Evelyn Evans could not resist a sneer toward the young woman who opened the door for her. She noticed Kadinna start to smile at Allan, then break into a pout as she saw Eve standing beside him. Eve and Kadi had once been close friends. They had met at secretarial school, then had started work together at a local newspaper, the Melbourne Recorder, as typists. However, in recent years they had become sworn enemies, torn apart by their rivalry for the affections of Allan Banks. Eve guessed Kadi hadn’t known that Allan had invited her to the party, which was to celebrate the sixty-fifth birthday of Kadinna’s mother, Miriam Holbrook.
“Here’s Allan and Evelyn,” Lesley Thorne said as they entered the lounge room.
Eve looked around at the guests, mainly females, seated in a semi-circle in front of the television set. She was fascinated, as she always was, by the odd collection of redheads who made up the women in Kadi’s family. Kadinna herself had strawberry-blonde hair, as had had her mother, Miriam, before it had faded to snowy white. Miriam’s older sister, Lesley Thorne, had auburn hair, as did her seventeen-year-old daughter, Jayne. Miriam’s younger sister, Gwendolen Tarram, had carroty red hair, while her two daughters, Eli and Susie, both had deep Titian hair. Yet the oddest thing about the Tarram-Holbrook-Thorne women was the fact that they all had dark green eyes, a colour Eve had always regarded as rare until meeting Kadi’s family.
* * *
Throughout the evening as Eve snuggled up to Allan, she stole glances at Kadi. Kadi was sitting by herself in a corner of the room, glaring toward the young couple. Each time Eve looked round, Kadi would pretend to be watching the television, and Eve would snuggle closer to Allan on the sofa.
* * *
After supper most of the guests stayed in the kitchen to drink and talk, or else had gone outside to dance to rock-and-roll music blaring from Kadi’s hi-fi.
By 11:00 p.m., most of the guests had left, so, bored by the repetitive soap operas on TV, Allan and Eve went to say their goodbyes. In the hallway, between the lounge room and the kitchen, they stopped for a moment to look at some of Kadi’s books. Kadi had collected six large bookcases full of books on mainly occult and esoteric subjects, with titles such as, The Necronomicon, Malleus Malificarum (The Witches’ Hammer), The Methuselah Scriptures, and so on.
Eve picked up the greying copy of The Witches’ Hammer. She saw Kadi sitting in the lounge room, stealing odd glances at them, and thought, “She fancies herself as a sort of Elizabeth Montgomery-style trendy young witch!” Although her clothes were of modern cut, Kadi had a penchant for wearing jet black, which contrasted oddly with her strawberry-blonde hair. Her skin was so pale pink that it always looked as though she had just stepped out of a steaming hot bath.
Kadi stood and headed toward the back yard to talk to Eli and Susie Tarram. They were dancing together in the back yard, since the other young people had all left. Eve whispered to Allan, “If you ask me there has to be something wrong with anyone who spends every cent she earns on books like these.”
“Oh come on,” pooh-poohed Allan. He was wise enough to be aware of the rivalry between the two women. “That’s silly.”
“You think so?” asked Eve. She opened the Malleus Maleficarum, penned by Jakob Sprenger and Heinrick Kramer. “Then take a look at this!” She leafed through the decaying old tome for a minute or so before locating the passage she was looking for:
Although most of the people who were executed as witches at Salem, in the 1690s, were the-victims of paranoia, or else were feeble-minded old crones who deluded themselves into believing in their own lies, there were a few genuine witches in Salem. The most notorious being Rebecca Farris, Beverly Goodwin, Christina Corey, and Agnetha Chambers. The latter being considered by many scholars to have been the most evil witch in the history of Europe and North America!
“So what?” Allan asked, after reading the passage to himself.
“Don’t you see?” asked Eve, “Agnetha Chambers is Kadi’s maternal grandmother!”
