Morgaine and Gretchen [The Chronicles of Morgaine the Witch #4]
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by Joe Vadalma
Category: Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
Description: The Life and Training of a Modern Witch! A whole new, deeper chapter unfolds in the spellbinding saga of an immortal sorcerer and a reincarnated witch who are star-crossed lovers struggling against the machinations of the demon Asmodeus. Book four tells the back story of Morgaine's incarnation in the present, from her childhood encounters with fairies, who promise to make her a sorceress, to the fulfillment of that promise when, as an adult she is called to the otherworld where with another young witch, Gretchen, she learns all the secrets of magic at The University of Sorcery. There her teachers expound the spells and philosophy of thaumaturgy, while setting tests of skill and character for Morgaine and Gretchen. While there, Morgaine also meets and falls in love with Michael, a sorcerer from the middle ages who was granted a thousand years of life by the demon Asmodeus. When she leaves the otherworld, Morgaine is heartbroken, believing that she has lost him forever. Then, she encounters Michael again, now a well-known psychic married to Melody. Morgaine and Michael can't resist each other and renew their affair. She wants him more than anything in the universe. All Morgaine has to do is use her magic to win him away from Melody. But, she swore an oath always to use her powers to work white magic, never black. If she breaks her promise, a demon will make her his slave forever. Asmodeus millennia long plan is coming to fruition at last! "A fine, original new work of dark fantasy," Horror Sagas. Cover art: Sami Hursey
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [193 KB]
Reading time: 119-167 min.
CHAPTER 1. THE WOODS IN BACK OF PAPA JOE'S HOUSE
It was a hazy, hot day in July. Behind the decaying Victorian farmhouse, the air above the knee-high grass shimmered and wavered in bright sunlight in a way that made the world a dreamy enchanted place and not quite real. Crickets, bees and cicadas droned high-pitched noteless music, ravens scolded loudly, and at the end of the meadow, stirred by an intermittent breeze, mysterious things moved in the shadowy woods. From the safety of an old tire that Papa Joe had tied to the branch of a lone oak, little Denise watched the waving somethings in among the forest gloom. As she swung slowly back and forth, she daydreamed stories about them and hummed low and tunelessly. Suddenly, to her surprise, a tiny man stepped out of the woods. At first she merely stared, not sure whether she should be frightened or not. Mommy warned her many times to be wary of strangers, but the man was shorter than her and dressed in funny clothes like the seven dwarves or Rumplestilskin from her book of fairy tales. From the shade of the trees, the dwarf returned her stare. (Denise had decided that he must be one of the seven dwarfs; he sort of resembled the picture of Grumpy in her book.) After a while he raised his hand and waved. Denise waved back, hopped off the tire and walked toward the funny-looking elf-like man. As she came near the dwarf, he took a step backward and vanished into the gloom. Denise ran toward the place where she had seen him, tripped on a gopher hole and fell, popped back up immediately and continued her waddley run. When she reached the exact spot where the little man had been, he was nowhere in sight. She called out to him, "Grumpy. Grumpy. Where are you?"
There was no reply except the raucous cawing of the ravens that she had heard before.
That night a terrible thunderstorm with loud booms of thunder and flashes of lightning crashed all about the old farmhouse. A hard rain rattled against the roof, the shutters banged and the wind howled when it was caught in odd corners. At bedtime, Denise asked Papa Joe to read a ghost story to her. She was a brave little girl who thought it deliciously shivery to hear tales of mysterious spirits and strange happenings on such a night. Mommy almost spoiled the fun by objecting, saying that she would have nightmares. In actuality it was Denise's mother, Maria Fabiano, who was frightened by storms and crossed herself at the mere mention of ghosts and spirits.
Papa Joe, Denise's grandfather, however, laughed in his deep-voiced way. "Oh c'mon, Maria, Denise ain't scared. Are you kid?"
"No, not all. Honest, Mommy," Denise replied hastily, her eyes going round at the thought of hearing a ghost story on such a night. Suddenly feeling a little chill, she pulled the comforter tight around her chin.
"Besides," Papa Joe said, "the one I have in mind ain't too scary."
Although Maria looked cross, she gave in and left the room, not wanting any part of ghost stories.
