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Caught in the Weave

Caught in the Weave
A Story of the Crow Witch
by Mike Phillips


Screaming in anguish, the girl turned and writhed as she lay on the bed, struggling to free herself from her bonds. But there was nothing she could do, the strips of cloth held firm on her wrists and ankles. Tormented beyond words, her fingernails tore at the sheets, her clothes, anything within reach. She screamed again, a sound to shatter glass and make the ears bleed.

Two women hurried in through the door. Each had a lantern in one hand, a crucifix in the other. Though it was night and well past time for decent folk to have gone to their beds, they were both fully clothed, arrayed in stout, woolen dresses that swept the floor as they hurried inside the room.

The first and the youngest of the women was Edna Hanselbacher, though she was in truth in the latter years of being middle-aged and not in the habit of being considered young at all. She took the girl in the bed, her daughter Judith, roughly by the upper arms and used all her weight to hold the girl down.

The other woman, Grandma Hanselbacher, hobbled into the room as fast as her old bones would carry her, but if anyone were to witness the two, they would have said that she were the most formidable of the pair. Even as her daughter-in-law held her granddaughter to the bed, the old woman began to utter prayers aloud; to greater effect in calming the situation than anything Edna was doing, as well intentioned as she was.

The simple phrases worked to lessen the influence of that which possessed the girl, giving her strength in a deep sense, giving her the ability to fight the unholy influence. In moments, her screams and struggles became less pitched in ferocity, then she fell back into the dreamlike stupor that had marked the last week of these terrible events.

“This is something beyond the two of us to remedy,” the old woman said, looking doubtfully over the state of the girl. “We need help.”

“But people will find out. You know how they talk,” Edna Hanselbacher replied, the importance of these facts foremost in her mind. “We’ll be ruined.”

“That’s no matter now,” old Hanselbacher said, making no attempt to hide her scorn. “We must save this poor girl from torment or we’ll be as guilty as if we called the devil upon her ourselves. This has gone too far already and I’ll not let you stop me from making an appeal for help, regardless of the damage to your reputation.”

“But who will you call, Father Luke?”

“No, well intentioned as that young man may be, and as fine a priest as ever you will find this side of the veil, he’s not the one. Maybe in another twenty years when he’s seen a bit more of real evil in the world, but not now. He’d take one look at that poor girl and turn to jelly.”

“Who then?”

“Miss Weigenmeister.”

At the mention of the name, Judith began to struggle fiercely, shouting curses. It was all her mother could do to keep from being thrown to the floor.

Catching her breath and settling down on her struggling daughter as best she could, Edna Hanselbacher said, “But what can she do? She’s not even a Nunn from what I understand.”

“The righteous come in many forms, remember what Saint Paul said about angels.” Old Mrs. Hanselbacher turned and started toward the door. “Hold her down the best you can, I’ll wake the coachman.”

* * *

There was a discreet knock at the front door, hardly loud enough to be heard within the stately manor for its thick walls and rich paneling. If Grandma Hanselbacher hadn’t been pacing back and forth between the staircase and kitchen, wringing her hands with worry as she waited, she would never have heard it.

The screaming had stopped and poor Judith was sleeping, but that didn’t quiet Old Mrs. Hanselbacher’s concern in the least. The hard part wasn’t over. Evil spirits just didn’t go away on their own accord. They had to be driven out.

Looking to the clock that stood in the corner, the hopeful expression on her face fell into disappointment. There was no way the coachmen could have returned. What with the blizzard whipped into a fury outside, it was unlikely that he had yet reached his destination.

The knocking came again, slightly louder this time. Beginning to prepare her excuses so to be rid of this interruption as soon as possible, Old Mrs. Hanselbacher opened the door. To her surprise, she was greeted by a slight woman with dark hair, wearing a thick, fur lined coat that was plain but well made, pulled close to guard against the raging snowstorm outside.

