The Witch's Daughter
by Stephen Clark
June 29 1997 -- October 27 1997
 
April, 1991 was a special time for me. I met a girl named Elizabeth, she was twenty-seven years old and studying for an arts degree at Melbourne University. I liked her very much. She was extremely intelligent, creative, and had strong opinions about all sorts of things. Her hair was a very dark shade of purple. She had a ring through her nose. Whenever I saw her she was wearing a long black dress. Anyway we started going out together and we really hit it off. I fell in love with her. After a few dates she told me her big secret -- she told me that she was a witch. I didn't believe her at first, but then she did a few magic spells like turning invisible, flying on a broomstick, and changing garbage into money. I was amazed and I loved her even more.
    She had a ten-year-old daughter named Amy, left over from a previous marriage. I asked Elizabeth if Amy was a witch too, and she said yes. It soon became clear that Elizabeth loved me as well and wanted to get married to me. I thought being married to a witch would be great -- with her magic tricks she could get us a whole lot of money and we wouldn't have to worry about a thing. So, without further delay, we got married. It was a simple wedding, in a registry office. I was surprised that no-one from her family showed up. I moved into her house. It was a small house, somewhat old and run-down -- that was another surprise. She could have fixed the house up, with her magic powers, but she said she liked it that way.
    Everything went fine, in the first week or two when I was first settling into the house. Then, one dark and stormy night when I was arriving home from work late, I noticed something weird going on in the kitchen. I walked in to find Elizabeth and a group of her witch friends gathered around the table. They were all wearing black and they had strange black marks on their faces. In the middle of the table was a five pointed star drawn in chalk, and on each point there was a candle. My wife had her hands raised up, saying "Hail Satan, lord of the darkness, thou art the true ruler of this world and we worship thee!"
    Her friends answered together, "Hail Satan!"
    "What's going on here?" I demanded. "What are you doing?"
    My wife looked at me without guilt nor fear. "Stephen!" she said, "You're home! We're just having a little Satanic ritual here. We've only just begun. Would you like to join us?"
    "No!" I said, shocked. "What are you doing this for? I didn't know you were a Satanist."
    "Of course I am. All of us are. We worship the devil -- that's what witches do. Come on -- join us in our ceremony, don't be afraid to let your dark side take over."
    "No!" I yelled. "I won't join in, and furthermore I won't have you performing any rituals in this house. I am a Christian. That's how I was raised. Can't you see how wrong this is? I want all of you witches out of my house. Go on! Take your pointy hats and fly away on your broomsticks! Get out of here!"
    The witches didn't move. "Hey, chill out, man," said one.
    "Yeah, Stephen," said Elizabeth. "These are my friends, I invited them over here. You might at least make an effort to be nice."
    "Well I'm sorry Liz, but you didn't exactly give me any warning about this, did you? What sort of ritual is this, anyway? What are you planning to do?"
    "Oh, well we're just going to say a few prayers, summon some evil spirits, predict the future, and make a human sacrifice."
    I staggered backwards, not believing what I'd just heard. "A human sacrifice?" I gasped. "You mean you're going to kill someone?"
    "That's right. We're going to sacrifice Agatha over here. She's willing to die, aren't you Agatha?"
    "Yes, I am," said a large, jolly witch. "I want to give my life for Satan, my lord and master. I want to go to hell to live with him for eternity."
    I shook my head. "You're insane! You're all completely mad! And I will have no murder in this house, no way!"
    "Oh come on," said another witch. "It's not as if we haven't done it before." The voice sounded high and childlike. I looked closer at the speaker and saw that it was Amy, my ten-year-old stepdaughter. I hadn't recognised her at first in the dim light and the make-up. She was only a child, mixed up in all this devil-worship and human sacrifice. I was horrified.
    "Right, that's it," I said. "I'm going to call the police. You murderers are all going to jail."
    I walked over to the phone, turning the overhead lights on as I went.
    "I wouldn't do that if I were you," warned Elizabeth. But I was picking up the telephone receiver. My wife's hand shot out and red bolts of light came from her fingers. "Sakaracek!" she cried. A moment later the phone had turned into a pile of living cockroaches, crawling all over my hand. I shook them off and ran for the door, suddenly very scared and wanting to escape.
    "Stop him!" shouted someone. "If he escapes he'll be able to use a pay-phone!"
    As I was running through the hall I heard the sound of chairs scraping the floor, clumsy footsteps, and raised female voices shouting out weird incantations at me. A moment later my body was paralysed -- it felt like several bolts of electricity had slammed into my back. Then, as I stood there frozen to the spot, Elizabeth and her friends came around to face me.
    "You should have known better than to mess with the forces of darkness," said my wife. "We have power beyond your comprehension. You are an enemy of Satan and an enemy of our sisterhood. Gonol orfeb bead egadolo!!"
    At that point I blacked out.

*    *    *    *

When I woke up I was lying in the hallway with aches and pains all over my body. I looked at my watch -- it said 6:15 am. I tried to get up but I couldn't. The memories of last night's events were blurry in my mind.
    "Elizabeth! Amy!" I moaned. "Somebody! Help me!"
    Amy came out of the kitchen. There were no traces of witchiness about her. She folded her arms and said, "So you're awake then? Do you remember what you did?"
    "I... I... vaguely. Can you help me up please? I feel... I feel sick."
    Amy stepped over and offered her hand to me. "Take my hand," she said. "Mum's gone. She left a message saying that I'm in charge until she gets back."
    As I struggled to my feet, I noticed something weird -- my hand was scrawny and wrinkly like an old man's hand.
    "What do you mean, you're in charge?" I croaked. "I'm your father aren't I?"
    My voice sounded strange. I put my hands up to my face. The skin there felt saggy and wrinkly. The truth began to dawn on me about then. "Oh my Lord! What's happened to me?"
    Amy took a step backwards. "My mother put a spell on you," she said. "To make you weak."
    I started moving towards the bathroom. I wanted to run to it, but could only manage a slow hobble. When I got there I stared into the mirror; the face that stared back was the unfamiliar face of an old man. I judged myself to be about seventy-five. The face looked tired, worn out and scared, and I felt the same. "Oh no!" I cried. "What has she done? How could she do this to me? I can't go out like this! No-one at work will recognise me!"
