Shortly after dawn, after a breakfast of crumb cake, coffee, and tea, Elijah Gray and Mortimer Hildebrand followed Blaze O’Dare to his station wagon in single file down an ancient walkway leading to the street. Irma was still groggy from her nightmarish odyssey on the street. So much had happened to her since Halloween night in so little time. As she peeked out from Elijah Gray’s jacket at this world of shadows and giants, she was reminded of the times she had carried her own cat inside her coat when he was a kitten. Muffin had been her favorite cat; she sorely missed him now.
With lingering trepidation, the preacher scooted into the front seat of Blaze’s station wagon, his arm protecting the cargo in his coat, while the priest climbed into the middle seat of the car. Where the third seat had been there was a pile of evil smelling and inexplicable junk. The floor was cluttered with all manner of trash, including candy wrappers and crushed cans. A talisman of twisted hemp and Rosemary hung from the rearview mirror. The dreadful odors pervading the vehicle were expected by Mortimer, but made Elijah slightly ill. Irma peeked out once and wrinkled her little pink nose. Her human dislike of foul odors had actually been sharpened by a feline’s sense of smell. Many of these terrible odors had also permeated India’s apartment: rare as well as common pharmacopoeia for various witches’ spells.
For a moment, as Blaze started up his engine, he checked the Google map Mortimer printed out for him that lead to Shadowbrook Arms. According to the sorcerer, it would take only twenty minutes to reach their destination. Factored into his calculations was, of course, the stop he would make at the next corner to get gas. During this period, in which the Blaze went through a stop sign and, at one point, almost veered off the road, as he checked the map, Elijah and Mortimer exchanged worried looks. Twenty minutes with Blaze behind the wheel was too long!
As he stood pumping his gas, yawning expansively and, with his free hand, vigorously scratching his bearded chin, he looked quizzically into the distance with one eye half shut. He had, the others suspected, not slept well last night. The magical cat had caused his normally overactive imagination to soar. Their imminent encounter with the very woman who had bewitched Irma Fresco had galvanized his purpose in life. The Spell Reversal Team, as Blaze dubbed them, was, indeed, the high point in all their lives and probably the greatest challenge even in the priest’s long career. But for Elijah Gray, the preacher, it was a sober occasion that also challenged his faith. He was out of place in this evil smelling car and felt ill-suited to be a member of this team. As the station wagon pulled away from the service station, he had the irrational urge to bolt out of the vehicle, while it was still moving slowly, and run away with the cat. That would, he realized, seal her fate but it might save his immortal soul.
For a few moments, as he listened to the purring feline, he had to remind himself why he was here: Irma Fresco, a bewitched young woman; she was why he was here. He was forsaking everything to save one small, black cat. She had captured his heart, fired his imagination, and defied everything he believed in now. To calm himself, the preacher continued to stroke the sleeping cat.
“You’re the reason,” he whispered into his coat, “I’m in this evil-smelling car!”
Filled with déjà vu, Irma licked his rough hand just at Muffin had once done to her long, long ago.
In the background the priest was explaining the fallacies of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. In Elijah’s current mood, the sound of his gravelly, quavering voice was like finger nails raking on a blackboard. Far worse, however, was the inattentive attitude of the driver as he continued looking over his seat.
“Pay attention to the road!” Mortimer scolded him finally, as they approached a light.
As Elijah sat in the front seat next to the sorcerer listening to Hildebrand carry on, however, his fears gradually lessened. With Mortimer’s prodding, Blaze was forced to pay more attention to the road. Irma, due to Elijah’s caresses, fell into a sound, almost dreamless sleep. The preacher found this all quite boring, himself, and, in spite of the annoying subject matter, also fell asleep, but the sorcerer was fascinated with Mortimer’s knowledge. He had never known an unrepentant heretic priest as unconventional as this man. Occasionally, the priest would stop in his narrative to scold the driver and keep him focused on the road.
“All this time down through the ages,” he droned pedagogically, “men and women, who were not witches at all but divinely endowed mortals with God sent powers, have been persecuted by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant Christians along with occultists, when in fact only the witches and sorcerers had cast evil spells and done great mischief in the world.” “You’re driving too fast;” he interrupted himself, “slow down!”
