Go to Next Chapter -- Return to Contents/Writer's Den

 

Chapter Twenty

 

The Great White Witch

 

 

 

          In the morning, Alice awakened to find the cats waiting patiently in the kitchen for their next meal.  The men were still sound asleep when she tiptoed down the hall.  Quickly, after months of preparing meals for Sam, Alice was able to whip up a hearty breakfast for the men.  Breakfast had been an important meal in Irma’s life, so she resented the communal tray shared by all the cats.  While Alice fixed the men a proper feast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, Alice chopped the bacon strips up for the cats, slopping eggs into the mix, and sprinkled it liberally with salt.

          “Oh yummy,” Wanda observed sarcastically, “a giant omelet!”

          “I like bacon and eggs too,” protested Irma, “and in my own plate.”

“And where’s the toast?” asked Drew, joining them at the tray. “I like coffee with my food.”

“Come on gang,” thought Sam, looking dubiously at the food. “Alice is trying.  She even put a bowel of milk for us to lap up with our tongues.”

          “They’re right, Sam.” Neva made a face. “We want our own dish and bowel!”

          “Yeah, and separated,” Wanda turned up her nose, “not mixed up like mush!”

          Taken back by their mutiny, Sam, as apparent leader, lodged their collective complaint. 

“Alice,” his protest came out as a series of meows, “you’re treating us like pets!  Your communal tray is unsanitary and unacceptable.  We want our own separate meals!”

Alice, though saying nothing, wondered if he might be ill. 

“Oh Look Mortimer,” Blaze said through a mouthful of eggs, “Sam’s trying to talk.”

“Is he alright?” the priest looked down with concern.

Hopping up on the table, his feline motor rumbling loudly, Sam meowed plaintively at the woman who would be his wife, rubbing his furry head on her chin as she tilted her head, then hissing when she place him gently back on the floor. 

“It’s useless,” he told his friends. “Without a computer screen or other communication device, Alice is dense.  She doesn’t have a clue!”

“The woman’s stupid!” spat Wanda. “She’s a scatter-brained twit!”

“Don’t blame Alice,” Irma sighed, looking down at the tray. “This is difficult for someone who hates cats.”

“Irma, sweet Irma,” Sam thought, still bristling at Alice’s response. “Alice treated you with contempt when you were human—so did I, and yet you defend her indifference.  In our case, indifference is worse.”

“Indifference sucks!” echoed Drew.

“Perhaps,” shrugged Irma, looking up at the table, “but Alice is fragile.  Her situation grows impossible.  Any moment, I fear she might break.”

 “Impossible?” Neva joined the discussion. “Look at us, Irma.  We’re cats.  Now that’s impossible, and it hasn’t broken us!

“Alice,” Drew summed up her problem, “must put away her fundamentalist Christian logic and get with the program.  She must overcome her hatred of cats.” 

Elijah’s sudden gesture of affection toward Irma sharply contrasted Alice’s mood.

“There’s my kitty,” he murmured, grabbing her up into his arms. “Let’s give you a proper meal!”

Drew, Neva, and Wanda now took the cue.  Elijah realized that Irma wanted her own plate.  Unfortunately, Irma noted with irritation, he still treated her like a cat.  For several moments, as she nibbled a strip of bacon and munched on a fresh mound of eggs, he scratched her head and ran his fingers down her bristling back.  Thanks to his spontaneous gesture, both the sorcerer and priest followed suit, providing the remaining cats with their own plates.

“They love cats,” she transmitted to the others. “They might scratch our heads and tickle our bellies but they know we’re humans underneath…. Someday Alice will love us too.” 

“I hope your right,” Sam looked into Irma’s blue eyes.

As the humans watched the hungry cats, Alice sat at the table pecking at her food, glancing back and forth quizzically at Irma on the table and the cats dining on the floor.  Irma, who had been finishing up the last of her eggs, looked down at Sam that moment and gave him a wink.  Sam attempted this gesture but wound up blinking both eyes.  The action, which seemed natural to her friends, would have impressed the humans greatly had they all not drifted back into their thoughts.  Today, they were all going to search for a super witch in order to undo another witch’s spell.  Even the hardened and worldly priest found this difficult to digest. 

