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Chapter Eighteen

                                                                                 

The First Attempt

 

 

 

Alice, who knew exactly where the county hospital was located, directed them quickly to their destination.  The two years she spent in real estate had given her a working knowledge of the city and its suburbs.  On the way to the hospital, the group discussed what they would say to the nurses and doctors.  In order to have visitation rights, they might have to identify themselves as relatives of India Crowley, who, they would explain, was admitted as a Jane Doe.  Alice would claim to be India’s sister and Elijah would try to convince them he was her older brother.  The priest, who would claim to be her parish priest, would simply be on hand to give her the Last Rites, and Blaze O’Dare, who had stretched the truth more times than he liked to admit, would be her favorite uncle.  Alice would approach the receptionist first.  If worse came to worse, they would have to somehow sneak into India’s room to perform Hildebrand’s rite. 

          Upon reaching the county hospital, the foursome exited the station wagon and, with great trepidation, entered the lobby.  It was crowded on this Monday morning.  Whole families were assembled in the room and every type of visitor imaginable, including a few street people who had come in to sleep in the lobby chairs.  An attractive African American receptionist sat at her desk, peering over the counter.  A low buzz of conversations had filled the lobby until the ‘Spell Reversal Team’ entered the door.  Now, as they caught a glimpse of the team, a hush fill over the room. 

As Alice stepped up to the counter, she hastily stated her mission, “We’re here to see India Crowley.”

“Psst! Psst!” Blaze tried getting her attention. “India won’t be on file.  She was admitted as a Jane Doe! 

“Yes, Alice,” whispered Mortimer, “this wasn’t the plan.  Explain that to her!”

The woman smiled indulgently, turned to her computer as Alice spelled out the name, and quickly typed it in.  Then, after humming to herself a moment, she sighed, looked up from the screen, and gave Alice a blank stare. “I’m sorry ma’am.  No one by that name was admitted.”

“Oh, she’s here all right.” Alice nodded, wringing her hands. “We heard about the accident.  We know she’s here!” 

The receptionist frowned thoughtfully.  “All right, if you’re certain.  We get a lot of Jane Does.  Are you folks relatives of the patient?”

“Yes, yes!” Alice exclaimed, almost choking on the words. “We’re all she has.”

 “All right,” replied the receptionist, looking back at the screen, “what’s the address?”

 In a nervous voice, Alice quickly rattled it off.  While she was at, after Mortimer bent forward and whispered in her ear, she explained that India had a gunshot wound and had been wearing a witches costume when brought in. 

“That’s the address all right,” the receptionist said, cocking an eyebrow, “and that fits the description, but the report I’m reading says she was shot.  That’s more than just an accident ma’am.  That’s attempted homicide!

“We didn’t know,” Alice blurted. “All the cats, I mean tenants, told us she fell from the balcony.”

“Uh huh, that happened too,” she continued reading the report, “tsk tsk, massive injuries.  Only family’s allowed in.”  “They’ll have to clear you in ER.” She looked up sympathetically.  “This is the main lobby.”

“Oh dear me,” Alice groaned, “we entered the wrong building.  Will they let us in?”

“Honey.” She reached over to pat her wrist. “This County General, not the Mayo Clinic. You wouldn’t believe the folks they let in.”  Pointing a long manicured finger, she added pleasantly, “Turn left at the main hall.  Follow the red line, until you reach the ER lobby.  It’s room 1B.   You’ll have to check with the receptionist and attending physician.  Don’t worry, they’ll let you in.  They’ve seen all types!”

“Thank you, you’ve been very kind.” Alice sighed with relief.

 

******

          Judging by her grin, the woman had been amused with this group.  Mortimer and Blaze were pleased by the receptionist’s attitude and quickly put the episode behind them.  Alice and Elijah, however, were uneasy about the subterfuge and their collaboration with the sorcerer and priest.   It had almost been too easy.  Unlike their cohorts, who viewed this as a great adventure, they were fearful about the mission ahead.

          “What if they interrupt your exorcism?” Elijah inquired anxiously, lagging behind, as they followed Mortimer down the hall.

          “I’ve explained that this is much more than an exorcism,” Held brand replied in a hushed tone. “…. It’s critical that everyone except the clerics stay out during the first phase of the rite.”

          “You mean the preacher gets to go and I don’t?” Blaze asked in a hurt tone.

          “I’m a devout Christian like yourselves,” Alice also protested. “I’ve been the one protecting those cats!”

