Maryanne Chappell dwells on the outskirts of the Jersey Pine Barrens, a space between reality and formidable horror. Her husband and four cats keep her from straying too far into the pines. She writes Magical Realism, Speculative Fiction, and Satirical Horror and occasionally wanders the path of dark horror when the spirit arises.

She has been recently published in the Freedom Fiction Journal and will soon be published in Haunted Words Press and Mobius Blvd (found through Dark Horse Magazine).


by Maryanne Chappell


Sadie stumbled down the crowded Manhattan street and slipped into an alleyway to rearrange herself. She fussed with the buttons on her long overcoat until the garment was loose enough to tuck her tails neatly back into place underneath it. They would sometimes slide out and snatch an unsuspecting squirrel or mouse. Then they would wait for an inopportune moment to present them to her as a reward. Or dinner. She did not know exactly, because she had no idea as to which mythical creature the tails once belonged.

She sidestepped a puddle and drew a circle with her finger in the air, creating a mirror. Good enough, she thought, and then brushed the mirror away with a flick of her wrist and exited the grimy alleyway unnoticed. Her destination lay ahead on the left: a dismal little shop with two words above the door that read Arcane Stories.

She fidgeted one last time with her coat and stepped inside. A bell tinkled, and dust fell around her as she entered the bookstore. The sudden silence made her pause. She would be severely punished if her sisters found her here. Every step she took was one closer to that fate, but she pressed on.

The aisles were narrow and lined with books piled high on the floor, making it difficult to navigate. The shelves were overstuffed with volumes of ancient reading material in no discernible order. In this mess, finding the book she sought on spell recantation would be near impossible.

She listened for the proprietor but heard nothing but her own heartbeat. She made her way to the back of the store where she had seen a door. She rapped lightly on it, and what felt like an eternity later, she rapped again. They’re probably asleep with their noses in a book, she grumbled to herself.

Suddenly the door opened as though her thought penetrated the wood, and she stepped through.

“Hello?” she called out but heard no reply. Ancient, heavy tomes that looked even older than the ones in the front of the store filled this room from floor to ceiling. The only furniture she noticed was a small stepladder.

She felt movement below her heavy coat and saw one of the tails lash out and scoop up a mouse skittering by. The long, slender tail brought the mouse to her face, so she was nez à nez with the petrified creature. As she looked into its scared, pink eyes, she noticed movement beyond it. Refocusing her gaze, she saw a man approaching her. Old and bent, he walked up to her with a thin smile, eyeing the mouse firmly grasped in the tail.

“I see you’ve found Basil. Here, let me take him off your hands...as it were.” He reached out and gently stroked her tail, and the appendage released Basil into his care. “You’ve come to the right place, my dear. I can help you with this, uh, situation you find yourself in.”

Sadie tried to grab the tail, but it moved away too quickly, as always. “Damn, you!” she hissed.

“No need for vulgarities; the tail has no mind of its own. It’s only reacting to your aura. It wants to please you and can feel your moods.”

“How do you know that?” she asked.

The shopkeeper looked at her intently and said, “I’ve studied the work of witches for many years. Yours is not the first ‘affliction’ I’ve seen pass through my door. Freidrich Müller, bookstore owner, archivist of witch’s lore, and curator of all things otherworldly, at your service. But you can call me Fritz.”

“I’m Sadie Abbott,” she told him. “The sisters cast this spell…this curse…on me.”

“I see. Let’s sit, and you can tell me your story.”

She followed Fritz to a pair of stools she had not noticed. She adjusted her tails to accommodate the backless seat and sat down. The three tails fanned out as though relaxing around her.

He offered her a box of tissues and urged her to speak. She told him, “The New Moon is in two days, and if I don’t find a way to remove this curse before then, I’ll be stuck with these tails forever.” Speaking as though he understood all the details.

“What did you do to anger the sisters?”

“A man befriended me soon after I became a witchling. He lured me into his confidence. Said that I could harness great power with his guidance. I became infatuated with him but I know now that it was his guile that tricked me. Like the steel strands of a spider’s web, he spun a cocoon of lies around me.”

“Was he a warlock?” Fritz asked.

“Yes, but I only learned that after I betrayed my sisters. My thoughts and deeds were my own, that’s what I thought. But I see now I was his puppet and he was pulling the strings.”

She continued, “He convinced me to steal something personal from the High Priestess. He said he needed it to protect me against them, should they come after me. It was her rune with the namesake of the Coven engraved upon it that he wanted.”

Fritz tsked and shook his head. “How was he able to convince you to do such a perilous thing?”

“I don’t know exactly, but he was burning incense and had a pocket watch that seemed to enchant me. Do you think he hypnotized me?”

