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CHAPTER 32 – Witch Trail

Wearing a politician’s smile that never touched his eyes, Tattinger turned back to peer down at The Judge and those grouped behind him, “Well, I think we can dispense with all these charades, now. They have accomplished what we wanted, to draw you out of your dark holes to face the Lord’s justice.” To one of the armed men he said, “Bring the others out. We can take care of them all at the same time.”

As the man disappeared back through the doorway, four other men came out. Matti sucked in her breath when she saw Mickey and Angie among them. They walked over to stand with Tattinger and Morgan, and Matti drew her hood farther forward over her face.

After they had rearranged themselves with Morgan in the rear where he towered over the lesser men, Mickey stood on one end of the row of gunmen. However, Matti noted, his only weaponry was a pair of knives sheathed on each side of his waist.

Nate and Jason both made subtle nods when she whispered, “That’s Mickey! I doubt if he’d stand for the others getting guns if he didn’t have one, too; not if they were actually loaded.”

Tattinger stepped forward one pace and bellowed out, “Hear ye; hear ye! The great prophet, Morgan, welcomes all God-fearing men, and bids you hearken to the terrible justice of the Lord, God. The Prophet is pleased to take note that, by your attendance, you acclaim his holy crusade, his inspired and wrathful quest to cast out evil from the land, his divine authority granted – ”–”

“Hold it!” Jason called out. “Our attendance doesn’t mean anything except we want to see what you people are up to. We don’t acclaim anything, yet. What’s all this about?”

Before Tattinger could say anything further, Morgan thrust forward, shouldering aside those lined up in front of him. He stood for a moment with one fist on his hip and the other holding his staff with his arm outstretched to the side. Then, pivoting his staff where it rested one end at his feet, he thrust with the upper end towards Jason and the others.

“Hast thou come to mock me, killer of children? Think thou that I know thee not? The herald’s words of invitation are not to thee and thy fellow devil worshipers.”

From behind Matti, Charlie’s voice rang out, “Hey, Morgan, you damned phony, did I scramble your brains or something when I busted you in the mouth? How come you can’t talk right, anymore?”

“Easy, Charlie,” The Judge said softly. “He has become very dangerous.”

“Control thy yapping mongrel, child killer, lest it incites my wrath.”

Jason wouldn’t be put off. “Let’s drop the fancy name-calling, okay? What is all this?”

“Canst thou not hear? Doest thou not remember how man has devised methods of imparting his thoughts in words spoken, yea, even to utter words of evil intent? Or are good and righteous thoughts so strange and unfamiliar to thine ilk that their comprehension is beyond thee?”

“Oooh, he’s good,” Charlie said to no one in particular, less loud this time, but still easily heard by Morgan.

“Yeah, but what’d he say?” Billy Ray asked.

Matti imagined Charlie was disappointed when Morgan ignored his remark. And I do have to admit that Morgan is getting into the old English King James Bible speech better than before. He still sounds like he’s auditioning for Shakespeare, though, just with a lot of Moses thrown in.

Gesturing toward the crowd on both sides and behind the Victorian group, Morgan said, “I invite ye good people to bear witness to God’s punishment as I administer His terrible justice. These who have forsaken His commandments shall taste my wrath. These who have chosen to practice witchcraft and sorcery shall feel my wrath. These and all witches and sorcerers and the evil they visit upon the land and upon good, God-fearing folk shall wither before my wrath, consumed by the holy fires of heaven.”

Jason called out, “And, how do you figure you should be the one that decides who is deserving of God’s punishment?”

“The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, clearly anointed me as His choice to be His instrument. Twas witnessed by all who would see that I was given the power to cast them out, the devil’s spawn that laid waste to God’s works upon Earth. And, yea, they fled before me as I called down the power of the Lord.”

“You think that little trick of claiming credit for running the invaders out gives you carte blanche to start your own inquisition? They were already leaving on their own; you had nothing to do with it – absolutely nothing.”

“Lies! Spout thy lies to these good folk, child killer, and thine own deceit betrays thee. They were there when my power was bestowed. They were there when Gabriel’s horn gave word to the waiting world, of the revelation of the Chosen One who shall wield the fiery sword of the Lord’s vengeance. And they were there when the demons fled before me in their unholy chariot even as I smote them with my staff.”

