As times had gotten closer to Christmas – it was already the fifteenth – KC recognized that the family needed to rally around this bizarre challenge. She committed to use this time to fight Lucia and also to grieve and to celebrate. Everyone had to forget normalcy right now, at least until that “evil one” was gone for good. KC was convinced only that would return things to a somewhat regular routine. And while digging up graves and robbing bodies was not normal, it sounded like their only chance to ever get back to normality. KC could barely fathom the nastiness of it all, and she feared what they had to do.
“So how and when do you propose we get that dress back and reverse that curse?” KC asked. “You need your dress back to get your…vitality…back, right?”
“I need my strength, ma – darling. My darlings,” she said forcefully and for Trixi’s ears as well. “I need to have the strength to fight her. And until we locate my dress, the terror of the tattoo will continue.”
“We’ll get a tutor for Thankful right away,” KC assured. “We’ll explain…something. Thankful can miss a little more school time. I hate to lie, but these are exceptional times. We can say Thankful is suddenly vulnerable to infections or some other thing that required her to be kept away from people. That would work for a little while,” she said confidently. “Yes, strictly no direct contact with visitors.”
“And we shall keep the girl comfortable,” said Oona. And mildly sedated if necessary.
The next day, when she requested a home tutor, KC advised Thankful’s school that her little girl had major challenges to overcome this holiday season, especially with recent illnesses, rashes and contagion, all in addition to the shocking loss of her father.
Once everyone was together at home, they unanimously proclaimed unconditional support for a macabre excavation under cover of night, complete with secret spells to protect them. That night the party of six, all dressed in the darkest garments each of them could find, used Frank’s cherry-red pick-up truck to load up the few items they needed for the dig. With seven shovels, long ropes and dark tarps, and with lanterns, flash lights, work gloves and disposable masks, with their blankets and towels, and changes of clothes, the Great Book and various charms, the party of Oona, KC, Trixi, Charley, Louis, and Frank, set out to exhume the old lady’s body and retrieve Oona’s dress. Thankful was left at home with Frank’s wife Cathy and Little Andrew, ostensibly asleep and not to be disturbed. Cathy was not yet fully apprised of the desperate situation and, depending on how things went that night, could remain so for a while longer.
The gravediggers drove to the fringes of modern-day Westbridge and continued on to the old Elm Street cemetery. There was hardly a house on that stretch of road. With fewer than a thousand marked graves, the small burial ground was surrounded with ancient elm and other trees, and a protective wall of dry stone, refurbished over the centuries with a crude stabilizing mortar in the places where it was needed most. There was a fair sized entryway with a granite arch and the number 1693 inscribed across, wide enough for modern-day vehicles to squeeze through. Frank’s truck was loaded up for what they hoped would be a two hour event. And with Frank’s precious toolbox, likely needed to pry open the casket, they were ready to get in and get out in a hurry.
Though lively with ghosts, noticed only by Louis and Oona who kept their activities to themselves as best as they could, the site was peaceful enough in the dead of night. With help from a clear night and a first quarter moon, the group searched first for the freshly dug grave, only to find two.
Oona discerned the correct location and was greatly relieved by the discovery. Fortunately the final resting place for Miss Colburn was placed in a dark and remote corner of the graveyard. Everyone but nine year old Louis took their places around the target grave.
Louis kept watch of the road for any signs of trouble. A few cars passed in the dead of night, unaware of the group’s clandestine activities. These were not problems; a police cruiser would be trouble, as Frank warned repeatedly that old cemeteries such as this one were favorite rest stops for Westbridge’s finest.
With a brief incantation and several, small burnt offerings, the work crew set about to stake out the area, careful to disturb only what needed to be disturbed and they pitched their tarps around the still unmarked grave. Fortunately the earth was not badly frozen and somewhat loose. Two people would dig at a time and not get in each other’s way. Frank and Charley took frequent turns with KC and Trixi, and they showed steady progress the first few feet. After that the dig grew more inhospitable as the work space became increasingly constricted. The temperature dropped around them and the night cold seeped into their bodies, especially so for those diggers not active in the rotation.
It was early morning and Louis was careful to keep his own cover while he kept watch in the shivering cold night of mid-December. The hours passed with barely a car passing. Louis checked now and then on the diggers who worked mainly in silence, with only an occasional soft whisper. Louis wished and prayed for it all to end and called on his dad and his Opa to protect them and bring them success.
Finally Trixi’s shovel sounded the first rap against a metal casket. Oona knew her dress was within it and she grew anxious to finish the job. Frank took over the spade work and feverishly used all the muscles in his broad body to clear sufficient space around the box to pry it open. With his work nearly done, a party of bats suddenly covered the moonlit sky and Louis unexpectedly shrieked from his invisible perch.
“Don’t worry,” Louis loudly whispered to the party to assure them that nothing was wrong. The boy was hardened to an occasional ghost or spirit, but at that moment, he was flushed with many souls who silently beseeched him for undetermined favors. But as best as he could see, there were still no external threats to the intruders. Three hours had passed in the chilling dead of night. And all his co-conspirators had, so far, kept their nerve.
Frank used a universal casket key to unseal the dark coffin. It still worked. The tall, rugged tradesman recalled the summer job when, as a high school kid in his native Ohio, he’d load the newly deceased into the rear of his dad’s station wagon for transport to the morgue.
After a few minutes of twists and turns of both Franks’ body and the casket key, the release of the lid exposed the next ghastly task before them. Oona, Gran Liv in hand, instructed Frank and Trixi to pull the corpse from her death bed. As respectfully as they could, Ms. Colburn’s remains were laid on a tarp which rested beside the open grave. Oona, followed by KC and Trixi set to work to quickly remove both dresses from the corpse. Next KC and Trixi managed to replace the old lady’s dress onto her hollow body. After three weeks the corpse was cold and hard, as one would expect from an Egyptian mummy.