          “Yes, yes, Alice, if you were an ordained minister, like him, I would let you in,” the priest explained irritably, pointing to the preacher. “Explain to her Elijah how dangerous this rite is.”

          Elijah nodded gravely, the thought of sharing this potentially blasphemous rite with Mortimer Hildebrand filling him with dread.

          “I’m not afraid,” Alice persisted. “I want to add my prayer to the rite.  You’ll need all the prayers you can get!”

          “I’m not afraid either!” Blaze protested, his face puffed up with rage. “You—a defrocked priest—have no right to prevent anyone from going into India’s room!  How dare you deprive us of this event!”

          “Yes, he’s right,” agreed Alice, folding her pale arms, “you’ve been excommunicated from your church.  What gives you sole right to perform this rite on India Crowley?  Do you really think you’re more qualified to talk to the Lord?”

          “Please, ” Elijah regained his voice, “let’s not quarrel about whose going to help.  We’re not even in there yet.  Believe me, Miss Wagnall, I don’t relish going in their myself.  I personally believe that it’s strictly a matter of prayer.  I don’t know what you have up your sleeve Hildebrand, but, like it or not, I’ll be there behind you with my own petition!”

          “All right,” the priest replied, folding his arms, “but Blaze O’Dare, the sorcerer, isn’t going in!   He would profane the rite and defeat anything I might accomplish in there.  I may seem like a heretic to you Miss Wagnall, but I assure you the Lord doesn’t see it that way.  Mister O’Dare on the other hand has made a career of his blasphemous rites and could only bring down disaster on us if India comes to.”

          “You’ve not liked me since you laid eyes on me,” Blaze said in a wounded tone. “It was I who looked you up in the first place and gave you this opportunity.  Why are you so pig-headed?  Why can’t you let me help?”

          “Shut up all of you!” Elijah took control again. “This personality contest between sorcerer and defrocked priest is not helping the matter at all.  Blaze can go in with Alice at first.  We have to pretend like we’re visiting her, don’t we?   It’s only when you get into the rite that we might have to clear the room.”

          Hildebrand grumbled querulously at them: “Blaze and the witch are on the same side.  I don’t think he should be in her room at all!

          “If she’s dying as I suspect,” Alice said to Elijah from the corner of her mouth as they approached the reception desk, “they should let her entire family in.”

          Looking over the ER receptionist’s counter and down at the smallest woman she had ever seen, Alice did a double-take, then, quickly getting into character, gave her spiel rapidly with heartfelt crocodilian tears and even less convincing sobs.  Though it hadn’t been necessary in the main lobby, she introduced everyone as she had planned to do originally.  The small furtive eyes of the tiny receptionist could only see what was directly in front her or on the brim of the counter.  She didn’t see the men at all.  The charade, Blaze quoted Shakespeare, was much ado about nothing, and yet, after Alice’s amateurish performance, they were amazed at the ER receptionist’s response.  The first receptionist had at least spoken to them and given them directions, but this lackadaisical woman merely grunted and motioned for them to proceed. There seemed to be little security in this hospital.  Elijah wanted to believe the Lord was guiding their steps.  He held onto this thought desperately as he contemplated their mission.  Alice now motioned for them to follow her through the double doors and down the corridor to India’s room.

          “Where’s room 1B?” she mumbled, scanning the door numbers, her fist rising hysterically to her mouth. “I’ve never been more frightened in my life.  What if she awakens before you do your thing?  Will we be turned into cats or something worse?

          “Please,” Hildebrand said, looking past Elijah to Blaze O’Dare, “take her back to the waiting room.  It won’t be safe in there!”

          “I want to see her.” Blaze set his jaw. “I truly believe I can help.  Alice Wagnall’s prayers should be able to help too.  When you make contact with the unconscious woman’s demon and things appear to be getting out of hand, I’ll escort Miss Wagnall out of the room.  Okay?”

          “All right… but I think this a bad idea,” the priest sighed, slowly opening the door to Room 1B.

          “Just don’t start with any devil-worshipping mumbo jumbo,” Elijah growled under his breath. “…. Try to remember when you were a God-fearer and pray only to the Lord.  Don’t you dare invoke one of your occult spooks!”

          It was a stinging rebuke to the overbearing priest, but Mortimer was much too frightened right now to care.

 

                                                                       ******

          As they surrounded the inert body of India Crowley, they were shaken by the tubes laced in and out of her nose and mouth.  The sound of a heart lung machine and the continual rise and fall of readouts from monitors on each side of her bed offered no encouragement to them now.  And yet Hildebrand, after bending down to listen and watching India and her monitor readouts for several moments, felt reassured.