“Unfortunately,” he continued warily, “those unorthodox individuals professing to be healers and diviners as well as spell-changers were often persecuted for their non-canonical practices and heretical interpretation of Christianity along with the devil-worshippers who had done only evil in their careers.” “Now you’re going too slow!” he cried.
“… The only legitimate and sanctified way to use spirit agents is through Christ as the source,” concluded Mortimer. “The other source for black magic is, of course, Lucifer, a fallen angel…. Now that’s better, sorcerer. Look straight ahead, not at me, pay attention to the highway, and maintain a legal speed limit as you drive!”
Unruffled by the priest’s criticism, Blaze peered out of his windshield with great inspiration at the busy morning road.
The re-definition of white magic by Mortimer Hildebrand, an ex-priest, was an illumination to the sorcerer. The conflict between his preoccupation with the occult and his own discarded Roman Catholic faith now seemed to be resolved. During Mortimer’s lofty summary, Elijah had dreamed briefly that he was back in time with his wife and child. They were picnicking in the park. Karen was singing an off key tune. Nancy was frolicking nearby with a big, multicolored ball. Filtering into his bittersweet dream on the threshold of twilight sleep, however, were the last words of Mortimer’s discourse on witchcraft: black magic… Lucifer… fallen angel. Yet what amazed Elijah the most, as he awakened from his catnap, was Blaze’s rapt expression and tone.
“Hallelujah! Amen!” The sorcerer exclaimed.
“Did I miss something?” he asked groggily, looking around the car. “… I heard the word Lucifer and amen in almost the same breath.”
“I think your friend is having a spiritual reawakening,” the priest noted with mirth.
Blaze’s admiration for this man came as no surprise to Elijah. Mortimer Hildebrand was equivalent to the Pope in the sorcerer’s eyes. For Elijah to accept Hildebrand’s powers, however, required a complete reinterpretation of his own hard-won faith. The implications of a defrocked priest, who could use God to perform what appeared to be, despite the priests explanations, black magic, were enormous. There was, according to Mortimer Hildebrand, celestial magic and infernal magic—both of which were being done through good and evil agents, respectively, quite apart from the spirit of the Lord. Given what he heard in his twilight sleep, Blaze’s comprehension of this blasphemy as a spiritual awakening was too much for Elijah’s fundamentalist mind.
Suddenly, the preacher, who had slept for only a few moments, found himself joining the discussion in progress, the sorcerer’s exclamations triggering his response.
“For all your naivety, Blaze, do you really believe your soul is being uplifted by this man? He thinks you’re a heretic and I’m a spiritual bumpkin. He can barely mask his contempt for either one of us now!”
“It’s not my soul, it’s my spirit that is uplifted,” Blaze grew defensive, looking back at the priest for support, “but you wouldn’t understand preacher, would you? You think they’re both the same!”
“They are the same,” Mortimer frowned at the back of Blaze’s head. “The preacher knows the difference. I know the difference!” “Now look straight ahead,” he demanded again, thumping the seat, “and pay attention to the road!”
“You see! You see!” Elijah exclaimed, slapping his thigh. “Contempt! He knows it, and I know it. You can’t help yourself, sorcerer. Heresy is as natural to you as breathing air.” “And you,” he looked back suddenly at the priest, “have so corrupted the definition of grace that you would put Lucifer alongside of God!”
“What?… What’s that you say?” the priest sputtered with indignation now. “I have corrupted nothing. You’re just too pig-headed and self-righteous to understand!”
“What’s going on out there?” Irma peeked out of the coat.
“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Blaze cried, clutching the steering wheel in dismay. “We’re on the same side! Please remember our purpose. India Crowley’s the enemy, not each other. Let’s focus on her!”
“Very well, sorcerer, calm down,” Elijah replied, as the car began to weave, “do as the priest says. Pay attention to the road!”
In a hoarse voice, as Blaze settled down at the wheel, Elijah apologized for being rude. With controlled venom this time, however, he asked the priest, “Just who’s suppose to be responsible for the miracles asked for by supplicants through prayer? Is it God Almighty or some magical formula uttered by a defrocked priest? Explain to me how an all-powerful God can allow innocent men and women to be transformed into beasts simply by the casting of spells?”
“Whoa preacher, slow down a moment, this at the heart of the matter, but let me continue,” insisted the priest, as the station wagon came to a stop.
