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Chapter Twenty-Three


The Second Attempt




When the Spell-Reversal Team, again led by Mortimer Hildebrand, finally entered the emergency ward of the county hospital, Nursing Supervisor Bertha Welch was called in to authorize in person the visit of this motley group.  With complete agreement among the five, it was decided that Madelyn Fontaine would be introduced as India’s mother.  Bertha Welch, however, held her hand up like a traffic cop as they proceeded, barring their entrance into the room.  Nothing could hide the one-eyed crone’s ugliness and menacing stare.  Unlike India Crowley, who was built like a pre-adolescent girl, she looked and moved like a witch.  After being elbowed into action by the Mortimer, Elijah played his part as spokesman by introducing the group, which now comprised, in addition to Alice Wagnall, a preacher, sorcerer, priest, and white witch.  Alice, the only other true believer in the preacher’s mind, remained at his side.

          Mortimer was again introduced as India’s priest, while Blaze continued his role as India’s favorite uncle.  Elijah’s dubious position as India’s older brother meant that Madelyn was his mother too.  Alice, of course, remained India’s sister.  The very thought of these relationships caused the preacher and her to be physically ill.

          “She hasn’t seen her daughter in several years,” he concluded his introduction. “It may be the last time she has the chance.”

          A wave of nausea passed like an ill wind through the preacher again.  To sooth his shaken spirit now, he reached into his jacket in a Napoleonic gesture and stroked the cross dangling from his neck.  Alice, in a motion of dread, fingered her delicate throat.

          “Do you have documentation to prove your relationships with India Crowley?” the supervisor asked him, searching his expression and looking back at the witch.

          “Documentation?… That’s absurd!” Elijah replied irritably. “What sort of document will state specifically that India is our relative?  It won’t show on a driver’s license or credit card.  We don’t carry India’s birth certificate.  What sort of document could you possibly want?  Please Miss Welch, let her mother visit her before she dies!”

          He was so totally uncomfortable with the subterfuge he wanted to run straight to the chapel, confess his sins to the Lord and beg His forgiveness.  Already he stood on unhallowed ground amongst a blasphemer and heretic.  Now he was standing in the shadow of a witch.  When he felt the rude wooden cross again, however, he was reminded why he was here and the little miracle that he once protected inside his coat.  He missed Irma greatly now.  Whatever came of these proceedings, he would always remember the first message written by her little paw.

          “S...O...S,” he murmured softly to himself, “Save Our Souls!” 

          “I beg your pardon,” frowned Bertha Welch.

          After watching his lips move mutely and his eyes stare vacantly into space, the nursing supervisor studied his pained expression a few seconds, yet dismissed this quirky behavior, looking past the group’s spokesmen at the misshapen witch.  Focusing upon her one blind eye and toothless grin, she was stopped cold.

          “I’m sorry, there’s something not right about all this,” she snorted. “Can’t she speak for herself?”

          At that point, Madelyn stepped forward in her black dress and shawl as if she were going to take the overbearing woman to task.

          “You think I’m ugly, do you?” she asked, pointing a gnarled finger at the nurse. “You judge a book by its cover, do you, eh?  Can’t you look into the innards of a woman for her soul?” “I had an accident deary,” she pointed at her blind eye. “Would you prefer if I wore a sack on my head?  Would you like it if I vanished like a poof of smoke?”

          “No, certainly not,” Bertha Welch said, taken back. “You can enter.  But would you all please keep the noise down.  I was informed by my nurses and a doctor on duty that a great deal of caterwauling occurred last time in this room.”

          “Humph, caterwauling is hardly what I was doing?” Mortimer grumbled as he followed Elijah into the room.

          “You have an attitude problem young lady,” Blaze said over his shoulder as he passed.

          “Be careful,” Elijah murmured too faintly for Bertha to hear, “don’t mess with that witch!”

          “Ladies and gentlemen,” the nurse called out, shuddering as Madelyn cast her a blind eye, “this is a hospital room, not a chamber of horrors.  I’ve been a Roman Catholic long enough to know an exorcism when I hear it.  You folks behave yourself in that room!”

          While the nursing supervisor stood with arms folded in the hall, they entered one-by-one: first the witch, then, at Madelyn’s insistence the preacher, as if she gave him primacy over the priest.  Mortimer, in gentlemanly fashion allowed Alice to follow Elijah in but then scooted abruptly ahead of the sorcerer into the room.  The door was shut gently against the nurse by Blaze, and the group stood there before India’s bed, waiting for Madelyn to make the next move.