 

******

To expedite their search, Mortimer suggested, as they exited Sam’s apartment, that they take two cars, but the preacher vigorously disagreed.  He was, he argued, the only one of the four who knew that part of town, so it was senseless to break up the group.  Because his own vehicle was parked in front of Blaze O’Dare’s apartment, Alice would be forced to use her own car.  Blaze’s station wagon would have to follow her tiny automobile through the worst part of town.  It was much safer to stay in one vehicle, he convinced him.  For this part of the enterprise, at least, it would also be better if he drove. 

Skid row had been Elijah’s old stomping ground, he reminded the priest; his knowledge of it would make it easier for them to find the witch.  With this settled, Elijah, for a brief spell, was in the driver seat.  Blaze was quite happy to turn over the steering wheel, while he and the priest chatted in back.  While the preacher navigated the station wagon, Alice sat in the front seat alongside of him, nervously biting her nails.  United in their misgivings now, Elijah and Alice remained silent as the two men conversed.

The sorcerer and priest agreed that Madelyn probably retreated into skid row to practice her black art.  Where else would a witch, who was penniless, go?  To gather information, nearby Pershing Square was an open forum for every sort of eccentric imaginable, so the team began searching this location first.  Several informants admitted to seeing a strange-looking woman, whom they thought was a witch.  Not one person, however, knew her whereabouts or even her name.  Madelyn had evidently been secretive about her profession.  She had been like a phantom, coming out in daylight just long enough to titillate their imaginations before disappearing into the shadows at night.

Madelyn’s sister had suggested they begin at Pershing Square and search for her on the street, but this included a vast area of Los Angeles, inhabited by thousands of homeless people living on skid row.  The task, with these limited coordinates, was staggering.  Finally, under the statue of a bygone general, they got their second clue to Madelyn’s whereabouts.   It had been a long morning.  An old lady, in a large straw hat, sitting with all her earthly belongings beneath a large sycamore tree was the sixteenth homeless person approached that day.   The Spell Reversal Team had been discussing the prospects of trying another sector of town.  Perhaps, suggested Mortimer, they should have started directly on skid row.  Everyone, even the sorcerer, dreaded this inevitability.  The preacher reached out to steady Alice, as the young woman grew faint. 

As they bent down to check if the seventeenth informant was awake, the old woman raised her straw hat, exposing a wrinkled, sun-blotched face.  A loud belch escaped her toothless mouth.  A crooked smile played on her withered lips.  When asked promptly by the sorcerer if she had seen a strange looking woman who claimed to be a witch, she gave that familiar cackle of old crones and pointed to the street.  The woman’s gnarled finger, he noted with a shudder, was pointing due east: the direction of skid row.

 “Lillian was right.” He looked around the group.

          “Yep,… I remember ol’ Maddy,” she was muttered, raising a paper sack up to her mouth. “…. You know, that woman thinks she’s a witch.  Offered to teach me witchcraft, she did, but I didn’t believe her.  No sir!  Fact is she scared me.  I never wanna go back there again!”

          “Where?” Blaze lurched forward excitedly. “Tell us where!”

          “Lemme see,” the old woman looked up quizzically, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. 

“…. Lord that woman’s ugly.  I don’t like thinking about her.  Gives me the creeps!”

          “Please ma’am.” Mortimer leaned down and handed her a five-dollar bill. “It’s important that we find her soon.”

          “Say,” she cackled again, “you don’t believe she’s a witch, do you?  Ain’t no such thing as a witch.”

          “The directions ma’am,” Blaze prodded, handing her another five. “Please clear your mind and tell us where Madelyn Fontaine resides.”

          “Resides?  Hah, there’s a pretty word!” She cackled to herself.

          The woman, who took another long swig from the bottle hidden in her paper sack, now looked vacantly at the ground as if trying to gather her thoughts.

          “This isn’t very encouraging,” Alice mumbled, looking around the park. “Doesn’t anyone know where Madelyn is?”

          Elijah frowned with disapproval at his friend.

          “Waitaminud,” the woman’s voice slurred greatly now, “…I ‘member…. Maddy iz living in a ol’ abandon warehoush.”