“Oh come on, that was more than three hundred years ago. Surely you don’t think it’d the same woman still alive after three centuries?”
“Why not?” demanded Eve. Then seeing the odd way Allan was looking at her, she started skimming through the ancient tome again, until she came to a second passage. She read aloud at a whisper:
“Some people claimed that all of the Chambers women since time immemorial have been witches who used their powers to wither their neighbours’, crops and help their own husbands’ crops to flourish. The Chambers were admired (and feared!) across the length and breadth of America for the size and variation of the crops which they seemed to be able to produce even in the most harsh and barren regions....”
Allan laughed for a moment, then said, “Conjure Wife all over again!”
Offended by Allan’s laughter, she insisted, “Quite the opposite. If anything, this is probably where Fritz Leiber got the idea for Conjure Wife. This book was originally written in 1486 by two Spanish inquisitors, and this edition was revised in the USA in 1707 by Cotton Mather himself!”
“Still that’s hardly a mark in its favour, is it?” said Allan. “Considering how paranoid that old bastard was about witchcraft! He was the 1690s equivalent of Joe McCarthy, seeing witches everywhere, instead of commies! I mean let’s be serious Eve, there are no real witches, only poor deluded old women, lonely for excitement, who get a kick out of romping around starkers beneath the full moon.”
So saying he turned and started toward the back door to say goodbye to Kadi. However, Eve followed and took him by one arm, stopping him just short of the door.
“In that case,” she insisted, “why is it that in Salem there were dozens of people who freely confessed to being witches, without even being tortured?”
“Because of a bizarre quirk in the behaviour of the Salem authorities, which encouraged innocent people to confess to witchcraft,” explained Allan, who, like Eve had known virtually nothing about the history of witchcraft until being introduced to the subject by Kadi. “Whenever people were accused of witchcraft in Salem, if they confessed immediately they were never tortured and were sent to gaol for a year or two or else were banished -- which meant that they were free to live in any other part of America except Salem. If they refused to confess when accused, they were tortured horribly, then hanged. So naturally people soon realised that if they were wrongly accused of witchcraft, their best bet was to confess immediately.”
Although not completely convinced by the explanation, Eve allowed herself to be led outside to say goodbye to Kadi.
“Leaving already?” Kadi asked Allan, ignoring Eve.
“Yes,” said Eve, as they turned back toward the house, “we still have a lot to do tonight before going to sleep.”
Kadinna blushed and gaped at Eve, too embarrassed to think up a suitably cutting reply.
* * *
After the last of the guests had departed, Miriam Holbrook went looking for Kadi. She found her standing by herself, looking through the bookcases in the hallway, obviously deeply upset.
“What’s the matter, pet?” asked Miriam (a withered old crone, who looked at least twenty-five years more than her age of sixty-five), placing a claw-like hand on her daughter’s left shoulder.
“It’s...it’s Evelyn and Allan,” Kadi stammered.
“You’re stuck on him, aren’t you?” Miriam asked.
“Yes,” Kadi said. She collapsed into her mother’s arms to sob, “but it doesn’t look as though I’ll ever win him away from her.”
“Then forget him, pet,” Miriam advised, running a withered hand through her daughter’s long red hair. “No man is worth all the heartache you’re going through.”
She paused for a moment, then said, “You know how you suffered at the hands of your own father!”
“But I love him, mother,” Kadi protested. “I can’t live without him!”
Miriam continued to stroke Kadi’s hair in silence for a moment, before saying, “Then, use your powers to take him away from her.”
Kadi looked up from where her head had been cradled against her mother’s chest. She asked in amazement, “Use my magic to take him away from her?”
“Why not? If you can’t live without him.”
“But...but that would be cheating!” said Kadi, shocked, yet at the same time thrilled by the prospect of using her magical powers to get the man she loved.
“All’s fair in love and war,” quoted Miriam. She gave Kadi a peck on the cheek before heading off toward her bedroom at the other end of the hallway.