          “That woman’s too cagey,” Blaze said, whistling under his breath.

          “That woman’s trouble,” Madelyn declared to the group. “She’ll be in here faster than a bat if we so much as sneeze!  How much commotion did you make the last time you were here?”

          “The priest performed an exorcism,” Blaze motioned to Mortimer with a sneer.

          “It was combination of traditional prayer and exorcism,” Mortimer corrected him indignantly. “I would hardly call my praying caterwauling or a commotion.  How dare she insinuate such a thing!”

          “Whatever it was, it was too noisy,” replied Madelyn, her good eye casting a frown. “Exorcisms are not nearly as effective as reversals.  You gotta fight fire with fire, father.  You need demons to fight demons too.”

          “What does she mean by that?” Elijah whispered to the priest, deeply troubled by her remark.

          The priest looked back at Elijah with a knowing expression.  The preacher, who depended solely upon his faith, was about ready to leave the room and perform a prayer vigil in the chapel.  So far, however, it seemed as if evil might triumph without something momentous happening on the bewitched humans’ behalves.  He didn’t want to be a part of black magic or supernatural mumbo-jumbo, but he also didn’t want the young people of Shadowbrook to remain forever cats.  Irma Fresco and her friends in Sam’s apartment were a constant reminder of this contradiction.  So he watched, as did the priest and sorcerer, as a bystander once more, with the greatest trepidation, as Madelyn left the group standing around the bed and made her crotchety way back to the door.  Obviously, the old witch was going to make sure that Supervisor Welch didn’t interfere with her work.  The question for Elijah was how?

          Elijah was torn between ‘getting with the program,’ as Blaze suggested in the warehouse, and protecting the nurse.

          “Don’t you harm that woman!” he protested anxiously now.

          Madelyn opened the door slowly and stepped into the hall, the door shutting gently behind her.  She looked squarely into the nurse’s eyes with her one good eye, a strange glow appearing in the dark pupil, and, in a low, gurgling, sinister voice, said “You must leave the hospital at once!  Someone left the water running in your sink and your house is being flooded.  Go home quickly and turn it off!  Your home is also very dirty.  Don’t come back to the hospital until you’ve completely vacuumed your house!”

          With a dull expression, Supervisor Bertha Welch turned as would a zombie in a B movie and walked stiff-leggedly from the scene.  Her unblinking gaze was focused straight ahead, her shoulders were hunched forward and her arms hung limply at her sides as her feet shuffled down the hall.  Sensing the worst behind the closed door, Elijah bolted finally from the room, ran passed the witch and down the hall after the nurse.  He was struck by the nurse’s strange gait and zombie-like expression.  As she retreated, Madelyn followed behind Elijah to explain her actions and drag him back into the room, but he shrugged her off as he would a foul thing.

          The preacher was used to dealing with black and white issues of good and bad and God and the devil.  For him, no matter how much he tried, there could be no in-between zone where alleged white witches, equivocating sorcerers, and defrocked priests administered on behalf of God in a paranormal twilight world.  With Bible-in-hand, he had fought the pervasive free-floating superstitions of the common bum.  He had never given ground to heresy or blasphemy or equivocated about his faith.  With the very antithesis to his belief system trying to control his life now, he felt as if the only one who could help him was Jesus Christ, the Lord of Heaven, Himself.  The Lord, not hocus-pocus or abracadabra, must set this matter straight! 

          “Hey,” Elijah tapped the nurse’s shoulder, “are you all right?  I had no part in this.  What did that evil woman do?  Stop!  You must put a stop to all this!”

          “Must turn off water…. Must leave hospital at once to vacuum house,” she mumbled in rote.

          “You’ve hypnotized her, you evil crone!” he cried accusingly at Madelyn.

          “Oh, I’ve done more than hypnotize her sonny,” cackled Madelyn, waving her hand. “I cast a spell on her.  I could’ve made her jump off the building if I wanted to.  It’ll wear off sometime soon.”

          “Don’t you people realize that you can’t use evil to undo evil,” Elijah lectured her now. “It doesn’t work this way with our Lord.  I want you to snap her out this trance at once!  You have no right to mess with her mind!  What if she doesn’t come out of it?  What if she drives her car into a wall or tree?”