          “But where?” Blaze asked impatiently. “Can you pinpoint where it’s at.”

          “She couldn’t pinpoint her shoes,” Alice grumbled under her breath.

Elijah, giving Alice a pat, stepped forward now. “Madam,” he called out severely, “the Lord loves you, I’m sure you’ve fallen on hard times, but we need to find this woman.  How far down that street?  Do you know the address?”

          The old woman sat there in the dress and coat in which she walked had out of the world, a picture of physical decay.  For a moment she attempted to draw from her wine-damaged brain the location where Madelyn could be found, but then her head jerked up and she looked passed the priest and sorcerer at Alice, who stood impatiently by Elijah’s side.

          “Valerie,” she called in a clear, unfaltering voice, “is that you?”

          “Let’s get out of here,” Alice shivered, as the crone pointed her way.

          The foursome began to retreat to the station wagon, as the woman rose up on her shaky legs and called out the bygone name: “Valerie!  Valerie!” 

          “Please Miss Wagnall, where’s your Christian charity?” whispered Elijah, squeezing her trembling hand.

          “Yes, he’s right, ” Mortimer scolded, glancing back with disdain. “Where’s that’s faith you flaunt at Blaze and I?  You’re behaving deplorably this morning, Miss Wagnall!”

          “How dare he, a heretic priest, lecture me.” Alice gave Elijah a wounded look. “I shudder at the prospects ahead, not that poor wretch.”

          “Then why’re you here?” the priest asked, a frown breaking his stony face.

          “The question is,” Alice shot back angrily, her hands on her hips, “‘why’re you here?’ You, who claim to be a wizard priest, must now consort with a witch!”

          At that point, Mortimer and Elijah exchanged worried looks.  The sorcerer looked back with scowl.  For Alice Wagnall, the events since Sunday evening had take their toll.

          “Well, I think we have enough information,” Blaze said motioning them on. “All we have to do now is look for an old warehouse on this street.”

          The priest looked at him in disbelief.  The old woman appeared to be following them in a drunken stupor.  Long ago she had lost a daughter, sister or friend named Valerie and turned to drink.  At least this is what Elijah was thinking as he walked with the others toward the car.

As they slid into the automobile, Elijah looked once more across the lawn at the old woman beneath the sycamore tree, searching his mind for a prayer.  For a moment, as stood there next to the station wagon, his elbows resting on its roof, he sensed dissension inside the car.  Though it was quiet inside the vehicle, he could almost hear their thoughts.  The sorcerer, who had his own personal agenda, was thinking get this show on the road!   Yet everyone else, including himself, was torn by doubts.   On the one hand, they wanted this distasteful business of consorting with a witch to come to an end.  On the other hand, they would do practically anything to save the bewitched cats.  The last thirty-six hours had been an incredible experience for Elijah Gray.  In spite of the uncertainties, he remained excited.  A new, unexpected, purpose illuminated his life. 

“Lord,” he mumbled, “watch over this woman, who’s name I don’t know… Keep her physically safe but protect her from the dark forces of skid row.”

As he prayed, the old woman raised her straw hat suddenly, gave him a salute, and called out, in an unslurred voice, through cupped hands: “I remember now… Bracken Brother’s warehouse… That’s where Madelyn Fontaine is!”

“God’s blessing and grace upon you,” Elijah shouted back, ducking into the car. “I’ve heard of that place,” he told the others light-headedly. “I passed it, myself, when I was on the street.  We’ve almost pinpointed the location of Madelyn Fontaine!”  

 “At last,” the priest’s gravelly voice chimed, “from a burnt out drunk, comes the truth!

          “The Lord is with us,” Blaze replied dubiously.

          “He maketh us walk in green pastures,” Alice added with a frown.

          Elijah Gray, who had once been a burnt out drunk, himself, looked back thoughtfully at the priest.  As he pulled from the curb, he glanced back with a smile at Blaze O’Dare too, patted Alice’s hand and, feeling a rush of Christian love, offered them all a prayer.

“Lord,” his voice rose steadily, “guide our footsteps and protect us from the unknown.  We move as sleepwalkers on unhallowed ground.  Remind us often that it’s your will, not fate, magic or chance, running the world.  Keep our spirits up but our pride low.  Make us wise, help us to be brave, yet remove the vanity of enterprise making this an adventure instead of a mission to save our friends.”

