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Chapter Fourteen

Irma and the Preacher

 

 

 

          Blaze convinced Elijah to bring the wondrous cat to his apartment, which was not far from this part of town.  The sorcerer fully accepted the preacher’s adoption of his newfound pet and he seemed, as the preacher, himself, to have its best interest at heart.  In Blaze O’Dare’s apartment they could feed the hungry little cat and allow it to recuperate, while utilizing Blaze’s library in planning their next move.  Despite his acceptance of this situation on the cat’s behalf, the preacher remained deeply suspicious of both O’Dare’s motive and profession.  He could just imagine what kind of books were on the sorcerer’s shelves. 

          As the preacher followed in his Toyota behind Blaze’s ramshackle station wagon, he was tempted to turn down the very next street and lose him before he got any deeper into this mystery.  For the little cat’s sake and his own mounting curiosity, however, he could not turn the wheel.  He was ashamed to admit it to himself, but he was, as he suspected earlier, actually excited.  Not since his service in Iraq or his honeymoon with Karen had he felt such an inexplicable rush.  He continued to follow the station wagon until they reached a low rent district similar to his own.  Visions of the Black Mass, witches covens, and other primitive rites continued to swim in his head.

          By the time he parked his car and was led by the enthusiastic sorcerer up the stairway to his small, mid-twentieth century apartment, he had convinced himself that he was walking into a spiritual trap.  Quoting portions of the Twenty-third Psalm and humming a hymn to himself, he could barely speak as he followed Blaze into a cluttered, evil smelling room.

          “Home sweet home!” The sorcerer seemed to cackle as he ushered Elijah into his living room and shut the door.

          “Praise the Lord!” Elijah gasped, surveying the walls and floor.  There were, ironically, no visible satanic or occult paraphernalia, charts or symbols in the living room, and the smell he thought was evil was merely incense mixed with apparent food odors.  Blaze, not unlike Elijah, himself, was merely a sloppy housekeeper.  A sigh of relief escaped his constricted throat.  He felt light-headed and almost at home.

          Even when they entered the kitchen and he saw jar after jar of ingredients that looked suspiciously like items used for a witches potion, the preacher couldn’t take it seriously, for alongside of herbs, dried insects and whatever else he used in his experiments as a sorcerer, he also saw jars of peanut butter, jam, mixed nuts, and a small framed picture of Jesus Christ on the kitchen wall.  A very normal looking calendar below a setting of children playing in a park was hung beside a bizarre painting of leprechauns dancing around a pot of gold to put the finishing touches to this eclectic setting.  There were also boxes of cereal, cans of food, and unwashed dinnerware in the sink, just like his own apartment.  Perhaps, he thought giddily, the suspicious looking jars were merely exotic food items, and Mister O’Dare was really a harmless eccentric dabbling in the occult.

          After lifting the drowsy cat out his jacket and watching O’Dare pour it a bowel of milk and then scrounge around in his messy kitchen for something for them all to eat, Elijah wondered if his revised judgment of the sorcerer might be correct.  O’Dare might even be a borderline schizophrenic.  Elijah had seen enough of them on skid row.  It both disappointed and relieved him greatly to see this charade.  The disappointment, he wanted to believe, was for the cat’s sake and not his longing for adventure.  The relief was that he was out of both spiritual and physical danger.  Though he was still affronted by Blaze O’Dare’s profession, he almost felt sorry for him now and found it difficult to believe he could help the cat.

 

                                                                       ******

          Elijah broke into hysterical giggles when he realized, after closer inspection, there were, in fact, dried grasshoppers in one of the jars.  To increase his inexplicable mirth, the sleepy little cat turned her nose up at bowel of the milk offered to her and looked with disappointment at the salami Blaze had just shredded onto a plate.

          “What is this?” Irma now looked back at her protector. “I’m starving, and I get salami and milk?

          “Why are you laughing?” Blaze frowned indignantly at Elijah. “I have nothing else to offer.  I thought cats liked milk and meat!”

          “Ho-ho, you forget, my dear sorcerer,” Elijah wiped his eyes and hiccupped, “underneath that fur it’s still human.  And this is further proof!

          “You’re right,” Blaze’s expression changed, “look at it—the poor thing.  This cat deserves a steak and glass of beer!”

