The Witching Hour

by Ashling 

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The portal is located in an average apartment, on an average street, in midtown Manhattan. It is not always open, nor can it be found by just anyone. Exact coordinates are necessary, and these are only shared once acceptance has been approved.  

You arrive at the address on the appointed day and at the appointed time. A glance at your watch tells you that you're actually a little early, so you walk up and down the block a few times pretending to look into shop windows. You don’t want to be late, but you also don’t want to arrive too early. In fact, you’re suddenly wondering if you want to go at all. Was this all a bad idea? Are you truly ready for this?  

The seconds tick by, you check and recheck the address, and with only five minutes to spare you think 'fuck it, what's the worst that can happen?' and pull the heavy glass and wood paneled door open. You smile at the bellboy but keep walking as if you know exactly where you're going and whom you're visiting. Best to avoid awkward questions and even more awkward answers. Once inside the elevator you let out a deep sigh as you slump against the wall, glad that you are alone, safe from awkward chit-chat or curious stares. The doors open onto level 12. 

Out of the elevator you turn left and see a door ever so slightly ajar. A yellow post-it gives instructions to “holler.” This must be the place. Your holler is reduced to a croaked hello. You knock to alert your arrival and then push the door open onto a small carpeted vestibule. Some of the hooks on either side of the wall have already filled with clothes and you count at least four pairs of shoes. You’re not the first, but not the last either. A woman appears from behind a white door at the far end of the vestibule. She is smiling and wearing nothing but her skin. Your cheeks redden and you try not to let your eyes wander below her neck. You begin to feel conscious of the layers of cloth weighing you down. Calming words flow from her mouth and under her encouragement you begin to disrobe. She smiles as you struggle with the zip of your coat and fumble with the buttons on your shirt.

 

“Take your time,” she says. Giggling nervously, you babble about loosing your way on the subway, while thinking to yourself that it's not too late to turn back. But her smile is so reassuring, and the glow of her skin so alluring. You’ve made it this far, if you ran away now you would be left forever wondering what you had missed. You continue pulling off your shoes, socks, and pants until you have nothing left to hide behind. She nods with approval and only lets you pass beyond the second white door.  

The blue woolen carpet, soft between your toes, runs from the vestibule into the next room, easing the passage across the threshold. You hold your breath as you enter the portal unsure of what to expect. You’re a little disappointed to discover a rather unremarkable living room, with nothing out of the ordinary except the half-moon of naked bodies at its center. The air is damp and alive with expectation. There is a faint scent of fresh pine leaves. You find an empty cushion, two removed from the throne. The women already seated around the circle exchange nervous smiles as they clutch their knees into their chests and struggle to come up with small talk. The mundane questions - Where are you from? What do you do? – are punctuated by long silences and repeated glances towards a third white door, still firmly closed. More women slip in. They are all on time. You admire their punctuality, their eagerness to open up.  

Only when the circle is full does she come, emerging from behind the third white door. A hush falls over the circle as she shuffles across the room towards her throne. Her movements are labored, the years have begun to weigh on her, she leans on her assistant’s arm as she lowers herself on to her cushion. She is at once one with the circle and at the same time her age sets her apart from her newest recruits. She has a smile for each of us. 

“Let’s rock and roll,” she says, grinning. With those words the edges of the room begin to shimmer and blur. The white walls dissolve to reveal a lush forest in full spring bloom. Twelve tree trunks emerge to frame a small circular clearing and the ceiling gives way to a canopy of rustling leaves almost 20 meters above. The blue wool melts into a carpet of damp leaves. The trees sway, birds chirp and a soft warm breeze blows over your skin, sending waves of goosebumps across your body. You lean back against the firm bark and let your muscles sink into the damp hummus. It is getting hotter, sweat forms on your brow, under your breasts and between your legs. You lick your lips, they taste faintly of salt, and take a sip of water. 

She convenes the meeting with two simple questions. Why did you come here today? What are you looking for? 

Around the circle you hear the same answers over and over. You find yourself joining a chorus of voices, shy at first but getting bolder, who are longing for more and for better. To heal. To grow. To know themselves deeper. To feel themselves more fully. They have come to find joy, create explosions and reach ecstasy. The circle throbs with the pulse of shared expectations.

“It's time to go deeper,” she explains. “Explore below the surface, out there beyond words. The portal is not confined to this room, each has her own, a power that is with you wherever you go.” She invites you to begin unlocking its gates, to open up and delve between the folds and caverns, first your own and then in the company of the others. The invisible barriers between yourself and the strangers seated around the circle fall away as you feast on the array rose, puce, purple and chocolate, the light and shadow, the peaks and troughs, the wide valleys and steep gullies. You glisten and shine, swell and contract, pulsating with the ever-increasing heat. There are smiles, then giggles, then raucous cackles. 

She calls you back into the circle, invites you to pluck a strawberry from the intertwining bushes at the edge of the clearing. You take a sip of water. A low hum, like the buzz of honeybees, fills the air. The sun begins to settle in the west and a full golden moon rises from the east. Candles are lit. The women draw closer. 