                  

                                                                       ******

          Everyone, including Blaze O’Dare, was stirred by Elijah’s prayer.  Nevertheless, the rebuke cast upon the sorcerer was clearly understood.  It was Blaze who discovered Madelyn Fontaine, the witch.  Elijah gave him begrudging admiration for this.  Unlike the others, however, Blaze’s motives were suspect, and his intentions seemed all too clear.  The excitement was now obvious on his bearded face.  After meeting five enchanted cats, they were going to meet a super witch.  Today they would take another romp into the occult—a leap into the unknown. 

Looking out of the station wagon’s dirty windows, the Spell Reversal Team was encouraged by its progress so far.  Remembering the ease at which they entered India’s hospital room and considering how quickly they found out where Madelyn lived, Elijah wanted to believe that the Lord was guiding their steps.  Drawing from his memory, he told them exactly what to look for on the street.  The Bracken Brothers Warehouse was a distinct landmark on Skid Row.  There was no mistaking its early twentieth masonry and facade.  It was over a hundred years old, yet you could still read its sign.  It was Blaze, following Elijah’s description, who recognized the architecture at once and the faded lettering on a brick wall. 

Pointing his finger excitedly, he shouted, “There it is, I found it—the Bracken Brother sign!

The priest nodded grimly.  Elijah sighed.  “Oh Lord,” Alice groaned.

Alice closed her eyes in prayer, while the priest fingered rosary beads he had been carrying in his coat.  Though worn and fading, the sign loomed unmistakably over a dilapidated door.  After finding curb space on the sinister-looking street, Elijah parked the station wagon, his face pale with fear.  Blaze, of course, was ecstatic, bouncing up and down like a toddler in his seat.  They were about to enter Madelyn Fontaine’s haunt.  It was, in fact, in his thinking, like finding the Holy Grail.  Elijah, like Alice and the priest, was visibly frightened.  With wide unblinking eyes, they tried preparing themselves for the unknown.  The sorcerer seemed to be chanting a mantra, as the priest and woman prayed.  This time, to maintain a manly air, Elijah thought about the poor old drunk, wondering what would drive a woman onto the street.  Had it really been the loss of Valerie?  Or had it simply been alcohol that transformed her life.  Perhaps Valerie was still alive somewhere and was looking for the old woman too…. Perhaps, his mind shifted back to the present, Madelyn, the witch, was but an urban legend, and their search for the warehouse was leading them to a dead end.

          The foursome approached the dilapidated looking building.  The entrance was boarded up as were the windows facing the street.  Obviously the large delivery entrance was in the alley or in back of the building, on another street, yet they discovered, after close inspection, that the sidewalk entry had been breeched.  The boards across the entrance had been pulled loose and were attached only to the hinged side of each door.  The double doors, themselves, were ajar and easily pulled open at the first tug.

          “Dear God,” mumbled Mortimer, whistling under his breath, “every vagabond in town could be lying in wait!”

          “We need a flashlight,” Alice said with a shiver.

          “Hold fast at the entrance,” Blaze said, motioning to his car. “Let me get my lantern.  It’ll light this place up!”

          As they lingered in the doorway, Elijah remarked that he had passed this spot several times when he was on the street but had not dreamed of going in.  Alice was visibly shaken as the priest gave an exorcist prayer to chase free-floating demons from the scene.

          “Do you really think that’s necessary?” she asked, as she watched him make the sign of the cross and kiss the crucifix around his neck.

          “I have it!” Blaze called, trotting up with the lamp. “This will shine away any spooks!”

          “Here let me hold it.  I should proceed first,” the priest insisted, taking the lantern firmly in his fist. “With me in the forefront, you’ll be protected against free-floating spirits.  It might be a good idea if Miss Wagnall goes back to the car.”

          “Father Hildebrand,” Blaze snapped irritably, “this is a witches haunt.  Don’t you think a sorcerer should be the first to confront a practitioner in the occult?”

          “Ah hah,” Alice whispered to Elijah, “he admits it!”