The woman had a maturity in her features that bespoke experience beyond the usual allotment, but her skin was ageless, flawless, marred neither by blemish nor seam of the passing years. Something about the woman hinted that magic was involved, but her smile was filled with such guile and charm that such suspicions were immediately dismissed as fanciful speculation. She was fortunate, was all, not enchanted. Fairies only existed in stories.

The woman at the door gave Mrs. Hanselbacher a nod and a slight bow in the old way, but the greeting was not returned in kind. “May I come in?” the woman finally said, indicating the ferocity of the storm with a slight inclination of the head.

“Miss Weigenmeister?” Old Mrs. Hanselbacher said in shock, still trying to overcome the depths held within her visitor’s eyes.

“Yes, it is I, Misses Hanselbacher,” the woman at the door replied, the snow beginning to collect upon her shoulders. “Good evening to you. I understand that you are in need of some assistance.”

“Yes indeed,” her glance went once again to the clock, “but how?”

“No time for questions and answers,” Miss Weigenmeister interrupted as Grandma Hanselbacher cleared the way inside. “We must get down to business, so to speak, and I am certain you agree that such things are appropriate for fireside stories and not desperate times such as these.”

“Then you have had word of our troubles?”

“Yes.”

“But the coachmen could not possibly have reached you.”

“News travels fast,” Miss Weigenmeister said dismissively, putting an end to that. “Where is the girl?”

Closing the heavy door and making certain the latch and bolt were securely fastened, Mrs. Hanselbacher turned and indicated to Miss Weigenmeister that she should follow, saying as she went, “My daughter-in-law sleeps. If it is all the same to you, I think our fortunes will run more favorably if we leave it thus.”

“If such is your will, then may I comment upon the wisdom of your request?”

Old Mrs. Hanselbacher looked back, trading a wry smile. “You’re a feisty one.”

“Birds of a feather.”

* * *

They arrived at a room located off a small hallway behind the kitchen, one of the servant’s quarters, the vacated abode of a once favored cook, grown lonely with the passing of time. Old Mrs. Hanselbacher paused a moment to listen at the door. All was quiet within. Miss Weigenmeister took a book from a satchel that hung at her side, opening the book to a marked page.

“Is it in your Bible, then, some prayer perhaps?” Old Mrs. Hanselbacher said knowingly.

“This is no Bible, but the evil spirit we seek to excise will find what is contained within these pages difficult enough to deal with, I promise you.”

“But the devil.”

“If this truly were one of the fallen, I would have fled to safer parts rather then come to your aid. Such a foe is well beyond my ability to challenge.” Placing a finger into the book and closing it, Miss Weigenmeister lifted the latch, saying, “Now, I will try to put her to sleep first, but the spirit is likely to attempt some sort of display to frighten us. Do not be concerned. It’s just the sort of thing they do.”

“Yes, I’ll be prepared.”

Miss Weigenmeister nodded. She said affectionately, “I knew you would.”

“I’ll need your lantern to see by, but the tricky part,” at this Miss Weigenmeister retrieved a small earthenware bottle from her satchel and held it up, “will be getting the spirit trapped inside this.”

Trading the lantern for the bottle, Old Mrs. Hanselbacher said, “I’m ready. Let’s get started.”

Opening the door only part way, Miss Weigenmeister peered inside. The room was dark but for the faint light of her lantern, and this was positioned behind the door to block the majority of its light, but she could plainly see the girl lying on the bed. Judith was sleeping, and the spirit within must have slept as well, for no protestations were made as Miss Weigenmeister carefully opened the door and slipped inside. Grandma Hanselbacher followed warily behind.

Taking advantage of the circumstance of vulnerability, Miss Weigenmeister held the lantern aloft and began chanting the obscure dialect written within the pages of the book. Like she had been struck with a fiery brand, the girl awoke, her eyes opened wide in surprise, her screams beyond even what she had managed so far. Old Mrs. Hanselbacher gave Miss Weigenmeister a concerned look, but was returned only stiff resolve.

