A young woman with a sympathetic and curious mindset, after an initial encounter online, is drawn into the suspicious occult activities of two of her peers, and in the process discovers the world of the sages.

This is Part II of the Immanence Series – a collection of short stories that take place in a supernatural infused, pagan themed, mythology driven, contemporary setting.

When I found the listing online, I had already been looking into alternative spirituality for a few years. Raised in a Roman Catholic household with French parents, I had really been looking forward to exploring something different once I graduated high school.

At first it was just an idle exploration of witchy chatrooms, but it eventually led to a seemingly promising server with a lot of animated people. Some of the denizens there sounded a little misinformed, but the regulars seemed like they believed in what they were doing, and since I’m the kind of person that likes to give others the benefit of the doubt, I decided to explore further.

While chatting in the server about some of my cultural experiences growing up, and my knowledge of religious studies after a few years of community college classes on the subject, I received a private message from a regular member of the server – someone that introduced themselves as Eden before inquiring about me personally.

Eden: Do you know anything about witchcraft, Sophia?

Me: I know a little bit. They talked about it in my religious studies classes a few years ago.

Eden: I don’t just mean Wicca. I’m talking about the read deal here.

Me: What do you mean, exactly?

Eden: Like I said in the server, I’m pretty active in your area. How about I show you?

Me: You want to meet up somewhere?

Eden: Yeah. There’s no pressure, but I liked what you said in the chat, and I think you might be a good fit for my group. We’re friendly, but we mean business. We don’t choose just anybody.

I sit there for a moment and stare at the text log for a while. It occurs to me that this Eden girl might be a little bit desperate, but few of the pretenders online trust their own hype enough to seriously suggest a personal meetup – especially with something this esoteric.

Me: That depends. Where would you like to meet up?

Eden: There’s a local café near the fancy public university campus downtown. It’s a bit small, but I like the vibe, and the people that run it are super friendly.

Me: I don’t have classes until the beginning of fall, but I have family stuff this week.

That isn’t completely true. I only have a few trivial errands to run with my family, but let’s see how receptive she is to a later date.

Me: How does this Saturday work for you?

Eden: That works just fine. Let’s shoot for around 2pm then.

We finished hashing out the other details while she bragged about the unusual menu at the café – as well as the oddball clientele that frequents it regularly. We exchange contact information, and chat casually for a little while before we both decide to get some sleep.

Saturday rolls around rather quickly, and the day of my meeting with Eden I decide to make my way down to the café a little early. As I round the corner from the back parking lot to the front of the coffee shop, I see a tawny-haired, bespectacled young woman with dark eyes and a rather morbid looking sense of style, talking to a taller, darker skinned woman in casual jeans and a deep purple shirt on the outdoor patio. I decide to hang back for a moment, and just as I start to head my way towards them, the girl with the glasses notices my approach. She says, “Are you Sophia by chance?”

Taking a second to compose myself, I reply, “Yes, that’s me. Are you Eden?”

She smiles cheerfully and intones, “Absolutely! Would you like to get a coffee before we chat?”

Still feeling a little groggy from this morning, I nod emphatically, and with a laugh, she motions us to enter the café. As expected, the atmosphere is a bit chaotic, but has the unmistakable hipster vibe of an indie coffee shop – with ridiculously obscure and expensive local art on the walls, and a smattering of quirky signage about the various drinks and food items they sell.

After a few pleasant exchanges with staff, we get our cold coffee drinks, head back to the outdoor patio, by Eden’s suggestion, and get to talking.

“So, I’m sure you’re wondering by now what I meant in our chat a few days ago,” Eden says, “and I know that you probably have a few questions for me.”

I quickly replied, “What did you mean by real witchcraft, exactly?”

“The thing is, Sophia,” Eden begins, “most witchcraft you’ve seen presented to you is more concerned about a particular image than what is actually effective.”

“Go on” I say. “I’m listening.”

“Modern witches are so concerned with giving witchcraft a more positive image – especially in the media,” she continues, “that they forget to seek out the most important part of it.”

“What do you mean?” I say with curiosity.

“Power” she says. “True witches wield real power – power that we’ve been deprived of.” She leans over the table, and with a look of intensity, she continues by saying, “Don’t you think us girls deserve a bit more than art exhibits and slam poetry to make our voices heard?”

Just as she says that, I lean back a little in my chair, and the black girl from earlier comes out of the café – drink in hand, as she sits down at the table nearest to Eden.

“This is Jasmine,” Eden says, “She’s from our group.”