Papa Joe told the story of Rip Van Winkle, a favorite in the Hudson Valley of New York where they lived, since Washington Irving was a native son and the action took place locally in the Catskill Mountains. When he got to the part where Rip met the ghosts of Henry Hudson and his men, Denise asked, "Are they bowling now? Is that what's making the thunder?"
"It could be. But I really think its the storm. You can tell that it's Henry Hudson bowling if you hear thunder in the mountains with no lightning and no rain."
Denise's eyes opened wide again. She hesitated before asking her next question. "What do they look like?"
"That Henry guy ... and his men. I mean their ghosts."
Papa Joe rubbed his bristly chin, which made a noise like sandpaper. "Well, uh ... they was kinda short and sorta stout ... chubby like, from drinking too much beer, y'know." He patted his own round tummy.
"Do they wear old-fashioned clothes like in fairy stories?"
"Yeah, wide collars, wide belts with big buckles on them, funny hats with buckles on them too and boots with curled up toes."
Denise grinned, knowing she knew a secret, something that Papa Joe probably didn't know. "I saw him today."
"Henry watchmacallit, the ghost in the story. Or maybe it was one of his men."
Papa Joe gave her that "are you joshing me" look. "Oh yeah. Where?"
"In the woods in back." She described the entire sequence of events and what the little man looked like through her eyes.
Papa Joe became stern and looked directly into her face in that way he had when he suspected her of lying. "Are you making this up, little one?"
"No Papa Joe. I really saw him." Tears welled up. Her grandfather was frightening her with his attitude. She wondered whether she had done something that she might be punished for.
When Papa Joe saw this in her face, he patted her cheek. "Hey, no reason to cry, honey. I believe you. Did he talk to you?"
"No, he dish-disappeared (she had trouble pronouncing the big word) when I went by the woods."
"I see." His expression changed to a worried frown. "One thing kiddo. You ain't been around here long, so I can't put any blame on what you did. But, from now on, don't go near the woods. Never. For no reason. Okay?" Denise nodded convincingly. "Uh, it's getting late, darling. Kiss me goodnight. I'll finish the story tomorrow night." He pecked her on the cheek. "Goodnight, kiddo. Pleasant dreams."
Papa Joe doused the lights except for one plug-in night light and left the room. By this time the storm had abated. Although the rain that rattatated on the roof and the sound of water dripping from the eaves still disturbed the night, the booming was distant, and the flashes of lightning less often and less bright. Denise curled up in her blanket and wondered whether she would meet the little man again. She liked the story Papa Joe had read a lot.
The next day the weather was cooler, and the air crisp and crystal clear so that the mountains appeared green and fuzzy instead of the hazy blue they had the day before. After breakfast Denise hurried out into the backyard in hopes of seeing the little man again. The fact was that she was lonely. She and Mommy had moved in with Papa Joe from the city after Mommy and Daddy had a big fight in which Daddy had hit Mommy. She shivered every time she thought of it. It was awfully scary when adults quarreled, especially when they hit each other and threw things. She was glad Mommy had gotten away from Daddy, although she hoped he would come for a visit sometime, as long as he didn't drink so much that it made him crazy.
Papa Joe's house was way out in the country. Although it was not a farm, it was down a narrow, badly-paved road and surrounded by woods. The nearest neighbor was several hundred yards away. As a result, Denise had not made any friends. Mommy had assured her that she would meet nice kids in the fall when she started second grade. She looked forward to that time, but it seemed a long way off.
Denise sat on the homemade swing until lunch time, but the little man did not make an appearance. At times she saw things moving in the woods, but she supposed they were squirrels or other small animals, maybe even a deer. After lunch, she set up her small table on the back porch, brought out her dolls and had a tea party. She became so engrossed, especially since her dolls were so quarrelsome, that she forgot all about the little man.
That evening, as it was getting dark, Papa Joe took her out on the porch to watch the stars. He told her that if she saw a shooting star, she should make a wish, and it would surely come true. When they first went out, the sky was red and pink and beautiful. A fat rosy sun rested on top of the mountain in back of the house, like a beach ball. As the light faded and the sky turned purple, bright Venus jumped into view, followed a little at time by lots and lots of other stars. Papa Joe pointed out The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper and the North Star, Orion and The Milky Way. They were the only constellations he knew for sure. When the moon rose, he told her the name of some of its larger features and pointed out where the first astronauts had landed.