The girl thrashed her arms and torso, unseen tentacles reaching out, taking hold of Miss Weigenmeister and thrusting her hard against the wall. The lantern fell to the floor with a crash, the oil splashing onto the floor and the bottom of Miss Weigenmeister’s coat. The flames spread as if driven by some malevolent force, and soon the floor and Miss Weigenmeister’s garments were ablaze.

“No!” Grandma Hanselbacher shouted, running toward her granddaughter with a rage and ferocity that belied her advanced age. She leaped upon the girl, blanketing her with her body, breaking the spell the spirit within had worked.

Miss Weigenmeister fell to the floor, knocked senseless from the violence for but a few moments. She tore off her coat as it burned, using its folds to put out the fires that had reached the hem of her dress. The rest was left to burn away as she quickly picked up the book and found the marked page once again.

“Tell me who you are,” Miss Weigenmeister said, desperate to keep her voice even, to keep from showing her fear. She was flipping through the pages of the book, looking for the right incantation, but in the light of the growing fire that was beginning to consume the paper on the walls and the curtains on the windows, she was having small luck finding what she looked for.

“My name?” the Spirit said, its voice thick with sarcasm. “Such power in a name, how foolish you must think me to be. But you, my dear Miss Weigenmeister, might remember me as Shadow Spear.”

“Shadow Spear, the spirit styling itself as tormentor of the Ojibwa Tribe?” said Miss Weigenmeister, having to step away from the door for the increasing flame, abandoning her only means of escaping the fire. “But I thought Father Baraga was rid of you long ago.”

Shadow Spear’s reply was full of mirth, “Yes, and so you would have. I remember you, lap dog that you are, never one to take the glory for yourself, saving that honor for any fool that comes along.”

“You are mistaken, for Father Baraga put you in a prison that lasted for over a hundred years, no small victory if I am to judge.”

“The girl found me by accident and no fault or desire of her own. She released me and here I am. Are you satisfied now?”

Finding the page she sought, Miss Weigenmeister said triumphantly, “When the world is free of you once again, I shall be.”

The girl’s body moved as if to take some action as reply, but Miss Weigenmeister gave a shout, investing the words with command, saying, “Stop!”

The Spirit froze. Judith shook her head as if awakening from a drug induced sleep. She looked around her, seeing her grandmother, the other woman that she but vaguely recognized. “What’s going on?” she said.

“Now, Misses Hanselbacher, step away,” said Miss Weigenmeister. “Though I have a talent for controlling unclean spirits and the undead, sometimes my influence is short lived.”

The old woman was crying and professing her eternal love for her granddaughter, but she did as she was asked, climbing off the bed and onto the floor. Judith was scared, beginning to realize in some part what was happening. Black tears ran from her eyes as Miss Weigenmeister began reading once again.

Shadow Spear, one time tormentor of the Ojibwa Tribe appeared, an inky black cloud hovering over the girl. Weigenmeister manipulated her hands, pushing the cloud into a small sphere like the kneading of bread dough, chanting the conclusion of the spell, the final phrases that would hold the Spirit to her will, over and over again.

“Quick, get the bottle,” Miss Weigenmeister managed to say before losing control. “It’s time.”

Old Mrs. Hanselbacher produced the bottle, having nearly forgotten it in all the excitement, pulling the cork as she stepped across the room toward Miss Weigenmeister. But then her foot caught on the rug and she fell. The bottle flew from her hands and broke upon the floor. “Oh no, look what I’ve done,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

“Just get something else,” Miss Weigenmeister said impatiently. The sweat was beading on her forehead and the strain of the holding the spirit, weakened though it was, was beginning to take its toll. “Quick now or I’ll lose it.”

Thinking quickly, the old woman swept the cause of her vexation, the woven rag rug, up off the floor and tossed it over the dark cloud of the spirit. Giving a whoop of delight, she said, “Just like netting fish.” The rug had done the trick. The spirit was gone from sight.

Miss Weigenmeister took a deep breath of relief, marveling at what had just happened. “It’s gone, you did it. I don’t know how, but you got it somehow, caught in the weave.”