Jasmine gives me a weak smile, and a poorly concealed look of contempt before she leans back, takes a sip of her cold drink, exchanges a glance with Eden, and pretends to look interested.

Wow. I guess they don’t call it resting bitch face for nothing.

Eden takes a long sip of her own drink before leaning forward. “I can assure you, Sophia, that our group means business,” Eden says. “Why don’t you let us prove it to you?”

I fiddle with my own drink for a while, and my hair, before taking a long drag of my cold, bitter elixir. I then look at Eden and Jasmine directly, before replying, “Alright. I’ll give your group a chance.”

As the afternoon draws to a close, we make a little small talk about work, school, and the various bits of minutia with family life, before Jasmine and Eden prepare to leave. Just before they both enter their respective cars, Jasmine shoots me another disappointing glance, and they both drive off rather quickly. As I’m sitting on the patio – processing my first meeting with these two, Eden sends me her address to my phone, and we set an evening date to meet at her apartment later on in the week.

With a bit of a sigh, I get up, and head inside to get a refill from the barista working at the front counter. He’s a fit looking blonde guy – quite young, with a cheerful if not slightly aloof air about him, and I notice that he’s serving a young woman around my age. From a good distance away, they seem rather chummy, and I feel a little annoyed by the sight.

A girl like her is probably used to this sort of attention by guys like him. I mean look at her!

The woman being served at the front counter is rather petite, with curves in all the right places, and a brunet pixie cut that’s just the right length. Her glowing green eyes are framed by quaint looking reading glasses – likely to peruse the old book she has tucked under her arm, and she’s dressed in casual denim, with comfortable flats, and a boho inspired, dark colored blouse.

Just as I catch myself staring, I notice she has finished her order, and gives me a gentle smile before finding a table in the corner of the café. I compose myself, and order a quick refill.

“What can I get for you?” says the male barista – who I quickly notice is named Luke on his nametag. He glances down at my empty cup, with a look of realization, and says, “Refill?”

“Yes please” I say. “Just a regular iced coffee. The last one was really good.”

“Do you want it the same way?” Luke says.

“That would be great” I say warmly.

He rings me up, I take my receipt, and I head over to pick up my drink when it’s ready. Standing a little awkwardly without the cup I had before, I have the pressing feeling of not knowing where to put my hands, so I place one hand on my side, and fiddle a little bit with my hair – as an excuse to sneak a glance where that young woman is sitting. Just as I do, however, I hear Luke project, “Irene? Your order’s ready!”

I notice the woman come by to pick up her drink, and just as she grabs a straw, I notice her glance over at me for a moment before commenting. “Red is such a nice color on you,” she says warmly. “Where did you find that dress?”

Placing my hands on my outfit briefly, I comment, “Thank you! I like going to local vintage shops. I sometimes go thrifting too, but I love the rockabilly style.”

“That’s awesome!” she says brightly.

“Sophia?” Luke says as I quickly grab my drink before taking a nervous sip and looking back over at her. Her eyes are especially bright here in the store as she turns toward me again.

“Your blouse looks great too, by the way,” I say to her. “Was it something you got online?”

“That’s right” she says. “I also love handmade clothing and accessories. Why don’t we talk a little more at my table?”

“Sure” I say nervously, before following her lead towards the small table in the corner.

We talk a little more about fashion, alternative subculture, and fun aesthetic posts we’ve shared online recently, before her tone shifts a little bit.

“My name is Irene – in case you didn’t already hear that from the barista,” she says. “Your name is Sophia, right?” I notice her look down at my cup and I grasp at it instinctively.

“That’s right” I say quietly.

Irene puts her book into her tan messenger bag, along with her reading glasses, adjusts herself in her chair, and then looks at me with a bit more of a serious – almost maternal look. I can tell that she wants to say more, but after clearing her throat, she says, “As you can tell by my heavy book bag, I read a lot. I’ve researched a lot of really unique and interesting things. I work at the used bookstore across the street.” She points out the window, and I look to see the faded older building in the light of early sunset. When I look back towards her, she puts her hands on the table, almost near mine, before softly saying, “If you ever have any questions for me, don’t hesitate to ask. You can even come by my store if you’d like.” I notice that she exhales a little sharply before clearing her throat, and taking another sip from her drink.

Wait. It she embarrassed? I’m probably imagining things.

“I’ll definitely have to take you up on that sometime” I say to her with a smile.