A light streaked across the middle of the sky.
"What was that, Papa?"
"A shooting star. Make a wish, darling."
Denise squished her eyes shut and wished hard that Daddy would change and be nicer to her and Mommy. "If I see another one, can I make another wish?"
"Of course. You get a wish for each shooting star."
This was the night of the Delta Aquariads meteor shower, so Denise made many wishes. On the second one, she wished to meet a good friend. On the third, she wished she could do magic like a magician she saw on television.
"Oh look, there's shooting stars in the woods too." She saw hundreds of tiny lights flashing on and off and moving about in the forest.
"What? Oh, I see. No honey, those aren't shooting stars. Those are fairies. They carry little lanterns."
Denise's heart filled with joy at the thought they she was seeing actual fairies. "Really, Papa."
"Sure." He tousled her hair and bounced her on his knee a couple of times.
After a while, he told her that it was getting late, and they had to go in. Once Denise was tucked into bed, he finished the story about Rip Van Winkle. While she waited for sleep to come, she wondered whether "Henry" (her name for the little man since she had heard about the ghost of Henry Hudson) would ask her to play ten pins with him and his men. She knew she wouldn't drink any magic beer though. She sure didn't want to sleep for twenty years.
Two days later she saw the little man again. Like the time before, it was a hot, humid day when the haze made everything at a distance blurry and unreal. Also, like the time before, when he appeared she was just sitting, not doing much. She called to him, "Henry, don't run away."
He didn't. He motioned for her to come by him.
Denise recalled that Papa Joe had warned her against going into the woods. But maybe he wouldn't mind if she just went by them and not into them. She walked slowly this time, keeping Henry in sight at all times so that he would not vanish. When she reached the little man, she asked, "Are you really Henry?" Now that she was close-up, she saw that his face was wrinkly like an old, old man, older even than Papa Joe.
The dwarf bowed comically. "You may call me that."
Not knowing what else to say, Denise said, "Do you live around here?"
He pointed into the woods. "Back there. Would you like to see?"
Denise peered in the direction he pointed, but saw nothing except layers of fallen leaves, trees, and a tangle of rotted logs, vines, weeds, and shrubs. She remembered Papa Joe's warning, but thought that it might be all right since she would be with an adult, the little man, who seemed nice. She nodded her head and followed him. As he led her deep into the forest, she gazed around. This was her first time in a real woods. It was nothing like the park near her parent's apartment in the city. The trees were close together, and all sorts of things were underfoot, thick leaves, stumps, broken branches, twigs and logs. The cicadas were real loud, and lots of birds and butterflies fluttered about. She saw little critters, bushy-tailed squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and tiny mice scurrying about in the underbrush. She even spotted a doe at a distance. "Oh look," she cried, but it bounded away. The shade was nice and cooling after the heat of the meadow although it made everything shadowy and mysterious.
After they had gone quite a way, Denise began worry. She glanced back the way they had come and hoped she would be able to find her way back. "Is your house very far?"
Henry turned and grinned at her. "That all depends." His voice was creaky and gravelly. "Some say that one cannot get where we are going. But someone like you only needs to take a few more steps." He turned and walked more rapidly. Although she wasn't sure what he meant, she hurried to keep up.
After a while the woods became quieter. The buzzing of cicadas had stopped, and there were no longer any bird songs. A white mist rose from the ground, obscuring the path. Out of the corner of her eye, Denise caught sight of strange creatures that, when she tried to look directly at them, vanished quite away. They seemed to be tiny flying people wearing no clothes and having wings like butterflies, animals with human faces that scurried up trees like squirrels, and little men and women in strange clothes like Henry's peeking from behind trees.
Finally she and Henry came to a small clearing in which stood a log cabin with a straw roof. Smoke drifted from its brick chimney. Outside, a couple of pigs in a muddy fenced-in area munched noisily from a trough and several chickens and goats wandered about.
Henry bowed in his funny way. "My humble home, my dear. Join me for lunch?"
Denise recalled seeing a movie about a little girl who lived in a palace, and how she would curtsy whenever the butler would announce mealtime, so she imitated her as best she could. "Thank you."