“Just like netting fish, I shouldn’t wonder,” the old woman said again as Miss Weigenmeister inspected the rug front and back. The spirit was indeed trapped within.

“I can feel it in there,” Miss Weigenmeister said, amazed. “And the prison should be as secure as any, just as long as this rug is never burned, perhaps buried in the backyard. Even so, I don’t think we shall ever have to deal with it again.”

“And good riddance,” the old woman agreed. “If you don’t mind, I should like to trod upon it for a while, give it some of the trouble it caused us for a time. One good turn deserves another.”

“As you wish,” Miss Weigenmeister allowed, “but better that you have your fun and be done with it. Now I must go.”

* * *

“The place is coming along great,” the Broker said, twirling her long, dark hair in her fingertips and snapping her gum each time she chewed. She was an attractive woman, and as she ran her hand over the banister it seemed as much a display for her client as affectation. “How did the sale go?”

“Dreary,” the middle-aged man replied, looking more at the woman than at the fine detail of the old house, something he had no interest in other than for the current market value. “But the estate is nearly settled.”

The Broker made a pretty laugh, “It will all be worth it. We should get top dollar once you’ve put on a fresh coat of paint inside and gotten rid of the rest of the trash.”

The man looked dejectedly at a pile of boxes and oddments that hadn’t been deemed worthy of the sale. “I suppose I could rent a truck and haul it all away, unless you know someone.”

“Honey,” the Broker said seriously, “you’re ‘Up North’ now. I keep trying to tell you that things aren’t nearly so complicated here. Just drag it out back and burn it.”

“You can do that?”

“Why sure.” She opened her leather portfolio and presented her client a slip of paper, saying, “Your burn permit, not that anyone else bothers.”

“You think of everything.”

“That’s why I’m the best.”

“You certainly have been wonderful. I don’t know how I would have managed liquidating all of my grandmother’s assets without you.”

“Just doing my job.” She smiled as she said the words. “And that pretty much ends it. You can fly home and I’ll let you know when the offers start rolling in.”

Deciding something, the man said, “Hey, by the way, you want to stop by later, maybe we could get some take out and watch the fire?”

At the proposition the room seemed to become hollow and the distance between them lengthen to a chasm. The Broker’s smile became forced. She said, “No, I’m so sorry, but I already have commitments for the evening.” She started toward the door, the wood floors of the ancient manor creaking under her stylish shoes.

“Oh,” the man said. “Well, I’ll talk to you later, then.”

“Just as soon as we have an offer,” she replied as she stepped out the door.

* * *

The Broker was gone and the man stood open mouthed in her wake, disappointed but not surprised by his rejection. Ruefully looking at the great pile of worthless items, he shrugged and began carrying it all outside. The job took much longer than he thought it would, the man had little experience in physical labor, and it was well past dark when he finally had everything set in a pile in the clearing outside, a hose at the ready in case things got out of hand.

The last of it had been a woven rag rug, an ugly thing, old and worn and perhaps never having been attractive in all its existence. He had found the rug in the basement, and had put it out at the entry for the workmen to wipe their feet upon as they entered and exited, carrying the antique furniture and other items for the estate sale. Now it was best gotten rid of, nothing to detract buyers from the sale, or so said the Broker when she was giving him her best advice.

As the man tossed the rug onto the pile, a gallon of gasoline in a cheap can by his side, a new book of matches from a Syl’s Café in his pocket, he was given to a strange feeling of anticipation. For no particular reason he could explain, he was at total peace with what he was about to do, not at all plagued by making so many important decisions as he had been throughout the rest of the liquidation process. He knew that he was doing the right thing just turning it all to ash and dust.

* * *

Long after the spirit was forgotten, ages gone by, Miss Weigenmeister strolled the Farmer’s Market, admiring the summer’s harvest of fruits and vegetables. The collapsible awnings were assembled one to the next, looking like a sultan’s caravan on market day. But here rather than what meager offerings such a market could provide, there was a bounty of late strawberries, early cucumbers, beans, some young sweet corn, honey on the comb in jars. There was so much to see and all of it looked fabulous, not a blemished onion in the entire place.

