This story is written up for Dan O'Shea's most excellent blog Going Ballistic. Definitely check out the other entries there, as Mr. O'Shea will be donating $5 to the Red Cross for Tornado Relief for every flash fiction entry he receives.
This story is based very heavily on an old children's book that had pretty much this exact same premise, minus the added flourishes and a completely different ending. I can't remember the name of the book and couldn't seem to find it on the ol' Interwebs. If anybody knows it please tell me the name in the comments as the curiosity is really starting to get to me. :P
Jorges saw the dark clouds gather on the edge of the sky as swift and merciless as the pale rider. He felt a shudder go through him like if the Devil had poured ice water on his bones. It had been many years ago since the last dance of the witches of Wellwick, for it had been a fatal one. The witches forever had been a scourge on the town for years, had descended down upon any unfortunate soul who wandered away from house and hearth at night and carry them away to some wretched fate worse than death. Or they would curse the livestock and the fields and make both as barren as the desert earth.
The townspeople were helpless against the witches power: what could one do when your enemy fly through the air or call down curses at their bidding. The worst part though was the Oblations, where, once every thirteen years the witches would demand that ten strong young men come up to their home in the mountains, never to be seen again. Their fate was never found out, although rumors abounded that the witches, smitten by the young men, forced them to dance forever and ever until their bodies gave out and they collapsed and died of exhaustion. Who thought up this tale no one was able to say, although it seemed just such a thing as the witches might do and so no one thought the better of it.
All of that changed when Jorges, named after his father, was chosen by lot to go up to the mountains on a thirteenth year. Jorges the elder was a stubborn and difficult sort, but he had a will made of iron and everyone in the village knew better to cross him when he had his mind set. So when he heard the news about his son he made a vow in front of everyone in Wellwick that he would be damned to hell before he let some "ugly pack of hags" steal away his boy.
Jorges looked on at the oncoming clouds, now changing from pale grey to a black darker than the bleakest night.
When the village wisemen asked him what he meant to do about it, he told them that though he was nowhere near as wise as them, he was twice as persistent. He would find a way. He'd heard there was a priest on the other side of the forest who had killed a witch when he was young man, and so Jorges set off on a journey to find the find the priest. By hook or by crook, he would learn the priest's secret for killing the witch. He set off on his quest and was not heard from again for many months. The villagers whispered that he was dead, that he had fallen prey to the wolves that roamed the woods. Jorges had despaired, for he thought he had lost his father along with his own life. Then suddenly he returned, a week to the day of Oblations. He told many stories about his adventure to a from the priest's house (much of which the others thought was rubbish, for his stories changed every time he told them) but what remained eternal was the lesson he'd learnt from the priest.
The witches would melt in the rain.
Few believed such a foolish tale, but when they thought back they couldn't remember a single time where the fiends would descend upon them in the rain. Jorges also said that he’d come up with a clever scheme while coming back from the priest’s house. It was so little to work with, but with nothing else the townspeople decided to go along with Jorges plan.
They prayed that rain would come in the next week, and when God answered their prayers it came in torrents on the day before Oblations. They chosen sacrificed gathered together in the banquet hall, put on their thickest jackets, their longest scarves, and their heaviest boots and marched out into the rain. They made their way to the witches’ lair. Before the entrance to the lair an outcropping of stone that kept the cave dry from the rain. Perhaps it had been fashioned by the witches’ spells or perhaps it had always been
that way, and the witches chose it as their lair. All that mattered was that it kept the rain away, so that when they took off their heavy clothes that soaked up all the rain they were dry as summer dust. They hid the clothes and walked into the lair. There they found the witches, astounded to see them.
“Why are you here a day early?”they cackled together as one.
“Did you not know? It is a leap year, and so every day is a day sooner,”the chosen told them.
“Feh,”the said. They walked towards them, eager to begin oblations, but stopped when they saw that the chosen were dry despite the rain.
“Tell us how are you dry when the pours down?”they demanded.
“If we tell you will you spare our lives?”the chosen asked.
“Of course not,”the witches laughed. “But we will no longer descend upon your town and take the hapless to their doom.”
“Well,” they lied. “That is good enough for us.
“We are dry because the village elders have taught us all how to dance between the raindrops.”
“Teach us how you do this dance,”the witches cried.
“If we tell you will you spare our lives,”the chosen asked.
“Of course not,”the witches laughed. “But we will no longer curse your fields and livestock and make them barren.”
“Well,” they lied. “That is good enough for us.”
And so the witches and the chosen paired up, and they danced together until night came and the rain grew worse. The witches eager to test their new dance urged the chosen to dance into the rain. The chosen agreed, but said that they would have to hold them closely or else they would get wet.
When they danced out into the rain the witches screamed and cursed, for of course they were getting wet and the chosen saw that they were melting.
“You are not doing it right, you must hold us closer,”they lied, and the witches seeing that the no other choice held them closer and danced faster and faster. The storm grew fiercer and the witches’ screams grew louder as melted away into puddles that were swept away into the wind.
The chosen rejoiced and the townsfolk had celebrated their demise ever since. Jorges the elder died a hero years later, known throughout the land as the man whose plan killed the witches. Although Jorges the younger mourned his father and enjoyed the celebrations of the village, he never shared in them. He, like all the other chosen, had terrible dreams at night, of storms and cackling echoed in the wind. As the years passed all the other chosen either moved away or died, until, after thirteen years he was the only one left in the village. And so, when the night of Oblations came round once again thirteen years later, he looked up at the sky and saw the frightful storm there. He could hear the witches horrible laughter and could see their shapes high up in the sky.
He knew then that the witches had never been defeated, that they had only stayed away because of their promises. He knew then with a knowledge that only the mad possessed, that witches had come back for their Oblations. He knew then that they had learned to dance between the raindrops.