* * *
Excited by this new hope, Kadi spent hours poring through her books of spells and potions, the oldest of which she had been given by her mother, or her Granny Agnetha. But her elation started to wane when she found that most of the love philtres asked for exotic ingredients such as belladonna, Devil’s excrement, a Hand of Glory (the right hand of a hanged man), dragon’s eggs, or black snowflakes (once common in England, along with black rain, in the days of the lethal pea-soup fogs), all of which were impossible to obtain In Australia in the 1990s.
Kadi was still there, propping herself up against one of the bookcases, flicking through a book with one hand, while yawning into the other, when Miriam came down for breakfast the next morning.
“Oh pet, you’re not still at it?” her mother asked, flicking off the light.
“You’ll ruin your eyes reading out here at night.”
“That’s why witches always have green eyes,” said Kadi. She returned a book to the bookcase and took out another, “So we can see in the dark like cats.”
“Well, how has it gone? Surely you’ve found a plethora of love philtres by now?” Miriam asked. She took a book called Keltic Love Philtres and Charms from one of the bookcases.
“Sure, zillions of them,” Kadi agreed. “In fact I’m just about to pop down to K-Mart to stock up on some Keltic moon dust, faery saliva and a half dozen 5000-gram dragon eggs.”
“All right, so some of the more archaic formulae do ask for slightly exotic ingredients,” Miriam agreed with a laugh. “So why don’t you settle for a nice chant or spell? All you need do then is chant the right words.” She took out a book called Chants, Charms, Spells, and Magical Formulae, which she began to flick through after returning Keltic Love Philtres and Charms to the bookcase.
“Oh mother,” protested Kadi, “I don’t believe in that kind of thing. I mean magic potions are one thing, because they’re really just another form of unorthodox chemistry. But how can mere words possibly have magical powers.”
“I don’t know how they work,” Miriam admitted. “But they must, because witches throughout Europe and Britain have been using chants and mantras for thousands of years...Which they wouldn’t still be doing, if the mantras didn’t work at least occasionally?”
“I don’t know,” conceded Kadi, nose down, skimming through the book she held. She had almost reached the end of the book of charms, when she stopped to reread a mantra through to herself.
Miriam placed her book back into the bookcase and started to take out another. She noticed Kadi reading intently, mouthing the words to a spell.
“Have you found something, pet?” she asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” Kadi said. She handed the book to Miriam, who read the charm through to herself for a moment before reading it aloud:
“Ancient Charms, and Magic Runes,
Evil Fortunes, Glamours and Glooms;
Empty Welcomes and Empty Cheers,
Send XXXX forward, For YYYY years!”
“Whatever do you think it means?” asked Kadi.
“Why it’s a transformation spell to send someone into the future,” Miriam explained. “Sort of like a one-way time-machine, but without the machine.”
“And you slip the person’s name into the last line, instead of XXXX?”
“That’s right,” agreed Miriam, “and presumably...” She started to read the fine print of the footnote for a moment, then said, “Yes, here it is. ‘The YYYY in the last line is to indicate the number of years. However, the time interval can also be months, weeks, days, minutes, or seconds, in which case you change the second-last line to ensure it still rhymes as follows: for seconds it becomes...“and Empty Reckons....”’”
“Empty Reckons?” Kadinna asked. “What in the world does that mean?”
“Reckonings, I suppose,” Miriam guessed, reading on; “‘For hours, “...and Mystick Powers,” and for days, “...and Evil Ways!”’”
“They don’t have a rhyme for minutes?” Kadi asked.
Miriam scanned the lengthy footnote again, then answered, “No, there doesn’t seem to be, I guess they couldn’t think of one. I suppose you just have to use multiples of seconds, or fractions of an hour.”
“Send XXXX forward for 360 seconds, when you mean six minutes,” Kadi suggested.
“Yes, that’s the idea,” Miriam agreed with a laugh.