They entered Henry's crude home, which was as rustic inside as out. The floor was straw covered dirt. The furniture was badly made from twigs and branches. A huge bubbling cauldron hung on a hook in the hearth of the large fireplace. Henry waddled over to it, ladled out two bowls of the greenish liquid, placed them on the roughhewed table, sat on the backless bench and patted the seat next to him. "Sit down and have some soup, girlie."
Denise recalled that Rip Van Winkle had slept for twenty years after accepting the ghost's invitation to eat and drink. "No thank you. I'm not hungry. I think I'd better go home."
"Wait a couple minutes until my wife comes. She has a present for you. Oh, here she is now."
A little old woman, even smaller and more wrinkled than Henry, came through the door. She leaned on a walking stick carved from a knotted branch. Her other hand held something behind her back. "Hello, Denise."
"How do you know my name?"
"We heard you last night making wishes and want to grant them." Denise giggled a little bit. This was like the stories in her books. "But, you must wear this." She brought out the object from behind her back. It was a curious iron necklace with a five-pointed star pendant of the same material. "Put your head down."
Denise bowed her head so that the old woman could place the necklace around her neck. After she straightened, she picked up the star and examined it. It was carved with strange symbols. "Thank you kindly. Please show me the way home now."
"Surely. But remember, keep the charm with you at all times. Never let it out of your sight."
All at once Denise felt sleepy and yawned. The house seemed to spin and everything went black. When she woke up, she was lying at the edge of the woods, and it was getting dark. Mommy and Papa Joe ran toward her from the woods. Papa Joe swooped her up in his arms and carried her to the house. Meanwhile, Mommy was crying and yelling, "Jesus, Mary and saints, Denise. You had us scared to death. Where were you?"
Later when things calmed down, she told them how she had followed the little man into the woods. Papa Joe assured her mother that it was probably a dream. "What must've happened was that she got lost in the woods, tired herself out trying to find her way and fell asleep where we found her." He was so convincing that even Denise wondered whether she had dreamt the whole thing. But ... if it was a dream, where did the iron necklace with the star come from?
* * * *
CHAPTER 2. THE WITCH
Two years after Denise's strange encounter in the woods in back of Papa Joe's home, her mother obtained a job in the city, her divorce became final, and Denise's father moved to another state. For Denise, her return to New York was both sad and exciting. As Maria had told her she would, she made friends in school. In fact on the day they moved, she had to say a tearful, hugging, never-forget-you good-bye to her best friend, Sally,. She also knew she would miss Papa Joe a whole lot and made him promise to visit often. Nonetheless, the thought of living in Manhattan seemed to her a great adventure. And so it was.
By then Denise had learned to read and became a voracious bookworm of fairy tales, fantasies, travel books and adventure stories. In her new school as well as her old, Denise was an excellent student, proudly displaying A's and B's on her report card to her strict mother. She also had a deep interest in magic. On their first Christmas in the city, Papa Joe celebrated with them. His present to her, a play magician's set, earned him a tremendous hug.
As the years passed, the incident in the woods became a distant dreamlike memory which Denise no longer accepted as reality. Because she often dreamt about the dwarf, his wife and the fairy creatures she had glimpsed, she could no longer distinguish the dreams from the memory. Nonetheless, she continued to wear the iron necklace and seldom let it out of her sight. Although she barely recalled where it came from, she believed that it brought her luck.
In high school, although she remained an honor student, she became boy crazy, losing her virginity at sixteen despite Maria's warnings and threats. As she grew into her preteens and teens, she lost her interest in prestidigitation, turning to fantasy novels in which the magic was real. Her best friend in eleventh grade, Raven Lenore, like her, had a streak of wildness and an interest in fantasy, magic and the occult. But she was nowhere near as studious as Denise. Raven introduced her to beer, marihuana and boys that rode motorcycles, things that drove Maria to distraction and initiated fierce quarrels between mother and daughter. Raven and Denise often got together to try to read the future using a Ouija Board, Tarot cards and horoscopes. They also cast spells from a book that Raven bought on witchcraft. Raven was the only person other than Papa Joe that Denise had told about her experience with the dwarves. She ended her tale with, "Of course, I probably dreamed the whole thing, you understand. It's just that sometimes it almost seems like something that really happened to me." Happily, Raven was quite interested and did not scoff or look at her as though she were nuts.
