toward the moon.
“Distribute the bread,” she commanded.
Everyone chanted and tossed the bread into the fire. The high priestess’ red ceremonial cloak billowed as she descended from the altar holding a blade and chalice. She dipped the dagger into the chalice. Black liquid clung to the blade until she flicked her wrist, showering Sedona.
“Rise, my child,” the high priestess said.
She waved the gilded athame dagger and spoke in Gaelic.
Ten individuals shed their cloaks and continued to chant. The flames from the fire illuminated their naked bodies.
Sedona smiled, noticing no men were in the group. She knew her father insisted only women would attend the ceremony. It was his only victory. The knot in her stomach was gone.
“Sedona, shed your cloak. Leave the confines of fear and embrace enlightenment,” the high priestess commanded.
Sedona’s heavy cloak fell around her bare feet, stirring up the red dust. Her shivering, naked body was drawn towards the warmth of the fire. The high priestess removed a wrought iron brand from the fire.
“Extinguish the fire,” the High Priestess commanded.
The coven logo glowed bright orange from the flames.
“Walk through the ashes andbe reborn,” she said.
Sedona wiped the tears from her cheeks while avoiding the glowing embers.
“Do you choose our coven mark?” the high priestess asked, holding the glowing iron brand.
“High Priestess, I prefer a tattoo.” Boos and hisses erupted.
“Silence!” “Embrace our neophyte,” the high priestess said.
The hypnotic flute beckoned Sedona with each step toward her waiting father. She stopped on the trail to look at her new coven preparing for the sunrise ritual and considered joining them.
“How did it go?” her father asked, concealing his Rosary.
“The ceremony was uncomfortable,” she said, twisting a strand of hair around her finger.
“Spare me the details. Did you receive the powers of the coven?”
“I tried conjuring breakfast as a surprise for you, but no such luck.”
“Breakfast would have been a surprise. Do they know you don’t feel any different after the ceremony?”
“They unrolled their yoga mats and ignored me. Why are you smiling? You never smile, Dad.”
“Thinking of breakfast, Dove. Do you want to wait for your mother to join us?”
“Let's go eat. Will miss the buffet if we wait for her.”
“Lead the way.”
Maybe my clandestine protective measures worked, he thought.
“Dad, I see the lodge. I am ordering a pile of crispy bacon!”
A figure appeared on the trail, blocking their path.
“Top of the morning. I am the Harvester, but you can call me Tippy,” the figure said.
Tippy removed his hat and bowed to Sedona, revealing a bald head stained with Celtic tattoos. His leathery skin clung to his bones like the desert lizards darting across the trail.
“Hello, Tippy,” Sedona’s father said, noticing the weathered old man’s vibrant eyes, which stood in striking contrast with his gaunt husk of a body.
“Did you enjoy my music?” Tippy asked, stirring up red dust on the trail with his walking stick.
“Do you play every morning? Your music is enchanting.”
“I play every day for the tourists streaming from the luxury resort to sample the majestic desert, but today the music is for you, Sedona.”
“How do you know my name?”
Hugh cringed, while the Harvester spun around on his walking stick.
“You never told your daughter we met eighteen years ago on this trail?”
Tippy kicked his feet in the air and laughed in a high-pitched squeal.
“Sedona, I met your parents on this trail andtold them they would have a baby girl.”
“Tell me, Hugh, what do you think of my special song for your daughter?”
“Eighteen years scurrying around these trails, and your music has not improved.”
“Tsk, tsk, Hugh, you have not changed. Missing the joys of life because of you believed in those woman’s beads you carry.”
“Is Tippy’s story true, Dad?”
“Yes, Dove, your mother and I had the misfortune of meeting the Harvester.”
“Dad, I remember why his music is familiar. When I was a little girl playing in Mom’s garden, I would hear music like his.”
“Right, you are, my dear. I have been watching over you.”
“How is that possible, Tippy? I am not from Arizona.”
Sedona’s father moved closer to the Harvester.
“I have an item to help you understand the hidden world in my satchel.”
Tippy opened his satchel.
“You brought me a gift, Tippy?”
“A mere trinket compared to the gift you will bring to the world.”
“What gift could I offer the world?”
Tippy enjoyed her dismayed expression.
“Sedona, stay behind me!”
The Harvester snarled at Hugh, revealing his pointed yellow teeth as he opened the satchel.
“Relax Hugh, I mean no harm.”
The Harvester reached into his satchel.
“Desert flowers for you, Sedona.”
“Look Dad, they are beautiful! Thank You, Tippy.”