          “That sounds great!” Her mouth dropped and eyes popped wide.

          As she sat up pertly to expose her tummy, the sorcerer did a double take.

          “Hold on a minute,” he cried, reaching for the cat. 

          “What are you doing now?” Elijah asked, watching him lift her up and look between her legs

          “I knew it!” Blaze said gleefully. “She’s a girl!  This little cat is someone’s daughter, sister, or wife!

          “Hey, watch it sorcerer,” she tried to protest. “Show some respect!

          What came out of Irma’s mouth, as before, were a series of meows that caused them to laugh that much more.  However, when in typical feline reaction Irma hissed, humped her back, and growled deep in her throat, their laughter came to an abrupt halt.        

          “She’s going quickly,” Blaze swallowed heavily. “I’ll get my stuff.  We gotta get more information from her.  We gotta move fast!

          “Yes-yes, let’s get started,” Elijah nodded with concern, then, experiencing a double take, himself, called after the retreating Blaze. “Stuff?  What kind’ve stuff?  Exactly, what kind’ve stuff do you mean?”

          Elijah’s returning vision of witches cauldrons and satanic rites was replaced by the amateurish hustle of Blaze holding an astrological poster, a pot of blue poster paint, and several marking pens.  Immediately, upon recognizing this equipment, Elijah gave a nod of approval though he was not impressed with Blaze’s expertise.  The cat, he noted, looked disappointed too.

          “This is your big solution?” She wanted to ask, looking up at the silly man.

          The sorcerer stopped thoughtfully, thinking he understood her reaction, and, with inspiration, ran over to a cupboard.  Pulling out a can, he found a can-opener, quickly opened the can and dumped its contents into an unused pot on the stove.  Dumping the previous uneaten salami and its plate into the sink with the other dirty dinnerware, he exhibited the contents of the pot to her before returning it to the burner as if he was preparing for her the most elegant casserole.

          Pièce de résistance,” he exclaimed, turning up the heat. “Corned beef and hash!”

          He now went to the refrigerator and brought out more lunchmeat, condiments, bread, and two cans of coke.  The sorcerer moved so quickly now, his hands were a mess and there were mustard and mayonnaise spots on his coat.

          “I’m so easily sidetracked,” he said apologetically to Elijah.  “I know you’re hungry too.  I wish I could give you both a proper meal, but this is all I have.”

          “You’re a very gracious host,” Elijah quickly replied. “It’s more important that you feed the poor cat.”

          After a few moments, in which he muttered quizzically to himself, searched the empty cupboard for something else and then salt and peppered the hash, he dumped the pot into a large plate and presented it to the hungry cat. 

          “Oh joy,” thought Irma sarcastically, with a little curtsy, as she looked down at her food, “au gratin potatoes and châteaubriand!”  Nevertheless, she turned enthusiastically to her food, purring loudly and even wagging her tail.

          Blaze rinsed his hands off under the faucet and wiped them off on the kitchen curtain.  Setting two plates filled with pastrami and lettuce sandwiches and potato chips, alongside of two glasses filled with coke, the sorcerer and preacher joined Irma for a hasty meal.  Elijah rose up from his food, found an empty cup on the sink, rinsed it out thoroughly and brought water back for Irma’s meal.  Irma, however, lapped coke from Elijah’s glass.

          As she gobbled up the corn beef hash and helped herself to Elijah’s drink, she bristled at the sorcerer’s touch, not knowing completely what to expect.  What she needed was a laptop or ipad.  O’Dare’s equipment seemed primitive.  As she chewed her last morsel of food, she again bristled at his touch.  He was feeling her bony ribcage and legs.  Having wolfed down his own food, he then sat there impatiently waiting for Elijah and Irma to finish their meals.  Elijah, who had been famished, himself, reflected fleetingly upon his chicken-in-the-pot.  It would really be done now, he smiled wryly to himself.  No sooner had he finished his dinner than Blaze was cleaning off the table and spreading out his gear. 

          “Now we must find a way for our little friend to talk!  Blaze announced.  As an afterthought, he snapped his fingers and looked around his cluttered kitchen, biting his lip pensively as he searched the room. “We need a wash pan,” he declared, “to wash her little paws after we’re through.”