* * *
The next day Kadi stood tentatively in the doorway of Allan Banks’ bedroom, watching while he lay on his bed reading a slim book.
When Kadi had first been ushered into the room two years earlier, she had been amazed by the clutter of bookcases, hi-fi unit, stereo-television and cupboards that filled almost every inch of the room. Allan’s explanation had been, “I’m naturally lazy. This saves me the hassle of moving back and forth between the bedroom and lounge room.” However, Allan had a reputation as a womaniser, and Kadi’s cousin, Jayne Thorne, had warned her, “Take care if he invites you into his bedroom to ‘watch TV’. That’s an old line he uses to get you seated on his bed. Then he suggests that you can watch the screen better in the dark, so that while you’re watching TV he can move in on you unseen.” Jayne had made no bones about the fact that she had first-hand experience of what she was talking about. However, Jayne had a reputation as a teenage nymphomaniac, so Kadi didn’t know how much of her story to believe. Whatever the truth was, Kadi had always felt uncomfortable watching TV or VCR tapes seated on the edge of Allan’s bed, although he had never made a move on her in the last two years. At twenty-eight she wasn’t a virgin, but Kadi had only ever had sex once, and that had been years ago. So she was part relieved, part frustrated that Allan had never tried to do anything beyond soul-kissing and occasional heavy petting.
After a while, Allan tossed the small book onto the foot of the bed. He lay back and tucked his hands under his head and started to laugh. “My God!” he said. “How could anyone believe in gobbledegook like that? ‘Evil Fortunes, Glamours and Glooms.’ What kind of magic could that possibly work?”
Kadi walked the three paces to the foot of the bed, picked up the book and held it tightly to her chest. Her cheeks were flushed red from embarrassment at Allan’s laughter. As he continued to laugh, she said, “It’s not that bloody funny!”
“Oh come on, Kadi,” said Allan, “I know you’re into all this occult mumbo jumbo in a big way, but surely you can’t take this kind of doggerel seriously? Magic potions are one thing, since in ancient times witches often had a great knowledge of herbal medicines, far exceeding the knowledge of orthodox doctors, but how could this kind of crap possibly do anything at all?”
Although at heart she agreed with him, Kadi was livid at Allan for throwing her own logic up into her face. She said, “All right then, suppose we try it and see?”
“Sure, go ahead,” said Allan with a shrug of his shoulders. He thought, “Maybe Eve was right; Kadi might be a bit strange!”
So Kadi read the mantra aloud, ending it: “And Evil Ways, Send Allan Banks Forward, For a Single Day!”
As she finished the charm, Allan opened his mouth to laugh...
And disappeared without a sound.
Shrieking, Kadi dropped the book of charms and raced over to the bed.
Although she had seen him vanish before her eyes, logic told Kadi that it was impossible. She dropped to her knees to look under the bed, hoping against hope that he had rolled off the edge to hide, as a cruel practical joke. However, there was no sign of him under the bed.
She spent ten minutes looking behind the video and sound equipment and through the clothes in his wardrobes, before finally conceding that, as impossible as it seemed, the spell had actually worked.
Kadi spent nearly two hours reading the book of charms from cover to cover, before thinking of trying to use the same spell to bring Allan back. After taking a few deep breaths to calm herself down, she read out the spell again, ending it, “Bring Allan Banks Back, From a Single Day!”
She tried variations on the same ending for nearly an hour, growing increasingly distraught, until she was crying so bard that she could no longer recite the mantra.
She threw the book down onto the bed in rage and ran out into the corridor, down the stairs and across to the front door. She didn’t even notice Irene Banks, Allan’s mother, as she ran straight past her.
* * *
“Kadi, is everything...?” Irene began. Only to be cut off in mid sentence by the slamming of the front door as the young redhead ran out into the street.
