The Coven of the Spring
November, 1:00 P. M.
The driveway gates opened at the same tedious speed as always, but Grace DeRosa sat waiting for them almost blind with impatience, drumming her fingers on her Jaguar’s steering wheel. She pulled into the long driveway and sped up the hill toward the garage, far faster than she would have under most circumstances. Grace didn’t open the garage. She couldn’t spare the time.
She leapt from the car and slammed the door, noting somewhere in her distraction that it didn’t quite crash shut. Something had gotten caught in the door, she realized in some part of her brain.
To hell with it. Car doors and slow gates didn’t matter now.
Ironic, she thought, as she unlocked the front door and flew up the steps toward her bedroom. A great irony because she knew that people at work liked to call her—behind her back—The Ice Queen: cool, thorough, precise. Nothing rattled Grace DeRosa, no amount of work daunted her, and she kept herself above office politics.
Yeah, sure. The cold, soulless bitch. That’s what they thought. People didn’t know the depth of her passion. Nor did she ever—ever—lift her private veil to give them a peek.
She wondered what her co-workers would think if they could see The Ice Queen now. How different would she seem to them now that she had only—what? An hour? Perhaps only minutes?—to live?
The man from the Coven of the Spring, that disgusting cult of death would arrive in a few moments. At least one of them, at her invitation even, was coming to—she couldn’t bring herself to say the word. No. She had to figure out how to separate her mind from her body.
Protect Crissy, she thought. Don’t let them get my daughter. No, no. Focus on her. Focus.
What have I done? She thought for maybe the thousandth time. Why did I do it?
Grace DeRosa took some deep breaths, struggling to gain some control. She kicked off her Fiorentini and Baker high heels, stripped off her Donna Karan business suit and her Adrianna Papell blouse, and then went to the closet where she hung the suit up. Force of habit, she thought.
Then she pushed into the lavish wardrobe of clothes, not paying any attention to the cachet of beautiful scents she kept there mingling with the musty smell of the cedar lining of the closet. Deep in the back of the closet, from a secret drawer no one except she even knew about, she pulled out the ivory negligee, so silky to the touch that it threatened to run through her fingers like quicksilver. She’d found the lingerie in a tiny store in the ancient town of Salem, Massachusetts, and knew at once that the lovely garment would charm her husband. She’d been saving it for a special occasion and smiled even now to think of how it would have bewitched him.
Then the coarse reality struck again. Now she wouldn’t wear it for him. Now it would help her seduce the man who would come to her home soon to rip-off from her what she had always intended and even insisted to be the exclusive and unique property of her husband.
She allowed herself a mordant smile at the irony. In junior high school, high school, and in college she’d personified The Ugly Duckling legend: poor complexion, overweight, unmerciful shyness. She’d never been invited to Homecoming, never been asked to Prom, never invited to parties. She was far too convinced of her own shortcomings to want to climb out of her shell.
But then something had happened. She fell in love, she thought with a rueful smile.
She met Jim in a graduate level organic chemistry class at the University of Illinois when they were thrown together as lab partners. After the first class Grace DeRosa went back to her dorm room and looked at herself in the mirror.
She saw a frizzy haired, out of condition, overweight slob. She wore clothes that were so unattractive that homeless people living under a bridge would have rejected them.
Then, for the first time, the determination that would make her a towering success in life emerged. Grace made up her mind and changed everything in that moment. She altered her high fat, starchy, high carbohydrate diet and lost 20 pounds in a matter of a few weeks. For the first time in her life, she began working out, using the exquisite IMPE building on the south end of the University of Illinois campus.
During that time she made her way to a beauty college in Urbana and told them she couldn’t stand how she looked. Some of the delighted students at the college transformed her hair style, added some highlights, gave her a stunning manicure, and worked with her on make-up.
She had to laugh as she looked in the mirror two months after her decision. The change had been dramatic. Then her friend Janice came in.
“Yow!” Janice had said. She complimented Grace in lavish terms about the transformation. “But,” she said, “we have to get you going with some clothes.” Janice knew a good used clothing store in Champaign and, for a minor investment, helped Grace build a wardrobe that flattered a now beautiful figure, styled in colors that complimented her complexion and hair.