“Almost certainly, my dear. Do go on.”

Sadie hesitated for a moment, then went on. “The sisters left one night, leaving me alone in the house. I crept into Morgan’s room, and found her most prized sigil, a rune depicting the moon and the name of the coven etched below it. It was hidden exactly where I’d been shown, and I snatched it up and quickly left her room.”

“And you were able to escape unnoticed?”

“Yes, or so I thought. I slipped out and ran as fast as my feet could fly until I reached his house. After he took the rune from me he tossed me out, saying if I was foolish enough to get caught, he had no use for me any longer.”

“How was he to know…?”

“Because he had been watching in his scrying pool. He knew that they had discovered my betrayal and were coming after me. As I left, there they were, standing in the street, waiting for me.”

“Oh, I see, a grave situation, indeed,” he said softly.

“Once they brought me back, I was imprisoned in my room. I knew that my demise was imminent when I awoke one morning with the tail of a beast thrashing beneath me, under the covers.”

He reached out and patted her hand encouragingly. “How did you finally free yourself?”

“I know a few spells. I fooled them into thinking I was still in the room while I searched my crystal for a place to go for help. They cursed me and argued about how to kill me as I walked right past them and slipped out the door. And came here, to your shop.” She sniffled, tears flowing freely. He handed her a tissue.

Sadie gulped back her tears and felt exhausted from the confession.

He plucked a small magnetic board with plastic letters splashed about from somewhere amidst the clutter, then placed it on her lap. “Touch the letters of the coven’s name in a random order so the word doesn’t manifest them. And whatever you do, don’t say the name out loud.”

She carefully scanned the board and touched the letters, looking up and nodding when finished.

“I love anagrams,” he said. “A good way to keep the mind active.”

She watched him work through it and saw the gentle smile on his face fade into a scowl. She looked into his eyes when he sighed and felt the weight settle back on her shoulders. She suspected the news would not be good.

“Can you help me? Time is so short, and I fear if I can’t remove this curse, they’ll take the final step and kill me. The stake will be my fate.” The tears she held back now flowed freely.

“A dark coterie you’ve wandered into indeed. This coven is of an older circle, one that practices torture and human sacrifice.”

She was right. The news was awful. Any hope slipped from her face.

“Don’t despair, dear,” he quickly added. “I’ve dealt with them before, and with some work, I believe I can help you out of it. Stay calm and trust me. I’ve been studying witches for over seventy years. If you have any chance of removing this curse, it is with me. Your crystal guided you here for a reason. The books I’ve collected from the world over are the oldest known documented works on witchcraft in existence. Now, I’d like to examine your tails. All three of them.”

Sadie lifted her coat to her knees, and the three tails swooshed out as though excited. He took a thick lens from his pocket and studied each tail carefully.

Each was different in size and circumference, and one emitted an offensive odor. The first tail he looked at had dull green scales shadowed with a red hue at the tips. It jerked as he inspected it, and he attempted to calm it by gently but firmly grasping it in both hands. “The scales feel dry and brittle,” he said as he examined it. “It’s likely competing for the same nutrients as the other two tails and losing, I’d wager.”

The second tail was the worst-smelling of the lot, with scales of a vivid blue. “This one seems as though it could have once belonged to a dragon,” he said. “It will be the most dominant, I fear, if we are not successful.” The tail slithered as he held it, leaving a black trail of mire across his palm. He pulled a tissue from the nearby box and quickly wiped it from his hand.

The third and last tail was the one that had found poor Basil the mouse. The silver scales were shaded with gold and were color-shifting as it was touched. It was reacting to his touch, a gentle chameleon, vibrating softly in his hand as his fingers caressed it.

“These tails all come from deeply different species. Each will vie for dominance as it strengthens and the rest of its body emerges. If each cannot separate, they will likely feed upon the others to release themselves. The situation is grave, and we do not have time to spare. It is imperative we do research now. This instant.”

He rose, bones creaking louder than the ancient stool he rose from. She followed him back into the tiny shop, further than seemed possible.

He led her through a maze formed by towers of stacked books. They appeared to grow around them to dizzying heights; she felt dwarfed by volumes of dusty knowledge as they wended through the labyrinth. She faltered as her tails thrashed, and the movement seemed almost panicked. She wondered if the tails could sense that she was preparing to battle them.

They rounded a corner, and she thought they had abruptly reached a dead end; an impossibly high wall of overflowing shelves stood in their way. But as she neared it, she realized it was a wall covered with a grainy tapestry depicting bookshelves.

Fritz pulled the tapestry back, revealing a hidden door. There was a metal ring in the place where a knob would sit. Curling his fingers through the ring, he slid the pocket door open. Sadie marveled at the man's ingenuity to conceal whatever lay beyond this door. She felt a surge of hope flush through her she had not felt until now.