“Now what can be...?” wondered Irene. She went across to the door and opened it to watch Kadi running down the road for a moment. Finally, she closed the door and walked across to the foot of the stairs. “Allan?” she called. “Did you and Kadi have a fight or something?” She thought of her son’s reputation and hoped he hadn’t upset Kadi by making a heavy-handed pass at her.
She waited for a moment, then repeated the question. Receiving no reply, she hurried up the staircase. She tapped on the door to her son’s bedroom for a few seconds, before opening the door to ask, “Allan, did Kadinna...?”
She stopped short, surprised to find the room empty. She had seen Kadi and Allan go up to the room together, and although that had been a few hours ago, she should have heard if he had left the house at any time. Not that he would be likely to go out first, leaving Kadi behind. “Could Kadinna have been running after Allan?” thought Irene. She instinctively following Kadi’s example of searching round the bedroom. “However, he would have had to pass me at the bottom of the steps!”
* * *
“Don’t panic love, he’s just gone forward a single day,” pointed out Miriam Holbrook, holding her weeping daughter. “Nothing bad has happened to him, pet. He’ll pop back onto his bed in twenty-four hours’ time, without even knowing what has happened to him.”
“Are...are you sure?” asked Kadi, looking up at her mother pleadingly.
“Course I’m sure, pet. Nothing has happened to him.”
The telephone began to ring in the kitchen and Miriam realised that it would be Irene Banks demanding to know what had happened to her son.
* * *
“She’s not answering...No, neither of them,” Irene said over the telephone to Evelyn Evans half an hour later.
Although it was late evening, Eve rushed over to the Banks’ home. She did a search of Allan’s room, managing to find the book of spells. Irene had seen, the book but had not taken any notice of it in her haste to find Allan. She had assumed it was one of the hundreds of science fiction novels, which filled her son’s bookcases.
“Kadi’s done something to him,” said Eve, showing the book to Irene.
“But how...?” Irene began. She stopped as she read the title of the book and realised what Eve meant. “But that’s ridiculous. I know Kadinna has a fascination for all of that witchcraft and such, but that sort of thing doesn’t really work!”
“Doesn’t it?” demanded Eve. “Then where is Allan? I tried to warn him not to see Kadi any more, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“You don’t think...don’t think she’s killed him or something?” Irene asked, making Eve pale. Her hatred for Kadi was temporarily overshadowed by her concern for the man she loved.
“Perhaps...perhaps we’d better call the police?” suggested Eve.
* * *
Because the two women didn’t know for certain that anything had happened to Allan, it took five hours, until 4:00 the next morning, before the police responded to the phone call.
The two officers searched the house from top to bottom for four hours, before finally following Eve’s advice to go to talk to Kadi -- with Eve and Irene both in tow, despite a suggestion by the senior officer that at least one of the women should stay behind in case Allan returned while they were out.
Although Kadi was still distraught by the disappearance of Allan, she did her best to appear casual as Miriam fended off most of the policemen’s questions.
Kadi had been carefully coached by her mother. “All I know,” she said, “is that Allan said he had to leave the house and would return to his room in twenty-four hours’ time.”
“That was around a quarter past ten last night?” one of the two officers queried, taking notes in a small pad.
“That’s right,” agreed Kadi.
“Don’t you think it’s strange that he didn’t tell his mother before going away for twenty-four hours?” the senior officer asked.
“Why yes, naturally I assumed he had told her.”
The questioning continued for nearly two hours, followed by a cursory search of the Holbrooks’s house -- with the permission of Miriam and Kadi, since the officers didn’t have a warrant -- then the policemen left. Clearly not satisfied, they promised to return if Allan didn’t come home that evening.
“Well, that’s that,” Miriam said with a sigh after the others had departed. “Barring something going wrong with the spell, Allan will return this evening and everything will be all right.”
“I hope so,” said Kadi, not as confident as her mother was.