The next weekend she went on a double date with Janice’s boyfriend and his roommate, the first date of her life. Grace saw him several times in the next few weeks, she remembered. She had balked at his suggestion of a sexual relationship although she liked the idea, for she had a deep interest in her lab partner.
The graduate college sponsored a dance one Thursday night. Grace had turned down a few early offers, saying she already had a date. She did it with a gentle grace that seemed to say that she regretted the fact that she couldn’t go, and that she’d welcome a future offer.
Then, as she’d planned, Jim asked her. As they began to date, she decided that her evaluation of him as her potential life partner was right on the nose. A whirlwind romance—Grace could think of no other term to describe it—ensued, and a few weeks after the dance, he proposed and she accepted.
They both got their master’s degrees a few months later. They were married three weeks after that.
The memory of that tumultuous, if speedy, romance brought a smile to her lips—
Then Grace DeRosa jolted back to reality in her beautiful Winnetka, Illinois home. She loved her marriage, her home, her job, but all that meant so much to her stood threatened and in imminent danger of vanishing. She herself had a strong chance of dying in the next few moments.
The negligee adjusted, she rushed into her bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. The hair adjustment. More makeup, especially the lips and eyes. Floss, then minty toothpaste and a violent brushing. Mouthwash, so bitter and acerbic as to burn her lips.
Her always logical mind spewed out conflicting messages. She’d never been unable to think her way out of a situation. Never. Grace DeRosa, the best student in her class, every class, all her life, couldn’t think of a way out of this one. Nothing academic presented too great a challenge, her college professors thought. Her graduate school professors had all but begged her to pursue a doctorate and to take up a career in academia, doing chemical research at the University level.
Now, she didn’t know how to think her way out of this. She’d be found in the bed, defiled, debauched, and humiliated. Her husband’s primary memory of her would be that of her as a traitor, a whore, unfaithful and unworthy of his love and devotion.
Scared? Yes. This situation terrified her to the point of making her nauseous and sick to her stomach. This creep from the Coven planned to adulterate her and then rip away whatever was left of her soul.
A tear fell onto the granite countertop in her lavish washroom. The washroom and her bedroom were close to works of art which she’d planned and decorated with all the precision and care that she could muster. Tiffany shaded brass lamps stood on the bedside tables, a gorgeous chandelier she’d imported from Wales hung from the ceiling, and exquisite statuary and watercolors adorned the walls. The centerpiece was a king-sized canopy bed, made from hand-rubbed walnut, a special order from the craftsmen at the Amana colonies in Central Iowa. She’d waited almost a year for the expert woodworkers to build the bed. The cost had been high, but Grace felt that it added so much beauty and grace to her bedroom and the house that it was worth every penny. She and her husband Jim had built this huge sumptuous house with its magnificent furnishings together, planning to fill it with children—
—At least, she’d planned to fill it with children; she could never be sure if Jim shared her enthusiasm for children. To her intense disappointment, she had never been able to conceive a child.
Her stomach hurt again, thinking of how she and Jim had tried for months, then years, to have children of their own. They’d tried everything—fertility specialists, trips to clinics, pills, shots—but nothing had worked. At last they decided to adopt.
Grace, loving and with a patience and acumen born out of a lifetime of disappointment, had set up an adoption through an agency. After an agonizing wait, she and her husband became the parents of a beautiful baby.
They had adopted an infant daughter, who became the light and joy of Grace’s life. Grace named their child Clarisse, which had been shortened to the nickname Crissy. When the girl was learning to talk, her infant tongue could by no means pronounce ‘Clarisse’, but she did manage to say ‘Crissy’, and that’s how she’d come to be known.
Grace smiled as she thought about how she’d watched Crissy develop into a fine young woman. Tall, slim and beautiful, with exotic blue eyes and long, honey colored hair, Crissy got superb grades in school. She also participated in student council, athletics and drama. The girl also read as much as she could, all manner of books, and Grace took delight in how her daughter loved to learn and how she received wonderful grades in school—
And again Grace jerked back to reality. Now she had to face it head on. Grace needed to die to save the girl. Then Jim would have to become a murderer, also to save the girl.