When they entered, her eyes adjusted to the darkened room and settled on a crudely drawn pentagram in the center. Dust-covered shelves encircled it, giving the illusion that the room was round. An open, circular skylight added to the perception, drew in the cool night air, and allowed the moonlight to illuminate the room.

Fritz side-stepped the pentagram, and she followed. When he seemed to find the row he was looking for, he reached over his head and withdrew a tattered tome. “Let’s start with this one: Spells from the Renaissance. I have found it especially helpful,”

Sadie looked at the title of a book directly in front of her, Seeds of Evil: How to Create and Destroy a Monster. She pulled it from its home.

“What about this one?” She held it up for him to see.

“Very good! That one is a gem.”

Fritz pulled several more books from the bottom shelves. “We’re ready to begin.”


Elsie paced in her room, her face drawn with worry. Where could Sadie be? She sat at her table and removed the cover from her crystal ball. The crystal was dark; a swirling fog was building as she studied the orb. Frustrated, she pounded her fist on the table. “Why can’t I see her in my crystal? Damn that girl, she’ll ruin everything.” Then she snapped her mouth shut and looked around, afraid she had been overheard. Walls offered no protection when you lived with witches.

Satisfied she had not been discovered, she pulled a silken pouch from her sleeve. Then, cupped her hand and poured a small amount of the fine dust into it. She rolled her fingers over the powder, feeling the texture; it made her fingers tingle, and her heart skipped, then fluttered. The scent of jasmine filled her senses and threatened to intoxicate her. She spread the powder over her crystal, releasing its power of clarity and returning her beating heart to its normal rhythm.

She withdrew her hands and cleared her mind. And then it happened. The crystal ball revealed its secrets.

Her sight traveled beyond the confines of the glass, and she gazed upon her friend. Sadie was in a shop, sitting across from an old man, a stack of books beside them and an open one perched between them. I know what you’re doing, Sadie, she thought.

Her hands caressed the glass, seeking insight, and then she closed her eyes and spoke barely above a whisper, “Show your location, Sadie Abbott.”

When she opened her eyes, her face turned ashen. The crystal ball suddenly contained an image of Morgan, the High Priestess, who was smiling back at her with contempt. As Morgan  spoke from the crystal, it sounded as though she was sitting beside her.

“Hello, darling sister. Are you having a hard time finding Little Red Riding Hood?” Her words dripped with malice. “Just asking, from one wolf to another.” An evil leer twisted her features.

Elsie shivered under the icy grip of fear. She jerked backward and nearly fell from her stool. Recovering quickly, she offered a breathy supplication, hoping to be believed. “I tried to find her, High Priestess, for you. I know you want her, but her location remains a mystery. I regret having failed you.”

The door burst open, and the other sisters streamed into the room. They encircled the frightened Elsie, grasping one another’s hands. Dahlia, the second eldest, stood across from her and shouted, “Shut up, Elsie! We know you’ve found that pathetic excuse for a witch. Your friend will be reduced to ashes if she finds a way to leave the coven before the New Moon. And you will, too! If that wretch is successful, you will be skinned alive because I know you’ve helped her.”

Elsie conjured a large rock in her hand and hurled it at Dahlia. Dahlia screamed and went down with a thud, blood trickling from her flattened nose. She did not get up.

The other witches raced to Dahlia’s crumpled form and tried to revive the sister. Elsie took advantage of the chaos, grabbed her crystal ball and coat, and headed for the exit but was intercepted. The High Priestess stood in the door, blocking her way.

Morgan raised her right palm to the ceiling, her magic lifting Elsie off the floor. She fiercely swept the air with her hand, flinging the helpless Elsie high onto the facing wall. She hit a mirror and slid down, shattering it and landing squarely on her face. Broken glass stippled her cheeks, and the fall brought her to a full stop.

“How dare you harm one of your sisters and try to leave her here!” shouted the High Priestess. “I will skin you, then boil you alive before this night is out, as all the sisters watch!”

Elsie tried to push herself up, but her strength failed her. Her head was pounding, and it was all she could do to remain conscious.

Then the High Priestess rushed to Dahlia’s side and chanted something, rubbing the blood from her wound over her face and arms. Jackie and Susan followed behind her, and the three witches worked in tandem, building into a frenzied state of hysteria. Dahlia’s nose began to straighten, and she fanned her eyelids. Their spell was working. Dahlia woke up.


Sadie went into a trance and saw the images of her friend, she saw Elsie’s confrontation with the High Priestess in her mind.

She brought herself back to the present and said, “They’ll kill her, Fritz; we have to help her!”