          “We’re not too late,” he said, releasing a long, wheezing sigh. “She lives and her mind’s still strong.”

          “Oh really?  And how does he know that?  She doesn’t look very lively to me?” he heard Elijah mutter sarcastically to himself.

          Looking down at the life-support system attached to her vegetative frame, both Blaze and Alice found themselves agreeing with the preacher.

          “Oh dear!  Oh my goodness!” Alice shook her blond head.

          “Come now, old boy,” Blaze said, eyeing the heart and lung machine. “How can you reach anyone in that condition?  She’s brain dead.  Spirits don’t inhabit corpses or brain dead people like her.”

          “It’s no use.  It’s hopeless.  Sam, my darling, will forever remain a cat,” Alice concluded, her quivering little chin dropping to his chest.

          “Nonsense!  She’s not brain dead,” Hildebrand said, pointing to the monitors. “That one readout there shows her alpha wave lengths peaking.  There’s activity in her brain!”

          “Oh yeah, what about that other readout?” Elijah asked, pointing to the monitor on the other side of the bed. “That looks almost flat to me.”

          “That’s the heart monitor,” Hildebrand pshawed, waving his hand. “That’s why she’s on this machine.  We gotta get this over with before she flat lines completely.  At that point, when the spirit is free and on its own, it’ll be too late.  We must hurry!”

          “All right now,” the priest said, placing his hands together to signify worship, “you’ve all seen her.  I must pray.  You three stand in the background and pray silently; let’s keep the field free and let India’s spirit hear one voice.”

          “What if you need help?” Elijah asked, following the others to the farthest corner of the room.

          “Will the spirit become visible?” Blaze’s voice was a mixture of excitement and fear.

          “If things get out of hand,” Hildebrand replied sternly, “you must get out of the room at once.  You can’t protect me at that point; the Lord will be my shield and truth will be my sword!”

          “In Matthew, Mark, and Luke Christ casts out demons,” Alice said almost to herself. “Nowhere in the Bible have I ever read about spells being reversed or humans being transformed into cats.”

          “Back!  All of you!” the priest exhorted them now.

          Turning to India’s bed, he looked down at the stricken woman and prayed silently at first.  It was a prayer to gather strength: “Lord make me strong, but let my heart be humble to your call.”  But the words that followed shook the others as they tumbled from this wizened little man.

          “Jesus Christ, God and Savior, please enter this woman’s heart when the spirit of evil leaves her wretched soul.  India Crowley, if you but awaken to my summons, you can dismiss this foul fiend yourself.  You have great power.  But you’re master cannot protect you against death.  Awaken daughter of darkness, so that you may see the light!”

          He didn’t dare tell his associates how basic the plan accompanying the exorcism would be; they might loose confidence in his abilities entirely.  For a dying witch, the priest must, in addition to casting a counter-spell, attempt to save her immortal soul.  This had been the procedure for wizard priests as far back as the Middle Ages.  But this witch had a demon that had created great mischief on her behalf.  Few clerics had ever undertaken the dual tasks of exorcism and spell-reversal at the same time.  Moreover, unlike most other victims of demon possession, India had apparently, through black magic, invited the evil spirit into her soul.  This was a powerful spirit, using her twisted ambition for his own end.  But just as the witch could invite the spirit in she could dismiss him.  The priest could not exorcise the demon until the witch, herself, had a change of heart.  The counter-spell he had selected, based upon an age-old formula, was intended for a conscious witch, who could be brought to repentance for her sins.  India was not only unconscious and unable to repent; she might very will die before she regained consciousness at all.  Hildebrand was hoping that, in the event he could awaken the comatose witch, her fear of damnation would make her cooperate, so that she, herself, would dismiss her demon and cancel the spell.

          At this point, as he followed up his exhortation with prayer, there was a movement that was visible only to the priest, himself, as he looked down into India’s face.  India’s eyelashes fluttered faintly and the small finger on her left hand twitched ever so slightly as she seemed to struggle back to the light.  A war, Hildebrand could imagine, between God and Satan was at that moment being waged in India’s unconscious mind.  If only he could talk to the previous, unpossesed India, he might find out more about the spell.  Surely she would fear for her immortal soul.

          “What’s he doing now?” Elijah whispered into Blaze’s ear.

          “I dunno.  I’ve never seen a spell reversal before, only read about them,” answered Blaze, doubt growing in his mind.

          Alice was praying feverishly now on her knees as the priest again shouted into India’s face: “Awaken child of perdition.  The demon will gladly escape from your dying body now.  You are no good to him anymore.  Come forth as I offer you the Last Rites or forever burn in the fires of hell!”