          “You are under a misconception sorcerer if you think that you’re protected from someone like Madelyn Fontaine.” Mortimer looked back with disgust. “On the other hand, if it’s true that she could not profit by her magic, she might very well be serving my god.”

          Your god?” Blaze snorted. “How very arrogant, Mister Hildebrand.”

          “It’s nonsense,” Elijah made a face, “a contradiction in terms.  A witch or sorcerer can’t serve God.  Do you really believe, Mortimer, that God will work with such a woman?  Our only hope is through prayer!”

          “Then, my dear preacher,” the priest called back, raising the light, “by all means pray!”

          “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,” Elijah began mumbling under his breath. “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and the way of the ungodly shall perish…”

          Swinging the lantern to and fro as he would an incense burner during Mass, Mortimer shouted, “Spirits depart!  We come in the name of the most high, Jesus, who is God, Lord of Lords, three-in-one, Christ the Redeemer and Savior of mankind!”

          “Father, shut up!” cried Blaze, yanking on his coat. “If anyone’s in here, you’re certain to scare them away.  They don’t care if you’re a priest.  They might even waylay us if you’re the best defense we’ve got!”

          Across the concrete floor of a warehouse that once housed produce for the city’s early markets, the lamp highlighted piles of trash, human excreta and rats, who skittered from the glow into the shadows beyond.  There was, to their amazement, apparently no one else in the empty warehouse, at least not until they had walked into the middle of the large room and were able to detect light coming from a distant source.

          “What’s that?” Alice asked in a constricted voice.

          “What is what?” the priest squinted into the shadows. “All I see is darkness.  I don’t understand why this warehouse is so empty.  Obviously it hasn’t been used as a dwelling for street people for quite some time.”

          “There, I see it too,” Blaze pointed, “over there in the corner light in that room!”

          “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want… “ Elijah murmured, touching the wooden cross around his neck. 

 

                                                                       ******

          With the lantern held high, the priest led them to the far corner of the warehouse.  They could see an indistinct silhouette now in the glass windows of an early twentieth century dispatcher’s office.  Miraculously, after all these years, the glass was unbroken.  Stenciled lettering on the glass, Dispatch Office, was still quite distinct, but someone had also painted in bold letters below the department title:  Madelyn Fontaine’s Place - Keep Out!

          “My-my, how prosaic,” Blaze giggled hysterically to himself.

          “Should we knock or something?” Elijah reached hesitantly for the door.

          “I shall call her name first,” the priest announced shakily, pulling out his rosary beads and crossing himself with his free hand. “All of you stand back.  Sorcerer hold the lantern.  Preacher, give me a special prayer.  I’ve never approached a witch this way.”

          “And what special prayer would that be?” The preacher frowned.

          “Madelyn Fontaine!  It is I, Father Hildebrand, a Roman Catholic priest.  Please open your door!” Mortimer finally called.

The priest followed up his call with a faint knock on her door.  The door creaked open finally, and a grotesque parody of a witch stuck her warty, misshapen head out of the door, exposing toothless dark gums. 

Though smiling slyly, Madelyn’s first words were hostile: “What do you want?  Can’t you read?  The sign says ‘Keep Out!’  That means you! 

As they backed away from the office, terror gripped the group.  Madelyn’s mere presence had left an impact on them.  Now they had been rebuked by a witch.  She accused them of being trespassers, yet cackled with glee as they regrouped on the warehouse floor.  It seemed plain that she was making sport of them as she crooked a gnarled finger, inviting them back to her a small, evil smelling room.  This behavior, which seemed like trickery, gave them no comfort.  Was this an example eccentric behavior?  What did Madelyn have up her sleeve?  The door creaked open farther and farther, the face falling back into shadows as the outline of a short, stocky, and hunchbacked elderly woman stood silhouetted in the light.  Taking the lamp from the sorcerer’s trembling hands, the priest led the way.  Alice clung to the preacher’s coat tails as they walked slowly back to the witch.  Considering her commitment in a mental hospital, Elijah wondered if Madelyn had, in fact, been insane: a deranged hermit, perhaps psychotic, living an urban legend on Skid Row.  Blaze, however, like Alice, was fully convinced Madelyn was a witch.  This was not merely a haunt as he thought earlier; it was her inner sanctum: the abode of a powerful witch. 