After graduation, Raven joined the army, and Denise enrolled at Columbia, majoring in English Literature and Philosophy, two tough subjects at the academically prestigious university. Nonetheless, because she lived on campus, she had the freedom to indulge in her wild impulses, although she kept her grades up and avoided an unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases or a drug dependency. On major holidays she and her mother visited Papa Joe. She was dismayed to notice how old looking and forgetful he had become, sometimes repeating the same story five minutes after he told it.
In Denise's senior year, she was arrested for drug possession. She had bought two ounces of pot from an undercover cop. When they brought her to the precinct to book her, however, Raven, who had joined the New York police force at the end of her army enlistment, happened to be on duty. Denise attributed this coincidence to her lucky charm. Raven sweet-talked the arresting officer and the desk sergeant into releasing Denise with a warning ticket. Afterwards, the old friends hugged.
"I'm off-duty in a half hour," Raven said. "Can you hang around until then? Have a few beers and talk over old times?"
"Sure, I've got nowhere in particular to go."
A short time later, they crossed the street to a neighborhood bar and grill where they sat in a booth and ordered Sam Adams on tap.
"So what've you been up to, besides puffing weed?" Raven asked.
"School mostly. I graduate in a couple of weeks. I have to thank you for saving my ass back there." Denise jerked her thumb at the police station across the street. "If they would've booked me, the university might've expelled me."
"Glad to help. I think it's great that you're finishing college. What're you doing after graduation?'
"I haven't decided yet. I want to write. But, until I get published, I need to get a day job and write part time."
"Doesn't sound as though you've made any concrete plans."
"Not really." Denise sighed, pulled out a pack of Camel Wides, offered Raven one and lit both cigarettes with her lighter. "What about you? I see you decided not to make the army a career."
"Nope. It got to be a drag after a while. In fact, I'm thinking of quitting the NYPD too and going into business with my boy friend."
"Boy friend? Are you into a relationship?"
"We're living together. His name is Keith. He's into martial arts. I met him in the army. He was my hand-to-hand combat instructor."
"So, are you going to teach Karate?"
"Actually no. I was thinking about becoming a PI. Keith and I both have had experience in law enforcement in the military. And I've learned a lot working as a cop in Manhattan. I've met a couple of lawyers who would hire me for investigation work."
"Sounds interesting. But does it pay?"
"I've asked around about that and learned that a good PI can make big bucks if he gets the right clients. Also I've joined a Wicca group."
"Wicca? What's that?"
Denise chuckled. "You mean like all that occult stuff we used to do in high school?"
"Hey, don't laugh. I see that you still wear that iron chain with the pentagram."
"Habit. I always felt that it was lucky."
"About Wicca, yes, it deals with the occult in a way. It's also a religion. We believe in powers usually spurned by other religions or scientists."
"I'm surprised at you, Raven. You never struck me as someone who would join a cult."
Raven bristled a bit. "It's not a cult. Not like that at all. Look, why don't you come with me to the next meeting of my coven. I think you'd like it once you found out what it's about."
"All right, I'm always up for new experiences, if you promise not to brainwash me. When is the next meeting?"
"Friday, start of the new moon."
"Okay, it's a date -- at the dark of the moon. Where?"
"At my apartment. It's my turn to play hostess." She scribbled an address on a napkin. "You'll get to meet Keith, too."
On the day of the meeting Raven phoned Denise. "Are you definitely coming?" she asked.
"Sure. Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Would you mind coming an hour early. My friend, Rachel, who's kind of our leader or president, except that we don't go in for such titles, will be there to explain what "The Craft" is all about."
"By "The Craft" I assume you mean witchcraft."
"Yeah. Rachel is better at explaining things than I am."
Denise arrived at Raven's apartment an hour before the meeting. Raven handed her a beer and introduced her to Rachel O'Brien, a tall red head. Both Raven and Rachel wore dark robes belted with white cords. A scabbard, which held a small dagger with a decorative handle, was attached to the cord. Raven also introduced Denise to her well-muscled boy friend, Keith. After the introductions, Keith left the apartment. "I don't get involved with these witch things of Raven's," was his excuse. The three women made themselves comfortable on Raven's threadbare but comfortable furniture.