          India’s eyelids opened slowly.  With the tube down her throat, she could only make a croaking sound as she tried to speak.  She seemed to be filled with great misgivings for her predicament.  She knew she was dying and she had heard the priest’s prayer.  (At least this is what they all wanted to believe.)

          “Praise the Lord!” Alice wrung her hands.

          “She’s awake!  I heard her make a sound!” Blaze lurched toward India’s bed.

          “Here, give her this pad and pencil if she can’t talk,” Elijah said, handing the priest the stationary he found lying on the end table near her bed.

          The priest stood there in momentary shock as if he could not believe his own powers. 

          “Blink your eyes three times if you wish to receive the Last Rites and fear for your immortal soul.”

          In what looked to the group like voluntary eyelid flutters, India signaled to the priest.  Mortimer fell to his knees, as did Alice again, while Elijah staggered back to the window in disbelief.  Blaze, ignoring his rabbit foot, now pulled out his crucifix and kissed it tenderly as if it was a living thing.  The priest wasted no time in giving her the Last Rites in the hopes that it would prove to be a buffer against the internal battle she would have to fight to rid herself of her demon and thereby cancel the evil spell.

          “This is so bizarre!” exclaimed Alice, withdrawing to the corner of the room. “A defrocked Catholic priest is giving the Last Rites in the presence of a sorcerer and Protestant preacher.  What would Sam say now?”

          Elijah shushed her gently and said under his breath “Sam is a cat, my dear.  The Lord must hear this heretic’s prayer.”

                  

          Memento etiam, Domine, famulorum famularumque tuarum

                   qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dormiunt in somno

                   pacis. Ipsis, Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, locum

          refrigerii, lucis et pacis, ut indulgeas, deprecamur.  Per eumdem

                   Christum Dominum nostrum…

 

                                                                       ******

          During the Last Rites, India Crowley’s body remained motionless except the slightest movement of her eyelids and little finger of her left hand.  There was no demonic agitation or terrible sounds, which was evidently due to her condition.  Clearly India was dying, and her demon had greatly diminished powers.  At least this is what Hildebrand thought as he called upon the demon to come out, the very act of which he hoped would reverse the spell.

          “In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior, God incarnate, the Holy Ghost, I demand that you depart this woman, Indian Crowley, who has asked forgiveness of Christ to die in grace with the Holy Catholic Church!”

          And then India’s inert body was suddenly animated.  It began to twitch terribly as if a palsy now afflicted it.  Her eyes opened wide and her pupils rolled around crazily in their sockets.  A low howl deep in her throat rose to a terrible pitch:  oooooooooo!”

          “Uh oh!” Blaze said with a gasp.

          “She didn’t blink at you,” Elijah observed, “she’s having a convulsion!

          “Get out of here—all of you!” the priest cried. “Anyone in this room when the demon is exorcised risks becoming his next abode.  You Blaze are especially susceptible.  You’d be a perfect base for mischief of his kind!”

          “But I want to help,” Blaze protested weakly, following Alice Wagnall quickly out of the room. 

          A sigh of relief escaped the sorcerer’s lips as he contemplated what the priest had said.

          “You too!” the priest pointed to Elijah. “You’re not immune to him either!”

          “But what about you?” the preacher asked, looking with horror at India’s twitching body.

          “He cannot enter my soul,” the priest explained, pushing him out the door. “He’ll try to physically kill me, but I’m not afraid.  You, on other hand, must not afford him another home when he finally leaves.  If my prayers are strong enough, he will leave this place quickly and, unless I’m mistaken, begin looking for another host in the first victim on hand.”

          “I’m not leaving you,” Elijah’s jaw was suddenly set. “If anything happens to you, who will finish the exorcism?  We can’t take the chance.”

          “You can’t finish an exorcism, my dear fellow.” the priest shook his head. “You’re not qualified to do such a thing.”

          “Why,” Elijah frowned, “because I’m not a Catholic.”

          “No, that has nothing to do with it,” the priest explained, looking back nervously at the woman. “You may not approve of what I’m doing.”

          “Oh,” Elijah frowned, “and what is that?

          “There’s no time for this!” the priest cried. “Please exit at once!”

          “Do you, in fact, know what you’re doing?” Elijah asked, as the priest shoved him out of the room.

          “Trust me,” were the priest’s last words as he shut the door.