    Amy replied, "You won't be able to go out at all. This house had been sealed off. You see the bathroom window?"
    I looked up at the bathroom window, which was usually open. Now the hole was covered not by glass but by a dark brown material that looked like wood. I reached up and touched it. It was hard as stone.
    "All the doors and windows are sealed off like that. This house is impenetrable. Not even a jack-hammer could get through that stuff."
    "You mean we're prisoners here?"
    Amy gave me a funny look. "YOU are the prisoner," she said. "I am free to come and go as I wish. Look at this." She reached up to the window -- her hand passed through the brown material as if it were made of fog. Then she looked into my eyes. "You are the prisoner. I'm just here to bring you food from the outside."
    She went out into the kitchen. I followed her unsteadily. The remains of last night's ritual were all around. "Amy," I said. "Why are you doing this to me?"
    Amy spoke to me as she started picking up candles from the table: "Firstly, it's not ME that's doing this to you; it's my mother. I am just acting under her orders because I know she knows best. Secondly, you have made yourself known as an enemy of Satanism -- you insulted us, you disrupted our ceremony, you tried to tell the police about us. The devil was here with us last night, even though you couldn't see him. He was angered by what you did, and he does not forgive easily. My mother had to cast a spell on you, because she is a servant of the devil, and so am I."
    I thought about this for a while. "Where is Mum?" I asked. "Maybe I can talk with her -- reason with her --"
    "Mum is not here," said Amy, slamming a cupboard.
    "Where is she?"
    "That's not for you to know."
    "Oh come on Amy! Just tell me where she is!"
    "No."
    "Did she say she'll be back soon?"
    "She'll come back when she wants to. Maybe it will be in a week, or a month, or a year -- maybe never. In the meantime, you can't do anything. You're just a frail, weak-minded old man with no power and no rights. Get used to it."
    Amy finished wiping the table down, threw the cloth in the sink and walked out the back door. I tried to follow her, asking her more questions, but the door was blocked by the same sort of barrier I had seen in the bathroom window. She had gone out into the backyard, where I could not follow.

*    *    *    *

During the next few days, I expected Amy to show a little more kindness to me -- after all, I was her father, and she had treated me with respect before the incident. But she continued to treat me with coldness and she never smiled or laughed. I was truly a prisoner in my own house, with all the doors and windows blocked, and Amy was my prison warden. On weekdays she went to school and I was left alone in the house to plot and scheme, trying to think of some way to escape. On the third day she came home with bags of food, but she refused to tell me where she got the money to pay for it.
    On the fifth day I asked her if there had been any mail for me. She replied, "Yes."
    I held out my hand. "Can I have it then?"
    She said, "No."
    "What? You don't mean to tell me that I'm not allowed to receive mail!?"
    "Of course you can't," said Amy. "I told you, no communication with the outside world. My mother specifically told me to keep your mail from you."
    "But... but... but... you can't do that! Even prisoners are allowed to receive mail!"
    "It's no use arguing. I'm just following my mother's orders."
    "But what about my bills? How am I going to pay them, if I don't get them?"
    "I'll take care of the bills. You don't even have a job anymore, so stop deluding yourself."
    I scratched my head in frustration. She was right -- after I'd been away from work for a certain amount of time, I would have no hope of getting my job back. My boss was probably already looking for someone to replace me.
    "Okay, look," I said. "I have two pen-pals in America, and another one in China. If I don't write to them, I'll lose them as friends. Won't you at least let me receive letters from them?"
    "No," she answered firmly. "No mail!"
    "But what are you going to do with those letters?"
    "Oh, I'm not stupid enough to keep them somewhere in the house where you can find them. All your personal mail is being re-directed to Mum's post-office box. Only Mum has the key to it."
    "What??" At the mention of my wife I suddenly felt very angry, because I had not been told when or if she was coming back, and I had not been awake when she left. I lost my temper and ran at Amy, grabbing her by the neck. "WHERE IS SHE?" I shouted. "Why isn't she here? Tell me the truth, you DEVIL'S CHILD!!!"
    Amy was choking, but after she overcame her initial surprise she pried my fingers off her neck and threw me off. I stumbled backwards, knocked over a spice-rack, and fell on the floor.
    My daughter dusted herself off. "Don't ever do that again," she said. "You're not as strong as you used to be. Just remember who I am. And who I represent." With that she turned and walked into her bedroom.
    I leaned the side of my head against the wall and started crying. I couldn't believe a ten year old girl had just thrown me across the room.

*    *    *    *

For the next six years I remained trapped in the house by the witch's spell. I was never once allowed out. I did not see the sky -- I did not see any sunlight, so I had to keep the electric lights on during the day. I was not allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio -- all these devices had been destroyed. During my six-year imprisonment I aged from seventy-five to eighty-one, and Amy grew from ten to sixteen. I never saw another human being except her. She didn't behave like a child -- she acted like I was the child and she was the parent, but she was never warm or loving. Sometimes I tried to talk to her about what she was doing at school, and what she did in her spare time, but she used the phrase "none of your business" so often that I soon gave up. I knew the teenage years could be awkward and confusing in a girl's life, but she never talked about her problems or feelings to me. Sometimes I asked her why she was so unfriendly to me; in such cases she would always reply, "My mother told me not to show you any kindness." I asked her why she had to be so strictly obedient to her mother's wishes; she would reply, "My mother is always right. She has guidance from a greater power." I soon learnt that it was useless to argue.
    I made many attempts to escape. I tried shouting for help. I tried smashing a hole in the wall, but whenever I succeeded in making a hole it instantly filled up with that dark brown solid material. At one point I even snuck into Amy's room and stole a book of witch's spells, hoping to use one of them to escape. But all my attempts at witchcraft failed. I soon realised that in order to make spells work you first have to become a devoted Satanist and sell your soul to the devil, and I was not prepared to do that.
    Towards the end of the six years I became very weak emotionally and even weaker physically. I was sleeping fifteen hours a day. I couldn't walk without help, so Amy eventually bought me an electric wheelchair. Some days I didn't have the will power to do anything except lie in bed and stare at a photo of Elizabeth for hours in the dim glow of my bedside lamp. I couldn't understand my feelings towards Elizabeth -- in some ways I was angry at her for making me old and imprisoning me here, but at the same time I wished she would come back because I missed her. Deep down I knew my love for her could never die. But as the years past I slowly became resigned to the fact that I was going to pass away without ever seeing her again. I felt like the saddest, most pathetic creature in the whole world. Not that the concept of the "whole world" had any meaning to me anymore -- my only world was that dark, confined prison-house where I sat in bed and waited for death.