“My child, soon you will know the secrets kept from the world.”
The bouquet vanished.
“Enough of this magic,” Hugh said.
The Harvester’s high-pitched laugh echoed through the canyon.
“Open your pack, my child.”
Sedona removed her backpack, waiting for her father’s approval.
“Go ahead, Dove, open your pack.”
Her smile returned, opening her backpack.
Tippy spun on his walking stick inanticipation.
“What is it, Sedona?” her father asked.
“I don’t know. The object is cool and feels polished.”
Sedona recoiled from a sensation. She opened her hand to reveal a carved heart matching the red sandstone cliffs of the desert.
“A trinket from a souvenir shop? Give the Harvester his stone, and we will be on our way,” Hugh said.
“Sarcasm ruins everything, Hugh.”
Tippy turned to Sedona.
“Keep the treasure with you at all times.”
“Thank you, Tippy.”
Tippy removed his hat, and bowed to Sedona.
“Till our paths cross again, my dear Sedona.”
Hugh closed the door and ran his hand over the plush red cloak draped on a chair. The room reeked of bonfire smoke.
“Sorry I missed breakfast,” Amy said, wearing a plush bathrobe and drying her hair.
Hugh noticed her companion in a resort robe and holding a bundle of clothes wrapped in a cloak as she attempted to sneak out of the suite.
“Your daughter has questions about the ceremony,” Hugh said.
He opened the balcony doors and breathed in the fresh air.
“Maybe it’s time you leave your obsolete beliefs and join our path,” Amy said.
Amy’s robe fell from her shoulders. She opened her makeup bag with a coy expression.
“Maybe Sedona should attend college instead of following your path.”
He despised her Gothic makeup covering her natural radiance.
“Oh, Hugh, we’ve discussed this. What we ask of her transcends the individual. Where is Sedona now?”
He kissed the top of her head and walked toward the window.
“Lounging by the pool.”
He recognized the woman from Amy’s suite sitting next to Sedona.
“Good, I’ll go talk to her.”
Sedona waved to him from the resort pool.
“Too late. Your friend from this morning found her.”
Hugh looked away from the window and faced Amy.
“Why can’t you appreciate the opportunities Sedona will have in my coven?”
Hugh looked away as she dropped her robe and put on her bathing suit.
“I Will support Sedona’s decision to leave the coven,” Hugh said.
Hugh’s relaxed demeanor infuriated Amy.
“You don’t understand the consequences of her decision because you are on the outside of the circle. Sedona knew she could leave the coven before the sealing ceremony.”
“Our divorce was difficult for Sedona. She stayed in the coven to avoid disappointing you,” Hugh said.
“Enough! The sealing ceremony can’t be revoked. Sedona chose this life. I am taking her into town with me,” Amy said.
Sedona plunged her hands into a pile of polished stones.
“Mom, why is this store special? It sells New Age junk like the other shops in town.”
“Tourists visit this store for healing items. The owner sponsored our trip to the resort.”
Sedona rolled her eyes while rummaging through the shelves.
“Not the secretive benefactor story again.”
A figure appeared at the back of the store.
“Your mother is correct.”
“Who is that? She is a relic from the past, wearing a Victorian dress?”
Amy bowed to the woman.
“Enchantress, I am sorry for my daughter’s outburst. Social media corrupts her generation. I would like you to meet Sedona.”
The woman motions for Amy to rise.
“Television was likely your surrogate parent, yet you grew up without blemishes,” the woman said.
“Bring your daughter to me so I can swat here with my cane!”
“She’s kidding. This is Enchantress Arida Ossa,” Amy said.
Ms. Ossa extended a wrinkled hand with age spots toward Sedona.
“My dear, I remember swaddling you in blankets.”
“Nice to meet you,” Sedona said.
Sedona rubbed her hand to regain circulation after the handshake.
“Take my arm, Sedona, and help an old woman walk. I am going to show you something.”
Ms. Ossa tapped the corner of a full-length mirror with her cane, opening the door to a hidden room.
Sedona surveyed the glass containers holding various substances.
“I recognize this room! It reminds me of my mother’s workshop,” Sedona said.
“Ms. Ossa taught me everything I know about our craft,” Amy said.
She handed Sedona a glass jar filled with dried herbs.
“My dear, how was your walk? Did you meet anyone interesting?” Ms. Ossa asked.
Sedona placed the jar on the shelf.
“We met a person.”
Ms. Ossa, Leaned on her cane.
“Tell me more.”