          Without a word, Elijah rose up, spotted a large empty pot on the refrigerator, filled it with water and sat it on the nearby sink.

          Irma sighed with resignation.  “All right, let’s get started,” she brightened, a faint purr returning to her throat, “but I need a computer and a graphics program to do this right.

          “Is this possible?… How can she write?” Blaze could hear the preacher mumble over his shoulder as he turned the chart face down to expose a white surface and set an opened pot of blue poster paint by her side. With a shrug, he then tossed the marking pens onto the floor.

          “You need a housekeeper,” Elijah snickered, giving the cat a pat.

          “I need a laptop,” Irma looked with disappointment at the paint.

          “Calm down child.  He knows what he’s doing,” Elijah now read her mood, for her fur had begun to bristle again as she contemplated her task. 

          Blaze now moved the pot in front of Irma’s pouting face.  Elijah, as Irma, was beginning to doubt Blaze’s qualifications as a practitioner of the black arts.  The man, did not own a computer, let alone a typewriter in his cluttered home.  Elijah, who not only owned a notebook computer, himself, but a printer and advanced software too, couldn’t imagine not having the Internet in his life.  Blaze now explained, for the cat’s benefit it seemed, that the paint was water based and could be easily rinsed off her paws.  Irma, realizing the significance of her chore, was growing excited about what she wanted to say.  Pouring a glob of the blue paint on the corner of the paper and positioning the purring cat, he now forced her front paws onto the sheet.  Irma, who knew exactly what to do, rose up quickly and began to move her right paw around until she had written her name.  In large crude letters she scrawled “Irma Fresco.”  Unlike Drew and Tom, she spelled it perfectly.  In spite of what they knew, both men gasped with amazement as she placed a large messy exclamation point next to her name.

          “Well, we know that she is right-handed or, should I say, right-pawed!” The preacher grinned, watching in awe as the last character was finished on the sheet.

          “Irma Fresco.  That’s a fine name!” The sorcerer clapped his hands together and sat down light-headedly in a chair. “Now, as I ask you yes and no questions, please respond with one meow for yes and two meows for no.  As we play this game, please write down as best you can the name of the person who has bewitched you.  If you will, also write down your address.  We must return to the scene as quickly as possible to begin your cure!”

          Irma nodded and licked the sorcerer’s hand, two very unfeline gestures that gave them more encouragement as the sorcerer continued.

          “Are you losing your memories of the past?” The sorcerer looked worriedly down at the cat.

          “Meow meow,” she looked up pertly.

          “Good.” O’Dare sighed with relief. “Write down the name of the witch and your address as we talk.”

          “Meow!” She chirped, struggling with the task

          “Are you a Christian?” Elijah blurted now.

          “Is that really relevant?” Blaze asked, rolling his dark eyes.

          “Meow!” Irma responded, pausing to scrawl an R and C on the sheet.

          By now the back of the astrological chart was a splotchy mess of paw marks and streaks that the two men could barely read.  Blaze and Elijah whispered back and forth in an effort to translate the scrawl below.

          “Hmmm, so you believe in the powers of prayer?” Elijah took his turn, the sorcerer shaking his head in dismay. “Have you asked the Lord to change you back?… You have?  Good girl…. Now, I think we’ve translated what you just wrote.  You just give me a nod this time to verify what I read.  I noticed you’re getting a little hoarse.  You must have been meowing a lot, eh?  There-there, stand back and take a breather.  Let’s see what we have.”

          “R and C stand for Roman Catholic,” he declared, watching her quickly nod. “Good girl; at least you’re a Christian.  You’re halfway there…. The name of the witch is Indira Cruger…. No,… Indy?… No, not Indy…. India? Yes?… The last name is not Cruger, though…. It’s rather messy, isn’t it.  Would you try writing that part again?”

          “That’s a W and that’s an O.” Blaze offered, pointing at the sheet.

          “That letter,” Elijah pointed, “looks a little like a T.”

           “Yes!  So far we have India Crow… Crowley?” The sorcerer now took over, pausing to rub his eyes. “Don’t remember that in my index.  Must be a new one.  Now let’s work on the address…. Shad…dow…. Is that right?”

          “What sort of index?” Elijah asked, suspicion returning to his eyes.