*    *    *    *

Then, one morning, I woke up in different surroundings. At first I thought it was a different room -- then I realised it was the same room but it looked different because there was sunlight coming in through the window and making everything brighter. Before I could fully grasp the importance of this, I noticed someone sitting beside the bed -- it was an old woman. She looked to me like an elderly angel; she was dressed in white and the sunlight caught her hair which was a very light shade of purple. I was positively sure I had died and gone to heaven.
    "Good morning Stephen," said the old woman. "Are you all right? I was afraid you'd never wake up. I've waited so long for this chance to apologise to you --"
    There was something familiar in her voice. "Who are you?" I asked.
    "I'm Elizabeth," she replied.
    "But... but... Elizabeth was a young woman!" I said weakly. "She was only twenty-seven. And that was only six years ago!"
    "Shhh, Stephen." She took my hand. "I AM Elizabeth, and I AM an old woman. I appeared to be a young woman before, because that was part of my witching power. But now the illusion is gone, and I'm appearing to you as I really am. Look, I'm still wearing your ring."
    I looked at the wedding ring which I'd bought for her, and I looked at her face. She really was Elizabeth. Just as I had prayed for so many times, she had finally returned to me. There was so much I wanted to say to her, so many questions I wanted to ask her, I didn't know where to start. So I just blurted out the first question that came into my head: "Why did you tell Amy to re-direct my mail?"
    She looked surprised. "Your mail? Re-direct your mail? I didn't ask Amy to do that. There must be some mistake. Why would I want to keep your mail away from you? Amy is down at the shopping centre -- I'll have a word with her about it when she gets back. I sent her down there in the car to buy a new phone and TV. Where did she say she was redirecting it to?"
    "Your post office box."
    "Oh! Well I still have the key to that. Tell you what -- why don't we go down to the post office now, and get the mail? It's only a few blocks away. We can walk and talk together."
    "Okay," I said, "but I'll have to go in the wheelchair. I haven't been strong enough to walk for a long time."
    Elizabeth pulled back the covers and looked at my legs with sadness. "You're wasting away," she said. "What's happened to you? You didn't need to become this weak."
    "That's what comes with old age," I replied, heaving myself over onto the wheelchair with Elizabeth's helping hand.
    She took a blanket from the bed and covered my legs with it. "I don't know -- I think maybe we could get you on your feet again if you see a doctor and a physiotherapist. This might be something we can fix."
    "Maybe." I started up the wheelchair and followed my wife out of the bedroom door. She was being nice to me -- I had a feeling everything was going to be okay. "So where have you been all these years?"
    "Well, it's a long story --"
    As we went out the front door everything seemed strange and new. I had forgotten how it felt to come out into a wide open space, with sunshine and birds singing. It was a dreamlike sensation. My mouth fell open and it stayed like that for almost a minute.
    Elizabeth was still talking: "Just a few hours after I left the house, I began to regret what I'd done. I put myself in your shoes and saw that the punishment was a bit harsh. But it had been decided by Satan and his cacodemons to keep you there. So I went before the High Court of Hell to appeal your case. But they refused to show any mercy, despite all my pleadings."
    I nodded solemnly. Somehow I knew it would be something like that. Looking at Elizabeth's pensive face I could see that she was the same woman that I'd fallen in love with all those years ago. We turned the corner and headed down the main street towards the shopping centre.
    She continued: "I became so desperate to free you, in the end I came here in the dead of night and tried to reverse the spell myself, without the help of my friends. But after the court appeal, Satan's spies must have been keeping an eye on me. As soon as I started my incantation, they leapt out from their hiding places and dragged me down to the underworld. Hell. And then..." -- she shivered and looked at the ground -- "It was Satan himself who sentenced me to life imprisonment in one of the deepest dungeons. I was a prisoner, like you, except my cage was in Hell itself and I was on a diet of bread and water. All I saw each day were warden-demons, hideous creatures trained for violence and brutality and crushing the human spirit. Not much of a life."
    I stared at her in horror. "Oh, Elizabeth," I said. "That's awful. And there I was imprisoned in my own house, feeling resentful towards you, when all the time you were holed up in Hell itself! How long was it for?"
    "Six years."
    "They didn't torture you, did they?"
    "No, but they would have if I'd shown any resistance. I was in constant fear of it 'cause I could hear the screams of tortured souls far off in the distance."
    We walked in silence for a while as I thought about this. We had entered the shopping district now and people were passing us left and right. What would they think if they knew what we were talking about?, I thought. Elizabeth stepped up to the post-office boxes and took a key from her pocket.
    "Now comes the moment of truth," she said. "Aha! The box is full. There must be about twenty letters here." She took out the batch of mail and thumbed through it. "Most of it seems to be for you. From your pen-friends, yeah?"
    "Yeah!"
    "And your family?"
    "Yeah."
    She laid the letters in my lap. "I'll let you sort through it. Some of it might be for me. Are we going home now?"
    "Yeah. I don't know if I can read the mail while I'm steering the wheelchair. Let's keep talking. How did you get of Hell, anyway?"
    We turned around and started walking back. "Oh, well that was the strangest thing," said Elizabeth. "One day while I was locked in my cell, a prison guard came up to me and whispered that he was really an angel in disguise, and that he would help me escape if I promised to give up witchcraft and become a practicing Christian and devote my life to spreading the word of God. So I agreed. And he... well he smuggled me out while the guards weren't looking. Apparently he does this sort of thing all the time, rescuing the damned from Hell and reclaiming their souls for God, one by one. So now I'm no longer in league with the devil."
    "I shouldn't think you WOULD be in league with the devil, after all that he did to you! What happened next?"
    "Well, as soon as I got back to earth, I came to the house and -- that's pretty much it."
    We kept walking slowly down the main road and I wondered what was bugging me. There was something about Elizabeth's story that didn't quite sit right. Then a thought occurred to me.
    "What about the house?" I asked. "If you didn't have your witching powers anymore, how did you reverse the spell on the house?"
    "Well, that was a spell that I originally cast myself, so when I stopped being a witch, the spell died as my powers died."
