The blood drinking would not begin till after midnight, which was good because it gave Daphne time to prepare.
They say that your first experience is unforgettable, a gateway to everything else.
Daphne was 14, so she was old enough to participate if she wanted to. But she could also choose to wait.
“You don’t want to rush it,” Serafina had told her.
Serafina was older and a prefect and the only other girl from Daphne’s depressed farming town, so, by default, they were best friends.
They weren’t dating, as many assumed, though they sometimes held hands in the hallway and had kissed twice. Serafina made it clear that she liked boys, had two boyfriends, maybe three. She strung them all along with false promises of fidelity and loyalty, the kind of promises that men often made to women but never keep. Everyone from Farmington (here that was only Daphne and Serafina) knew that Serafina’s father was the town drunk. That was why Serafina had enrolled, to escape the boxed in, cattle feeding, 4H breeding life she would have had. So, when the castle school on the mountain advertised their full scholarship for farm girls, Serafina had jumped at the chance to apply and left for the school the day she got the letter.
Daphne wasn’t going to apply, had no interest at all, till the night she woke up to get a glass of water and saw her mom downstairs on the couch so high that she hadn’t even seen Daphne walking right in front of her face. Then all her mother’s sick days began to make sense. Her father working two jobs to try to keep up with the bank payments while her mother continued her bottom spiral. But maybe her mother couldn’t help it. They say addiction is a curse. Ever since that accident with the tractor, she hadn’t been the same, squeezing them dry, injecting liquid lightening into black veins. One day, strung out on something, Daphne wouldn’t be surprised if her mother dropped a match and burned the barn to bits.
The scholarship for farm girls promised that everything would be paid—room, board, books, even spending money, which Daphne wouldn’t spend. Instead, she would hand it over to her father. Though he needed it, he hated taking money from his daughter.
“I’ve heard rumors,” her father said, “about what goes on at that school.”
“Don’t worry, Daddy,” Daphne had lied, “none of them are true.”
The girls in her witch history class had taught her well.
“If you excel here,” the headmistress had told Daphne, “you could go onto Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Witches attend all of the Ivies. How else do you think those dumb legacy frat boys in their secret society gloried frat clubs ever make it through?”
Witches, Daphne had learned, weren’t evil. They just did things that most humans would consider to be weird. They didn’t kill people, and they didn’t drink human blood. No, they drank the blood of vampire bats because it could give them power. Power, Daphne thought, was the opposite of what her mother had, and she wanted it as much as she had ever wanted anything.
Daphne had asked the headmistress one day after sorcery class if witches could cast spells to break the cycle of addiction. She knew the headmistress was wondering if her interest in the matter was academic or merely personal. Daphne’s psychic abilities had come to her rather early, and she could read the headmistress’ mind.
“Some witches,” the mystic had told her during Thursday chapel, “never develop psychic abilities at all.”
“Is that so?” Daphne had said nonchalantly, as if she had no interest in the topic at all.
But the mystic saw through her. “Your friend,” she told her, “doesn’t have your powers.”
According to The Book of Legends, if a witch who wasn’t ready drank from the red chalice, it could drive her mad. “We share the cup,” the communion literature said, “because are one.” Rumor had it that sometimes witches transferred their abilities to each other by sharing the cup.
In part, Daphne was afraid that, if she drank the blood, it would drive a wedge between her and Serafina.
On the fence about what to do, Daphne considered consulting the Oracle of Flame, which was located just outside the chapel. But instead, she decided to brew herself hot chocolate. Witches had harvested the cacao beans from Ecuador, so their hot chocolate was better than anything Daphne had ever had before. Daphne thought that maybe, if she drank the chocolate, it would lessen her desire for blood. But, while she was melting the chocolate in a cauldron, Daphne had an unsettling encounter with the wood witch. “Put your hand in the fire,” the wood witch said. Daphne knew that this wasn’t a command she could ignore. So Daphne did as the wood witch asked, expecting the same searing pain she had felt the time she’d accidentally burned herself on the stove. But, instead, Daphne felt nothing. And, when she moved her hand from the fire, there were no scars. Daphne looked at the wood witch with awe. She knew that the mystic had sent the wood witch to persuade her. But Daphne didn’t need much persuading. She wanted power, and blood would give her power. If sacrifices had to be made, then they would be made. And maybe, if Daphne drank the blood, nothing would change at all though Daphne knew that was likely untrue.
Daphne was careful not to be the first to show up to the ceremony. She didn’t want to seem too eager. But she also didn’t want to be last to arrive. She didn’t want them to question her commitment to the coven, though Daphne often questioned the commitment herself. Was she here for the right reasons? Most of the ceremony was a blur, but the last few moments, the moments before communion, were clear as the brightest stars.
“If your heart be true, and your motives be pure, please rise to partake of the cup,” said the priestess, who was dressed in red vestments because The Night of Initiation was the most sacred night of the church year.
Daphne looked around nervously to see who else would partake. Daphne recognized two girls from her Witches in Literature class and one boy who was the groundskeeper’s son. The other members of her class were noticeably missing, and Daphne wondered if she was making a mistake. But all the upperclassmen and of the instructors had seen her in her red veil, the veil of intention, and it was too late for her to change course. So Daphne got in the communion line. “The Blood of Our Brothers, the Bats, given for you,” the priestess said. And Daphne replied, “Amen.” Daphne took a sip and felt the blood run through her. It felt like a quadruple shot of caffeine. After the ceremony, the school hosted a party where the old guard welcomed the new with unsolicited advice and punch and cookies. But Daphne skipped the ceremony and headed straight out into the night air. She knew there might be questions. Some would wonder if the blood had tainted her, if she could handle its power. But Daphne didn’t care, and she could not wait to feel the wind against her cheeks. She flew all night, her eyes watering with pleasure, and returned to the school just before dawn. When she landed, the headmistress was waiting.
“Daphne, we should talk,” the headmistress said.
Daphne nodded. Why hadn’t anyone, she wondered, told her how fabulous this would be? But the headmistress, who was also apparently psychic, read her thoughts. Being around so many psychics could be a drag sometimes.
“Yes, yes, I know that not every witch feels this way,” Daphne said impatiently.
The headmistress seemed taken aback. How had she not known that Daphne was a psychic too? And then Daphne realized it was because of the fog she had cast. Sometimes, she could keep certain thoughts hidden from other psychics by casting a fog that distorted and distracted. Now that she knew, the headmistress would try to penetrate that fog. But Daphne held firm. There were some secrets that Daphne intended to keep. So the headmistress resorted to language.
“Who taught you?” the headmistress asked.
Daphne considered lying, but this seemed unwise.
“No one,” Daphne admitted.
The headmistress didn’t seem to be trying to conceal her thoughts, and Daphne wondered why.
“You don’t even realize, do you, that you are breaking through my fog?”
Daphne shook her head.
“Oh, my dear,” the headmistress said, “it has been a long time since I have seen a witch with so much power. Be careful.”
In a flash, Daphne revealed some of the things she had kept hidden. “As you can see,” Daphne said, “I’m more than capable of keeping secrets.”
The headmistress smiled. “You are ready,” she said.
“For the real initiation to begin.”
Lori D’Angelo is a fellow at the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts, a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Recent work appears in journals such as Black Moon Magazine, Cream Scene Carnival, JAKE, Kaidankai Podcast, Worm Moon Archive, and Wrong Turn Lit. She lives in Virginia with her family. You can find her on Twitter @sclly21 or Instagram at @lori.dangelo1.