         

                                                                       ******

          Elijah felt relieved to be shut out of this dreadful business.  He had sensed by Mortimer’s secretiveness that the defrocked priest was going to mix Roman Catholic Christianity and conventional sorcery together.  Now he was convinced of it.  In good conscience he couldn’t allow himself to be a part of this abomination.  In his own personal brand of born-again Christianity, he considered it the worst form of heresy, and yet he wanted the terrible dilemma confronting them resolved.  He had, after years of preaching on the street, been confronted with something more terrible than the dark environs of skid row.  He told Alice and Blaze that he was going to the hospital chapel to pray directly to God.  The Lord, he reminded Alice, didn’t need formulas or ritual to answer prayer.  Citing the Centurion who approached Christ on behalf of his dying servant, he reminded her that it wasn’t necessary to be there to pray for someone in distress.  Prayers could be answered from afar.

          Elijah and Alice left together to find the chapel.   Blaze insisted on keeping watch at India Crowley’s door.  The terrified look the sorcerer registered in her room was still frozen on his face.

          “Please hurry back,” he called to them as they walked down the hall.

          “Don’t open that door,” Elijah said over his shoulder. “Wait until he invites you in!”

          As the pair entered the All Faiths Chapel of the county hospital, they glanced at the Christian cross on one side of the room and the Star of David on the other side.  In the back of the room, Elijah gathered with a glance, were a gilded Buddha in one nook and a New Age crystal for self-meditation in a special niche in the wall.  Moving to the crucifix, not sure whether to kneel, stand or sit in the pew closest to this Roman Catholic symbol of Christianity, they stood there a moment contemplating what sort of prayer they would give God for such a problem in such an ecumenical and eclectic room.

 

                                                                       ******

          The nurses on duty, in fact, believed the priest was giving India Crowley the Last Rites; otherwise they would have stopped these strange goings on at once.  To camouflage the words he was saying, Mortimer used Latin, which he felt both the Lord and the demon understood.  The nurses had peaked in on him only once since allowing him to enter India’s room, concluding that the “kyria sanctum and agnus dei” he threw in for effect was part of an authentic Catholic prayer.  At the very moment that Elijah Gray and Alice Wagnall were settling in prayer on their knees in the chapel, the priest Mortimer Hildebrand was calling again—this time in English—for the demon to exit his host.

          “Unclean spirit I said depart this innocent victim…. All right she’s not so innocent!” he cried out in exasperation. “But she’s a child of God, who’s gone astray and no longer needs your service.  Out demon!  In the name of the Savior, Jesus Christ, out out out!”

          But India didn’t move at all now and, in fact, appeared to be giving up the ghost, herself, which could mean her spell would die with her and her victims would forever remain cats.  Canceling India’s spell, he believed, required her to be conscious.  India, in spite of demonic animation, was in a deep coma now.  After trying to exorcize her demon several more times, Mortimer was reminded of the main difference between this attempt and his two previous spell-reversals that resulted in canceling the spells: the previous witches had been wide awake and had been cooperative.  They had repented of their mischief.  To add to the difficulties of this session was the fact that India was not repentant.  Even if she was conscious, her cooperation couldn’t be guaranteed.  He therefore needed her to be awake and alert, so he could explain the mortal danger her soul was in and how he could help save her if she sought God’s forgiveness and mercy. 

          Another thought that had nothing to do with the success and failure of his mission plagued him now: once again there would be no eyewitnesses to these events.  On both occasions no one, including the press, had been on hand to witness the bewitching and it had been foolish for him to tell eyewitnesses that he was performing anything but an exorcism.  He had been branded a lunatic by the public and a heretic by his church.  In addition to performing the spell-reversal secretly again, it appeared this time that he was going to fail.  His arrogance had blinded him to the truth.  Slumping down in his chair, Mortimer looked up at the ceiling a moment in helpless despair.  “Lord,” he murmured, “I can’t do it this time.  In my vanity and conceit I assumed too much.  I’ve never worked with an unconscious witch before.  Please give me the wisdom and strength to save this poor wretch and those unfortunates under her spell.”

          “May I come in,” he heard a familiar voice breaking into his prayers.

          “Yes-yes, come in sorcerer,” the priest mumbled hoarsely, without looking around. “There’s no danger in this room unless our subject dies.  Her vital signs are still arcing on the monitors, but for all practical purposes she may as well be dead.  I never counted on a subject being this unconscious and close to death.  I know of no special prayer or exhortation for this.  I’m sorry, but all I’ve done is pray myself hoarse.”