"Keith's a real hunk," Denise remarked.
"Hey, don't you look twice. He's one man I won't let you get your hooks into. It's serious between us."
"Lucky girl." Denise turned to Rachel. "Raven said you would explain what this witchcraft business is all about."
"Yes. What Wicca or Witchcraft is really is an earth religion -- a linking of the human spirit with the forces of nature. We meet in groups called Covens on the new and full moons and at festival times to raise our energy and put ourselves in tune with natural forces. We honor the old Gods and Goddesses as symbols of immanent nature. Our religion is not a series of rules or beliefs. What we believe is that each of us has within ourselves the capacity to reach out and experience the mystery, the oneness with all life. Those who wish to experience this transcendence must work, create and participate in their spiritual lives.
"Our congregations or 'covens' are small groups in which each individual may contribute by self-knowledge and creative experimentation within the group structure and tradition. There are many paths to spiritual growth. Wicca is a participatory revelation, a celebration hopefully leading to a greater understanding of oneself and the universe. We believe there is much to learn by studying the past, myths, ritual drama, poetry, music, love and living in harmony with the earth, even science."
"Wow. Sounds heavy." Denise lit up a cigarette.
"Please don't smoke," Rachel said.
Denise snuffed it out. "Is that one of your rules? Will I have to quit smoking if I join."
Raven chuckled. "No. That's only Rachel's rule. She hates secondhand smoke. We Wiccans don't have a lot of rules, except to be good to people, animals and other living things. Another rules is 'Keep an open mind.'"
"Okay, I like the things you're saying, but I have a few questions."
"Great," said Rachel. "That's why I wanted to talk to you before our regular session, to enlighten you and answer any doubts you have about what we are and what we do."
"That's my first question. What do you do at these meetings?"
"It varies. On special occasions we have elaborate ceremonies. For example, when we induct a new member. Mostly we perform spontaneous rituals or simply meditate. At times, we consecrate a sacred space, a circle usually within which we work magic or worship the Gods or Goddesses in a way that is agreeable to everyone in the coven. Nothing is forced on anyone. You'll be able to observe us this evening."
"Are you a cult?"
"Absolutely not. A cult is a gathering of people who owe blind allegiance to one charismatic leader who ostensibly represents Truth with a capital T and indulge in extravagant homage or adoration, usually of their leader. They trade their ability to think for themselves for salvation and a sense of belonging. That's exactly opposite of Witchcraft. Most witches come to the Craft through reading and communing with nature and later finding like-minded groups. Witches tend to be highly individualistic."
"Is there a bible or sacred book that I should read?"
"No. Bibles, such as the ones used by Christians, Jews and Moslems, are supposedly the word of a deity revealed through a prophet. Witchcraft is a Pagan folk-religion of personal experiences rather than transmitted revelation. A witch usually keeps a "Book of Shadows" which is more like a workbook or journal -- only meaningful to the person who keeps it. It contains rituals, discoveries, spells, poetry, herb lore and such. Some covens, not ours by the way, keep a similar group book."
"Okay, what about this magic you do? Do you actually cast spells?"
Rachel shrugged. "That depends on whether you believe magic is possible. Those who do are careful about what kind of spell they cast. There's a saying that 'what is sent out is returned to the sender threefold.' A spell is a formula to direct a person's will to a desired end. Some say energy is drawn from the earth, others say it comes from the spiritual plane or inside oneself or the universe at large. Regardless of where it comes from, our coven believes with proper training and intent, we can perform magic through psychic power."
"Do you worship Satan?"
"Absolutely not. Satan, or the Devil, is a personification of a supreme spirit of evil, created by Middle Eastern thought and occurs in the religions of that region: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Worship of this being is a practice of profaning Christian symbolism. Therefore it is a Christian heresy, not a Pagan religion. The Gods of Wicca are in no way connected with Satanic practices. I don't even believe that Satan exists and certainly don't worship him. You know, the Gods of someone else's religion are often branded devils or demons."
"I see. From what you've told me, I'm very interested in joining your coven and learning more about witchcraft." At this point, Raven squeezed her arm. "Thank you for answering my questions."