Calmly now, Mortimer explained to them the apparent conflict between magic and God’s grace. Blaze took the opportunity at the red light to inspect his own crudely drawn directions he copied out of the Thomas Guide, comparing it with the map provided by the priest.
“I’m glad you printed this out,” he muttered distractedly, “I can scarcely read my scrawls. Unfortunately, the letters on the printout are too small. You should’ve blown this up a bit…”
As Mortimer lectured the preacher, Blaze held the map up to his squinting eyes, until he was satisfied he had read it correctly.
“... Innocent folk have been food for the devil for thousands of years, but Satan could not own the God-fearer’s souls. Ritualistic spells and incantations were merely outward signs of inward grace and meant nothing without faith in the Holy Trinity, which included the Holy Ghost, who worked as the prime-mover when the spirit world was invoked.”
Blaze continued to marvel at the ambiguities of the priest. Although he found it stimulating himself, he couldn’t blame the narrow-minded preacher for having serious problems with Mortimer’s theology. In Elijah’s thinking Hildebrand’s explanation of spirit-helpers was both confusing and unsatisfactory, for by definition the Holy Ghost was the chief spirit on earth. The Holy Ghost didn’t require intermediaries, whether they be called saints, angels, or ghosts, and, for that matter, priests! Elijah also didn’t believe in the demon possession inherent in the priest’s claim, a theory the sorcerer was skeptical of himself. Elijah had seen too many men, as raving drunks, who were simply burnt out on cheap wine. As a street person, himself, who had seen so much of the real world, the preacher believed only in the power of prayer as the agent to change one’s lives. Now, the poor fellow was in an automobile with a sorcerer, heretic priest, and a woman who had been turned into a cat. They were all, at this very moment, Blaze reflected as he scanned the road ahead, heading toward a confrontation with a witch who had marshaled the forces of Lucifer onto her side.
Blaze O’Dare, who had play-acted as a sorcerer for so long, was now being challenged today with the real thing. It was, he knew with certainty, no longer a game. There really were dark forces out there that could be harnessed, but the price, he had always thought, was one’s immortal soul. Mortimer Hildebrand’s presence now seemed to change all that. When he pulled his automobile up to the curb in front of Shadowbrook Arms, the three men climbed shakily out of the station wagon. The preacher, sorcerer and, if truth be told, even the stony-faced priest were filled with dread. Irma, who had been awakened constantly by the quarreling men, clung to the inner lying of the preacher’s jacket, her little snout poking out of his coat, reminiscent of a joey looking out its mother’s pouch. Elijah Gray, having confronted unknown terrors on skid row and countless encounters with deranged men, was now being challenged with the very source of evil. Both he and the sorcerer were at the mercy of a priest who was going to do spiritual battle with a witch.
“All right, Mortimer Hildebrand,” Blaze was the first to break the silence, “what now?”
“I shall say a prayer,” Elijah said, caressing the cat. “We’ll all recite the Lord’s Prayer.”
“I don’t want any part of this!” Irma’s thoughts screamed, her claws digging more deeply into the underlining of his coat.
“Fear not!” Hildebrand replied, bolting ahead of the others. “We have the woman’s name and her apartment number. She can’t harm you in my presence. You folks stay behind me. I have the gift of spell-changing, and she’ll recognize it as soon as I recite the proper invocation while holding up my cross.”
“We must hurry! We must hurry!” Blaze, who felt he should say something, blurted excitedly.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hollowed by thy name,” Elijah began reciting, while stroking the cat, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it in heaven…”
When they had found India Crowley’s apartment, the priest just stood there in front of the door after knocking and then ringing the doorbell, praying feverishly to himself. It comforted the preacher to hear him pray so hard, but he found it difficult to join in, so he prayed to himself and noticed, with incredulity, that Blaze O’Dare was praying too. As they waited for India to answer her door, they heard a voice from the corridor below call out “India Crowley’s not home.”
“Well, we tried,” Blaze sighed deeply, turning for acknowledgment from the others.
Elijah, in spite of his pity for the little cat, was also relieved. The priest looked down at the speaker and found a small, swarthy-looking lady looking up myopically from the staircase below. For a moment he wondered if she too might not be a witch, until he realized that she was a nurse. She wore the typical white uniform of the nurse, including cap and nametag and there was a briefcase clutched in one of her hands.