    "Couldn't you have done that before? Couldn't you have given up witchcraft before your imprisonment, and got me out that way?"
    Elizabeth shook her head. "Witchcraft isn't something you can give up that easily. Once the devil has possession of your soul, he holds onto it and doesn't let go. He had control of me. It's very difficult to escape from that insidious cult of devil worship."
    "Really? Then what about Amy? Is she -- is she still --"
    "A witch? Yes, for now she is. But that's going to change very soon. There's a guy coming over at two -- an angel, the same guy that I mentioned before -- and he's going to convert her to Christianity. He's going to reclaim her for God, just the same as he did for me."
    "Oh. And is she aware of this? Have you told her?"
    "Yes. I had a bit of a discussion with her before you woke up, and I persuaded her to give up witchcraft."
    I gazed at my wife in wonder. "You must have incredible powers of persuasion," I said. "I was never able to persuade her to do anything. But then she always did follow your orders blindly."
    For the rest of the journey home I talked about my own experiences and my own time spent imprisoned with Amy. When we arrived at the house, Amy was there in the driveway. As soon as she saw us, she broke into a smile and threw her arms out in a welcoming gesture. "Hey!" she called. "Welcome home, parents! It's so good to see both of you. Now I have two parents. This is the happiest day of my life. We're a complete family again. Everything's gonna be okay now, right?"
    "That's right," said Elizabeth, smiling.
    Amy was gushing with teenage ardour. "Oh, this is the best! I think this is the beginning of a whole new era. Everything bad in the past -- it's finished!"
    "That's right," said Elizabeth again. "Did you get the TV?"
    "Yep. It's in the car. Big screen, remote control. I got some food too. Have you eaten yet?"
    "No."
    "Well hey, let's eat! Let's celebrate! Open the curtains and let the light flood in. We're gonna have a feast!"
    I felt a great happiness rising up in me, and at that moment I could have forgiven anything that had happened in the past six years. Elizabeth and I helped Amy carry the shopping bags into the house. The three of us gathered in the living room and Amy started preparing food for us, refusing all offers of help. She was enthusiastic in a way I'd never seen before. We sat around the table and ate bread rolls and salad and mushrooms on toast, and drank freshly squeezed orange juice, and coffee, and all the while the room was filled with happy, relaxed conversation.
    "Amy," said Elizabeth, "Stephen tells me you sent all his personal letters to my post-office box. Why did you do that? I didn't tell you to do that."
    "Yes, you did," said Amy, temporarily subdued. "I remember it clearly. One of the last things you said to me was: 'Don't forget to re-direct his mail.'"
    "What? Oh no, no, no. You must have mis-heard me. What I said was, 'Dauf aitu reedja ectis mayu.' That's an old witches' saying from the old language -- it means 'May the devil have mercy on your soul.'"
    They laughed about the misunderstanding, and then the subject was changed. Amy talked about her school experiences, her classes, her social life and her new boyfriend. Elizabeth told us about the high court of Hell and some of the harrowing things she'd seen in prison. They discussed their plans for the near future. I didn't say much at all, partly because I was reading my letters, but mostly because I was not sure of what place I had in this family. Amy had been so cold to me over the past six years -- could that unpleasantness be over so suddenly? Was she willing to be a daughter to me now? Would she now treat me as a family member, when just yesterday she had been my prison warden? Was it possible that her personality could do a complete flip-over? I wished I could see what was going on in that head.
    The conversation continued after the plates and cups were empty. Then, finally, Elizabeth rose from the table and said she was going to her bedroom to gather together her spellbooks and other tools of witchcraft, and throw them away. Amy and I were left alone in the room.
    After a suitable silence, I said "Amy, I'm a little confused..."
    Amy leaned forward. "Sshh, Dad. It's okay All the unpleasantness is over now. We can go back to a normal life."
    I wondered if she'd been reading my mind. "But Amy, for six years, it's been like -- you've been the powerful one, and I've been the weak prisoner -- and now it seems like you're treating me like an equal, almost. How can that be?"
    She leaned back in her chair. "It may take some time to get used to. I know that. You have every right to be angry at me for the way I've treated you, but I'd just like to say: I'm sorry for the mail mix up. And I'm sorry for throwing you against the wall. And all the things I said to you. From now on, I'll be good. I'll respect your wishes, and behave like your daughter. All I want now is to live a normal life. Can we do this?"
    "Well -- okay, I guess," I said uncertainly.
    "Don't worry Dad. It'll be okay. You'll see. I'm going to go and get the new TV from the car. Do you want to help? Your wheelchair might come in handy."
    I nodded and followed her out the kitchen door, feeling much better.

*    *    *    *

"So let me get this straight," I said to Elizabeth later as she was helping me to walk in the backyard. "This guy is going to come down at two o'clock and reclaim Amy's soul for God?"
    "That's right," said Elizabeth, holding both my hands and walking slowly backwards. "One foot in front of the other, not too fast --"
    "And this guy's an angel, right? Some sort of supernatural being from heaven?"
    "That's right. An angel. Steady now, keep your back straight --"
    "And he's going to come along any minute now? Is he going to just fly down from heaven and land in the backyard?"
    "Yes. But you won't see him land -- he has to keep inconspicuous. He'll stay invisible until after he lands."
    "Oh. I've never met an angel before. And why is this necessary? Why can't Amy just give up witchcraft of her own accord?"
    "Careful! You're nearly overbalancing there. He has to reclaim her soul for God because otherwise she'll never go to heaven when she dies, and she'll also be in grave danger from Satan's minions, especially if she does anything good. See, the thing about demons is --"
    There was a flash of light behind her she turned to see a magnificent creature arriving on the back lawn.
    "He's here! Quick, back to the wheelchair."
    The new arrival was a radiant winged man with pure white skin and clothes. His wings were white, and they folded up behind him gracefully. His hair was white. Even his eyes were pure white, which made him look something like a sightless porcelain statue. A few inches above his head, a faint white halo glowed.
    "Greetings!" he said. His voice was deep and somewhat hoarse -- not as beautiful as the rest of him. "Peace be with you. I come, as requested."
    "Thankyou for coming, your highness," replied Elizabeth. "My daughter is inside the house. This is my husband, Stephen. He's always been a Christian."