We exchange contact information, before finishing our time at the coffee shop, and parting ways in the early evening. As I walk towards my car, I notice Irene walk to the used bookstore across the street. She turns briefly to wave to me, and I return the gesture as she walks inside. I walk briskly to my car, open the door, and sit down in the front seat. I let out a brief sigh. Feeling a little flustered by the events of the day, I take a bit more time to adjust my posture in the front seat – before I turn on the ignition and navigate through the light traffic on my way back to my apartment.

I park my car at early sunset across the street from a small apartment complex in an old residential neighborhood on the other side of town. The overall look of the place – with its muted beige tones and blocky design, is reminiscent of mid-century modern architecture.

This place could sure use a little remodeling. Even a fresh paint job would improve things.

As I take more time to walk over to the apartments and into the complex itself, I notice the distant sounds of residents – as well as their boisterous children, and I look at my phone to find the exact address. Maneuvering through a maze of doors and stairways, I find her apartment – on the bottom floor, tucked away in the corner.

I gently rap on the door a few times and move back from it – adjusting my hair and clothes a little before looking around aimlessly at the somewhat underwhelming, neglected potted plants sparsely decorating Eden’s front door. Slightly startled, I hear the rumble and creak of the door opening inward. Eden’s standing around the corner of the door – as if to signal a mistrust that was more like Jasmine’s than what I initially saw of her at the café. She looks me up and down for a moment, comes into the entryway, and simply says, “Come in.”

Slowly walking through the tight and unfamiliar quarters of a new acquaintance, I notice the unmistakable cream-colored walls, as well as the tan and brown carpet of an older apartment – with modest attempts to personalize the space using modern black tables, shelves, and kitschy items collected from years of thrifting and curio shopping. I notice, unsurprisingly, that there are blatantly witchcraft-oriented pieces littering the open spaces around her domicile. The further I get towards her room, the more these inclusions become apparent.

“Jasmine’s back in my room. My room’s right back here.” Eden says flatly.

Noticing the tonal shift, I hesitantly follow further behind, but enter in anyways. Just like before, I see the passive-aggressive posturing of Jasmine – leaning defiantly in a plush beanbag in the corner of the room without rising.

“Everything is ready, Sophia. All you’ll need to do is watch, and follow along” Eden says firmly.

From out of a drawer of an old wooden desk – showing the wear of countless years of use, she gradually pulls out ornate ritual objects, and a suspicious item wrapped in white cloth, before dragging out a white pentagram stitched, black square cloth, moving it to the center of the room, and placing all the items on top of it. Eden gestures to Jasmine, and she comes towards the center sigil before standing firmly across from Eden. “You can stand right there, Sophia” Jasmine says abruptly.

“Oh, okay.” I say before edging my way to the edge of the circle – forming an obvious triangle with the other two women in the room, as I stand rather anxiously in place.

As the light from outside fades to dusk, Eden lights a candle in the center of the circle, and begins the ritual. As expected, she uses the standard entry of most contemporary witchcraft traditions – by calling the elemental quarters, warding against intrusion, and dispelling the effects of malicious forces in her workings.

“O Hekate, lady of the crossroads, and goddess of witches” Eden says. “We summon you to this circle. Grant us your power – power to gain success in our endeavors, and to gain advantage over our adversaries.”

Just as she speaks these words into existence, I notice the incense in the center of the space turn into a white mist – filling the room with fog and darkness as my vision opens up. I see the faint glow of two torches, and notice that I am alone in an open field – at the juncture between two dirt paths that stretch out into the darkness in all four directions. I go straight forward and follow the flame of the two torches until I see a young maiden – from centuries long ago, with a pale Hellenic garment draped loosely over her body in the dim warm light.

As I follow her further, I notice her two torches unify into a single, distant point of light; her silhouette then fades from view, and light suddenly enters the space. Almost blindly bright at first, I adjust to the transition and realize that it is the moon in the evening sky – enveloped in midnight blue at the edge of a cliff above light, cinereal sands and dark roaring waves below. I back away from the cliff slightly. Just as I’m witnessing the powerful crashing of the waves below, a barn owl flies down – seemingly from out of nowhere, and lands on an exposed rock adjacent to me. I see its penetrating stare, and find myself drawn to it. In that moment, I see a vision of a radiant, stately young woman in the same Hellenic garments as the maiden before, but with glorious armor, a round shield, and a powerful helmet on her head. She removes her helmet, and I see her glowing blue eyes. I tremble before her, and she looks at me for a moment, before giving a gentle nod. Just then, the barn owl flies off into the night, and I’m back in the room with Eden and Jasmine.

I immediately notice that they are just standing there – as if nothing has happened. Eden then opens the white cloth, and I notice a small jar of red fluid. “Through the power of this blood,” she says, “We shall gain advantage in all our endeavors, and strike down all those who wish to oppose us.”