“Not home, eh,” Mortimer said lightly, “are you quite certain, my dear?”
“I saw them take her away,” the nurse snorted, shielding her eyes from the sun.
“W-What?… W-What did you say?” Hildebrand stammered, walking down several steps in order to hear her reply.
“Ask Sam Burns, the apartment manager in 1A,” the nurse shrugged. “He was there last night. I was working the third shift at the county hospital when that lady was shot, but I arrived home the next morning in time to see them put her into the ambulance.”
“You saw her?” Mortimer seemed to gasp. “Was she awake?… Was she even alive?”
“I couldn’t tell,” she shook her head wearily. “I saw them put her in an ambulance, is all. I didn’t get involved.”
“I don’t understand.” The priest looked at her in disbelief. “Didn’t the police ask you any questions? You’re her neighbor, are you not?”
“Yes,” the nurse shook her head, “but when I got off of the bus, I walked passed the complex and came in from the other side. I pretended I wasn’t home.”
The priest moved several steps down toward her, causing the woman to shudder at this darkly clad specter in the morning light. To add to the eeriness in her tired mind was a glimpse of the sinister sorcerer and the black cat peeking out of Elijah’s coat.
“Please… answer a few questions for me,” the priest frowned with concern. “…. Firstly, did anyone identify India Crowley?”
“I don’t know,” she answered fearfully, “it was none of my business. I never liked the woman. I told you I came in the other side.”
“Then you saw this from a distance?” He pressed, inching further down.
“Yes,” the nurse retreated further, “I could see them put her on the stretcher. She was wearing her witch’s costume she had on Halloween night. All I could see from my vantage point were policemen and ambulance attendants. Okay?”
“Lived here for years and no one comes forth,” Mortimer muttered aloud. “…. Are you folks afraid of India Crowley? I wouldn’t blame you if you were.”
“Frankly, I never met her,” the nurse replied, a tinge of impatience joining the alarm in her voice. “They had a pretty wild party that night. I was going to catch the eleven-thirty bus just about the time things were getting out of hand. That’s all I know. I’m very tired, father. Have a nice day!”
“Wait, please one more question,” the priest wrung his hands, as she rapidly ascended the stairs, “… tell me what you saw Halloween night.”
“It was ridiculous,” she waved back in disgust. “She shouted some kind of hocus pocus at those hell-raisers. I saw Wanda, Neva, and Buck and his friends heckling India. I remember hearing Sam and his girl friend Alice give her what-for.”
By then, as her voice trailed off into the floor above, a few other tenants had peeked fearfully out their curtains to see what other horrors lurked outside.
“I wonder if India had any identification on her,” Mortimer mulled, his chin dropping to his chest.
“I bet she didn’t,” Blaze giggled hysterically. “Too bad for India; you know what that means boys—a bona fide card-carrying witch transported as a Jane Doe!”
“I know what hospital she’s in,” Elijah offered, as they now searched for apartment 1A.
“Yes, yes,” Mortimer nodded impatiently, “we all know where they take Jane Doe’s. The county hospital is a dreadful place.” “You know what this means gentlemen?” He heaved a great sigh.
The sorcerer nodded unhappily. Elijah, though filled with misgivings, had relaxed greatly, but a sadness filled him when he thought about Irma’s fate. Irma, who purred loudly inside his coat, was now confused by this turn of events. They now had a dying witch. What did that mean? Both Blaze and Elijah were afraid to ask.
After only a few knocks on the manager’s door, they heard the deadbolt lock rattle inside the apartment and saw the door crack faintly with the chain still fastened in place.
“My name’s Mortimer Hildebrand,” the priest introduced himself quickly. “I need to talk to Sam Burns about the woman who was shot last night. We need to ask him some questions about her. It won’t take long.”
“No, go away,” a woman cried out. “I have enough to deal with right now!”
The door slammed shut and the deadbolt was again thrown.
“Please ma’am,” the priest begged her now. “You won’t believe what I have to tell you. But I have reason to believe that the witch India Crowley has done great mischief here. I have the power, through God, to undo her spell.”