          “If I may say so,” Blaze said, taking a seat next to the slumping priest, but sitting on the edge of the chair as if he might want to make a fast retreat,  “I’ve never attempted something like this either, but I wouldn’t give up—not completely.  You need modern medicine to help cancel this spell.  You need more than prayers right now.  If the doctors can’t bring her to, there’s nothing we can do.”

          “Then you’re saying, in fact, that we should just give up,” Mortimer replied accusingly, looking askance at the sorcerer, aware of the other man’s fear. “It took courage for you to enter this room O’Dare.  You may go now.  I will stay with the subject until she dies.”

          At that point, however, there was a rap on the door.  A short, gaunt, bespectacled doctor whizzed in, carrying the patient’s chart in one hand, wagging his finger at the officiating priest with the other hand for allowing someone else to be in the room.

          “Oh, it’s all right doctor,” Blaze reassured him, standing up and moving out of the way, “I’m India’s favorite uncle.  She would want me to be here at the end.”

          “Hmmm,… I guess it won’t hurt,” the doctor sighed, after looking down at the patient and inspecting the monitors by her bed. “I’m not sure if she’ll ever awaken.  I’m afraid, in addition to being filled full of lead, she’s taken rather a bad fall: massive skull fracture, broken neck and internal injuries made all the worse by bullets penetrating her lungs and liver.”

          At just that moment, Elijah and Alice were returning into the room also, overhearing what the doctor had just said to the two men.  Elijah’s face was grave with concern as he placed a hand gently on the doctor’s shoulder.

          “Doctor,” he intoned softly, “as her spiritual family, may we pray together in her room?  Your chapel is far too ecumenical for our tastes.  Did you know that you even have a Buddhist statue in one corner of that room?  Perhaps if her priest, myself, my sister Alice, and the sorcerer

—I mean uncle—pool our spiritual energies together we might gain God’s ear.”

          “No loud noises,” the doctor wrung his finger. “The nurses said you were shouting in here.  We have other critically ill patients on this ward!”

          Excusez-moi!” Blaze clasped his hands together and bowed.

          The doctor now gave the sorcerer a dubious look.  When he exited the room, Elijah searched the room for another chair but realized that Alice would have to sit on the floor as he, himself, unless one of the other two men were gentlemen enough to offer her his seat.”

          “Well, what do we do now?” Elijah asked, scooting down at the nearest wall. “I just couldn’t pray in that chapel, not with that hideous portrayal of Christ on the wall and all those idols around the room.”

          “Did they really have Buddha in one corner?” the sorcerer inquired, turning around in his chair. “Oh, Miss Wagnall, how rude of me,” he noted apologetically, knocking himself deprecatingly on the noggin with a thumb.

          “Thank you, but this floor’s comfy enough.” She sighed, resting her forehead on her knees.  After a short pause she wailed plaintively, “Oh, this is a nightmare—a living hell!”

          “The only one,” Elijah said, looking abstractedly at the ceiling, “who’s in danger of hell is India Crowley.  She’s in the worst nightmare of us all.  Her soul is in danger of eternal fire!"

          “Nonsense!” Blaze pshawed, with a snarl. “You worship a God of wrath with an unforgiving nature.  My God forgives the weak and lowly.  He would never consign a soul to everlasting hell.”

          “His god lives in hell,” Alice murmured into Elijah’s ear.

          “God is universal,” the sorcerer declared. “He doesn’t speak merely to Christians and Jews.  He listens to Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.  He listens to primitive headhunters on the Amazon and to the lowest urchin on the street.”

          “We would expect you to make such a statement,” Mortimer clucked, a look of amused contempt on his face. “Now I might include Jews and Muslims as my neighbors in heaven, but Buddhism is actually atheistic and Hindus, who are polytheists and idolaters, believe in reincarnation, not heaven.  Perhaps a wino or derelict would merit paradise, but do you really believe we’ll find cannibals or headhunters up there?”

          “This is all academic,” Alice looked up with tears in her blue eyes. “You men deal with words.  The preacher and I deal with faith.  The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to leave things as they are.  My fiancÚ and those other young adults of Shadowbrook Arms will remain cats.  God has spoken!”

          “Amen,” Elijah said, bowing his head.