Somewhere in her brain the comprehension of her betrayal of her husband came alive and began to speak to her in a small but insistent voice in her mind. Be quiet, she whispered aloud through clenched teeth.
No, Grace, the little voice said. You’re the one who wounded your daughter. Your husband doesn’t deserve to be involved in this.
The voice spoke the truth and she knew it. Jim would become another victim of her arrogance, just like his wife and his daughter. But how else could she protect Crissy? What could she do? She couldn’t let them have her!
The members of this unspeakable cult seemed incapable of pity, morality or mercy, a cell of despicable humans. If they were still human somewhere in those twisted souls, she sneered. Maybe not.
They called themselves The Coven of the Spring. The name implied witchcraft and, Grace thought, they deserved the sobriquet: an insulated and obscure group of witches. Their talent—if it could be called that—came from drinking the water of a clandestine well not far from Salem, Massachusetts.
The members of the Coven included the worst dregs of society, worse than any street hoodlums, motorcycle gangs, or terrorist cells.
She scoffed with her contempt for the worthless members of the cult. At least she wouldn’t have to face them again. She’d be dead.
Her mind raged with her indignation about the cult. She saw them as arrogant, self-absorbed, and concerned for themselves and their own desires and comforts to the exclusion of all others.
She tried to think of something else. Calm down, she thought. Nonetheless, Grace’s anger increased as she thought about her drive home that afternoon. Almost wild with urgency, she’d all but hit that stupid woman who cut her off in a rusty beater of a car. The woman darted out of a side street, blowing right through a stop sign. She’d almost wrecked Grace’s lovely Jaguar—
Then Grace froze. In her blinding rage and fear she hadn’t thought about it. Grace had acquired an extraordinary mental power from the well. She’d tried to smack the woman hard, with a vindictive rage and desire for vengeance, to send a bolt of terror exploding into the other driver’s mind, but the Jolt she’d tried hadn’t worked.
Her mind, which had been praised to the heavens in every school she had ever attended, flashed with the speed of light through the whole encounter.
Why didn’t the Jolt work? It had always worked. It worked not five minutes later when she’d whacked that doltish gas station attendant. But. . .
She thought. What was different?
And then, like the sun appearing across a mountain range, the truth materialized. She knew what to do. Of course. She saw the solution to her dilemma. The plan formed in moments. Maybe she could save herself. Why hadn’t she thought of it before?
No time to worry about that now. She had to tell her daughter. But how could she do that? If she tried to give Crissy a remote jolt, the girl would know it and would block Grace’s thoughts.
Her thoughts racing, she ran to the stairs, the exotic high heels clicking on the oak floor. Down the steps to the lower level. Down the hall to her private office. Boot the computer. Extract the external hard drive from its secret hiding place, a little safe that not even her husband knew about. Bring up the Word program.
Come on, come on!
She connected the external hard drive and opened her personal diary file. As quick as though she typed in a new message, her nimble fingers flying across the keyboard with an urgency born of fear and exigency. So alert was she that she typed without any mistakes.
Save the message to the hard drive. Delete the message from the computer. Hurry, hurry!
Disconnect the hard drive. Back into the hiding place.
Now she began deleting the files from her computer. Come on!
As the computer worked, Grace ran upstairs, shuffling a little in the striking high heels she thought would entice the lascivious brute from the coven. She hurried to the garage and threw on the light switch above her husband’s work bench. Her senses reached such a heightened pitch that the stale garage odors of gasoline, motor oil and other lubricants almost overwhelmed her.
She scanned the rack of tools, the pliers, the wrenches, the screwdrivers. Where were the damn things? At last she found what she needed and dug out a couple of them. She ran back into the house. Out in the backyard and quick practice. Up to the spare bedroom, where she hid her cache of weapons where she could get her hands on it in an instant. Then back downstairs to check on the computer.
The computer hadn’t quite finished cleaning her diary files when the doorbell rang.
She never prayed much. Now, at what could be the end of her life, she turned to prayer: Oh God, I’m sorry, she whispered as she walked up the stairs to the first floor. Please help me, give me courage.
She crossed the foyer, her feet weighing fifty pounds each, continuing to murmur, Please help me protect Crissy. My dear girl, the joy of my life…
She reached the front door. She turned the knob and pulled the door open.