Alice Wagnall had been peeking through the peephole of the door after shutting it but now ran over to look through a crack in the curtains at the unlikely threesome by the door. When she saw the head of the small cat peering out of the preacher’s coat and noted the clerical collar of the priest, who stood by her door, she decided finally to let them in. As Irma and her three guardians entered Sam’s apartment, her mind was bombarded with feline outcries. It overwhelmed her at first, until she was able to match the voices with the cats. Sam, Wanda, Neva, and Drew hailed her, as long-lost friends. Suddenly, the living room was filled with mewing, purring, and licking cats. Blaze made the sign to ward off the evil eye, Elijah whistled under his breath, and the priest made the sign of the cross as they looked down at the cats scampering around the room.
Brief introductions followed after which Alice led them to the center of the room and looked Elijah squarely into his eyes. Impulsively, with constricted voice, Elijah now held out his charge: “This is Irma Fresco. We found her downtown, near skid row. Please let her stay here with her friends.”
“Oh these folks were never friends as mortals,” she explained, setting Irma next to Wanda, who gave her a spontaneous lick. “As cats, some of them, the ones not in my apartment, were Sam’s enemies here at Shadowbrook Arms, until their leader, Buck Logan, saved Sam’s life. Sam communicated this to me on his laptop. He’s very worried about Buck and his gang now. The group in Sam’s apartment have grown especially close as felines. I think Wanda, that big white cat, has a crush on Sam. We must save them all reverend. I can’t imagine how dreadful they must all feel, but I know that we have little time.”
The priest, who had been listening intently to their conversation, stepped forward now as the preacher and sorcerer began playing with the cats. As an indication that he was the leader, he led her into another room out of earshot of the cats.
“We have limited information on India Crowley’s condition,” his gravelly voice uttered. “How bad off is she now?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered, shutting the bedroom door. “Sam, the brown cat, and Drew, the tan cat you saw in the group, were able to type out information they gathered from the maintenance and janitorial workers here at the complex. The story goes: ‘India fell from the second deck, after being shot by someone, and landed on the cement below. The point were she fell was near Penny Gruber’s apartment.’ We think Penny was one of the tenants turned into a cat. Tanya, who lived on the second deck, is missing also. I called them both and there was no answer. Like the other tenants not accounted for here, I’m afraid they might be out there somewhere, alone and frightened too.”
The priest’s face had fallen with this news. After hearing she had been shot, he had considered the possibility that India might be unconscious. Now, with the confirmation that she had also landed on hard cement, he prepared himself for the worst: India Crowley might soon be dead.
By now, Elijah, who had been eavesdropping, officially entered the room. A few seconds later Blaze entered, holding a large black cat.
“Can we still do it?” Blaze asked, scratching Neva’s head. “Don’t these kind’ve people have to be awake?”
“Yes,… as far as I know,” Mortimer sighed, the disappointment obvious in his voice, “but India also landed on concrete. I’m certain she must be very critical, perhaps near death.”
“Oh dear,” cried Blaze, as Neva wiggled in his arms, “that’s something we must find out!”
“What if she’s unconscious?” asked Elijah, as the other cats began streaming through the door.
“I don’t know. It depends. But we have to act quickly!” Mortimer answered dubiously, looking around at the cats.
With Sam’s group and Irma listening intently below, the humans now openly discussed going to the hospital. Alice insisted, against the priest’s wishes that she go along too. Sam was, after all, her fiancé. Was this not something that affected her life too? Mortimer, however, felt that she should stay with her new charges. They would need her protection now. Elijah and Blaze agreed, but Alice was adamant. About everything, Sam recalled, Alice was adamant. Sam beamed with pride up at her as she folded her arms. After listening mutely to the argument, the cats were confident that Alice would win and turned their attention back to the new addition to their pack. For the first time that Irma could remember, she was a popular member of a group. The three men understood, as had Alice, that the five cats were “talking” to each other now. Although Alice said it gave her the creeps, the men were amused by the way the five cats nodded and cocked their heads at each other. The priest took this opportunity to make an announcement to them in order to allay their fears.
“Listen, I know you can understand me,” he yelled through cupped hands. “Help is out now. Do you understand me children? If you understand, nod your little heads!”
“Why is he hollering at us?” asked Drew, beckoning Neva to come down.
“He thinks were hard of hearing,” Neva replied, jumping finally out of Blaze’s arms.
“But we’re not children,” Wanda wrinkled her pudgy nose. “He should talk to us as adults.”