          “Yes, that’s the first part.” Blaze squinted. “The next part of the name is B… r… o… o… k.  Brook!” “Shadowbrook.” He nodded. “Good…. Now the last sequence of letters are A… r… m… s.”

          “Shadowbrook Arms.” Elijah cried excitedly now. “That must be a hotel or apartment complex!”

          Irma then wrote with her little blue paws the address and the name of the city it was in.  The two men, having seen certain patterns in her lettering, recognized the street name more easily now and were able to decipher the numbers to the address within a few moments to complete the address.  All they needed now, Elijah suggested with mounting interest, was a map to locate Shadowbrook Arms.

          At that point, the sorcerer searched his cluttered office a moment until finding a Thomas Guide and a city map.  Quickly now, they were able to search the index of the guide to find the grid numbers and page numbers of the street.  The latest Thomas Guide had well established landmarks, including shopping centers and apartment complexes and they were able to pinpoint Shadowbrook Arms, which lie in the suburbs only a ten minute drive across town.

          Irma had, with all her energy, communicated what her rescuers felt they needed to know.  However, when she attempted to write down the satanic formula India had used in her circle of lights and also the words to the spell, itself, she drew a complete blank.  She had always thought her excellent memory would save her, but this time, in her current state of mind and body, her memory had failed.  Once more she felt overwhelming exhaustion.  Withdrawing her little paw from the poster paint masterpiece, she allowed Elijah and Blaze to gently clean her up and responded with docility as the preacher stroked her fur.

          “You’ve been a very helpful kitty,” Elijah whispered to Irma as he stuck her inside his coat. “Through the power of the Lord, as our new friend Blaze promises, we’ll have you back in good form!”

          “Sure… sure… sure,” Irma thought groggily as she fell asleep.

 

                                                                       ******

          It was at this point that Blaze O’Dare unveiled his plan.  The preacher was watching the sorcerer clean up his mess, which amounted to nothing more than tossing everything, including the poster paints, into the sink.  In a matter-of-fact tone, O’Dare said a very strange thing. 

“Well,” he yawned expansively, stretching out his arms, “it’s time now to bring in the expert!”

          “What?” The preacher bolted in his chair.

          Shaken awake by this motion, Irma also asked “What?” in a sleepy meow, peeking fearfully out of Elijah’s coat.

          “The expert,” explained Blaze matter-of-factly, “the one who can break this spell.”

          “But I thought you were the expert!” Elijah shot back angrily. “What kind of game is this?” He looked down menacingly at him now. “No more bullshit sorcerer.  Do you really know how to help this cat?”

          “Ye-es, I think I know how she can be helped,” Blaze said less confidently this time.

          “You think you know?” Elijah frowned in disbelief. “You think she can be helped?  What was all this stuff we were doing, some kind of sick game Mister O’Dare?”

          Clearly, by this latter form of address Blaze had been demoted in the preacher’s eyes.  

          “I’m out of my league,” the sorcerer confessed, lowering his chin to his chest.

          “What is that suppose to mean?” asked Elijah, dropping back heavily into his chair. “Out of your league?… What league is this?… You can’t mean a witches league or sorcerer’s league!”

          “Yes,” Blaze murmured faintly.

          “You’re not serious!” Elijah’s mouth dropped progressively. “…. There’s actually such a thing?… An honest-to-goodness witches and sorcerer’s league?”

          “There are several such organizations,” Blaze explained motioning to the hall. “I have a library of them in the other room.”

          Irma was not disappointed at all.  After considering what Blaze had just said, she began to purr as a thought took hold.  Unlike the preacher, this admission filled her with hope.  Until this moment the sorcerer’s actions had not given her much encouragement.  She had listened to India enough to have some idea of what Blaze meant now.  They needed a powerful wizard or witch who could break India’s spell.  Blaze obviously wasn’t it.

          When the full impact of what Blaze had just admitted to Elijah had sank in, the preacher was appalled (at least the self-righteous part of him was).  According to this self-proclaimed sorcerer now, it required the intervention of a white witch or wizard, much more powerful than himself, who would perform a counteracting spell.  When the correct formula and magical ingredients and paraphernalia were used correctly by this agent, the spell would be broken.  It was as simple or as difficult as that.  Just exactly what this counteracting spell was Blaze didn’t know yet, but he planned on finding out soon.