No longer tongue-tied or dazed, the priest removed the crucifix from his neck, wondering, himself, if they had not walked into a trap.  Holding up Christ’s effigy, he tried unsuccessfully to pray, noting in the lamplight that she had one blind eye.  The crone had been right, he thought with a shudder, Madelyn was horribly ugly.  It was no wonder that her sister Lillian tried to cash in on her face.

          “Do you worship Satan?” He found his voice at last. “If this be false, kiss the cross held up to your lips!”

          “It’s like looking at the Gorgon!” gasped the sorcerer. 

Alice ejaculated with wide, unblinking eyes: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch!  There shall not be found among you anyone that maketh his son or daughter a witch.  I shall cut off witchcraft from thine hand…”

As she quoted passages from the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, Micah, Samuel, and Acts, Elijah began quoting from the Psalms: “Preserve me, O Lord: for in thee do I put my trust… Save me, God; for the waters are come in unto my soul… ” 

Everyone in the room shuddered as the woman bent farther and farther toward the crucifix, certain that her mouth would be branded by the act.  Blaze made a sign to ward off the evil eye, following this heresy with a Catholic prayer: “Holy Mary blessed art thou among women.   Blessed be the fruit of your womb in Jesus Christ…”  

The priest was so exited now, as her lips made contact, he almost dropped the cross.  “She did it!” he cried. “She kissed the crucifix!  In spite of herself, she’s a child of God.” “Gloria patri et filio, et spiritui sancto,” he made he sign of the cross. “Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.”
          “Come in, don’t be shy,” she croaked, her good eye looking squarely at the priest.  The other eye looked off, as would a chameleon, at the sorcerer, now frozen statue-like in his tracks.

“No, no,” Blaze mumbled, holding forked fingers up to the witch, “it’s the evil eye—a witches’ trick.  This may be a trap!”

          “Get a hold of yourself, man!” snapped the priest, nudging him into the room.

The truth was, of course, Mortimer had thought the same thing, himself.  The foursome filed slowly into her inner sanctum, their eyes wide with fear.

“I’ll wait out here.” Alice said, moving to the end of the line.

          “Don’t be afraid,” Elijah took her trembling hand. “This woman kissed the cross.”

          “How perfectly ducky,” she murmured hysterically, “a witch kissing the cross of a heretic priest.  That gives me no comfort Elijah.  Blaze could be right.  This could be a trap!

Madelyn Fontaine visitors reminded her of children entering a haunted house.  She seemed to be enjoying this immensely as they crowded into the room.  In spite of the priest’s actions, they still had misgivings about Madelyn.  No one expected such an ugly witch.   Everything they dreaded in this encounter had come true.  Not only did Madelyn have the look and the sound of a bon a fide witch, there was an aura in her haunt that spoke of spells and incantations and an evil smell that no detergent or air freshener could wipe clean.  After only a few moments, however, as the shock wore off and they studied the room, Madelyn’s visitors realized they had nothing to fear.

The witch now shut the door.  Mortimer sat the lamp down on a table near the entrance, backing away slowly with baited breath.  The light, added to the candles burning, highlighted objects that had been in the shadows in the filthy room, causing them all to shudder with horror at the jars of bats’ wings, dried toads, and general pharmacopoeia lining the walls.  Tables sat cluttered with pots and more jars.  A huge unfurled banner illustrated the cosmos in astrological terms and there were also countless rows and piles of occult paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling in baskets and lying on the floor.

          In stark contrast to all this sorcery, there hung on a relatively barren wall near the corner of the room a crucifix.  Below the cross, there was a scriptural quotation from First Corinthians, from the same chapter quoted to Buck Logan by Sam Burns:

 

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face-to-face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

 

          “Don’t these things cancel out each other?” Blaze asked, marveling at the conflicts in the room.

          “Highly inappropriate,” Elijah grumbled under his breath. “The Lord can’t abide in this room.”

          “The Lord and I are allies,” Madelyn said, motioning for the frightened Alice to sit down in the room’s only chair. “Here my sweety, you look affright.  Don’t mind the mess.  What’s that old saying?  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  He-he-he!”