“Cat’s are always children,” Irma transmitted thoughtfully. “My Muffin never grew up.”
The entire group of cats bumped their new friend, nudged her playfully, and took turns licking her head. Unlike Wanda and Neva, who were beautiful, Irma’s big blue eyes, fox-like ears and, elfin face made her appear unique and perhaps cute more than pretty in Sam and Drew’s eyes. Strangely enough, the petite little black cat “looked” like Irma Fresco, in the same way that Sam, Drew, and the other females resembled their humans selves. Elijah could see that she was happy that she was accepted into this group. Beaming down at them, he whispered, “You’re in good hands Irma. You’ll be safe here with your friends.”
Wanda and Neva, who had avoided Irma as humans, now warmed up quickly to the little black cat, but it was Sam who became her best friend. Three mysterious strangers, whom Drew referred to jokingly as the ghoul squad, carried their fate in their hands. With that settled, the five cats chattered light-heartedly in each other’s head.
“Well,” Sam took his turn bumping up against Irma, “we can thank Irma Fresco for bringing us help!”
“No Sam,” Irma said pertly, “they brought me. I’m just sorry that India zapped you too.”
“She zapped all of the young people at Shadowbrook Arms,” he explained grimly, looking over at the humans. “As you heard, Buck and his entire gang were bewitched. They’re over at his place now. We think Tanya and Penny have been turned into cats too.”
“Tell me the truth,” Sam motioned with his head, “do you really think those men can help?”
“I think so,” she answered hesitantly, “at least they want to really bad!”
“Tsk-tsk, you were her best friend,” Wanda observed politely, appearing suddenly by her side. “She turned you into a cat too.”
“Oh yes,” Irma sighed, “Tanya was also her friend, but India has a new friend now.”
Sam allowed Alice to scoop him up while conversing with Irma and was jealously watched by Wanda, who hung at Elijah’s legs as Sam continued to converse with Irma (now held in the preacher’s arms). A sleepy Neva was again cradled in Blaze’s arms. Drew, after trying to get Irma’s attention, was picked up by the priest, who stroked the tan cat gently as he walked back across the room.
Wanda, who was once a prom queen and college debutante, was the only cat not being carried in a someone’s arms. After seeing her moping in the background, Sam meowed vigorously until Alice sat him on the floor. Sam then ran over to Wanda, gave her a lick and then pointed at her with his paw.
“Come on Alice, open your heart,” his golden eyes seemed to say.
Alice, with reluctance this time, took the cue, walked over and scooped the big white, fluffy Persian up in her arms. For the first time, in her small, will defined world, she felt inexplicable warmth for one of her least favorite creatures: felis catus. She sat down with the feline version of the woman she hated as a human, repelled at first, but then, as Wanda curled up in her lap, began stroking the purring cat. Hearing their collective purrs and weighted down with the gravity of this scene, the sorcerer and preacher also sank into the easy chair and sofa, respectively, with looks of astonishment in their eyes. Finally, as the cats began to squirm, they were set down on the carpet. Irma quickly joined the other cats, rubbing and purring amongst her newfound friends, happy she was no longer alone.
The argument on whether Alice Wagnall would accompany them to the hospital now settled, the three men were led back to Sam’s study, the woman chattering hysterically about everything she had seen so far. Irma ran freely with the other cats over the carpet, into the kitchen for a quick meal, and then back into the living room with the others, exhilarated by these events.
“We’re gonna break this spell,” she transmitted jubilantly. “You just gotta have faith!”
Blaze, Elijah, and Mortimer listened and watched as Alice explained what was on the website, which had been brought to her attention by the cats.
“Humph, a website for witches,” the priest noted with a shrug. “I’ve got a much larger database myself.”
“But look at this one screen,” Alice persisted, clicking the mouse.
“It’s a list of spells and incantations,” Blaze murmured with interest. “I’ve got a list like that myself.”
“I don’t believe it,” Elijah grumbled under his breath, “a website for witches. Why am I not surprised?”
“Are there any applicable ones?” Blaze interest grew, as the priest sat beside Alice in another chair.
“Well, let’s us take a peek,” the priest sighed heavily, shaking his head. “… I can’t imagine that any of these are legitimate…. Ho-ho, how quaint! Here’s one for removing warts.
…. A love potion for frigid women… aphrodisiacs… and, tsk-tsk, countless nonsensical things, but nothing remotely close to spell-changing here.”
