HOWLERS

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the end of the end...

Morning found Gail and Olivia in the highest, fluffiest queen size bed ever seen. Their heads were resting against a mountain of the softest pillows, their bodies draped over with thick comforters and a plush blanket underneath. The room looked like a combination of a country arts and crafts fair and a library and smelled of cinnamon and apples. Even her own bedroom wasn’t this comfortable, and Gail was thinking of just rolling back over and going back to sleep, surrounded by all this warmth and happiness, but then the question of exactly where the hell this bedroom is began to nag at her. She sat up slowly, still sore and achy from the night before, but not as bad as most mornings. Fumbling around under the edge of the bed, hoping whoever put her here thought to...yes, sure enough, she found her purse, consequently her Pericodin. She opened a bottle of water on the nightstand and took the pills individually, being as her throat was still sore from being choked nearly to death by an evil witch.

Attempting to wake Olivia would be pointless, so Gail decided to wander into the next room and see if she could figure out where she had landed. She made her way down the hallway, past pictures of geese, farm scenes, and people she didn’t recognize until the hallway opened up into the familiar living room of Rev. Horace and Maudine Swafford.

Horace was sitting in his easy chair reading the morning’s newspaper. He heard Gail’s knees pop as she stepped into the room and turned his head in her direction, greeting her with a broad smile as he stood.

“Mornin’, Ms. Stevens. Slept well, did ya?”

“Um, yeah, yeah I did, Reverend, thank you. How did we get here, by the way?”

He put down his paper and walked over to her.

“Maudine an’ Judy brought you two in and put you to bed, with a little help from me, of course. I pretty much had to carry that red-haired girl. She sleeps like the dead.”

“Yeah, I know,” Gail giggled. She noticed the scent of breakfast hanging heavily in the air, and heard Maudine puttering around the kitchen. “Watch this, though,” she told the reverend, walking back down the hall to the bedroom and opening the door. Sure enough, there was Olivia, still snoring and drooling away the morning. She walked back to the living room, picked up a big pillow from the couch and began fanning the scent down the hall. In only a few seconds, Olivia came stumbling into the living room, her shirt all twisted up, pants slipping down, her blazing red hair a wreck, eyes blinking hard and trying to adjust to the light.

She rubbed her eyes and mumbled, “Izzat biscuits an’ gravy an’ sausage and stuff? Izzit like mornin’ a’ready?”

Gail and Horace looked at each other and tried not to laugh out loud. Gail walked over to Olivia and put her hand on her shoulder.

“C’mon, sleepyhead. Let’s go say good morning.”

There it was, spread out on the dining room table; big, fluffy biscuits, thick, meaty gravy and enough sausage and bacon for several people. Maudine was busy pouring coffee from her old percolator into a white decanter. She looked up and saw the three entering the kitchen and smiled at them.

“Morning, everyone. I trust y’all have your appetites this mornin’? Y’all head into the bathroom and wash up now. I’ll get the orange juice outta the fridge, then we can get started.”

Olivia was suddenly much, much more awake, already feasting on the huge meal with her eyes and looking sorely tempted to reach out and start filling a plate, but opted to wait until she had washed her hands, being as she had been through all she had the night before. Olivia was the first back to the table, followed by Horace. Gail was soaping up her hands, thinking about the previous night’s events. She put her hands under the warm water and rinsed away the lather, watching it go down the drain, musing to herself about how she half expected it to turn to blood as a sign that Elsie hadn’t been destroyed.

That’s what would happen in a horror novel or a movie....too many movies, Gail....too many movies.....

However, Elsie Gryder was indeed destroyed, and would remain so, thanks to Officer Judy and the wonderful woman who had prepared the magnificent breakfast she was about to overstuff herself with. In the dining room, the conversation had become suddenly animated. Gail stepped out to see Officer Judy sitting at the breakfast table, filling a plate while Maudine scolded her about being sanitary and at the very least polite by washing up first. Judy rebutted with something that made Maudine remind her this was a Christian household as her face flushed red and Olivia covered her mouth to keep chewed sausage from flying all over Horace as she laughed.

“Officer Judy! Hey!” said Gail as she sat at the table and took up a plate.

“Sheriff Judy now, Ms. Stevens, what with Herbert...um...well, you was there, child.”

A somber ambiance crept into the room like thick fog and hung over the table as the reverend bowed his head and said a blessing for Herbert Whaley’s soul.

“Yeah, yeah I was. He was a great man, Sheriff Whaley. Liv and I owe him so much, and we’ll never get a chance to repay it.”

“Sure ya will, sweetie! Tell ’em, Maudine. We done talked about it, time for them to hear it.”
“In due time, Judy,”said Maudine in a shushing tone, “now it’s time to eat! Everybody dig on in, if Judy left anything.”

Food, juice and coffee were passed around until everyone had everything there was to eat and drink. Horace was mixing up a saucerful his favorite biscuit topping: whipped butter and sorghum. He made some small talk about church affairs as he ate and sipped his coffee. The four women ate in silence; more to the point, they were so famished from their adventure that they couldn’t help but relieve the hunger before moving on to anything else, but were attentive to Horace’s stories.