There were even some artists performing for the crowd. A young man was speaking poetry to music in a way that was so popular with young people these days. A painter was hard at work behind an easel, a fair haired child sitting prettily before her. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm, with nearly half the county buying and selling like folks seldom ever did these days.

A pack of young girls raced through the crowd on their bicycles, expertly dodging adults and children, harming no one but causing a great deal of alarm. They traveled as if in a world all their own, belonging to none. Everyone else was just empty faces in a crowd, no more recognizable than flags in a slalom course. As the girls sped by Miss Weigenmeister, one of the hindmost hit her brakes and came to a screeching halt, leaving a long, black streak upon the pavement.

“Hey Miss Weigenmeister,” a young girl said brightly. She was eleven years old and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, cheap sunglasses covering her eyes and a variety of plastic bracelets adorning her wrists, looking much like the rest of her friends. Miss Weigenmeister looked at the young girl’s wrists and thought it a better price than what was paid for Manhattan.

“Jenny Bracco,” Miss Weigenmeister replied brightly, “doing your best to stay out of trouble, I trust?”

“What me? Oh, yeah, no problem.” Jenny turned to her friends, schooled fish with gaping mouths and empty, bulbous eyes, not believing one of their number had purposefully stopped to speak to an adult.

Jenny said to her friends, “Hey, I’ll catch up later.” With a few, indistinct affirmations, the girls were off again.

Once they were alone in the relative privacy of the crowd, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Tell me, how have your studies been going?”

“It’s summer vacation,” Jenny said, incredulous. Then after a moment’s pause, she said, “Oh, you mean my studies.”

“That was the gist of my inquiry, yes.”

Lowering her voice to a whisper and discreetly looking about to see if anyone paid them undue attention, Jenny said, “Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, and funny that I find you here of all places. I thought you were supposed to be all in tune with the mystical world, but here you are, lollygagging around like nothing’s going on.”

“Wait. Slow down,” Miss Weigenmeister said, holding up her hands like she were fending off an attacker. “Whatever are you talking about?”

“You mean you still don’t know?”

“How could I?”

Jenny let out a deep breath to emphasize her frustration. “If you were at the library this morning like you were supposed to be, then we could have had this settled already.”

“What settled?”

“Well, I had this dream last night.” Acting wary of the people of the crowd, she added with a shift of her eyes, “You know, a certain kind of dream.”

“All girls experience that sort of thing. The correct term I believe is hormonal change, or something of the like. I was never one for the medical sciences beyond a smattering of herb lore. You really should be having this conversation with your mother.”

“Not that,” Jenny said, louder than she had meant to, getting the attention of several people around them. She smiled until the shoppers turned away, then whispered to Miss Weigenmeister, “There was a warning of danger in the dream. I could feel it, some power or other. It’s going to do something really, really bad.”

“That’s a bit thin to go on. Could you be more specific?”

Spotting a middle-aged man in the crowd, Jenny’s features grew pale. She didn’t reply. Sweat began to run on her forehead and her upper lip began to quiver.

“Jenny? What’s the matter?” Miss Weigenmeister said, following the young woman’s gaze but finding nothing out of sort. “Jenny? Tell me.”

Turning her head but not taking her gaze from a rather ordinary looking man, Jenny said in a whisper, “That’s him, the man in my dream.”

Looking again in the direction Jenny was fixed upon, Miss Weigenmeister saw a man. He was a little heavy set, with plain features that did nothing to separate him from any of the other middle-aged men, other than he was alone and not being harried by a spouse or any number of unruly children. He wore khaki trousers to hide his legs and the type of casual shirt that is favored by most regular guys. Almost like he had sensed the stares upon him, the man looked up, catching Miss Weigenmeister as she scrutinized him. Recognition came at once, and the man grew flush with rage.