    The angel offered his hand to me as I sat in the wheelchair. "Pleased to meet you, Stephen."
    I shook his hand. It was surprisingly warm for something so white. "Likewise. And your name is?"
    There was an awkward silence, which Elizabeth broke. "His name is, ah, Raphael. That's right. I should have mentioned it earlier. Raphael, why don't you come into the house and let's begin the reclamation ceremony."
    "Indeed. The sooner the better."
    We made our way into the house. Elizabeth helped me up the small step at the back entrance and called out, "Amy! The angel's here!"
    I spoke up. "Hey Raphael, I can't thank you enough for what you did for my wife. You're quite a hero."
    "Well thankyou. I do it for the greater glory of God."
    Elizabeth was clearing an empty space on the kitchen table in a businesslike way. Amy entered the kitchen slowly, eyes wide at the sight of Raphael's radiance and beauty.
    "Hello, Amy," he said. "My name is Raphael. I've heard a lot about you. Are you ready to come back to the light?"
    "Yes," she breathed.
    "Are you willing to give up your powers of witchcraft?"
    "Yes."
    "Well that's good."
    I noticed that Elizabeth was drawing a large chalk circle on the table, and filling it with a five-pointed star. A pentagram? I thought. A satanic symbol?
    "Elizabeth? What on earth are you doing?" I asked.
    My wife looked up. "I'm making preparations for the reclamation ceremony."
    "Yes, but what's this with the pentagram? That's the symbol you use for your satanic rituals. What sort of ceremony is this?"
    The angel replied to my query. "I know it seems a bit strange, but the reclamation ceremony DOES require a pentagram. You see, Amy's soul is trapped in Hell. The devil has possession of it. We need to open a portal into Hell so as to break down the satanic bonds and release her soul. It will all become clear to you soon."
    "Oh. I didn't realise it was so -- involved. Are you sure it's okay for me to attend this ceremony?"
    Raphael sat down at the head of the table. "Actually, it's very important for you to attend," he said. "As her father, and as a Christian, your prayers will be a powerful aid in -- loosening Satan's grasp on Amy in the minimum of time. Are we ready?"
    Amy was murmuring to herself. "My soul. My soul. Getting back my soul. Okay I'm ready."
    I sat down at the table. Elizabeth sat next to me, further away from the angel. Amy sat on the other side.
    "All right," said Raphael, his voice becoming very soft and mystical. "The first thing we have to do is unblock our minds. Stare into the circle. Focus your thoughts on it. We will have a period of silence, then I will say some words. When I say the words, you repeat them but not out loud. Say them inside your minds and aim them AT THE CIRCLE."
    We sat still. We heard the cars passing outside. Birds sang in the trees. Somewhere, in the distance, a child laughed. The pentagram lay on the table, roughly drawn amongst the crumbs and coffee stains. After about forty seconds, Raphael announced:
    "Le-ha otni yahwehtag."
    We repeated the strange words internally. Then he said them again:
    "Le-ha otni yahwehtag."
    After another period of silence the circle began to glow red, like metal heated up. Then the middle of it began to droop inwards, and flashes of yellow began dancing around it like dying sunlight reflected off a whirlpool. It was no longer a pentagram -- it was a hole in the table, with writhing streams of red, orange and yellow spiraling together into the void. I felt radiant heat on my face, and a growing sense that I was looking into a world that I didn't really want to know about. It was a portal into the underworld. The edges of the hole became blurred, and I drew my head back as far as possible. Then Raphael said the words again, and the hole grew in size. It was still no bigger than the table, but I felt as though I were looking down on it from a great distance. I put my wheelchair into reverse.
    "Don't back away, Stephen," murmured Raphael. "Erre yatsot ooi deenaye. Chayer ra nit-hou si luos syma."
    He said these last two sentences as if they were meant to clarify why I should not back away, but I didn't understand. Elizabeth nudged me.
    "He's speaking the angel language," she said under her breath. "I can translate. He said that Amy's soul is within our reach."
    I looked at the spiraling void and felt frightened. There was an almost tangible evil rising up from it.
    "Dolof ra snoee naights-irc emit gnola!" shouted the angel, glowing red now under the light. "Rethgawd sisi AMY!"
    A toneless roaring noise was heard, as if a semi-trailer was passing directly under the table. Elizabeth translated for me. "He's found Amy's soul. Now he just has to unbind it. Notice how a red power-link in forming between his forehead and the gateway."
    The angel turned to me and put his hand in front of my face. "Livi. D'ckew. Tsirk soo-sedge na GOD kejer weodd?"
    Elizabeth whispered to me, "He's asking you if you want your daughter to have her soul back. Answer yes."
    "Yes," I said.
    The angel moved his hands hypnotically in front of my face and then stopped. He shouted, "Livi fo ef-il a ev-il ot esimorp weodd?"
    Elizabeth whispered, "He's asking you if you REALLY REALLY want your daughter to have her soul back. Answer yes."
    "Yes," I said.
    The angel laid his hands on the table and bared his teeth. He looked from me to Amy and back again. The curving red line between his forehead and the void became thicker and more defined. He roared, "EEM OT LUOS ROI T'NARG WEODD?"
    Elizabeth whispered, "He's asking you if you think Amy wants her own soul back. Answer."
    This time I hesitated. I was starting to have doubts about the whole scenario. "Look, Raphael," I said. "I don't mean to tell you your job, but shouldn't you be focusing on Amy, instead of asking ME all these questions? I mean, this ceremony is really nothing to do with me, and so far you've..."
    "SILENCE!" roared the angel. "This hesitation could cost Amy her soul! Answer my question!"
    Raphael seemed not only angry, but a little crazy. His halo was gone, and I could've sworn his perfect red lips were moving out of sync. I said to him, "But why do you have to..."
    "ENOUGH! If you're a Christian you're going to have to learn to accept things without question! I warn you..."
    "Now wait a minute, Raphael," said Elizabeth firmly. "I think it IS a bit strange the way you're asking Stephen all these questions. HE'S not meant to be the focus of this ceremony."
    The angel's mouth fell open. He suddenly looked very confused and disoriented. "What?"
    "As I recall, this isn't the way you performed MY reclamation ceremony a few days ago."
    Raphael looked like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. His mouth opened and closed as if the words just wouldn't come out. I was glad to have someone back me up.