“You need to leave” An unknown voice says to me. Just then, I notice the incense smoke fill the space, but instead of a mist, it is a dark cloud that begins to envelope the room. Unaffected by this, I only see Eden and Jasmine with crazed and indignant looks on their faces.

I immediately make my way to the door, and just as I do, I hear Jasmine say, “Too much for you, little girl? Fine! We don’t need you anyway!” I hear the self-satisfied distant laughter of Jasmine and Eden as I run out the apartment door and find my way back to my car – noticing that the black fog hangs around Eden’s corner of the complex as I get the hell out of this neighborhood. I hear the distinctive beep of my phone’s notification sound, so I drive a few more blocks away before turning down a random residential street – parking abruptly on an empty section of curb.

Irene: Are you alright? I haven’t heard from you in a few days.

Me: Something happened. I can’t talk about it right now.

Irene: Come by the bookstore.

Me: Aren’t you closed already?

Irene: Don’t worry about it. I only just closed up. Just come on by.

Me: Okay. I’ll be there in a few minutes.

Finding my way to the front of the bookstore, I nervously turn off the ignition, and see Irene sitting at the front counter through the front window – in the partial light of a closed store. She sees my car, and with a reassuring smile, walks over to the door, opens it, and waits for me just outside the store with the keys in her hand. I get out of the car as she motions for me to come inside. I gratefully follow behind her, as my heart is still racing from the stress of my ordeal, and she looks straight at me in the darkened store, saying, “Let’s go to the back room.”

I follow close behind Irene, and we enter into a red hallway – leading into what looks like a private study. There are numerous bookshelves and classic furniture, but more importantly, two young men and a young woman having an animated conversation – with lots of smiles and laughter between them. Sitting in a corner nook is a tall, slender, black-haired man with light eyes sitting closely to a stout, strawberry blonde young man with soulful dark eyes and a shy, yet comfortable look on his face as he sits closely to the taller guy. Sitting in a more regal looking chair, surrounding a center coffee table in the room, is a rather fit young woman with a relaxed but commanding presence. A medium skinned woman with shoulder length black hair, brown eyes, and a firm grasp around a comically small teacup, her dominant femininity, as well as the playful, desirous look she gives Irene, is more disarming than intimidating, and the peck on the cheek she gives Irene as she enters the middle of room only serves to set me at ease even more.

Finishing up their brief exchange, the two men direct their attention to Irene and the other woman. The brown skinned woman says softly, “Is this the girl you were talking about before?” She looks over at me with a refreshing warm and cheerful expression before looking back to Irene.

Irene says, “Yes. She’s had a rather harrowing experience it seems.”

“Is it what I think it was?” says the taller man.

“Let her talk first, Lupin” Irene says rather abruptly.

Feeling a little vulnerable, I drop my gaze, before Irene says, “You’re among friends, Sophia. Let’s introduce you to everyone first.” She points to the man who just spoke, before saying, “As I just said, this is Lupin.”

Lupin nods, saying, “Hi” before gently waving a hand and smiling at the man sitting next to him.

The shorter guy next to him looks over at me with a warm but somewhat more reserved expression before saying, “My name is Phillip. Nice to meet you, Sophia.”

“And this is my girlfriend Casandra” Irene says proudly while placing her hand on Casandra’s shoulder. Casandra nods firmly at me, and directs her attention back to Irene.

With the introductions out of the way, and with additional coaxing from the group, I recount my experiences with the suspicious witches from earlier in the day, and after standing in silence for a few moments, Irene speaks once again, saying, “You experienced an awakening, Sophia. You’re on the same pagan path that we are.”

I hesitate for a moment, before saying, “What do you mean?”

Lupin chimes in by saying, “Pagans hail from different cultural polytheistic traditions, but our spiritual aptitude is higher than mundanes, and we lack the egotism of occultists. With the appropriate effort, and deep connections to the gods, pagans can also develop powerful abilities.”

“That’s right” Irene says. “All pagans have their own abilities, and they are connected to the influence of ancient deities. You were called by Athena, Sophia. She was the voice you heard that told you to leave Eden’s room.”

“But what about the dark cloud in Eden’s apartment?” I ask somewhat fearfully.

“You see…” Irene says, “when occultists or witches mess around with powers they don’t understand, they often bring chaos with them; they don’t ask for assistance from the gods, but instead try to command gods and goddesses to do their bidding.”

Lupin chimes in again, saying, “But you don’t have to worry about that. Most of the time, they only hurt themselves. We will keep an eye on them though.”