          While the preacher tried to comprehend what had happened to him tonight it appeared as if he was moving in a dream or nightmare.  He regretted that his faith didn’t matter to O’Dare and hoped somehow that he could still win with the power of prayer.  The only thing that seemed to be real at this point was the warm little cat purring on his chest.  If he awakened now in his bed and it was only a dream, he would miss her greatly.  Already, Irma Fresco had become more than just a pet.

          “Who knows what we’re going to need for this caper,” he heard Blaze say in a most cavalier fashion as he rose shakily to his feet. “We may even need your religion.  White witches have been known to consort with God.”

          “Forgive my ignorance,” Elijah said hoarsely, his heart still pounding in his chest, “but you are, whether you call it that or not, dabbling in the black arts.  I will pray when I deem it necessary, whether your white witch or whomever-you-call-it likes it or not.”

          “Fair enough,” the sorcerer nodded, reaching inside his coat to give Irma a pat.

          Irma hissed and almost bit him now.  Blaze withdrew his hand with disappointment and stood there deep in thought, as if he was mulling over another plan.  Elijah found himself nodding off to sleep.  It had been a long day.  An irrational fear that he would awaken and Irma would disappear from his life forever broke his somnolence.  His heard jerked up.  Inside his coat the little cat mewed.  He looked up then and realized that Blaze was no longer in the room.

          It was as if he had, in fact, awakened from a bad dream only to wake up in another.

          “Where are you?” He called out fearfully. “What are you up to now Sorcerer?… Admit it O’Dare, you cannot help her!  For you this is all a game!”

          “It’s not a game, preacher… I can help!” the sorcerer announced at the doorway to the hall.  Walking over with a book under his arm, he said with great conviction,  “Whether you like it or not, I’m all you and the cat have.  Please trust me.  Give me a chance to help!”

The jolt Elijah had given her had once again ended Irma’s catnap.  The little cat stuck her pert head out and looked up at the preacher as if to protest then climbed out, stretched on the table and suddenly, inexplicably, leaped from the table to the sink.

          In too many ways, the two men and Irma, herself, realized she was acting like a cat.  One more indication that she was becoming feral came when she felt compelled to stop by the toaster sitting by the sink.  As she looked into the shiny side of the toaster, she marveled at herself, realizing with some degree of pleasure, that she was a very pretty little cat.  She had, in fact, owned a black cat when she was a child…. Now, she told herself dubiously, she was a cat.  But, as Elijah and Blaze had noticed immediately, she was no ordinary black cat.  She had in the midst of her pixie-like face, as she had as a human, brilliant blue eyes, but also large, fox-like ears that did not seem to match any cat she had ever seen.  For a moment she admired her reflection, as kittens often do, and then, losing interest, abstractedly turned her attention to a small scrap of food lying on the draining board, which she began to bat around playfully as the two men watched.

          She was losing her humanity.  She was beginning to think, eat, and act like a cat.  The preacher felt great compassion for her and, in spite of his misgivings, wanted Blaze O’Dare’s help.

“While I look in my library,” the sorcerer directed gently, “would you like to read my Bible.  We need all the help we can get.  I won’t be long.”

Blaze handed him a large King James Version of the Holy Bible.  The preacher, who was moved by the sorcerers gesture and surprised he would have such a book, took it graciously with a nod and, after thumbing through the Scriptures, found a likely spot in the eighth chapter of Acts:

 

…. There was a certain man, called Simon, who bewitched the people of Samaria.  To him they had regard, because he had bewitched them with sorcery.

 

But the passage, which was a part of New Testament Scriptures, didn’t seem appropriate now, and it didn’t bring the preacher justification for how he felt.  Like him or not, Blaze O’Dare, for his own selfish reasons perhaps, was trying to help, which was more than what Elijah was doing now.  There simply was no prayer in the Bible for breaking the spell of a witch.  Elijah could also find nothing in the Scriptures about beasts having souls, which made it difficult for him to have a dialogue with God.  The Bible, though it had become the law of his life, had no answers on this subject.  His excitement for the miracle was tempered by this realization, which caused a crisis in his faith.  And the realization grew in the preacher, as he searched the Bible, as would a glimmer at the end of a long, dark corridor, that there were forces for fighting evil not covered in this book.

 

 

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