          “I must tell you why we’re here,” the priest said, trying to focus on her one good eye.

“This is difficult for me… for all us, in fact.  But you may be our only hope.” “Sweet Mother of Jesus!” he murmured to himself, as he tried not to stair at her eye.

          “You require a reversal, eh?” she replied with a cackle. “You want old Madelyn to change some poor soul back into human form, eh?  Now why would old Madelyn want to help you, eh?… He-he-he!”

          “There isn’t merely one person.” The priest sighed. “There might be as many as eleven people—all of them living in Shadowbrook Arms.  Many of them found sanctuary in this woman’s fiancÚ’s house.”

          “Eleven people?  Not one, not two or three.  Eleven you say?” the old woman’s toothless mouth dropped. “What kind of witch is this?  Eleven people indeed!”

          “Yes, eleven bewitched humans—my fiancÚ too!” Alice nodded in the background now.

          “Eleven young adults,” the priest pressed forward bravely. “Can you help us Madelyn Fontaine?”

          “I can.  I can indeed.  But I can’t get a farthing for it,” she complained, looking this way and that with both eyes, reminding Blaze O’Dare once again of a chameleon lizard as she looked around the room.

          “What happened to you?” the sorcerer asked bluntly, looking over the priest’s shoulder at the witch.

          “You mean the eye?” she pointed, looking past the priest. “Or the teeth?  Ain’t many of those left!  He-he-he!”

          “No, not the eye.  Nor the teeth.  The woman.”  Blaze came forward slowly. “You’re a witch in league with the Christian God.  That’s very strange.”

          “Aye, I wasn’t always a witch,” she replied, studying him with her good eye. “Was once a nun, I was, and I never stopped believing in God.”  “Don’t look at me that way missy,” she smiled at Alice. “Promised God, I did, if he gave me one more chance, I’d give it all up and return to the fold.  But I can’t seem to break with my past completely.  As you can see this room is a mixture of two worlds that, believe me, don’t mix.  Like oil and water.  And yet I discovered, to my surprise, that there really is such a thing as white magic.  It requires one strong ingredient that makes it more powerful than black magic: God.  This means, of course, I can no longer profit from my magic as I once did, and I can’t do it on my own.  I asked God to cure my arthritis and psoriasis, I did, but He wouldn’t heal me.  I can’t use my magic for profit, self-healing or even to feed my face!  

          Madelyn’s good eye roamed restlessly around the group.  The room grew eerily quiet as she paused.  In spite of her croaking voice, she had, with a faint English accent, articulated clearly.  She wasn’t insane.  Although her appearance had seemed repulsive, the group felt much better about Madelyn Fontaine.  She was once a nun, who still worshiped God.  She couldn’t, as Lillian told them, profit by her art, which meant she used it unselfishly to help people… and cats.  

“… Aye, I’m telling you, He’s a hard God!” she continued with sigh. “What He will do

—and nothing more—is give me back my soul.  I must, in a sense, as a bleeding penitent, earn my salvation.  Each time I go against a powerful black witch to undo her spell, I’m risking my mortal life but insuring my salvation.  Frankly, I’m tired and worn out by my work, but I’m not afraid to die—not anymore.  You must realize, of course, that any witch capable of turning that many people into cats is quite dangerous, even to me.”

          “She’s… in a coma,” the sorcerer replied hesitantly. “She can’t be a threat to anyone now!”

          “Whoa!” Madelyn hooted, stomping her foot. “She’s no threat.  No sireee.  Now how in Creation do you expect Madelyn to deal with such a witch?  She must be awake!  Awake you fools!  What kind of sorcerer are you that you don’t know that?”

          “Not a very good one I suppose,” he replied humbly, looking at the floor. “All I want to do is help.  That’s why we turned to you.”

          “Will,” she gave him a sly smile, “you did right, you did.  Madelyn’s probably the only witch on earth who would attempt such a feat.” “But you didn’t turn to Madelyn first did you, eh?” she cackled softly, looking back at the priest.  “Got yourselves an exorcist—a demon chaser.  He ain’t no help sonny.  He needs’em awake, so he can talk to them.  For him they must be aware of the ordeal.”

