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The Ladies of Lancashire by Clay F. Johnson - Twist in Time Literary Magazine
Rooted atop a grassless hill existsA leafless, barkless cemetery tree,Its branches twist like curling witch-fingersPainting long, creeping shadows, aliveWith a flickering spectral-glow of black-Opal’d witches’ dust—floating mists of ghost-light—Capturing cold and lifeless flames withinThe deepening darkness of impending midnight As the shadows deepen, the tree-roots awaken, Enchanting the hill with illusions of movement The barkless yew—the witching tree—is flesh-like,Charred as if cancered by the midnight-orbs—Witch-burned by a sickly luminescenceOf moon-silver, pale with glowing decay,Like phantom’s breath or frosted witch-crystalThat catches the moonlight on starless nights:To the locals called the witching-tree lights,In old ghost-lore called the Ladies of Lancashire Hanged from the twisted branches of the witching tree The Ladies dance with will-o’-the-wisp witchery Every thirty-four years, when the LadiesAbsorb the midnight moon’s coldest silverAnd give birth to the longest, darkest night,Lancashire’s sleepy-eyed churchmen, the sonsOf her founding priests—known in whispered witch-Lore as the cemetery tree witch-killers—Awaken from their warm, peaceful slumbersOnly when the shadows flicker with ghost-candles Under an enchantment of silver-orbed witch-light The churchmen wake to wander witching-tree midnight Stumbling upon the softened hill, grave-disturbed,The shadow-slithering tree roots,—grave-serpents—Freckled with moon-wort of livid silverAnd the black decay of witches’ butter,Crawl and coil around the living churchmen,Creep into their still-breathing mouths, stiflingAll cries, and worm through jellies of living eyes,Blinding the churchmen’s light, burying them alive Metamorphosed by slithering grave-rootsThe churchmen’s living flesh peels to reveal tree bark,Their hair withers and turns to oaken leaves—Deathless—immune to decay’s skeleton—They remain immured and ever-rooted—witch-touched—As the Ladies of Lancashire’s pagan green men *Previously published in Eye to the Telescope in October 2018 ____________________________________________________________ Clay F. Johnson is an amateur pianist, devoted animal lover, and incorrigible reader of Gothic literature and Romantic-era poetry. His writing has been featured in the Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase, nominated for a Rhysling Award, and recently received an honorable mention in The Best Horror of the Year. Find out more on his website at www.clayfjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @ClayFJohnson.