The Death Witch

📅 Published on April 20, 2022

“The Death Witch”

Written by Brian James Gage
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Peace can be found even in times of war, thought Hershel Güterbach. Hunched before his rustic kitchen’s sole window, he placed his liver-spotted hands on the rim of a deep basin sink as his pupils reflected the picture-perfect spring day. A cloudless sky of radiant blue crowned a hardy forest in the short distance, which shifted ever so slightly with the stirs and lulls of a gentle breeze.

On days like this, Hershel could see all the way to Mount Hohenzollern far off in the distance. He was not a superstitious man, but ever since childhood, a local nursery rhyme rang through his mind whenever his eye caught the mount’s distant silhouette:

Lock your doors and try to hide.

She always finds a way inside.

When blue skies fall to ashen swirls—

The Death Witch comes for boys and girls.

After eighty-two years of living in Zimmern, Hershel wanted to believe he was immune to the legends ingrained within his community, but a small shiver always pricked him center spine when he recited the rhyme.

He knew missing persons had been reported over the years, but nearly all of them were outsiders, vagabonds, or drunkards. Hershel had never heard of any kidnappings in his town. It was merely folk lore. Silly superstition. He recalled the numerous times he and his childhood friends ran for their bedroom closets and slammed the doors tight when rain clouds appeared in the sky. So far as Hershel remembered, all of his friends had grown into happy and healthy adults—most staying right here in Zimmern. He came to believe the nursery rhyme was told to children to keep them from getting caught in the rain and catching a cold.

And as for rumors of the Thule Society? Hershel had never seen any evidence of the fabled apocalyptic cult that supposedly lived near the base of Mount Hohenzollern and offered human sacrifices to its haunted forest. Indeed, no. A stand-up leader such as Kaiser Wilhelm—a brash, fearless emperor who declared war on Serbia after they assassinated his dear friend Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary—would never allow such criminality to fester within Germany.

Kaiser Wilhelm was a man of God.

* * * * * *

Hershel continued to stare out the window, transferring his gaze from the mount to his backyard and the tree branches shifting leisurely against the azure sky.

A sense of optimism welled within him.

Today was Hershel’s big day.

His wife and daughter had left for Berlin to visit relatives, and he was acting as guardian to his grandson, Oskar. He’d planned a busy schedule of activities for the boy—everything from cooking hearty meals together, to playing Schafkopf by candlelight while drinking hot cocoa, to teaching him how to bait a hook before their Saturday visit to the local fishing hole, and especially teaching Oskar the infamous family secret of using bologna to catch fish.

Knowing his health was in steady decline and treating each day as if it could be his last, Hershel had every intention of making the weekend memorable for Oskar. When his wife and daughter returned, they would marvel at what a wonderful guardian he was. The house would be tidy, and Oskar would gush over the endless fun he’d had with Grandpa. No more talk of Hershel losing his faculties, no more quiet whisperings about his incontinence, and no more speaking down to him and coddling him as if he were Oskar’s age. Hershel would put an end to the heated debate as to whether it was safe to leave Oskar alone under his care.

He wondered for a moment where Oskar had run off to and decided to finish his chores before checking up on the boy. The cold water pouring over his hands triggered his arthritis as he washed his morning teacup, and he scornfully wished his wife had cleaned before leaving for Berlin. While watching the water pour from the faucet and swirl down the drain, Hershel was reminded of a new invention he’d heard of from America that heated water before it came from the faucet. He envisioned what the device might look like and how the warm water would soothe his arthritic hands. He then questioned whether he could afford such a device, and where it might fit in his modest kitchen.

“Grandfather, look!”

Hershel peered down to see his grandson standing outside, just below the windowsill. The golden-haired child held his hand high— a black butterfly perched on his finger. The insect flapped its wings as the boy extended his reach, and Hershel noticed an unusual marking on its pinions. He placed his teacup on the counter, released the window latch, and opened the pane. Hershel then pulled up the spectacles hanging around his neck and placed them on the bridge of his nose.