          “You accept this?” Blaze arose up slowly. “Has it ever occurred to any of you,” he asked, glancing around the room, “that God has nothing to do with it this time?  You people blame Him for everything!  This, we have already established, is the devil’s work.” “And no,” he looked over at Elijah now, “get it through your thick skull that I don’t worship Satan.  Most witches and sorcerers fear him even more than Christians.  In the words of Sherlock Holmes, they know his game!  Quite often he’s the reason behind a malady, which requires a spell, but not always.  Sometimes, those things you blame on God such as illness and war are based upon human error or just dumb luck…. God doesn’t prevent us from dying of cancer, so why would he prevent us from being turned into cats.  What’s worse?  I’d rather be a cat!  This time we’re not dealing with dumb luck or human wickedness, however; we’re dealing with the great architect of evil—the genuine article.  We need a powerful witch, not God, too reverse this spell!”

          “I’ll having nothing to do with witchcraft,” Elijah rose up as if to go.

          “Neither will I,” Alice vehemently shook her head.

          “Humph!… Where exactly would you find such a witch?” Mortimer seemed to explore the idea. “…. I can’t believe that God will standby and let the forces of nature take control.  He’s helped me twice now to reverse this sort of spell.  Perhaps the preacher’s right: all we need is stronger faith.”

          “What makes you think that God reversed those spells?” the sorcerer dared ask, wincing as the priest rose up from his chair. “Perhaps God allowed these natural forces to do his work for him.  How do you explain the cures of the savage pygmy in Africa or shaman in American Indian lore…. Why can’t you all broaden you’re definition of faith to include other peoples, who simply use other methods to achieve the same ends.”

          “Because, my dear sorcerer,” Mortimer’s voice dripped with sarcasm and he gave him his most severe frown, “Christianity is not merely a matter of technical results; it is built upon grace and the belief in the hereafter.”

          “Oh come now, my dear fellow,” the sorcerer snickered, “you are a defrocked priest, a heretic who reverses witches spells.  I would think you, of all people, would understand the broader meaning of God.  Are you trying to tell me that, after being cast out into eternal darkness by the Holy Mother Church, you still embrace Catholicism?  Have you learned nothing from your heresy and God-given gifts of exorcism?  You need the forces of nature as much as I.  Is not nature a creation of God?”

          “Hah,” Mortimer snarled with contempt, “an oxymoron!

          “Wait a minute!  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention,” Elijah interjected irritably, “but having Mortimer Hildebrand solve our problem was your idea.  Have you lost faith in him too?”

          “Faith is the problem here,” Blaze replied, “not the good priest’s efforts.  I’m quite sure he’s successful when his subjects are conscious.  But India Crowley’s unconscious, and her demon will not budge until she dies.  Also, she’s unrepentant.  She can’t help us by her faith.”

          “There’s that word again,” Alice said sarcastically. “You’ve practically redefined it for us!  Faith in what, mister O’Dare: God, nature or the Devil?”

          “All right, very well, she’s got a point,” Mortimer suppressed a yawn. “Spell-reversal, like exorcism, whatever we choose to call it, requires the powers of God to achieve such ends.  This means having faith, not simply having knowledge of occult paraphernalia and spells.  We are dealing in God-given power, sorcerer.  There is no such thing as magic per se.”

          “Oh,” Blaze pursed his lips, “then what do you call Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead and all those other miracles performed in both the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible.  There’s millions of miracles reported by witnesses.  Call it God’s magic, voodoo, sorcery or what-have-you.  But the fact is they have no basis in logic or science.  Abracadabra, hocus pocus, or whatever—they’re just that: magic!  Why can’t you believe and accept magic for what it is and from other practitioners if they’re working for the same ends?”

          Elijah looked at O’Dare in disbelief.  “Are you seriously suggesting that we find this Queen of the Witches and turn India Crowley over to her now?”

          “Do you really know such a witch?” Mortimer drew close to Blaze. “Or is this just more of your theatrics sorcerer?”

          “I have a register of witches,” Blaze explained, looking over to the preacher. “You saw it, remember?”

          Elijah nodded grimly.

          “The truth is,” said O’Dare, intimidated by the preacher’s glare, “he didn’t want me to use a witch.  He made a great fuss, so I turned to my register of priests, who perform exorcisms and such.  There is a small number, of which you, Father Hildebrand, belong, who, in the course of their exorcisms, can also reverse spells.”

          “So I wasn’t your first choice, eh?” Mortimer scowled at the sorcerer. “.... Well, you didn’t tell me that she was unconscious either.  I can’t call on her demon without her being awake or repentant, can I?  I’m afraid the power of prayer in this case requires consciousness of the subject.”

          “I can’t support this,” Elijah shuddered, setting his jaw.

          “Neither can I,” Alice snorted. 

          Remembering what her fiancÚ had said to India during the Halloween party, she quoted self-righteously from Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy 18:10: “A witch is an abomination to the Lord: Thou shalt not suffer a witch!”