          “Listen,” Madelyn scoffed at his concern, “I could’ve turned her into a rat or a bird.  Indeed, I could’ve struck her dead.  But I’m a good witch; I don’t work that way.  That woman will not be harmed, young man.  As soon as she finished vacuuming her house, the spell will begin wearing off, leaving her without a clue.  If she stays, she will ruin everything and the young people of Shadowbrook Arms will remain forever cats!” 

          Whether or not Madelyn had placed a mild spell on Elijah Gray or the preacher had been convinced by her logic, Elijah stood there allowing the nurse to continue down the hall.  Simple prayer for him had not been enough.  Several other attendants, nurses, and patients stopped to watch and listen to the disturbance in the corridor, but they also didn’t interfere.  Jerking away from the woman’s claw-like hand now, Elijah followed her at a distance back into the room, his revulsion for what he knew would happen counterbalanced by the hope that this creature could break the spell.  India, a modern day witch, had turned several innocent people into cats.  The only one who seemed to have the remedy for this problem was another witch, who had been recommended by a sorcerer and heretic priest.

          “Jesus Christ guide my steps through these dark hours,” he began praying as they re-entered the room and Madelyn began setting up her paraphernalia and preparing for her spells.

          “Out! Out! Out!  All of you out!” she said, making a scooting motion with her hands.

          “What?” the priest cried in disbelief.

          “She works alone,” Blaze surmised, feeling great disappointment himself.

          “I for one won’t leave this time!” Elijah set his jaw. “The Lord rules my soul, not Madelyn Fontaine.  I will stay and offer my prayers.  You can’t make me leave!” 

          “I second that.” Mortimer folded his arms defiantly. “Who do you think you are Miss Fontaine?  You’re going to need all the help you can get!”

          “What can you do?” she snarled brazenly at the priest. “You couldn’t even get her to wake up with all that malarkey.  What makes you think you can exorcize her now?” “And you,” she pointed accusingly at the preacher, “are wrong if you think the Lord doesn’t fight fire with fire.  He uses every trick in the book!”

          “You don’t believe that?” Elijah turned to the red-faced priest. “Even you claimed to work directly through God, not hocus-pocus and spells.  We can’t let her take control without God’s direct intervention.  What will that mean?  Is our faith only a joke and have we been going through all our own hocus-pocus for nothing all these years?”

          “Of course not.  You’re absolutely right,” Mortimer both nodded and shook his head. “You can’t use evil to undo a spell.  It would place the reversed humans under your spell.  This is basic knowledge, Madelyn.  I would rather they remain cats than you make them diabolical things.”

          “Did I not kiss the cross?” she turned to Blaze for support.

          “Yes, you did,” the sorcerer nodded.

          “Did I not have pictures of Jesus and Mary in my quarters?” she asked the priest, staring at the others around the room.

          “Props… camouflage,” the preacher snarled, gripping his cross apprehensively in his hand.

          “Regardless of whether or not you were sincere before Madelyn,” Mortimer sighed anxiously, “you assume too much now for yourself.  We must stay in the room to make sure you follow God’s rules, not your own.  I never used paraphernalia when I worked with the spirits.  Prayer guided my ceremonies and ritual.  Magic never determined the end result.  Everything still depended on the power of the Lord.”

          “This won’t work if I can’t do it alone,” she snorted, placing her hands on her hips. “What can I do to convince you I’m not in league with the devil, so I can undo this spell?”

          “You must allow us to remain in the room,” Blaze declared boldly now. “If it wasn’t for me, Madelyn, you wouldn’t be here at all!

          “Very well, but you lads don’t know whom you’re fooling with,” she looked around at them. “Come here gentleman, you too missy,” she took a softer tone for Alice. “I’ll prove to you that I’m in league with the Lord…. There, that’s it, stand shoulder to shoulder, my colleagues against evil…. You folks are tired, very tired; I’m tired too.  The fact is I hate those unconscious voids we must spend each day…. There-there Elijah, Mortimer, Blaze, and Alice, my pet, you’ve carried the weight of the world’s woes too long, each in his own way working for the Ultimate Cause…. But now you must leave the room and find a place to rest and find peace…. You must go to the chapel.  Follow the preacher; he knows where it’s at.  Don’t come back until someone taps you on your shoulders.” “Go!” she pointed to the door.

          The foursome had barely made it to the chapel before falling asleep in a row of pews.  No one thought that it was strange that three men and a woman sat next to each with their heads bowed in an attitude of prayer.  It appeared as just that from the entrance of the chapel, until the onlooker walked in a ways and heard them snoring under their breathes.



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