“Very good, Oskar. Gently, bring it closer.”

Oskar crept toward his grandfather and stood on his tiptoes, holding the butterfly as high as he could. Hershel inspected the bug. He believed it to be a swallowtail, but had never seen one with such a marking on its wings. The white oval spanned both wings with a small black circle on each half, giving it the appearance of black eyes on a white face. Toward the insect’s posterior, the oval grew narrow and jagged like sharp teeth. Hershel was convinced the shape looked like a human skull. Marveling at the strange marking, he grinned and glanced back to his grandson’s face.

“Look at that,” he said. “I believe you found yourself a swallowtail. Very beautiful and unique, this one. Swallowtails are good luck— today must be your day.”

Oskar smiled, revealing his missing two front teeth. “I want to name her Klara.”

Hershel reached for a dish towel next to him and dried his hands. “A lovely name for a lovely—oh!” His blue eyes shot upward as he watched the swallowtail fly from his grandson’s hand. “There she goes.”

“I’ll catch her,” said Oskar. He turned and ran after the tiny black body.

“Careful, Oskar. Be delicate with our new friend.”

Hershel leaned into the basin and felt at ease as he watched his grandson give chase to the butterfly. He was pleased his daughter had come back to live with him while his son-in-law was away on the front lines. The country air would be good for Oskar, he thought, watching the child race after his catch. This weekend would indeed be perfect.

Hershel’s gaze moved to the trees and a sensation of worry came over him. The forest looked suddenly ill. The verdant greenery and healthy wood appeared morose, as if the leaves had fallen limp and the bark had grown to black scabs. Something’s not right.

Hershel pushed his glasses higher on his nose and studied the woods. The idyllic weather from moments earlier darkened, and a fog began emanating from the trees like some toxic, sullied exhale. The mist swirled into his backyard as clouds formed above the treeline, churning ashen and tin.

When blue skies fall to ashen swirls . . .


Oskar, still intent on the butterfly, ran into the fog. A violent gust of wind blew the window shut. Hershel was startled yet relieved to see the panes remained unbroken. He hobbled away from the sink to the back door and snatched his cane. The moment he opened the door, growing winds tore the knob from his hand. He planted his cane on the ground and shuffled after his grandson.

“Oskar! Away from the fog!”

The whipping wind felt almost rabid upon Hershel’s arms as he aimlessly wandered into the thickening fog. He felt disoriented and nauseous while breathing in the misty air.

Tastes like decay.

Hershel gagged as the stench became more pervasive, and he wondered if the vapors were some chemical attack. After stumbling around for another moment, he noticed a gray lump on the ground just ahead. Hershel walked closer and positioned his glasses to see Oskar huddled on the earth, his hands domed above the grass.

“Oskar, obey me, boy! Come back inside.”

“I caught her, Grandfather,” said Oskar, peeking into his hands. “Come see!”

Hershel had nearly reached his grandson when a strange sensation came over him. The more he struggled toward the boy, the farther away Oskar seemed, as if some invisible force were stretching the earth between them.

“Oskar, quickly now. Come with me,” he said, extending his hand.

Oskar released the butterfly and it sailed into the air against the turbulent winds before disappearing into the fog. The boy stood, but appeared rigid. He ran his hands over his forearms.

“I feel cold, Grandfather.”

Hershel again tried walking closer to Oskar, only to see the ground between them push the child farther away.

Hershel stood still.

Am I having a stroke?

The thought vanished when he saw the hooded figure emerge from the fog. It was tall. Lean. Black. Its angular skulled face was crowned with the horns of a twelve-point buck that rose into the murk like bony lightning rods.

Hershel shivered at the sight.

“Oskar, now . . . come now.”

He motioned Oskar toward him, hoping the child would not look back.