          But the sorcerer, who had suggested just such a person in the first place and had come up with Mortimer as an alternative, now felt vindicated.

          “If you will not try to save these poor souls by any method at hand, I shall go it alone!” he declared turning on his heel as if to leave. 

          In truth he didn’t want to handle this alone.  He had never done the real magic required of sorcerers.  He was, in fact, a burnt out executive, whose wife had left him with three spoiled daughters and who, after a ruinous divorce, had begun dabbling in the craft as a hobby to spice up his life and make up for an unfulfilling career.  Now Blaze O’Dare (alias Horace M. Dwyer) had his big chance, and if it meant that he was only being a manager and coordinator, as he had been in his previous life, that was all right with him.  This would be the ultimate success story for him.  He was a main player in an ongoing pageant and miracle.  He had redefined himself after stumbling onto the greatest adventure of his life.

          “I will agree to help you only if you promise to make Christ the center of you rituals and ceremony,” Mortimer said, wringing his gnarled finger at the reluctantly retreating Blaze.

          “Of course,” Blaze said dubiously, “we will need all the help we can get.”

          “No, you can’t do this.  Listen to what he’s saying,” Elijah pleaded for reason. “He’s going to get a card-carrying witch to break the spell.  You’re hoping he will allow Christ into the picture, but by definition that’s quite impossible.  It’s an oxymoron, as the priest said himself.  Alice is right: suffer ye not a witch!  Have you forgotten the Salem Witch Trials and the Spanish Inquisition?  Christianity will have nothing to do with magic and spells.  Witches don’t call upon the powers of righteousness to break their spells or work their incantations.”

          “Mister Gray,” Blaze looked irritably over to the apoplectic preacher, “don’t quote us scriptures or try to use your archaic Judeo-Christian ethics on me!  Christianity, the priest has at least learned, is a dynamic and ever-changing phenomenon.  Those folks during the Salem Witch Trials or the Inquisition didn’t know what witches were any more than they did in the Old and New Testaments.  They thought they were all bad.  But they weren’t all bad; many of them were just trying to serve mankind in the same way clerics and missionaries have done and do today.”

          “Listen, sorcerer,” Mortimer wrung his finger at him again, “let me make this perfectly clear.  As far as I’m concerned, witches are by definition bad.  Do you really expect the preacher and I to forgot five thousand years of history and tradition, simply because we are confronted with the unknown.  I believe that God will make plain to us his purpose here, just as he did for me in the past.”  “Not for one moment,” he spoke to Elijah this time, “will I forgot who is at the center of all miracles,” “for miracles, not magic,” he concluded, looking back at the sorcerer, “are at the center of such phenomena.  I speak from faith as well as experience sorcerer; while you are speaking merely on behalf of occult tradition.”

          The preacher would not budge on this issue.  Alice shook her head vigorously once more.

          “I’m sorry Mortimer, we can’t equivocate here,” Elijah insisted stubbornly, folding his arms. “We’re Christians, not practitioners in diabolic rites.  This is black magic—nothing more: a thing of the devil!”

          “Ye shall not suffer a witch!” came Alice’s refrain.

          The foursome quarreled for several moments as India Crowley’s life hung in the balance.  No one agreed with the sorcerer, but Mortimer was greatly torn by his own unorthodox faith and the fear that this dreadful demon’s magic would not be undone.  The two witches he had known personally in the past had been evil witches whose magic he had to undo but only after their deathbed repentances.  Both witches had, of course, died embracing the Lord.  He had never known a good witch, especially one with allegedly such great power.  But what if such a witch really existed?  Did he, through his own arrogance again, have the right to stand in the way of those poor creatures’ only chance for salvation, even if it was provided by such questionable means?  How, for that matter, could Blaze O’Dare’s super witch not be guided by God if she had such a saving power?”

          “All right, sorcerer,… we’ll find your super witch,” he said with resignation, looking back at Elijah and Alice. “I just hope that the good preacher and Miss Wagnall will add their prayers to ours.  We need all the help we can get!”

          While the preacher and Alice Wagnall lingered in the room, the priest followed the sorcerer into the hall.  He had hoped that the other two would join them, but it appeared as if he was the only one who was going to support the sorcerer in this dreadful affair. 

Elijah turned to Alice finally, the terrible dilemma registering on his freckly face.  “Those poor souls are trapped in feline bodies.  I will continue to pray for them…. You go back and take care of the cats.  I must tag along and make sure that God is truly represented in this affair.”


 

 

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