    Elizabeth continued, "In fact, this is much more similar to a ritual I used to perform years ago, when I was a Satanist."
    I turned to face her. "What do you mean, Elizabeth? What are you saying?"
    "What I'm saying is," -- she stood up and pointed at the angel -- "I don't think you're Raphael at all! I think you're an impostor!"
    The angel-shaped creature suddenly found its tongue. "What are you doing?" it screeched. "You'll ruin everything!"
    Elizabeth manipulated the controls of my wheelchair, sending it flying backwards. Then she strode over to the creature and moved her hand in a diagonal chopping motion so swift, it seemed instantaneous. One moment the angel's head was whole, the next moment it was half removed. I could inside the head -- there was no brains, no blood, no flesh. Just a smooth white surface like scooped vanilla ice-cream. Amy screamed. I stared in disbelief. Elizabeth had done that with her HAND? Her bare old-woman's HAND?
    "Look," she yelled. "A false head! It's a demon in disguise! Trying to steal your soul!"
    The creature stood up and the remaining half of its head fell away. I realised that it did still have a head, but it was much smaller and more deeply embedded in the torso, with little beady eyes peering out. Meanwhile the wings were shrinking away and the shoulders became broader -- it started advancing on Elizabeth slowly and menacingly. "So," it said, "you brought me here to fight me, did you? Then prepare to die!"
    "Let's get out of here!" I shouted.
    But Elizabeth ignored me. She shouted to Amy, "Help me, Amy! Use your powers!"
    Amy stretched her arms out in front and started chanting something under her breath. The air between Elizabeth and the monster shimmered with a blue glow.
    "Not that one," yelled Elizabeth. "That's not pa--"
    But before she could finish her sentence, the demon raised his arms and threw a ball of yellow light at her. In the split second before it hit, she raised her arms -- I saw her fingers were entwined in some form of weird hand signal. When the yellow light cleared, Elizabeth was still standing there, apparently unharmed.
    "That's not powerful enough, Amy!" she shouted furiously. "Don't you realise who this is? This is Satan himself! Use your... oh!"
    The creature had raised his arms again and was planning to throw another power bolt. But before he could, Elizabeth had launched herself across the room, and with a cry of "Ignerts!" she struck another blow with her bare hand. This time the monster let out a roar of pain and staggered backwards. It crashed right through the wall and lay there for a few seconds, twitching with shock.
    I looked from Elizabeth to the demon and back again with confusion. "Elizabeth, what's going on?" I asked.
    "Don't bug me, Stephen," she said. I noticed she had her eyes closed as if concentrating very hard -- she must have been psyching herself up.
    I decided to address the monster, whom Elizabeth had identified as Satan. "Leave her alone, monster! You have no further claim on her! She's a Christian now! She's not mixed up in this sort of Satanic rubbish anymore!"
    The devil stood up slowly and growled in a voice that sounded deep and coarse like a truck-engine. "A Christian? Ha! I don't know what she told you, fool, but this is the most evil woman in the universe. She's spent the last six years roaming the earth, claiming more souls for Satanism than any other witch, working her way up the underworld ranks."
    "That's not true!" I cried. "I know the deal! She's spent the last six years rotting away in your prison! She even gave up witchcraft in order to escape!"
    The devil was preparing for battle, covering his red skin in shiny black armour piece by piece. "Oh yeah?" he said. "Well she seems pretty powerful for a non-witch, don't ya think?"
    I remembered the bare-hand blows, and the weird hand-signal protection, and realised that Satan had the facts on his side. It was beginning to look like Elizabeth had been less than honest with me. From the look on Amy's face, I suspected that she, too, was doubting her mother's honesty.
    The devil continued, "She told me to come over here so as to trick you into giving up your soul to me. But since she obviously just wants to engage me in combat instead, I will be happy to destroy her."
    "Mum!" cried Amy, "Why did you lie to me?"
    "Because I needed you to play a convincing role!" snapped Elizabeth. "Now shut up and help me put this guy away! He'll kill you too if we don't win!"
    The devil was in full battle array now and he had grown to an enormous size. Elizabeth, too, had implemented some sort of growing spell on herself. She yelled out, "Etalinnia laa!" and several white projectiles shot from her hand. Satan hardly budged. He sent a succession of his yellow power-bolts across the room. Some of them made holes in the wall; the rest hit some sort of invisible shield that seemed to be emanating from Elizabeth's wrist. I had never seen a battle like this before. It seemed that both of these fighters had weapons and power resources that I could not begin to comprehend. Satan's hand was smashing away more of the ceiling above him with every attack. Elizabeth sent out an electric blue line like a tentacle which wrapped around Satan's hand, preventing him from firing. He wrestled with it for a second or two, then broke free. But it was back again in a moment.
    "Help me, Amy!" screamed Elizabeth. "Use your fireballs!!"
    Amy looked doubtful, but she raised her arms and threw a pair of fireballs at Satan's armoured feet. He looked at her with irritation. She was about to throw something else at him when he bent down, enlarged the size of his hand, and wrapped it firmly around her.
    "No, no! Put me down!" she cried.
    Satan picked her up in his fist, elbowing a piece of wall aside to give him some space. "Aha!" he roared. "Now the tables have turned -- I have your daughter! Yield to me, witch, or I crush her like a leaf!"
    For a moment there was silence in the ruined house as I looked up helplessly at the terrified Amy clutched in the hand of the devil. Then Elizabeth let out a peal of laughter. "Hahahahaha! Do you really think I care about that? I've put too much planning into this fight to give up now. The girl is too weak to be of any use to me anyway. Come forth, my loyal cohorts! Come to my aid!"
    This last comment seemed to be addressed to the hellish void, still swirling red and yellow. The devil stood irresolute, as if not knowing what to do with Amy now. Amy chose that moment to fling some bolts of power of her own into the fist that held her. Satan shouted in pain and dropped her. She flew down and came to land beside my wheelchair. Meanwhile there were creatures emerging from the void, spiraling out of the fiery whirlpool one by one. They were human-size -- some of them had leathery wings, others had horns, but all of them seemed to be female in some way. I recognised some of them as friends that had attended Elizabeth's ritual all those years ago. They were all shouting those strange Satanic words and hurling projectiles at the devil's body with abandon.
    "Let's back off," said Amy to me. "This is going to get nasty."