“First,” Jason responded, “let’s clarify something. Just so everyone understands your bias, the ‘child’ you claim I murdered was your adult son who I shot when he attacked me with a deadly weapon. And that was after he attacked the woman driver who had struck his car. It was just a simple auto accident before he jumped it up to something that got him killed. But that was in another world. What you’re trying to do here is unrelated to your son’s death.”

Morgan’s voice was low as he glared at Jason, but it still carried well in the still air. “I vowed then that you would pay for your sin.”

“And, now,” Jason said, ignoring the implied threat, “you claim you ran the invaders away? They were already going. You just happened to tell them to go at the same time. A hundred other men across the globe – hell, a thousand or ten thousand – could have said the same thing. I’m sure some did, at that very moment, maybe even under their breath, prayed for the kryls to leave. Were they responsible, then? Can they now take credit for making the invaders leave? Hell, that’s like a barking dog thinking he made the mailman leave his yard when he goes on to the next house.”

“Thou comparest a miracle of the Lord to a barking dog? The insolence of thy blasphemy alone condemns thee.”

“Look,” Jason said as he turned to address the crowd. It was obvious that Morgan would not be convinced that he was not the Chosen One. “My friends and I captured a couple of invaders. We got them to tell us why they had come, and why they were leaving. The sound everyone heard was not Gabriel’s horn. It was merely a signal from the kryls to their troops that their mission was completed and that it was time to leave.”

“By thy own admission, then, thou had consort with the demons! Thy claims that the demons confided their intentions, even their evil, secret name, kryl, to thee, their unholy cohort upon Earth, I will accept. But, thy claims to the glorious trumpet of the Lord’s Archangel as a coarse sign of thy satanic masters – never!”

Jason continued to address the crowd, “Our captive also told us about the strange abilities some of you may have experienced lately. It said humans have abilities to do things, such as to move objects with the power of the mind, to –”

“Witchery! Sorcery! Thou admits it, then! My agents have informed me of terrible things they have seen. Yea, and I have seen it, too, satanic rites conducted by devil’s spawn set among us to deceive us, to work their ways upon us for our very souls.”

“No!” Jason called back. “They are not devil’s spawn. They are not evil. They are people, just like you and me that have suddenly –”

“Like thee, perhaps,” Morgan said. “Do not try to encompass these good and true men in thy circle of sorcerers. I welcome them to witness what the Lord’s vengeance demands, that ye shall not suffer witches to live.”

Raising both arms fully over his head, his staff pointing into the heavens, Morgan shouted, “Bring forth the others, that they may gain solace in like company.”

From the building came a line of men. Two men carrying pistols led six more linked in pairs. The leading one of each pair was hooded with hands tied in front and wore a rope about his neck to which was tied a four-foot long pipe at his rear. The second man of each pair held the pipe in one hand by which he guided and urged his charge forward, and each carried a pistol in his other hand. Behind them came two more, also carrying pistols.

“I command the foul creatures hiding here amongst true men,” Morgan intoned and swept his hand with its long, bony finger extended, across the crowd before him, “thou workers of Satan’s evil magics, crawl thou forward to the Lord’s judgment, that thou may be known by those about thee, and that thine own destruction not be visited upon the innocents near thee.”

Matti was amazed at the man’s arrogance. She whispered to Jason, “Does he really expect all of us witches to go crawling up there on our bellies so he can kill us? But, if they’re short on bullets, what do they have in mind? Maybe they’ve got enough to shoot each one of us, as long as they don’t have to fight a battle.”

The pairs stopped when they were in front of Morgan. The guards moved to the rear, rough-handling their charges around to face the crowd, and then remained in place while still holding the pipes.

After a pause of several long seconds, Mickey strode down in front of the prisoners and, one after the other, snatched off their hoods.

For that first, brief instant, Matti was only aware that all the prisoners were black. Then, with the force of a fist to her gut, recognition hit her.

“Jamal!” Matti managed to gasp out as her shaking hand clutching at her throat released her own tattered hood. “Oh, my God, he’s got Jamal. And Uncle Joe! That’s Uncle Joe! Oh, my God!”