Sedona moved closer to Ms. Ossa.
“He was odd, very skinny, alert eyes, and lots of energy. His name is Tippy.”
Ms. Ossa Smiled.
“Wonderful! You met the Harvester, my dear.”
Sedona recoiled from the stench of Ms. Ossa’s breath. She needs to see a dentist to fix those yellow teeth, Sedona thought.
“Have you met Tippy, Ms. Ossa?”
“My mother and I met the Harvester hiking about your age.”
Sedona removed an object from her pocket.
“Did Tippy give you one of these?” Sedona asked.
Ms. Ossa smiled at Amy.
“The Harvester gave me one of his stones; I always have my desert treasure with me.”
Sedona turned her stone over in her hand, thinking of Tippy.
“Why do you call him the Harvester instead of Tippy, Ms. Ossa?”
Ms. Ossa sighed.
“My dear, when we are young and naive, we call the Harvester by his other name.”
Ms. Ossa extended her hand toward Sedona.
“Show me your carved stone,” Ms. Ossa said.
Sedona gave her the stone.
“You did indeed meet the Harvester.”
Her yellowed fingernail picked at the engraved Canaanite symbol on the stone.
“May I see yours, Ms. Ossa?” Sedona asked.
“Of course, my dear.”
She took a stone encased in a gold locket from around her neck and handed it to Sedona.
“The stones are the same except for the symbols. I don’t think Tippy carved these stones. He must buy them from a store.”
“Sedona, the Harvester, carves each stone and imbues them with magic.”
“Only a machine can create the same shape with no noticeable differences,” Sedona said.
“The Harvester is like a machine. He carves these stones every year without interruption,” Ms. Ossa said.
“I don’t believe it. Tippy is weak.”
Sedona handed Ms. Ossa’s stone back to her.
“Don’t let the Harvester’s feebleness fool you. He is a powerful magician. He gives away many stones on the trail, but only special people receive stones like ours.”
Amy helped Ms. Ossa put her stone locket around her neck.
“Why are ours unique?”
“Our stones have ancient Canaanite symbols that identify our potential in life.”
Sedona furrowed her brow.
“What is my symbol?”
“Your stone has the symbol of the chalice. You will expand our coven beyond the borders of this country.”
Sedona glanced at her mother.
“Ms. Ossa, I am considering leaving the coven. I want to practice witchcraft on my own terms like my Wiccan friends.”
Amy recognized Ms. Ossa’s expression and braced for the onslaught.
“Why did you attend the ceremony if you intend to leave our coven? Is it your father’s influence?”
Amy motioned to her daughter not to interrupt.
“Your friends will never conjure real magic. Your obligation is the coven,” Ms. Ossa said.
A chime interrupted Sedona’s impending protest.
“Right on time! There is someone you should meet,” Ms. Ossa said.
Ms. Ossa and Amy bowed at the distinguished figure in a bespoke suit standing in the doorway.
“Good afternoon, my Lord.”
“Rise, my desert flowers,” the figure said.
He extended a signet ruby ring for them to kiss.
“This is Lord Wenham Mullan, high wizard of our coven.”
“Look at how low Ms. Ossa can bow,” Sedona whispered to her mother.
“Be quiet. Lord Mullan is important.”
“You must be Sedona. My beautiful bride,” Wenham said.
Sedona looked at her mother for an explanation.
“What are you talking about? I have never met you!”
Ms. Ossa hit her cane on the floor.
“Enough! You are embarrassing our guest,” Ms. Ossa said.
Wenham took Sedona’s hand and kissed it.
“You will be the mother of my child whom will unite the covens under one house,” Wenham said.
Sedona removed her hand from his clasp.
“First a wife and now a mother. All in five minutes!”
Sedona fled for the exit.
Wenham pulled Amy toward him.
“Let her go.”
He inhaled the smell of her perfume while holding her close.
“I thought you told your daughter about the wedding?”
Amy to a step back from his imposing bear-like presence.
“I am sorry, my lord. We can convince Sedona of her birthright….”
He backhanded Amy before she could finish.
“Convince her? That implies she has a choice!” Wenham said.
Ms. Ossa handed Amy a handkerchief to blot her bleeding lip.
“I suggest both of you continue planning for the marriage ceremony.
Amy found Sedona at a coffee shop.
“Mom, why did you do this?”
Sedona stammered between sobs.
“A bride of a powerful magician is a great honor.”
Amy handed Sedona a cup of hot chocolate.
“Wenham is from an ancient line of magicians.”
Sedona crossed her arms.