Then, with her own dress firmly and completely held in her hands, Oona looked somewhat better already. Oona anxiously instructed Frank and Trixi to reinter Miss Colburn and close up the grave. KC joined them as well. Charley huddled with the watchful Louis, substantially shaken by the sight of the decrepit body.
With KC at Oona’s side to assist, the two women headed down Elm Street’s country road for about one hundred yards, to a babbling brook where Oona thoroughly washed the stolen garment. Then, with the early morning hours quickly ascending, Oona hung her dress to dry on a thorny bramble bush. With more than a few incantations, Oona reunited with her welcoming dress. And though tired and depleted, Oona grew more confident of defeating the Great Witch.
Whether Oona had managed to turn the tables on Lucia was still an open question. Although Thankful and Oona were wounded, the Dark Witch had not laid her ghostly hands on Gran Liv. The feared midnight of the Evil One, coupled with the Feast Day of Saint Lucia, ended without defeat, and Oona retrieved her dress, though not before the Feast Day had passed. Still, Oona’s beloved Gran Liv was not the same. The Book, in Lucia’s cold dead hands would wreak havoc upon them all. And though Oona dared not say a word of it to the others, Lucia could raise the dead, unless she was roundly defeated and sent into Final Oblivion. The brilliant Oona had to admit that the former slave girl was everything she would have expected, yet one who would face her final end in the year 2010.
Everyone returned to the house about 3AM on Friday the seventeenth. Oona, ecstatic, went straight to her suite with her dress and book. Frank and Cathy left at once with Little Andrew and the boys retired to sleep together on the couch. Thankful slept with her mom in KC’s room and Trixi stayed with them for a while. The tattoo was still present in all its disgusting glory.
KC hoped the girl would be back to normal by morning or, at the least, the tattoo be visibly faded.
It was Friday night and Oona had just opened a bottle of her favorite French red. “Some things about me will never change, and it is for you I shall always hunger.” A few minutes later, Frank and his wife Cathy and their son, Little Andrew, surprised the house and everyone convened in the family room, where a great Christmas tree occupied the most prominent corner of the space. Through a full and comforting night, everyone’s mind wandered to Drew from time to time, and his absence weighed firmly on people’s minds. Still a festive mood led to another very long night. The kids were scattered throughout the house.
It’s the way Andy would have wanted it.
Over the weekend, as Thankful’s tattoo receded, there emerged a growing sense of strength and self-confidence in Oona. She gladly stayed with the child-witch and her mother on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. In that time Oona merged all that was hers to conquer her passions and replenish herself with the Great Book and more natural remedies.
Young Thankful finally returned to school on Monday the twentieth. It was the last week before Christmas Break. After a week of no school, Thankful looked forward to seeing her friends and resuming her formal education. Trixi hastily departed for Holland for the Holidays and Oona found solace in casual sex and seduction. KC’s holiday depression finally set in. And while Oona was unsure of her success against hell’s malice, everything suggested that the family was safe again, just in time for Christmas.
Finally it was Christmas Eve and once again, Frank and Cathy paid a visit to the house. The kids all went crazy and stealthily disappeared into various rooms around the house. KC and Oona were happy to receive their adult guests though KC retired an hour before Frank and Cathy followed Oona down to her ground-level suite.
Frank’s passion had throbbed for hours. Cathy’s tightly braided, high pony cascaded straight down to the apex of her slightly parted legs which, in the low light of Oona’s bedroom gave her the look of a bare, innocent school girl. Frank never imagined his mid-west farmer’s daughter wife would have agreed to such a thing. He thought back to those times with Oona in New York. The good witch moved her hand down to his swollen sex; he was quite ready to give as well as to receive. His wife watched with interest as her husband’s throbbing organ awaited the next tease from Oona, the next touch, the next pleasure; the next sensation. Then Cathy found his lips and readied herself. She had a rich, musical voice. Frank entered Oona who descended upon the length of his sex and locked her legs around his back to move him even deeper. He knew she would not release him until they were both through. He’d make sure every drop counted with her, and once his passion was released, Oona turned her attention to a welcoming Cathy. And Frank knew Oona loved to teach her partners, and their embraces continued well after Frank was ready again. He thought of his hot, messy love with Oona and watched as his wife made love with her. He was already nearly full again, and waited for the right time to enter her from behind, to slide his organ in, to push and pull in the warm, wet cavern of her love, slow and steady. He recalled when Oona told him of the ancient Grecian wrestlers, when the ultimate pleasure was won by those who raped those they had beaten. And he thought of that tryst in the Army. The trio shared many jolts and bolts of electricity which passed between them. They were joined with legs twisted, all eyes finally drunk with contentment.
And they rested on her bed, pressed against one another, flesh against moist flesh and Cathy begged for more love from either of her partners. And just as their lovemaking resumed in earnest, Oona noticed a large serpent in her wall mirror. A Burmese python, about nine feet long, moved freely about the room; now it was in a blind spot near the bed. Oona fixed her mind and then her eyes upon the python as it slithered now toward the ménage à trois. She cast a Freeze Spell upon its heart which stopped the creature in its path. It dropped harmlessly onto the floor where the dead snake shriveled pathetically. Oona collapsed back onto the bed, unnoticed for the moment by her partners. Frank pressed against her.
“You’re gonna leave me like this?” he asked anxiously.
Called away in the middle of their lovemaking, Cathy realized at that moment what had happened. She screamed and the small and intimate after-party abruptly came to an end. Oona had passed out. Her act of sorcery took great effort.