From her throne, now a tall and gnarled oak tree, she pulls out her broomstick. It is long, sleek and shines in the moonlight. This is the moment you have been waiting for, you drip with anticipation. She turns it around in her hands and then mounts. It is a slow gentle motion. You watch her carefully as she eases herself on, not forcing anything, just going inch by inch until she is settled comfortably. Then she takes her wand and positions it at just the right angle. She begins to rock gently, back and forth, making sure to keep her breathing steady. The circle holds its breath as she begins to rise from the ground, her broom and her wand working together to lift her away from the earth. Her breathing becomes faster and shallower, her brow is knotted as she concentrates her energy. The further she floats from the ground the faster she rises and, with a final whoop she crashes into the canopy of leaves, remains suspended for a few moments and then floats back down to earth with a deep satisfied sigh. 

There is a chorus of cheers and excited clapping. All in the circle are eager to try. A broomstick and wand appear beside you. They are identical to hers. They look so inviting but you hesitate to touch them. Are you ready for this power? Are you ready to fly, here, exposed, and alongside all these others?  

She stands now with renewed energy and barks orders to her circle of apprentices. There is no more time for doubting. Imitating her movements, you spread yourself out on the soft bed of leaves. You take your broomstick in your hands, running your fingers over all its smooth contours to make sure it is oiled and ready to go. When it is time to mount, you copy her movements exactly, guiding yourself on inch by inch, savoring the firm fullness between your legs. You peak around to see that all in the circle have mounted. 

You reach for your wand and hold it as instructed, at just the right angle. The circle is already filling with little gasps of surprise as the others become airborne. You don’t want to be left behind. You rock your hips and focus on your breathing. A little jolt alerts you to the fact that you too have left the earth. Concentrate. Your energy alone is all that is needed to stay afloat. Some of the others are already beginning to squeal, feeding your own excitement. She paces the circle surveying you all, reminding you to take your time, there’s no rush, you'll get there when you’re ready.

You feel butterflies in your stomach as the ground falls away beneath you and you begin to soar towards the canopy. You are short of breath, surrounded by a chorus of moaning, gasping and howling. You can't hold it in any longer. Something is building inside you, it's an unstoppable force. You crash into the ceiling of soft, damp leaves and shudder as they brush your skin, holding you gently suspended for 30, 40, 50 glorious seconds of weightlessness until you begin the slow descent back earth and come to rest on the bed of leaves. You sigh and wriggle your toes among the hummus.

You see a couple of bodies strewn across the ground, while others are still mid-flight and some are already on their second ascent. You reach for your wand, lying discarded beside you and try again. It's not long before you reach the canopy once more and you manage to stay there a little longer this time. You hold on, buoyed up by the delighted gasps of those around you. You wonder have you ever felt something so exquisite as this flying? You never want to come back down, but gravity, eventually, pulls you back to the forest floor. This is not the end. She paces the circle shouting encouraging words to the bodies languishing on the earth and those in midair. She wants you to keep going, and so do you. There are greater heights still to be reached.

Go again, again, and again, she calls. As many times as you like. If she spots someone struggling or waning, she comes to help, making sure they have a good mount and that their wand is in the optimal position. Each time it gets a little bit easier and each time you manage to stay in the air a little bit longer. You lose track of the hours and the people around you. Nothing exists in this moment except you and your newfound aptitude for flying. The gasps begin to get softer and less frequent, there are fewer reaching the canopy and most have stopped trying. You eventually begin to tire and join the other bodies curled on the ground, all utterly spent. Flight can be exhausting, especially when you are just learning to get off the ground. 

You pluck another strawberry and pop it in your mouth relishing the sweet juices. The moon is directly above the circle. Candles flicker. You lie back and savor the stillness of the woods, listening to owls hooting and the sighs of women catching their breaths. She paces the circle once more and whispers that your time together is almost at an end, but not to worry, there is one more treat in store. 

You feel hands on your back, soft, warm and well oiled, kneading tired muscles. Another pair travels up your legs and another caresses your shoulders. Your body begins to hum, you rise from the floor, just an inch or so, levitating under the power of the multiplied caress. Then it is your turn to reciprocate, your hands join four others as you work your sister’s body, relishing the soft ripple of skin under your hands. 

You could stay in this forest glade, eating fresh strawberries and practicing your flight skills, forever. But a bell chimes somewhere, and finally, she stands and walks to the edge of the circle disappears among into the forest.  There is an emptiness in her wake that no one else in the circle can fill. The trees begin to fade, the walls and ceiling come back into focus and the blue carpet grows back from under the hummus. The women in the circle begin reaching around for bags and phones begin beep with alerts. You exchange hugs and promises to see each other again, promises it will be difficult to keep. Your clothes still hang on the peg, but you have no desire to put them on nor leave the portal. The women are stalling, also reluctant to leave. But there are trains to catch and homes to go to. 

You step into the street where the sun still shines brightly. Eternities passed in the portal but the world outside has only moved on a few hours. Hidden once more beneath layers of clothing, a casual observer would be mistaken to think you were the same woman who, only hours previously, had hovered outside this door wondering whether to go in or run away. That same street now glows with promise. The assault of noise and people jostling along in hurried frustration washes over you. With your broomstick and wand tucked safe in your purse you march off, exuding the confidence of a woman who knows that that nothing will ever be the same again now that you and your coven have learned to fly. 

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