“I agree, there’s nothing there,” Blaze nodded thoughtfully, looking over Mortimer’s shoulder. “These are simple potions, not spells. Abracadabra, hocus-pocus stuff.”
“Yes, indeed, most of these entries are standard witches fare,” Mortimer looked up with irritation at the bad-breathed Blaze after scanning down the list. “These kind of people make a game of witchcraft and sorcery. I think this entire website is a sham and a disgrace!”
“Well, what do you suggest?” Alice asked bleakly as Sam looked up at her from the floor. “…. Look at him, my baby,” she said in a strangled whisper, a tear rolling down her cheek. “We-we were going to be married after he finished graduate school. I-I was going to have a husband, but now I have a houseful of cats.” “I don’t even like cats, Mister Hildebrand,” she added, mournfully, giving Sam’s head a scratch, “that’s what makes this such a joke!”
“Calm down Miss Wagnall,” the priest rose up on stiff knees, “you must trust us. You must not loose faith!”
“You’re a practicing warlock,” she erupted into hysterical sobs, “you’re talking to me about faith? I’ve been a Christian all my life. This is almost impossible for me to accept!”
“Well, I’m also a Christian,” Elijah declared heavy-heartedly. “You’re just going to have to, Miss Wagnall. These cats are running out of time!”
“We believe in Jesus Christ too,” Blaze offered, reaching down to stroke Wanda’s head.
Alice now confessed in detail her misgivings, as had Elijah, about turning to magic and the occult to undo an evil deed.
“Where does God fit into this scheme?” she asked with tearful blue eyes. “Can a witches formula only be undone by a warlock’s spell?
Silence followed as Mortimer surfed the web. The argument Alice gave was familiar to Irma by now, but her new friends found the dispute unsettling.
“What’s the matter with that bitch?” Neva asked as Mortimer once again explained his role, “who cares how they cure us, just so it gets done.”
“Hey, careful that’s my fiancé!” Sam protested, bristling at her slur.
“I’m sorry Sam,” Irma came over and bumped his side, “but Neva’s right. We need all the help we can get. Elijah, the preacher there, is praying to God. Who knows, maybe it’ll work. But the priest uses both religion and magic; he thinks he can reverse our spell if he can confront the witch.” “…. Unfortunately,” she paused to reflect, “India’s had a terrible accident. She might not even be alive!”
“What? What did you say?” Drew came running over now.
“Does this mean there’s hope?” Wanda grew excited too.
“Yes, of course, there’s hope,” little Irma said, raising her paw. “I have faith in those guys. Don’t ask me why. I like to think it’s all that praying I did when I ran away from the witch, but I owe a lot to that sorcerer, too, for bringing me here.”
“A sorcerer?” Neva bristled.
“Is Mortimer Hildebrand really a warlock?” Sam asked, trying very hard to frown.
“No,” Irma answered thoughtfully, “Mortimer is a defrocked priest, who practices magic. He’s a wizard, like Merlin once was.”
“Oh gee,” Sam thought sarcastically, “I feel so much better: a sorcerer and now a wizard, who was once a Catholic priest.”
“What about the preacher?” Drew motioned with his head, as they looked over at the men, “where does he fit in? He seems out of place here.”
“He’s my special friend—the one who found me,” explained Irma with a fond glance. “That man used to be a high school teacher until his wife and daughter were killed by a drunken driver. He spent years on skid row, himself, before he turned to the Lord.”
“I’m glad he turned to the Lord,” Sam sighed wistfully. “We need Him now.”
“Now that doesn’t make sense to me,” Wanda seemed almost self-righteous now, “the man’s family is snuffed out by a drunk and he becomes one!”
“You’re talking about the capital ‘H’ Him, aren’t you?” thought Irma, ignoring Wanda’s response.
“Yes,” Sam nodded, “one should not put their faith merely in men.”
“You mean woman, don’t you?” Drew joined in now.
“Yes, of course, that too. Alice’s a real peach,” Sam sighed, giving them all a nudge, “but I’m afraid she’s not going to be much help. She doesn’t even like cats.”
“Not even us?” Neva made a face.
“Well, maybe us,” Sam transmitted thoughtfully, “… at least me. I mean we are engaged, aren’t we?”