    She grabbed my wheelchair and pushed me into the half-destroyed hallway, a flashing heat-ray missing her head by inches. There was precious little of the house left to take shelter in, but we went into the master bedroom which was relatively undamaged. Amy tried to close the door, but it was instantly vaporised by a carelessly flung orange power bolt.
    "Has the world gone mad?" I said. "If she's still a Satanist, then why is she fighting Satan?"
    "I don't know, I don't know," replied Amy, and I saw that she was crying. "I thought I knew her. I thought she loved me. But now she doesn't care whether I live or die."
    Her sobbing increased. I put my hand on her arm. She knelt down beside me and leaned the side of her head against my shoulder. "I've devoted my life to following her," she sobbed. "You've seen how it is -- I always do whatever she says. She was a mentor to me. But now I don't know what's come over her -- she's got some sort of plan to take over the universe, and she wants me in on it, but only so she can use me like a tool."
    "I know, I know. She fooled me, too. I believed her lies -- I thought she had turned Christian. Maybe it was just because I wanted it to be true. What did you say her plan was? To take over the universe?"
    Amy raised her head. "Yes. Well, not really -- just the underworld. I think she's trying to kill Satan so that she can take his place -- become the new ruler of Hell. In all of human history, no one has dared to challenge Satan, but now it seems like she's got her own little army together and she's staging a revolution. She's got it all planned out."
    "Yes. And we're pawns in her game."
    We looked out the smoldering doorway where the battle was still raging. It looked like all the fighters had grown considerably in size. We could hardly hear eachother over the explosions and the screams of pain.
    "She's only out for power," I said. "Power over the evil."
    Suddenly the wall of the master bedroom was smashed away by someone's giant foot, and bolts of green light thudded into the floor around us. "Oh, no!" cried Amy. "We've got to get away!" She grabbed the handles of my wheelchair and started pushing it over the broken masonry and rubble, away from the battle-site. Nearly all of the house had been blown away by now. The warriors towered over us, paying no heed to what they crushed underfoot. Some of the badly aimed projectiles had destroyed parts of the neighbours' houses, too. I looked back over my shoulder at the unbelievable sight. The witches were attacking their single enemy from every angle, but still he endured. He seemed to have extra weaponry emerging from his shoulders and chest, and they were firing power-bolts in several different directions at once. He looked tired -- I noticed that several of his plates of armour were gone and he was wounded. The witches, too, seemed worse for wear -- some of them had actually been killed by the devil and the corpses lay on the ground, reduced to normal size. But the remaining witches fought on, and they attacked the devil with every fighting method imaginable. They threw fireballs, red heat-rays, yellow balls of light -- one of them had a giant sword made out of lightning that she swung at him. Another was climbing up on his shoulder, jabbing into him with a glittering red blade. I wondered if the world would ever be the same after this.
    "I think we're out of range now," I said to Amy. We stopped and looked back at the battle. "Can you tell who's winning?"
    Amy didn't answer. The devil seemed to be weakening even more now, and his weaponry was being blown away. The witches were increasingly making use of a certain type of attack which involved blocking the opponent's moves with bars of grey-blue metal, springing from their hands. As time went on, the magic metal bars were used to enclose the devil in a sort of cage. He retaliated by snapping some of the bars and waving them aside, but he was on the ropes now and there were too many of them. Each witch added more bars to the cage. Within it they formed a sort of metal infrastructure which held Satan in one position, his arms and legs stretched out like an X. He was still struggling, but clearly the witches had won the battle. They continued to shout out weird incantations, mostly single words like "Ezis!" "Sell!" "Gnorts!" "E-vomer!" while the whole construction reduced in size. I presumed some of them were working at removing Satan's remaining pieces of armour, while others were shrinking him down while at the same time shrinking the cage down. They said a few more final words, presumably to reinforce the whole thing, and then it was finished. Satan hung naked and helpless in his cage, unable to move an inch. The look in his eyes suggested that he was in pain and extremely miserable.
    "Friends!" shouted Elizabeth. "We have won!"
    The witches cheered. Amy and I moved in a little closer.
    "The reign of Satan is over!" she cried. "This is the dawn of a new age! All the stupidity and inefficiency is over. From now on, I will be the leader of the evil forces. From this day forth, we are no longer Satanists - we are Elizabethists! With me as your leader, together we will wipe out all traces of Christianity and goodness in a way that HE never could!"
    The witches gave another hearty cheer. Satan gave an agonised grunt.
    "Come friends! Let us descend into hell and spread the word about our victory! I want to see a big crowd here later, for the official execution ceremony!"
    The group took to the air. I realised that the portal into hell was still open; the table had been demolished, but the portal still lay there on the floor and one by one the new Elizabethists dived into it. As my wife was leaving, she caught sight of Amy and shouted, "Amy! You guard the cage!" Then she was gone.
    "Come on," murmured Amy to me. "Let's go closer."
    She started pushing me forward. I looked around at the devastated suburbia, and realised that the battlefield was surrounded by onlookers -- just ordinary people who had come to watch the supernatural drama at a safe distance. "Looks like they drew quite a crowd," I said to Amy.
    But Amy wasn't listening. "Did you notice what happened there?" she asked. "She told me to guard the cage. Just as if I'm still her loyal servant. As if she hadn't left me to die."
    "Yeah. She thinks you'll come running back."
    Amy frowned. "I've got a good mind to set him free, just to spite her."
    Satan's eyes opened and looked sideways at her.
    "Set him free?" I said. "Not a good idea."
    We stopped a few feet away from the cage and gazed up at the prisoner with his grey skin and his pointy ears. He looked almost human. I wondered if this was the form he took when he was relaxing at home.
    "I don't know if Elizabeth will be a better devil," I said to Amy. "She seems a bit out of control. Like she's drunk on her own power. Do you think she really will wipe out all goodness in the world?"
    "I don't know. I doubt it."
    Satan let out a quiet moan. "Aaaaaaaaamyyyyy!"
    "You be quiet, Satan," replied Amy.
    "Aaaaaaaaaamyyyyyyy! You've always been loyal to me! Show your mercy and set me freeeeeee!"
    His weak dying voice sent shivers down my spine. "Don't listen to him, Amy," I said.
    "Stephen," moaned the prisoner. I was surprised he even knew my name. "You don't support Elizabeth, do you?"
