February 21st, 2023
A Tale of Two Cats
by Lori D'Angelo
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The first thing you should know is that all witches aren't I'll-get-you-my-pretty-and-your-little-dog, too, evil. And we're not all like, "If you kill your friend Duncan, you could be king." And the top hat and the broomstick and the striped stockings, those are all very Hocus Pocus Halloweeny.
In many ways, witches are just like humans who don't have powers, but they're more attuned to the world around them. Witches can be good, or they can be evil, based on the people and creatures they associate with.
Most people without power have the potential to be powerful. They just don't know how to harness the power inside them or around them.
Witches are like Mario once he finds the squirrels or the mushrooms. They're like humans but supercharged. And once you know that you could be supercharged, why would you settle for being ordinary? Of course, in the words of Spider-Man's Uncle Ben, "With great power comes great responsibility." But sometimes the glamour and glitter of the power blinds you, and you forget the responsibility part.
That's what your friends and your familiar is for, to help you walk the line but not cross it.
For example, creating storms can be fun, but you have to be careful not to get carried away. You have to think about the damage to the crops and the livestock.
The damage that we can do without thinking, that's why they burned us.
Sometimes though, your friends and your familiar don't keep you in check like they're supposed to. Sometimes they do just the opposite.
The worst case that I can think of, the worst case that anyone knows of, though most people who know don't talk about it, is the case of Miranda and her cat, Snowball.
At first, the match between them seemed Heaven sent. They laughed and rainmade and baled hay together and then they danced in the forest. But the forest dancing wasn't innocent, it wasn't like the coven dances that we all did. Instead, it was solitary, secret.
Goody Sexton urged her father to report it to the High Priest, but things had gotten stressful lately between the male leaders and the female followers, and Miranda's father didn't want to make it worse.
He didn't want Miranda to have to stand at the scaffold for all to see, wearing the S for Shame. We didn't know what Miranda had done alone in the forest with Snowball, but we assumed it was nothing good. After that, Miranda looked paler, weaker. When we asked if she was okay, she said, yes, of course she was fine, she was great. And we felt it would be unwise to press any further. We looked over at Snowball, who looked fat and content. He licked his red lips happily while Miranda said that she was just going to go lie down. Snowball purred approvingly. We let it go. After all, we had to rest up for tomorrow's full moon.
“Do you feel the wind?” Goody Bradford asked. She was the witch most attuned to the rhythms of nature.
I nodded though I didn't get her point. The wind felt... well, windy. And wasn't that what wind was supposed to do? Blow?
"Claudia, you, too, could harness the potential of the wind. You have the magic in you. If you just took the time to be still and listen. Here, come sit near me by the fire."
Skeptically, I did. "Close your eyes. Take my hand," she commanded. I wanted to laugh. This seemed like the theatrical witch stuff we did for tourists.
"Shh, Claudia. Listen."
I did, and what I heard was piercing, ominous.
"Holy Crap," I muttered. Then, I apologized for my outburst. "I didn't think this wind reading stuff was real. What do you think it means?"
"Nothing good," she said. We continued to hold hands as we listened to the leaves rustle. To me, they sounded like the torment of the damned. I wanted to shut the noise out, but now that I knew how to communicate with the wind, I couldn't unhear its ominous moaning. I didn't know what was coming, but I knew it was bad.
"Tomorrow," Goody Bradford said, "I'll teach you how to communicate with water."
I wondered what good that would do, but I didn't tell her.
Still, she seemed to sense my thoughts. "Claudia, only the most powerful of witches can communicate with the elements. If I can teach you what you need to know in time, together we might be able to stop this.
The next morning, I woke up late. We all did. On the nights of full moon, we would become creatures of the night. It was colder than it should have been, and, in other times, I might have frozen, but Goody Bradford had covered me in a blanket made from ash and fire. It kept me warm and toasty and sound asleep despite the disturbance of the wind and now the waves.
"Ah, she stirs," Goody Bradford said. "First, we eat. Then, we go to the water."
I nodded. Though I still didn't know what good water dancing or whatever Goody Bradford had in mind would do us, I was curious. So I followed. Plus, I knew her magic was more powerful than mine.
We stood at the edge of the shore watching the waves break.
"Now," she said, "call them to you."
I protested, "But with the wind, we just listened."
"Claudia, isn't communication a two-way street?"
I nodded but thought this is crazy.
"Now," she said, "call the waves."
I did, and to my surprise, they came.
I both longed for and dreaded the rising of the moon. I think we all did. All of us had a sense, though not as great as Goody Bradford's, that everything would come to a head with the rising of the moon.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
For the ceremony, Genevieve would bang the drum and Miranda would play the queen. In retrospect, this casting choice seemed unwise. Who had determined that it was a good idea to give a struggling witch such an important role?
At the shore that morning, Goody Bradford had told me, “Every witch has her moment, a moment that determines whether she will rise or fall. When your moment comes, Claudia, what will you do?”
The sky was clear, and the moon was bright. Genevieve banged on the drum.
The chorus sang their appointed lines, and when they sang, "One night in the forest, after the sun had faded, and the light of the moon pierced the darkness, Diana emerged from the forest," Miranda was supposed to appear. But she didn't. Truthfully, I was hoping that maybe she wouldn't come at all.
The chorus repeated the line. Miranda emerged. She wore a long white dress. With her was her fearsome, awful cat, both of their eyes glowing red. Holy Shit, I thought.
The chorus continued, and, since things were about to go all Stephen King, I wondered if it was really necessary for them to continue saying their lines: “Diana emerged from the forest and showed the world her power.”
With that, the forest caught fire, and I knew that the fire was coming from Miranda.Goody Bradford took my hand. I knew it was time for us to call the water.
"This is going to be hard," she said, "maybe the hardest thing you've ever done. Are you ready?"
What was the alternative, to let all the witches burn?
"Let's begin," she said.
“We call to you, Great Spirit of the Water.”
At first, nothing happened. I watched the fire rage.
"Don't focus on the fire. Call the water."
I closed my eyes and pictured the waves. They began to come to me. But then, Miranda's cat stood before me, and I was frightened.
"See the water," Goody Bradford said. I did. I saw it come close, but it stopped just around the cat, as if he was powerful enough to part the waves.
Some of the witches had run away screaming, but a few had stayed to watch. Fewer still came to our aid.
One of them was my mother. She had been dead for twelve years. Her voice, though, was strong: “Claudia, calm the wind.” With the power of my mother running through me, I did.
The leaves, which had been blowing in twisty turny patterns, came to a stop.
Then, rain began to fall.
Defeated, Miranda's cat disappeared and Miranda collapsed. The fires that had raged died out. All but the ones that surrounded Miranda. They consumed her. She faded to nothing but a puff of smoke.
Goody Bradford looked at me with pride. I felt like I couldn't take the credit.
"My mother," I began.
"Claudia, that was all you."
A few days later, a black cat appeared and wouldn't leave, though I tried to shoo him. Finally, I fed him mice and birds, and he began to settle in. After the full moon and the fire, we could sleep again at night. I named the cat Midnight, and he nestled by my side, purring loudly. For the moment, at least, everything was fine.
Lori D'Angelo's work has appeared in various literary journals including Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, Hawaii Pacific Review, Heavy Feather Review, Juked, Literary Mama, the Potomac Review, Reed Magazine and Word Riot. She is a fellow at Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She lives in Virginia with her two dogs, two cats, two kids, and one husband. You can find her on Twitter @sclly21.
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Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.