After everyone had eaten their fill, Maudine stood to clear the table. Judy placed her hand on her sister’s wrist.

“Not yet, sis. I’m sure these girls are just about t’ bust with questions. We kinda owe ‘em somethin’, bein’ as we kept our part in this a secret ’til the end.”

Maudine sighed heavily, looked over the mess on the table, and sat back down to pour herself more coffee.

“Reckon you’re right, Judy. Well then, let’s get to it. You can ask us anything you like, girls, so go on ahead.”

Olivia was the first to speak.

“So you two are sisters, related to Elsie Gryder, and Horace knows about your....umm....what should I call it? Special skill set?”

“That’ll do. Horace and I both believe that the power Judy and I possess is a gift from the Lord, so that’s why we use it for any good we can do with it. Last night was a good example, but there’s no way we could’ve ever faced her alone, and nobody else in these parts ever had the gall to lift a finger against Elsie, even after she died. Everyone knew about the enchantment over her corpse, so of course they didn’t wanna bring her back to life. Lord knows she’s enough trouble dead.”

“Yeah, how the hell did that happen, anyway?” interjected Gail, her brow furrowed with curiosity, “Did you guys know that was gonna happen?”
“I’m afraid so, dear,” replied Maudine gently, “but it had to be for things to play out like they did. We wanted to be there in the shadows, in case it went badly, but we had a little trouble getting there. I told Judy she needed new tires months ago, but she doesn’t listen to me now any more than she did when we were younger.”

Judy made a scoffing noise and waved Maudine off as she took another sip of coffee.

“We got there, though, and now Elsie’s gone for good,” Maudine continued, scowling at her sister with disdain, “See, the last thing Elsie did as she lay dying was to cast a spell that would keep her body somewhat alive in case she needed it, and would repel and reverse any magic used to destroy it. That’s why her bones and sheets were covered in that wet black muck, even after all these years.”

Gail took a small leftover biscuit and began to chew on it absently, looking pensive.

“We ended her for good this time, Ms. Stevens, that much we can promise,” said Judy, patting Gail’s free hand, “See, she was so wound up in that board that she’d put most of her power into it. That’s one reason she wanted it back so badly. When you threw it into that burnin’ house, you made her weak enough to put down like the mean ol’ dog she was. Momma always told us not to fool with her, and that someday we’d hafta be the ones to take ’er out. Never thought much about it ‘til she started poppin’ up again here an’ there. Then all this started, the Howlers came back, and we knowed it was time. Now can we tell ‘em, Maudine? Been waitin’ all damn mornin’!”

“Judy! My Lord! Alright, fine, tell ’em. You’re gonna burst if ya don’t, I can tell.”

Judy smiled until her tiny eyes almost disappeared.

“OK, girls, here it is. How would you two like to do this for a livin’? The churches all over northern Georgia pay pretty good to get rid o’ demons, bad witches and the like. We’ll train y’all up, no worries, even go out with ya on a few jobs. Truth is, we can’t do this forever. Last night wrecked my hair, not to mention caused a big ol’ crick in my back.”

She twisted her torso left, then right, and every vertebrae in her spine cracked and popped so hard it made everyone flinch.

“So, whaddya say, ladies?”

Olivia was already looking apprehensive. Gail looked from her to Maudine to Judy.

“I..I don’t know, Judy. I mean, yeah, we helped, but we barely made it through this. We’ll have to think about it for a while....like, a long while.”

Judy tried not to look disappointed. She patted the back of Gail’s hand.

“Then you think about it. We ain’t goin’ nowhere. When will you girls be leavin’?”

“Probably this afternoon, after we’ve had some time to get our stuff together.”

“Do you think we could still come and visit, even if we don’t take the Van Helsing job?” asked Olivia, looking hopeful.

“Oh, you’d best come visit me if you wanna learn how to make these biscuits like you wanted, Ms. Scott,” said Maudine with a big smile and a wink.

Maudine, Judy and Horace stood in the doorway of the Swafford house and exchanged hugs and good wishes with Gail and Olivia before they climbed into Judy’s patrol car, headed for the motel. Judy gave them the particulars of the job she had offered them, noticeably piquing their interests but still unable to convince them completely.

“Well, girls, guess this is it for a while, huh? I knew y’all was gonna come out on top when y’ stepped into the police station that first day. Hope y’ change your mind, but even if ya don’t, I can’t wait ‘til y’all come back an’ see us again.”

Judy wrapped her short little arms around each of them in turn, and they hugged her back and smiled.

“We’ll miss you Offi...*ahem*...Sheriff Judy. Take care now, OK?”

With that, Sheriff Judy was back in her car, laying thick, hot black marks as she peeled away from the motel, sirens blaring and lights flashing. They couldn’t help but laugh as they watched her punch the gas and fishtail around the corner. One short hour later, Gail’s car was loaded up and they were finally heading home. Home. The word sounded like it had been uttered by the voice of God when she heard it in her mind. It was a similar voice that spoke in Gail’s head as she slept that night, telling her of all the good work she could do for heaven if she decided to join Judy and Maudine in their cause. Gail Stevens, Witch Slayer. That sounded outrageous. Then again, if anyone were to bother writing it down, the whole damned ordeal would seem outrageous, wouldn't it?

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