The boy tried to take a step forward but froze, seemingly gripped by some ghostly force. Panic filled his eyes as he once again tried to move forward. He raised his fists and slammed them against the air, banging his hands onto an invisible barrier.

Hershel dropped his cane and stood shaking as he watched the figure fully materialize behind Oskar. Its black cloak flowed outward from its body and slithered over the ground toward the child, who looked down and whimpered as its slender tendrils enveloped him.

“Grandfather, help—”

The boy was silenced as the cloak swallowed him, his entire body disappearing into the black mass. Hershel attempted to yell, but let out only a frightened grunt as saliva dripped from his dentured mouth.

The slim iota turned to him and raised its long white index finger to its skeletal mask, revealing a decayed fingernail.

“Give me back my grandson.”

Quiet, it seemed to say as it placed its finger to its bony mouth.

“Please,” whispered Hershel, his voice quivering. “I can’t lose him.”

The figure lurched over Hershel and seemed to grow taller against the drab fog. He fell to his knees and cowered as its horns extended toward the heavens, conveying the sense that he was a captive—the gnarled spikes now his prison bars. It then reached upward, pulled back its hood, and removed the mask.

Hershel shook violently at the sight of her pale, gaunt face and spindly hair sucked of its color. Arthritic pain ripped through his knee and finger joints as the convulsions ground his feeble bones together. What sounded like a murder of crows shrieking in unison rang out all around him and he covered his ears. A wet sensation warmed his thigh as he stared at her. Nausea chewed into his stomach when he noticed she had no eyes—only sockets scarred dark blue with blackened varicose veins that spread onto her cheeks and forehead, shifting like earthworms just beneath her skin.

She did not speak, but her intentions were clear. She had no eyes, yet her gaze pierced the deepest part of his being. In that moment he knew—he knew exactly what she was.

The Death Witch comes for boys and girls.

As she moved closer to Hershel, he felt no cold, no warmth— only an unfathomable void. Hershel saw inside her mind, a sadistic psyche born of a million tiny, razor-sharp mouths with silvery fangs grinding onward to infinity. She feasted upon all mirth and devoured all joy that encircled her rapacious heart, only to regurgitate some fragment of light before swallowing it back whole until only vacuity remained.

Hershel grew transfixed upon her. He felt the urge to worship her—to offer something unto her.

“Why yes,” he wheezed. “For you . . . yes!”

Hershel smiled and calmly raised his hands to his face before forcefully ramming his index fingers into his eyes. Hooking his fingers around the back of his eyeballs, he could feel his fingernails scratching the insides of his sockets. He then shoved his middle fingers into each eye and found the leverage.

Then he pulled.

White and blue flashes filled his vision the harder he tugged, reveling in a pain that he knew pleased and fed her. Squeezing both optic nerves between his fingers, Hershel let out a great wail and tore his eyeballs clean from his head. Blood ran down his cheeks as his eyeless face peered up to her. He took in large, lingering breaths and extended his hands, holding his eyeballs before her like some grand offering.

Her black cloak snaked over the grass onto his skin and embraced him up to his shoulders with a sensation of damp, vile hopelessness.

“Yes,” said Hershel, his neck falling limp. “Take everything.”

The Death Witch glared at Hershel for only another moment with no expression on her face before placing her deer skull helmet back upon her head. Her cloak released him, and her cruel shadow melded into the mist.

The winds calmed, the fog dissipated, and the sky turned blue once more. The sedate spring day returned, shining its hopeful rays upon Hershel’s withered, pallid corpse still kneeling on the grass. Black and broken capillaries blossomed across his body, and in his outstretched hand sat only a black butterfly, gently flapping its wings.

The swallowtail took flight, and Hershel’s body crumbled to ash.

His dentures fell to the ground as gray, dusty whispers of a man who once was floated across the perfectly manicured grass. Catching the breeze, the winged silhouette fluttered upward against the calm sky and sailed on toward the distant shadow of Mount Hohenzollern.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Brian James Gage
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Brian James Gage

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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