“Are you gonna tell her about the best part?” Phillip says excitedly to Lupin.

“There’s more?” I say nervously to Irene.

“Yes, Sophia” Irene says. “Do you remember the barn owl you saw in your vision?”

“I do” I said plainly.

“In addition to the messenger of Athena, the barn owl is also something you can tap into – a form you can incorporate into your spiritual practice. You can harness it further, once you fully embrace it. You may also gain further forms as you progress” Irene said intently.

“How do I do that, Irene?” I said with curiosity.

“It’s different for everybody; it depends on your own temperament, and the tradition or traditions you are meant to practice. For you, it’s likely going to be developed through the same Hellenic practices that Casandra and I engage in” Irene says confidently. “But for now, awakening it will just be a matter of focusing on your core connection to it.”

“Alright” I say to her.

I look back at Irene, and she walks closer to me, before speaking further. “I want you to think about the barn owl again” Irene says softly.

I close my eyes for a moment, recall my vision of the cliff under the light of the moon, and I see flashes of the barn owl in flight before seeing the face of the creature. It flaps its wings, bobs its head a few times, and then I’m able to get a clear image of it perched on a rock. Just as I do, my vision shifts, and I’m gliding around the night sky amongst the stars. I drift around for a while before moving downward into a small forest clearing. As I do, I feel the ground beneath my feet, and I steady my stance before looking at my arms – noticing pale, scaled, exposed forearms, and talon like hands with dark, sharp nails. I feel wind rustle around my body, notice lightly colored feathers covering most of my skin, and feel the presence of strigiform facial features as I curiously grasp at my own visage. Expecting shock, I am instead greeted with a sense of familiarity, and in a moment of peacefulness, I leave the vision.

I open my eyes, and recount my experience to my new friends in the room, and everyone describes their own spiritual personas. Whereas I have learned to harness the essence of the owl, Irene’s persona possesses the wooly features of a sheep, Casandra has a feathery, intense raven, Lupin has a furry, fearsome black wolf, and Phillip has the majestic form of a white horse. They also teach me that during spiritual journeys, one’s spiritual personas can be fully animalistic, therianthropic, or something else entirely – depending on the situation.

Once Irene is sufficiently satisfied in my understanding, she explains to me that ordinary people are not able to experience these kinds of spiritual abilities, and warns me of the danger of their misuse – particularly during esoteric practice.

As a new tradition for the group, they take me, as a newbie, to the Italian restaurant down the street. I am shocked with the appearance of other sages when I look around from our corner booth, and Phillip happily comments, “I had the same reaction, Sophia. It’s wild, isn’t it?”

“It’s just all so unreal” I reply to him. “And there’s even more for me to develop once I form a proper ritual practice?”

Casandra enters into the conversation, saying, “Absolutely. Irene and I have similar gods that we worship, and you’ll likely share some with us as well, but it’s amazing what kinds of interactions will unfold for you moving forward – especially in the next few months.”

I nod gently, and take a sip of water before replying, “I’m just glad that I found all of you. I do wonder what will happen to Eden and her coven though.”

“That’s what we wanted to talk to you about” Lupin says seriously. “What you experienced is not an isolated incident. In addition to growing our knowledge of spiritual abilities, pagans are often responsible for managing and monitoring activities in our local community.”

“That’s right” Irene says. “Witches and occultists are staring to become a particular problem for us right now, and we think that there may be some especially bad actors pulling the strings behind the scenes. People like Eden are usually just misguided, but their power-hungry nature is easy to manipulate.”

“I don’t want anyone else to get hurt” I say to Irene. “I’m definitely gonna rely on you to help me progress in my abilities, but I also want to help you address these problems.”

“Good” Irene says with an approving expression on her face. “We’ll talk more about this in the coming weeks, but for right now, let’s just enjoy a nice dinner.”

Shortly afterward, our food arrives, to the delight of everyone at the table, and the rest of the group share some of their own experiences leading up to their awakening as pagans. As the night draws to a close, we all get separate checks and pay for our meals before exchanging contact information. We walk over to the parking lot, and share hugs with each other before getting into our cars and driving off.

Dropping my keys off on a table inside my own modest apartment, I feel my own exhaustion begin to take hold, so I go down the hallway to my own bedroom, sit down on the edge of my mattress, and think about the events of the day before I start getting ready to go to bed.

What a crazy night. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I know I have a lot to learn, but I know that I’ll be fine with all these wonderful people helping me. But for now, I need to get some damn sleep. I’m exhausted.  

Part III: Gloaming