"My pleasure. Since you intend to join us, I have a list of reading material for you, books that explain every facet of witchcraft and Paganism." Rachel handed Denise a sheet torn out of pocket notebook.
Other members of the coven arrived. Denise helped Raven and Rachel with the preparations and watched with great interest as they performed their rituals and spoke about their religion and the occult. Afterwards, she asked the group whether she could join them. They enthusiastically agreed to have a induction ceremony at their next meeting -- three weeks later when the moon would be full.
That is how Denise became a witch. At her swearing-in she was asked as part of the ritual whether she would like to choose a special name. "Yes, I would," she replied. "I've read a lot of fantasy about the Arthurian legend and have always admired King Arthur's legendary half-sister and witch, Morgan Le Fay. In her honor, I would like to take as my witch name, Morgaine."
Raven, who presided over the ceremony, touched her with her ritual dagger and said, "So be it. From this day forth, thy name is Morgaine."
* * * *
CHAPTER 3. MORGAINE'S RETURN
"It's for you," Tammy, Denise's roommate, said. "It's your mom. She sounds troubled."
Graduation was the next day and Denise -- whom her friends began to call Morgaine -- was admiring her gown in the mirror and trying to decide at what angle to wear the traditional plasterboard cap.
"Hello, Mom. What's up?"
"Honey, I'm afraid I won't be able to make your graduation."
"I have to go upstate. It's Papa Joe. Madge, his housekeeper, called. She says he's not right in the head anymore, can't remember where he's at and talks crazy. I sort of saw this coming. I think it's Alzheimer's."
Morgaine choked up. This was terrible news. She loved her grandfather very much. "Okay Mom, you go up there. I'll come up too, right after the ceremony tomorrow."
"You don't have to do that. I'll take care of everything."
"I want to, Mom. You know I love Papa Joe dearly. Besides, I don't have a thing to do now that I'm out of school. You'll eventually have to go back to work."
After a couple of minutes of silence, Maria said, "All right. Come up. We'll figure out what to do after you get here. Have a nice graduation. Please don't worry too much. Okay?"
"I'll try. Good-bye, Mom." She abruptly hung up as the tears started to flow.
Two days later Morgaine parked her ten-year-old Pontiac in the horseshoe shaped driveway of her grandfather's old house. It looked decrepit. It's weathered gray shingles made it obvious that it hadn't been painted in years. As she mounted the front steps of the front porch, the railing wobbled, and a step creaked under her foot. When her mother answered her ring with damp cheeks, they fell into each other's arms and hugged for a long while. Finally Morgaine whispered hoarsely, "How is he?"
"Not good. I'm taking him to the doctor this afternoon. As long as you're here, you can drive us."
As Morgaine stepped into the house, she got a sense of deja vu. Nothing had changed since she was a child, the same shabby furniture stood in the same positions, the same faded pictures graced the walls, not even the flowery wallpaper had been changed. The only difference was that everything seemed smaller and drabber. Maria led her into the large farmhouse kitchen where Papa Joe sat at the old scarred table covered with ancient oilcloth. He stared straight ahead with his hands folded on the table and a crooked half smile on his face, oblivious of her arrival, his attention on a faraway world.
From the doorway Morgaine said, "Hi Papa. How's tricks?"
The old man slowly turned his head and opened his mouth, but said nothing. Morgaine crossed the kitchen rapidly, bent down and kissed him on the cheek. "Papa, don't you know me. It's Denise."
Some light came into his eyes. "Denise? Miss, are you kidding me? My granddaughter's a little girl."
Maria remarked, "See. He doesn't remember that you've grown up."
"Papa, I'm an adult now, not a little girl anymore. You saw me last Christmas."
He looked puzzled. "Oh! It's you Denise. I forgot how you've grown." He stood up, kissed her on the lips and hugged her hard. "I'm getting like Rip Van Winkle. I feel like I've slept through the last fifteen years."
She hugged him back. "Oh Papa. Don't worry about it." Behind his back, she wiped her tears on the sleeve of her jacket so that Papa Joe wouldn't see them. In addition to her sorrow and worry about his problem, his reference to Rip Van Winkle brought back those old memories of the dwarves. It's as though I've gone back in time, Papa Joe thinking I'm a little girl, talking about Rip Van Winkle and nothing changed in the house.