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The Pilgrimage

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By Stephen O’Riordan

 

Erin, a teenage girl full of life and spirit, lived in small village and had many friends. One day her teacher cast a wicked spell on her for he was an evil wizard in secret. Erin kept the curse to herself because she was so frightened of him. Weeks passed. The curse began to have an effect on Erin; it made her ill. She dared not tell her parents because of the shame. They would cast her out on the streets if they knew. Her friend spoke of a wise Witch Doctor in the Dark Forest across the lake who could cure her, but the journey would be long and arduous.

 

Erin told her family she was staying with a friend in the next village over. And so on an autumn morning the young girl departed; bag on her back laden with food and equipment. A fisherman was waiting down by the lake. She had paid him for safe passage to the other side, and a little extra to quell him from gossiping. Off they went across the choppy water, the biting wind lapping waves against the boat.

 

They landed on the far shore under a grey afternoon sky. Erin tramped for hours up hills and down valleys towards the Dark Forest. The trees loomed up in the distance as the horizon became a burnt orange from the dipping sun. Upon entering the woods, the air grew cold and the leaves blocked out the light.

 

Erin stumbled as she walked the winding forest path. She didn’t know how long she had been trundling along; the darkness had become near impenetrable. The moon was the only source of light. Trees, with their jagged clawing branches, grabbed at her. “Nay,” they yelled. “Nay. Go back.” But onwards she trod, weeping and in pain over the curse. She delved deeper into the forest. Creatures lurked in the shadows, jeering and cackling. Their burning red eyes pierced her with their glares. Erin blocked out the unforgivable names that they spat at her.

 

The cottage came into view up ahead. A yellow light glowed from the windows and smoke streamed from the chimney. Erin had never been so happy to see a house in her life. She knocked on the door and the Witch Doctor appeared. The woman was large and had a kind face. Her body rattled and jangled as she moved for there were necklaces and beads about her neck and arms. She guided Erin into a room with a crackling fire. There were shelves lined with various jars of colourful potions, lotions and ingredients.

 

The Witch Doctor made Erin some dinner and gave her a soothing drink to calm the nerves. Erin explained about her teacher, the wicked wizard, who had inflicted the curse upon her. The Witch Doctor knew how to cure her. The ritual would be done after Erin had had a good night sleep.

 

The Witch Doctor had made all the preparations. Erin laid down on a bed where the ritual would take place. She was given a potion to relieve her from pain. A fire blazed and she was damp from the sweat. The potion made her dizzy; the room spun. As the Witch Doctor began the ritual Erin heard voices, whispers and chanting. Strange and colourful images spiralled before her. She passed out from the potion.

 

For days Erin had a fever and her sleep was filled with nightmares. The Witch Doctor stroked Erin’s head while soothing and cooling the fever. After three days, she arose. The pain had gone. The curse had been lifted. She thanked the Witch Doctor who wished her well on the journey home, and filled her bag with food and water.

 

Erin’s mother was waiting at the door as she climbed the field to the house. On seeing her mother, Erin ran and squeezed her into a tight hug; overjoyed with being home. She couldn’t speak of the curse or the pilgrimage. That secret was hers to burden on her own. For now, she was safe.

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