    "Not really, but..."
    "Then why do you not show mercy to me? Look, I know we've had our differences over the years -- you're a Christian, and I'm Satan, and we're supposed to be enemies. Traditionally. But now the real enemy is Elizabeth - we should unite and fight against her! Let's not let the past come between us..."
    "It's no use Satan," I said firmly. "I'm not going to set you free, so you may as well cut the act. And why should I want to fight against Elizabeth, anyway?"
    Satan answered, and a new eagerness crept into his voice. "Because she is the most evil -- the most evil woman -- she goes against everything you stand for -- she must be stopped -- before she --"
    "Oh, spare me the crap! We all know that you're just as evil as she is. We wouldn't be any better off under you!"
    Satan looked discouraged. "Okay, okay, I admit it -- I'm evil. And you're good. But listen -- Amy, I'm talking to you now -- if you set me free, I will give you power. You will be my second in command. I will give you gold, and jewels, and -- and -- and a whole new wardrobe!"
    Amy shook her head. "I don't want any of that," she said.
    "Then what do you want?"
    "I just want an ordinary life. I want to be normal, like one of those onlookers. I don't want anything from you."
    "Okay, okay, listen. If you set me free, I promise that I'll leave you alone from now on. You won't hear another thing from me, or my hordes of darkness. And you can have your soul back. I won't interfere with your life anymore."
    Amy hesitated. "Or Stephen's life?" she asked.
    "Or Stephen's life," Satan agreed. "Or any of your friends and family, or any of Stephen's friends and family. I'll leave them all alone, I promise."
    I turned to Amy. "You're not going to really going to do it, are you?"
    Amy bent down and talked to me under her breath. "Why not? He's offered us a pretty good deal there."
    "But he's Satan! How can we be sure that he'll do what he promises?"
    "Well I guess we can't. But at least there's a chance that he will. I don't think Mum's going to leave me alone, if she stays in power. She hasn't promised anything."
    I looked into Satan's devious face. "I don't know..." I said.
    Amy put her hands together. "She'll be coming back in a minute. I'm going to do it, Dad. Roll back."
    I had nothing left with which to argue. Amy shouted, "Erftess! Snobeth kai-erb!" An orange bolt shot downward from her two hands and struck the base of the cage. It was not powerful enough to destroy the whole structure, but one of the metal bonds was broken and that was enough to destabilize it. The devil strained against his arm shackles. Amy took me back to a safe distance as the metal connections snapped one by one. Finally the whole thing broke apart and Satan gave a roar of triumph. He immediately changed colour to red and grew in size. Curious onlookers who had crept closer to the cage now ran away screaming.
    "I'm FREE!" he shouted, as he stamped on the remains of the cage with his hoofed feet. Then he looked at us and said in a gruff, panting voice, "Thankyou."
    The portal into hell was still swirling by his feet. He leapt into the air and dropped through the circle, roaring "Elizabeth! Elizabe-e-e-eth! Kolna solck yahwehtag!"
    I guessed those last words must have been a closing-the-portal spell, because it quickly shrank to nothing. My old heart had been dangerously close to failing at the moment when he had broken out, because I was sure he would kill me and Amy immediately, despite his promise. But now he was gone. The danger was over. There was an eerie silence in the air, broken only by the crackle of fires still burning in the devastated area.
    Amy seemed strangely unaffected. "Coh! You'd think he'd have more chance of defeating her if he approached by stealth."
    People were coming out from their hiding places now, looking at us curiously from every direction. I was too numb to say a word.
    "What do you think, Dad? Do you think he'll win?"
    I made a weary, non-committal noise.
    "Do you think he'll keep his promise?"
    "I -- I dunno."
    "You sound weak, Dad. What are you thinking? Do you think I did the wrong thing?"
    The wheels bumped over bricks and splintered wood, narrowly missing a dead witch's body. "No, I -- I don't think so," I replied. "I guess the best way to handle the dark forces is to keep them fighting amongst themselves."
    There was quite a crowd gathering now, some of them running from long distances away. Amy slowed down. "Why are they staring at us like that?"
    My eyes widened as I grasped what had just happened. "Amy, don't you realise -- they all saw what you did! They all saw those bolts that came out of your hand, and now they think you're a superhuman or something!"
    A police siren wailed in the distance.
    "Oh no!" said Amy. "Does that mean I'm in trouble?"
    "Of course not! You're just going to be famous, that's all."
    Two cars pulled up on the other side of the road with a screech of brakes. Amy bent down and murmured to me, "Dad, what am I going to tell them? I'm no superhuman -- I'm not even a witch anymore, now that Satan's given me my soul back!"
    An ambulance came around the corner.
    "Hey!" yelled a man. "Who are you guys? What are your names?"
    I noticed a helicopter flying in from the south. The crowd stepped across the front lawn towards us.
    "What was that monster?" shouted a woman. "Where did it go? Did you kill it?"
    The people started to mill around us. In the street behind them, a man with a TV camera approached.
    "Don't crowd us!" said Amy. "Be careful of my Dad -- he's eighty-one!"
    "Does he need medical attention? Is he your real Dad? Isn't he too old?"
    Three more cars pulled into our little street, blocking the path of the fire-truck. A group of policemen arrived on the scene. From all points of the compass, more people were jogging and walking and riding to the central disaster area, hoping to get a clue of what the buzz was about. On that part of the earth, the air was intoxicated with excitement. Way down below the earth, there was a dark war going on. And up in the sky, above the clouds, above everything, angels were playing harps.
 
Some Information About This Story:
    When I was searching for an idea for a short story, I came across this dream that I had written in a book full of my night-time dreams. It went like this:
    I was married to a witch. One day she cast a spell on me which made me old and tired and helpless. She left me alone in the house with her unfriendly daughter. The daughter was under certain orders, and one of them was to return all my mail to its senders. I was in despair. One day, the wife returned home and she was much kinder -- she said the mail-redirecting thing had been just a misunderstanding and she had some of my letters there for me to read. We were a happy family once again.
    I decided to expand this dream into a longer story. So basically, this story was based on a dream. I had nearly finished it when I realised that the plot-line just wasn't good enough. That happy ending was too weak -- a story like this needed some excitement near the end. So I made up this big exciting ending where things turned out to be not as they seemed. The entire story took me four months to write.

 
 
 
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