Nate quickly wrapped an arm around her shoulders, using the motion to cover the urgency of raising her hood back up. In a soft voice, he said, “Take it easy, now. We’ll get things turned around. Probably best if they don’t know –”

But it was too late. Matti could almost feel the hate in Mickey’s gaze as he locked eyes with her for a moment before the rag again shadowed her face. When he whispered in Morgan’s ear a moment later as he motioned his thumb towards the first two prisoners, there could be no doubt that they had made the tie between her and them. Morgan and Tattinger both glared down at her. Tattinger then whispered something to Morgan who slowly nodded. Mickey edged over to stand beside Jamal.

“In the name of the Lord, God, almighty,” Morgan intoned, “I declare these creatures before thee are unholy minions of the Evil One.” Stabbing his long finger towards the prisoners and sweeping it around to rest on Matti, he continued, addressing them directly. “Be it known that thou hast been observed by righteous men in thy dark workings of sorcery and witchery. However, in His unbounded mercy, the Lord will accept thy heartfelt repentance for thy sins, and He will receive thee back into His loving fold. He asks of thee only to renounce thy dark lord and to confess thy failure to abide by His commandments, and thou may be released from the toils of this life and be sent to His loving bosom with a quick stroke of the knife. Refuse, and thou shalt feel the first lash of the hell-fires that await thee in everlasting punishment.”

“No!” Jason cried out. “By what right do you pass judgment on these people? What laws of any society have they broken? You can’t just hold them to obedience of your personal beliefs.”

“What laws? Why, the laws of God! The laws that were given to men because of the curse of sin that Eve, in the weakness that is woman, set upon the family of man. Thou shalt not suffer witches to live, it was commanded! These – these and others among you are witches and their familiars.”

“By whose interpretation? Yours?”

“Yes, by mine; by mine, as God’s chosen vessel of his will. By my judgment that they are creatures of Satan, I condemn them. And, let no man stand before me in defiance of the Lord’s word, for he, too, shall be cast down into the pits of Hell, there to burn in everlasting torment. I –”

“I defy you!” The Judge called out. “I deny your claims, all of them!”

Next, Charlie spoke out, “I defy you, too! I say you’re a phony! Hell, you’re nothing but a loud-mouthed con-man that got suckered by his own scam!”

The doors behind Morgan opened, and out streamed a squad of club-carrying men, lining up two and three deep across the top of the steps.

“You’ve got no right to hurt them! None!”

Matti had to turn to see that it was Doreen who had cried out from near the rear of the gathering. Indignation and fury gave the old woman’s voice a quiver as she demanded, “Ned Morgan, you let them go!”

“This is nothing but a lynching!” a man called out from behind the Victorians. “You throw God’s name all over the place, but you don’t speak for Him. You’re not God’s chosen!”

“Yeah, you got no right!” This was from a woman off to the side, a woman that had followed the Victorians the last couple of blocks.

The mumbling in the crowd quickly grew to shouted protests, more than half coming from other than the Victorians.

“You see?” Morgan thundered, now addressing anyone not siding with those that opposed him. Matti noticed, too, that, with his control of the situation crumbling, he was forgetting to lace his words with biblical sounding pronouns and verbs. “You see how they deny the word of the Lord? You see how Satan has sent them among us to spread lies and deceit? Many of you here saw the power of the Lord as He worked through me, as He gave me the power to cast out the demons that were consuming the land.”

With the protests growing louder and more forceful, Morgan’s own words became shouts. “Now, hear me! I declare these before you are more of the same. They are demons sent to destroy you and your loved ones, to destroy what is left of our world. Destroy them. Join me in God’s holy war to rid His land of this terrible evil.”

Turning briefly toward Mickey, his eyes jerked about as panic engulfed him, and his voice again thundered, “Destroy them!”

Matti watched in horror as Mickey’s hands darted out, slashing his knives across Jamal’s throat, first from one side, and then, before the boy could even react, from the other.

“NOOooo!” Sudden agony surged through her as though it was her body feeling the biting caress of Mickey’s blades. She sagged halfway to the ground, and she reached out with both hands, seeking, grasping toward her Jamal lying crumpled at Mickey’s feet. “NOOoooo!”

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