“Shadow Spear, but I thought you were caught in the weave,” Miss Weigenmeister said quietly. “Jenny, get behind me.”

“What? Why?” Jenny protested, more herself again. “I’m not running away from that dork.”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

“Yeah, and until I said something, neither did you.”

The man had decided not to let his anger get the better of him. He abruptly turned away from Miss Weigenmeister and Jenny, trying to put as many people between them as possible. Making good speed as he cut through the crowd, he was quickly disappearing among the awnings and shoppers.

“This is not the time,” Miss Weigenmeister insisted, hastening to follow the man. “Though you have faced peril with me in the past, you are ill prepared for the dangers you would now face.”

“The dream came to me. I’m ready.”

Turning toward Jenny, Miss Weigenmeister put a friendly hand on the young woman’s shoulder and said, “Your body is beginning to undergo a profound change, Jenny. Your mind is opening up to a wider world, but that circumstance is not a mandate for action on your part.”

“I’m not going to let that guy hurt anyone, and I coming and you can’t stop me.”

Miss Weigenmeister turned away without another word. She looked for the middle-aged man in the crowd, but did not find him.

“Come on, he went between those buildings,” Jenny said, starting to walk off in a direction entirely different from the one Miss Weigenmeister would have guessed. “I’ll show you.”

“Fine, if I can’t convince you otherwise, then I suppose we could treat this as a learning experience. It shouldn’t be too dangerous, but do stay a safe distance from any altercation that may occur.”

“You have my most solemn promise.”

“Why isn’t that a comfort to me?”

Their pursuit was short lived and fruitless. When Miss Weigenmeister and Jenny entered the alley, the middle-aged man was heading back toward them, having found his way blocked by an odd addition to the stockroom of one of the two buildings and a rather high chain-link fence. He raised his arms, contemplating an offensive of some kind, but then thought better of it, turning on his heel and leaping toward the fence. With his arms outstretched before him, the man flew off into the air and was away.

“Neat trick,” Jenny said.

Miss Weigenmeister grunted an indistinct reply and began walking off toward the library. Jenny followed hurriedly.

“Why don’t you follow him? I’ll take care of your things.”

“It’s too dangerous with all the spectators about and there are certain articles I require.”

“If you taught me how to turn into, well, you know, maybe not a crow, but let’s say something smaller, like a blue jay, they’re related you know, then I could just go and find out where he’s going and report back to you. That sounds smart, doesn’t it?”

“Good try,” Miss Weigenmeister said, “but I think I know where it’s going. It’s headed back to the old Hanselbacher place, I’ll be bound. It’s the only thing it knows that remains in the world.”

Jenny stopped. “You keep saying it. What’s that all about?”

“Spirits such as this are not precisely male or female, though they may have certain attributes that cause them to be ascribed in folklore as such.”

“Spirit, not some perfectly normal whacko like a dictator or a serial killer?” Jenny asked, her voice quavering.

“Evil spirit in possession of a human host, strictly speaking.” In response to the inflection in Jenny’s tone, Miss Weigenmeister put a hand on her shoulder and said kindly, “Courage, child. There is no more reason for concern now than before.”

Jenny made a weak smile. “It seemed to know you.”

“Yes, we have had dealings in the past. I’ll explain on the way.”

* * *

The once stately Hanselbacher mansion looked better than it had in fifty years, its reputation as a haunted house perhaps more deserved now than in times past when it was less well tended. Even before a sign had been planted in the yard the work had begun, the brick façade had been washed clean. The grass was neatly mowed. The shrubberies were trimmed. Flowers had been planted in the beds. A new fence of wrought iron befitting the dignity of the classic architecture had been erected.

But despite all the renovations, the feeling around the old place was not one of cheer. A quiet, brooding malice lay thickly about the once cheerful home. Neighborhood dogs growled on porches and small animals found other holes to inhabit. No birds sang in the trees. As they came up the sidewalk to the gate, Miss Weigenmeister and Jenny Bracco could feel the presence of Shadow Spear like barometric pressure, painful to the brain, prescient of the coming storm.