          “I’ve had successes before,” Mortimer said with slight indignation. “A priest is merely an intermediary between God and man.  I am a wizard priest who reverses spells!”

          “Pshaw!” Madelyn snarled.

          “How can you do it differently if you still require God?” Blaze asked with a frown.

          “Listen sorcerer, Jehovah is the greatest magician of them all!” She wagged a gnarled finger at him. “To harness him simply requires a different approach, requiring prayer.  I can pray up a storm when I’m in the mood.  The trouble is I can no longer call on the Great Mother Lilith or her minions for help.  That’s taboo.  I’ve been forbidden to do that!”

          “Whose Lilith?” Alice whispered to the preacher.

          “Lilith is a legend,” explained Elijah, “nothing more.”

          “Lilith was once an angel who fell from grace,” Madelyn quickly corrected him. “Many of my sources of power were once angels, who’re working there way back to God.  Not all of them are demons.  The forces of white magic are that in-between never-never world of good and evil.  What do you think pixies, fairies, and elves are?  There is power in both worlds.  I’m not suppose to play with both sides any longer, and yet that’s exactly what I must do one last time.”

          “You’ll risk your immortal soul?” asked Alice, her expression changing to awe.

          “Perhaps,” Madelyn shrugged. “I did this one time long ago on a woman, who had a similar problem than your witch.  She too was unconscious and dying.  Priests can’t exorcise unconscious patients, so one of the witch’s friends called on me.  It took a whole mess of work to undo that spell.  Now, in addition to everything else, I’m confronted with multiple spell reversals.  Do you have any idea how complicated this might turn out to be?”

          “Will you be needing Lilith?” the priest looked at her dubiously.

          “Father Hildebrand I need certain things.  I shall know more what I need when I enter her room.  Do you know how difficult it might be just to get into her hospital room?  That will require magic in itself.”

          “There are too many contradictions here,” Elijah grumbled stubbornly. “On the one hand you say that you work with both magic and God and sometimes have to rely on both worlds.  I don’t believe you can have both worlds Miss Fontaine.  Faith in the Holy Scriptures can’t work side by side with evil.  There is no halfway zone were problems can be solved!”

          “Get with the program preacher,” snarled the sorcerer. “You’re much too narrow-minded and too dogmatic about this.  What have you learned after meeting a telepathic cat and a card-carrying witch?  Nothing is as it seems.  Life is not black and white as you think the Bible says.  We live in mystery and chance.  Where did Adam’s sons get their wives if they were the only young people on earth?  How did Noah’s offspring not become a bunch of inbred mutants without a little outside blood?  How do you explain so many folks seeing little green men from other planets or Leprechauns and elves?  And what about ghost sightings?  Are they not between two worlds—between good and evil and dark and light?  God is another name for magic.  God is the ultimate witch!”

          “Nonsense!” The priest shook his head. “We know nothing about God except through the Son.  God is unknowable.  Miracles, not magic, are the issue, requiring the presence of the Holy Ghost.”

          “This time, priest, you’re wrong,” the sorcerer said, folding his arms. “Madelyn just told you that she needs both worlds.  I’d bargain with the devil to help those cats!”

          With this blasphemy uttered, Blaze lifted the lamp, motioning with his head to the door.  “Shall we depart?” 

          Alice looked at Blaze as if he was Lucifer, himself, but Elijah was not surprised.  What amazed him now was the fact that Madelyn would risk her soul to accomplish this feat.

          “Now tell us,” said the priest, ignoring the preacher’s disdain, “exactly what you need to accomplish the task.”

          “He-he-he,” Madelyn cackled, “a task, you call it.  A task indeed!  You’re asking Madelyn to risk her life and immortal soul.  I think there’s a far greater word for it than that!”

          “You deserve some sort of payment,” replied the sorcerer.

          “I’m sure we can at least get you a room and buy you a fine lunch,” the priest declared.

          Reaching down and grabbing a valise that looked very much like a doctor’s black bag, Madelyn explained as the group exited the dispatch office, “I can take no money nor food, not so much as a Big Mac for my services.  Why do you think I’ve been living on the street?”


 

 

Go to Next Chapter -- Return to Contents/Writer's Den