“Maybe this,” Fritz said, skimming the handwritten incantation on the page before him. “No, this will take too long,” he muttered, quickly moving on.

Sadie found a verse and turned her book to show him, “What about this one?”

“Yes, yes, that might just work!” He took the book from her hands and nodded toward her feet. “There’s a small vial of incense tucked into that book there.” Sadie looked down to find a thick, leather-bound tome at her feet. She swore it had not been there a second ago. She opened the cover and discovered a cavity within holding an ornate box. Inside the box was the vial of incense, a shell of abalone on which to burn it, a book of matches, and a small candle in the shape of an owl.

Sweat dripped from her brow as she prepared the incense, the pungent aroma filling the tiny area. She looked at Fritz expectantly. His finger marked his place as he read on, and at his signal, she held the candle firmly in her grasp.

“Hold the candle gently; you don’t want to choke the power from it before it’s given a chance to work. And begin reading these words,” he said, handing her a paper he had drawn from the book on his lap. He saw her relax her grip, and she began speaking the words he had given her. Fritz softly chanted incoherent words of his own, binding them to Sadie's voice as she spoke.

As Sadie read the magic words, a soft glow appeared above her paper; it spun and swirled, growing brighter as it drifted toward and entered her consciousness. She followed its path in her mind as it descended upon Elsie’s still form. Then she envisioned Dahlia sitting up and wondered if they were too late.


Darkness threatened to consume Elsie. She forced her eyes to open and then slammed them shut against the sudden dizziness she felt, but not before seeing the sparkling glow that now surrounded her. Slowly opening her eyes again, she saw the floor beneath her grow. She looked around and found that her crystal had rolled before her. She felt herself compress as she watched her reflection shrink, and gossamer wings sprout from her back. In her diminutive state, she saw herself, a moth, hovering above the crystal with her newly formed wings.

The angry sisters around her started shouting, their bodies seeming to grow larger as she transformed. She flapped her wings furiously to remain airborne and hover above the crystal. She sensed a current of air and rode it upward, away from the grasping hands of the sisters, towards the open window. She flapped for all she was worth with her newly formed wings and flew through the window into the night.

The witches yelled at her, cursing her as she escaped their wrath, determined not to allow Elsie that luxury. They threw themselves at the window but found their feet unable to move an inch.


Sadie could see the images of Elsie flying into the cool night air and freedom beyond. She took the lit candle and sang the incantation from Fritz’s book.

“Take thee away and let them boil in their blood!” Sadie sang out.

She suddenly felt a searing pain on the right side of her face, and her mind saw a serpent’s eye and a lizard’s nose. The sisters were completing the curse! They weren’t waiting for the New Moon! They were changing her into a reptile right now!

“Keep singing!” Fritz shouted.

Sadie sang desperately, “Take thee away and banish all the sisters of this coven, present and future, forever more from this circle!”

Her face began to return to normal, but a new tail shot out from her coat. She looked at the witches, and each time she gained ground with her song, they used their power to change her body in some hideous way. She felt their power grow in strength and hers deplete.

“Don’t watch them in your mind!” Fritz called to her. “Just sing!”

​And she did. She sang the verses three times, and her body began to transform when she reached the final verse.

She let her lungs ring through the night air, “Take thee away and restore me, my body!” she sang with finality.

She opened her mind completely and could see the sisters wretch and burn back within the coven. Blood boiled under their skin, dissolving sinewy muscle to the bone—bone to ash. The witches howled with the screams of the damned as puddles of detritus seeped through the cracks in the floor to hell below.

Sadie felt euphoric and exhausted at the same time. Then she felt trepidation…what about the tails?

Fearfully she looked down and pushed her long coat aside. There was no trace of her tails anywhere. Then she stood and twirled, looking all about herself, but there were no horrid appendages. Relief washed over her as she felt nothing but her own legs beneath her coat. The curse had been broken.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Sadie jumped up and hugged Fritz. “Thank you so much!” she told him, nearly knocking him over.

“You’re quite welcome, my dear,” Fritz replied as he righted himself and stepped away from the excited girl. “However, now we need to discuss my payment for services rendered.”

Through the open skylight, a moth flew in and landed on the sleeve of her overcoat. It appeared to look up at her, then fluttered away. Fritz’s hand shot out, snatching the moth in a mason jar.

“This will do as payment for my services,” he said with a crooked grin. “I’ve always fancied a witch of my own.”

“You can’t have her!” Sadie cried. The glass jar shattered, and the moth was free. The moth landed on the floor and materialized into the woman that was Elsie.

“There are two witches now against one mortal man,” Sadie threatened.

“Fine,” Fritz said. “I’ll do this one pro bono.”