“Did you find a suitable vessel?” Miss Weigenmeister asked for the third time, her nervous energy more for her young companion than herself.

Jenny answered uncharacteristically, “Yep, right here.” She patted her backpack.

“May I see it?” Miss Weigenmeister said. “In our haste I failed to inspect the article. Is it without flaw? None can say for certain what minor imperfections such a spirit may be able to exploit.”

Failing again to argue or even to comment, Jenny slipped her shoulder out of one of the straps and swung the pack around in front of her. Unzipping the pack only enough to admit her hand, she pulled out a half full soda bottle and shrugged.

“You cannot be serious.” said Miss Weigenmeister in disbelief. “You think you’re going to capture a spirit in that?”

“Are you kidding? This thing will sit in a landfill for about a billion years. What could be better than plastic?”

Thinking for a long moment, Miss Weigenmeister said with a shrug, “My apologies, you have made a wise choice.”

Jenny opened the bottle and took a swig. “You want some? It would be a shame to waste it.”

“I don’t know if the spirit has a true physical form. I expect the prison is as much symbolic as physical in nature.”

“Okay, over my head on that one, but I hope he likes Rock-and-Rye.”

The new gate opened noiselessly on its hinges. Miss Weigenmeister and Jenny proceeded up the walk to the front door of the house. It was there that their progress was cut short.

“It’s locked,” Miss Weigenmeister said, testing the handle. “Perhaps we could go around back, but I would suspect that with the pending sale, all the routes of entry have been properly secured.”

“Just a second, I might be able to do something about that,” Jenny said. A small box suspended on a ring of metal hung from the door handle. Jenny lifted the box and began fumbling with the knob of a combination lock. “One of my mom’s ex-boyfriends was a real estate agent. He liked to show off by taking us inside people’s houses when they weren’t home.”

“The proper owners couldn’t have approved.”

“No, he got canned for it.” The lock popped open. Out came a key. Jenny put the key into the lock and opened the door. She explained, “They pretty much have one code so there’s no fuss.”

“No barriers to the making of money.” Opening an old book to the place where the page had been marked by a scarlet ribbon, Miss Weigenmeister said, “Now, if you will step behind me, we will see what we can accomplish against this spirit.”

“Time to take him out and beat him like a rug,” Jenny said enthusiastically.

“None of that,” Miss Weigenmeister scolded, “this is serious business. I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned any of the particulars. Those sorts of comments are just the thing we need to avoid.”

They went inside, but the middle aged man from the Farmer’s Market was waiting for them, sitting in a leather club chair of antique origin, his feet propped up on a table, a glass of whiskey in one hand. “Yes, and now here you are, you have arrived,” Shadow Spear said as they entered.

“Did you believe that I would not come?” said Miss Weigenmeister in response.

“No, no, after I saw you I knew that you would be along, by and by. Frankly, I am surprised to find you still in business. How old are you now, two-hundred, two-fifty?”

“A lady never discusses her age.”

“Yes, uncomfortable that, I’m sure. The circumstances surrounding your abilities, your longevity, are not innocent, not something you would like to discuss, are they? So it seems there are skeletons in your closet, Miss Weigenmeister, and I am afraid that I underestimated you in our first two encounters. What is the expression my new friend uses? ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’”

“About him, you must realize that I won’t allow you to continue to victimize him any longer.”

“Victimize? No, that was never my way. I offer him blessings beyond the expectations of mortal man. That silly Hanselbacher girl fought incessantly against me, some outlandish moral code, a sign of times in which she lived, perhaps. This one has no such compunctions. He has much more sense. He values what gifts I have to offer. We are hand in glove.”

“I see that you have learned nothing during your imprisonment. You are the same pathetic miscreant that you have always been, less than a demigod, a story to scare children, and I will not have you trouble the world with your foolishness any longer.”