“He’s old, over thirty. Did Dad spend my college tuition on a dowry?”
Amy’s face softened.
“Your father does not approve of the arranged marriage.”
Amy glowered at a woman looking at them from another table.
“Good, at least someone in this family is not insane! Speaking of Dad, where is he?”
Sedona crumpled a damp tissue.
“I haven’t seen him since we argued about your wedding.”
Amy took a sip of coffee.
“I won’t marry him.”
Sedona recoiled from her mother. Fear pinned her to the chair.
“You don’t have a choice! You will fulfill your obligation to our coven.”
“Lord Mullan, your guests are here.”
Wenham surveyed the young crowd on the dance floor from his private office before turning his attention to the girl.
“Your name is Emily?”
She glanced at the marble altar in the center of the room.
“It is, sir.”
The marble altar reflected moonlight from the ceiling oculus.
“Do you know why today is my favorite day of the week?” Wenham asked.
Wenham circled Emily.
“Maybe… um… because it’s the weekend, sir?”
She fidgeted in her tight-fitting uniform of a club hostess.
“Think beyond the dull repetition of life. Friday is my favorite day of the week because famous people pay a king’s ransom for me to cast spells on their enemies.”
Wenham sat on a leather couch, motioning Emily to sit beside him.
“I want you mingling with my guests. What do you say? Will you stay and meet the influential?”
She approached the couch but stopped.
“Sir, I appreciate the offer, but I have a lab exam tomorrow.”
Wenham stood up and approached Emily.
“The contacts you’ll meet tonight are more valuable than a degree.”
He reached for the pendant around her neck.
“If you ask, you may receive. I know you’ve been searching since you wear the pendant of my coven.”
A noise in the ceiling startled them.
“Sir, I’ll attend tonight.”
Curiosity displaced the dread of serving drunk college students.
“Excellent. Bring the guests to the private dining room and set a place for yourself.”
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was three days ago, and these are my sins,” Hugh said.
Hugh clutched his rosary and kneeled in the confessional.
“I have killed a man to protect my daughter.”
A voice from the confessional interrupted his confession.
“We find your talents useful to our organization.”
“Who are you? You are not a priest,” Hugh said.
No response, only the sound of footsteps.
Hugh picked up a silver coin inscribed with the image of St. Michael. He read the invitation for a round of golf at Goat Trails Golf Club in the empty confessional.
I am not familiar with the course. Heads, I go play a round or tails, I drop the coin in the collection plate; he thought.
The coin landed on heads.
“Hurry, Mom, you’re too slow!”
The little boy darted along the red dust trails.
“Caleb, get back here!”
She lost sight of him.
“Well, hello, Sedona; a lot has happened since we last met on this trail.”
Sedona reached for Caleb.
“Harvester, I never expected to see you again,” Sedona said.
Caleb squirmed to get free.
“You are walking on my trail. My condolences for the murder of your fiance.”
Sedona tensed at the thought of being married to Wenham.
“He was not my fiance.”
Sedona restrained her son.
“He would have changed the world with you, but I digress. Tell me, does your bundle of energy have a name?”
Tippy pointed his cane at Caleb.
“It’s okay, Mom; I’m not afraid.”
Caleb broke free and approached the Harvester.
“My name is Caleb.”
Tippy clapped his hands.
“Caleb, a most fitting name for such a brave boy. My name is Tippy, and I brought you a treasure.”
Tippy waved both of his weathered hands in front of Caleb like a magician performing on stage.
“Guess which hand holds the desert treasure.”
Caleb pointed at Tippy’s hand.
“Your left hand.”
Tippy danced a jig and spun on his cane with glee.
“So smart is this one,” Tippy said.
The Harvester uncurled his hand to reveal the treasure.
“You chose correctly. Take this treasure. It will bring you luck for eternity.”
Caleb swatted the stone from the Harvester’s hand.
“Sunt Mala Quae Libas. Est Ipse Venena Bibas,” Caleb said, standing his ground.
The desert treasure fell into the underbrush along the trail.
“Look at him run, Mom!”
Sedona smiled at the red dust plume in his wake.
“Who taught you the Latin phrase Evil is the Cup thou offer. Drink your own poison?”
“Grandpa did! Why did Tippy run?”
“Latin is a powerful language to ward off evil, Caleb.”
Sedona reflected on the memories of her father praying in Latin.
“Will we see Tippy again?”
She reached into her backpack. The heart-shaped stone turned to dust.
“I don’t think we will, Caleb.”
Thank You for Reading,
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