“I think Alice has a good heart, Sam,” Irma thought, watching Alice discuss something with Elijah now. “She was raised that way; my father hated cats too. She’s confronted with a fantastic dilemma—the same one that Elijah, the preacher, faced when he discovered a bewitched cat.”
“I still find it hard to accept, myself,” Sam admitted to the others, as he glanced back at the humans.
Looking across the room at the four cats now, Elijah commented to Alice, “It does look like they’re talking, doesn’t it?”
“They are,” The priest nodded with understanding. “I’m certain that they use mental telepathy. Look at the way they carry on. They remind me of deaf mutes. Instead of the Universal Sign Language, they use their minds.”
“It all seems impossible.” Alice shook her head, collapsing forlornly into a chair. “This is all too much to digest.”
“Alice, sweet Alice,” Blaze gave her a consoling pat, “open our mind if not your soul. Think of poor Sam’s reassessment. It was hard for the preacher too.”
“It still is,” Elijah confessed, shaking his head.
“Listen young lady,” Mortimer spoke sternly to her now, “I remember the oft told story about a narrow-minded old man, who having lived all his life in the back woods, was taken to a zoo by his worldly son. When he was introduced to a giraffe in its pen, one of the most humorous of God’s creatures, he shook his head and said to his son ‘no such creature can exist.’” “That is your proverbial giraffe, my dear.” He pointed at the cats. “You must accept the fact that a witch has transformed those young adults into cats!
“… Now that we’ve agreed to take you along, Miss Wagnall,” he continued severely after a pause, “you must promise to open your mind as you opened your hearts to these poor creatures. As your fellow Protestant fundamentalist, Elijah Gray, has done, you must set aside your own narrow-minded interpretation of Christianity these coming hours for the greater good.”
Elijah bristled at this characterization but had to agree.
“There now,” Mortimer patted her trembling hand, “is that acceptable to you, my child? Speak now, before we begin our journey, or keep your peace.”
“Very well,” she found herself holding Elijah, her kindred spirit’s, hand, “but I will be praying for guidance, Mortimer. Elijah and I will allow no satanic mumbo jumbo in this affair!”
“You’ll do just fine,” Blaze consoled her, this time patting her back.
But Alice didn’t like the sorcerer any more than she liked Mortimer Hildebrand, the priest. After making sure that all the cats had plenty of water and food and cleaning the kitty litter she had improvised for them, she picked Sam up and gave him a hug and bid them all goodbye. When the foursome reached O’Dare’s station wagon, the priest sat next to the sorcerer in the front seat this time and Elijah and Alice quietly took their place in back.
“So you found out India’s room number, Miss Wagnall?” Mortimer looked back pensively now, as the station wagon headed up town.
“Yes, I told them I was her sister over the phone,” she looked with suspicion into the priest’s eyes. “Tell me, since you call yourself a priest,… how could our Lord allow this to happen?”
“I don’t believe it!” the sorcerer groaned.
“He didn’t make it happen,” the priest corrected her gently, as she sat uncomfortably in her seat. “This has been going on for thousands of years. It’s obviously strong in this age. This witch evidently has very great powers!”
“Wait a minute,” Blaze offered, snapping his fingers. “I remember reading about this in Ring of Darkness, a book I just finished. Doesn’t a witch’s power end when she dies?”
“I’m not so sure the spell, itself, ends. Besides,” the priest shook his head, “She’s not quite dead. For my purposes, she’s also not alive. Ring of Darkness was written by a historian compiling information on the occult. He wasn’t a sorcerer or a priest. You can’t use this as a source.”
“Are you saying it’s hopeless then?” Elijah murmured dreamily after reflecting on his wife and child. “What about the powers of prayer?”
“The power of prayer is still strong,” the priest looked back over his seat to explain. “You more than anyone else here, because of your ministry in skid row, know how powerful prayer can be. God will find away for us whether or not she is unconscious or awake…. Perhaps even when she’s dead!”
But the misgivings on the priest’s stony face and Alice’s blue eyes were all too evident as they embarked upon their mission. Mortimer didn’t look as confident as when they first set off for Shadowbrook Arms. Blaze, who sat next to the priest, sensed this more than the others. He managed, in spite of their anxiety, to show concern for their feelings and yet smiled and hummed happily to himself as he considered the adventure ahead.