“No? And tell me, my virtuous friend, who is your companion here? Is she yet another pawn of yours, a mortal to be used for your purposes and then discarded? Young lady, this woman cares not at all for you, only what you can do for her. She will take what you have to give and then sacrifice you in the name of some holy crusade, some cause that has no real meaning or effect in the world.”

“You lie like a rug,” Jenny said.

Shadow Spear was speechless. Even after a prolonged silence, the only comment he could manage was a feeble, “Charming.”

“Yeah, like I’m going to believe you,” Jenny replied. She gave appropriate emphasis to the next bit, “I’m not going to let you walk all over people. Let’s get rid of this creep, Miss Weigenmeister.”

Hiding a grin, Miss Weigenmeister opened the book and said, “I agree.” She found the page marked by the ribbon and began chanting the spell that would return Shadow Spear to a metaphysical cage.

The middle aged man reacted as if struck. He fell over backward in the chair, his breathing labored, his chest heaving with the effort. He cried out in pain, fighting against the words that began separating him and the spirit that had become such a part of him in so little time.

Managing to gather his faculties, Shadow Spear rolled the man onto his side, and coming to his knees, threw up his hands. Miss Weigenmeister was flung into the air. The book fell to the floor, the power of her enchantments abruptly put to an end. But as she was hurled toward the ceiling, Miss Weigenmeister began to pull back into her clothes.

Her limbs and body grew smaller and shiny black feathers sprouted from her smooth, white skin. Then as her dress floated lightly to the floor, she appeared in the guise of a crow, cawing loudly, flapping her wings to be away from the hazards Shadow Spear pitched at her. The middle aged man was after her at once, hurling bolts of fire, chasing into the foyer and toward the high ceiling of the grand stairway.

“Don’t mind me,” Jenny said after they had gone, her voice echoing in the emptiness. “I’ll just wait right here.”

The struggle in the next room was becoming desperate. There were explosions and crashes, cries of defeat and triumph.

“Forget this.”

Jenny wasted no more time. Picking up the book and finding the page marked by the ribbon, she began to read aloud, chanting the words of the spell, going after Miss Weigenmeister and the spirit at a brisk walk. She heard a scream even before she saw the middle aged man, and she knew that what she was doing was having the intended effect.

Coming into the foyer, she opened the soda bottle with her teeth, pointing the open mouth in the direction of the darkening spirit as it fully manifested in the world, separating from the nameless middle aged man. Speaking around the cap held firmly between her teeth, chanting the final phrases of the spell over and over, Jenny made sweeping motions with the book, summoning Shadow Spear forth, calling the spirit into its new prison. In a moment it was over. Jenny replaced the cap and screwed it on tight.

“Well done,” said Miss Weigenmeister from her perch on the banister. “If Shadow Spear hadn’t used its time in prison for ethical contemplation, it had certainly used it for gathering strength. There were a few surprises. Thank you for your assistance. I was wrong not to think your abilities of value on this expedition. You did well to make such a powerful spirit captive.”

“Yep, the old carpet bagger will be down in the dumps soon enough.” Jenny tore the label off the bottle, negating the Michigan ten cent deposit, ensuring that the bottle would never be rescued from the trash. She looked up with a smile, expecting some kind of reaffirming comment of disapproval, but found only a disappointing weariness of expression. “Okay, they were both a stretch, but look at the material I have to work with.”

Miss Weigenmeister sighed. “Whatever am I going to do with you?”


* * *

Mike Phillips is the author of Reign of the Nightmare Prince and The World Below: Chronicles of the Goblin King, Book One. His short stories have appeared in ParABnormal Digest, Cemetery Moon, Sinister Tales, The Big Book of New Short Horror, World of Myth, Dark Horizons, Mystic Signals and many others. Online, his work has appeared in Darker, Lorelei Signal, Midnight Times, and Fringe. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series.

Mike's latest novel, The World Below, is now availble from Damnation Books. Check out the book trailer and the synopsis: 
In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.
 
Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.

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