* * *
Allan returned at 7:12 that evening laughing at the spell that Kadi had read out to him (to the surprise of Eve and Irene, who, not knowing that Kadi had spent hours trying to bring him back before bursting out of the house the night before, had not expected him for another three hours). He stopped laughing, however, astonished when he found himself alone in the room: Kadi having vanished into thin air.
Hearing Allan’s laughter from downstairs, Irene raced up the stairs, followed by Eve -- who had come over after dinner to await Allan’s promised return.
The two women stopped by the bedroom door, staring in at Allan in amazement. “How...how did you get up here?” asked Irene. She had been listening by the front door, and knew that he couldn’t have entered through the doorway.
“I came up straight after dinner,” explained Allan, “but where is Kadi?”
“That bitch!” hissed Eve. “She caused this, didn’t she?”
“Caused what?” Allan asked, surprised by Eve’s anger.
“Your disappearance,” explained Irene.
“My disappearance?” Allan asked, sitting up on his bed.
“That’s right,” agreed his mother. “Last night I saw Kadinna go racing out of the house, and when I came up here to check with you, you were missing.”
“Last night? But Kadi wasn’t here last night, she had dinner with us tonight.”
“No, that was last night,” explained Irene. “Before your disappearance.”
“We searched your room and found nothing but this,” said Eve. She held up the book, Spells, Conjurings, Charms, and Magicks!
“Well, that part’s right anyway,” Allan said, taking the book from Eve. “Kadi was reading out a spell from it.”
“And the spell made you vanish?” asked Eve.
“No!” asserted Allan. He wanted to believe Irene and Eve were playing some weird joke on him, but saw how distressed they both were. “I didn’t go anywhere!”
“Yes, you did!” Irene insisted.
The debate continued for over an hour and was still in progress when the two police officers arrived at 8:45. To Allan’s amazement, the two officers assured him that he had indeed been missing for twenty-four hours. They questioned him for an hour and a half, then, to Allan’s mounting confusion, warned all three of them that it was a criminal offence to waste police time and money with false reports.
* * *
Over the next few months, Allan began to avoid Kadi. Although he didn’t believe that she had worked magic on him, he knew she had done something (perhaps had drugged and kidnapped him) and started to wonder about her sanity. For the first time he took seriously Eve’s remarks about Kadi’s strange taste in clothes and literature.
* * *
“See what you made me do,” Kadi complained to her mother a month or so after Allan’s disappearance. During this time, she had been refused admittance into the house by Irene and hadn’t been able to get Allan to talk to her on the telephone. “Instead of winning him from Eve my magic has driven him into her arms!”
“Never mind, pet,” said Miriam, accepting the criticism, although it wasn’t entirely fair. “That isn’t the only spell in your reach. There must be dozens of other mantras you could use to win him back from her.”
“Oh no!” said Kadi, shaking her head emphatically. “Things are bad enough now. No matter what happens, I’ll never use magic again to try to get him away from her!”
* * *
Eve was employed as a steno-typist-cum-girl Friday at the Melbourne Recorderin Collins Street. She occasionally had to spend hours in the records department in the basement, hunting through mouldy old newspapers, clippings, and microfiche. She was researching background for a story about a Melbourne man employed at a kindergarten while awaiting trial for child molesting when she found the clippings that she took home to show Allan Banks that evening.
The clippings were more than a dozen years old and were about Kadinna Holbrook; specifically about the inquest into the death of her father, Jason. Who Kadi had killed, bashing his head in with a cast-iron skillet.
“See! I told you she was weird!” insisted Eve.
Although Allan was shocked by the clipping, he was a little less biased against Kadi than Eve was. He pointed out, “It says here that she killed him in self-defence after he tried to molest her, three months after the death of her mother, Miriam.”
“That’s right, three months AFTER THE DEATH OF HER MOTHER, MIRIAM!”
“What...but...?” stammered Allan. “It must be a misprint.”
“No, no I checked,” insi
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Science Fiction
Short Story / Science Fiction
Short Story / Science Fiction
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