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Chapter 18

WITCH

They gathered in Ophelia's house, where Mack and Grand helped her calm down.

"Somebody kidnapped me and put me down there." She shivered and sipped a little more tea.

"No," said Mack. "They didn't. It was your wish. To be with your husband."

"What you're talking about is magic. You should be old enough to know better."

"Mrs. McCallister," said Grand, "I don't know how, but you got down in there without the ground being disturbed. Nobody dug to put you down there. We only dug to get you out."

"Why would I wish to be with my husband's dead body?"

"You dreamed," said Mack, "of dancing with him when he was a soldier in that fine uniform. He was heading out for Germany, stationed there, same time as Elvis. You called him 'my own Elvis' and you kept saying, I want to be with you forever and he said, You can always be with me, Feely."

Ophelia McCallister leaned across the table and tried to slap him, but Mack backed away in time. "That's private!" she said. The teacup trembled in her hand so that Grand took it away from her before it tipped and spilled or broke.

"Ma'am," said Mack, "I saw your dreams. I know how these dreams come true. In an ugly way.

A way you'll hate. A way that makes you wish you had never wished. Like"

"Like Tamika Brown," Ophelia said impatiently. "But what her father did to her is nothing like"

"Her father pulled her out of that waterbed and saved her life, just like Mr. Harrison and me saved your life tonight. We didn't put you in there, and Mr. Brown didn't put Tamika in there either.

You want to believe there's no such thing as magic, fine. But I know there is, and it nearly killed you tonight."

Ophelia tried for one more long moment to hold on to a rational world. Then she gave up and burst into tears. "I want to lie down."

"We tried to get you to lie down before," said Grand.

"Nothing makes sense!"

"You love your husband," said Mack. "That was the center of your world, missing him. But there's an evil force loose in the world, making wishes come true."

"It's that witch!" cried Ophelia.

"What witch?" asked Mack.

"That motorcycle-riding witch! She did it!"

Grand helped her sit down on the sofa in her living room. "Mrs. McCallister, Yolanda White was helping us. She held the flashlight while we dug. She kept the security guard from coming over and finding out what we was doing."

Mack and Grand looked at each other. Why would she believe such a ridiculous thing? Where did the idea come from?

"She hates me," said Ophelia, lying down on the sofa. Mr. Harrison pulled off her shoes. "Get rid of that witch...," mumbled the woman. She was nearly asleep, even if she wasn't quite there yet.

"I've got to go," said Mack. "I'm worried about Yolanda. If people start thinking she's a witch..."

"Nobody's going to believe that."

"Ophelia McCallister does," said Mack.

"Well," said Grand, "I guess you got to believe something, strange things like this going on."

"Mr. Harrison, I"

"After what we just did, Mack Street, I think we definitely on a first-name basis."

"Sir," said Mack, who couldn't call a man older than Miz Smitcher by his first name no matter what he said, "what's going on here is magic, and Yolanda White is a magical person, but she did not cause these things tonight. It was her worst enemy caused it, and she's trying to fight him, and if she gets blamed for it, well it's just what that enemy wants."

"I'll stay with her," said Grand Harrison. "I won't let her go calling Yolanda White a witch." He thought for a moment. "I'll call my wife to come over with me."

Mack thanked him and headed out the door.

He jogged down the steep hill and as he rounded the hairpin turn he saw two things.

First, the standpipe was glowing. No longer the color of rust, it was a deep red, and it glowed as if it were being heated by lava under the earth.

And second, there was a crowd outside Yolanda's house, shouting, and some of them were beating on the door with their fists.

Was Yolanda even in there? When she left them at Ophelia's house, she said she was going to find Ceese.

But even if she wasn't in there, she could arrive at any time, and in the mood they were in, even she might not be able to keep them from dragging her off her bike. Could she change them all so they loved her? Maybe there was a reason witches in the past were mobbedif they were really malevolent fairies, it would take a mob to overwhelm them.

Was it all true? Fairies that might be tiny or regular size. Giants. Possession by devils. Witches that flew and cursed people. All distorted memories of real encounters with beings like Puck and Yo Yo, or real trips into Fairyland.

But the reason people believed in witches in the first placethey didn't just make them up.

Maybe they met Yolanda. Or Puck. Or Oberon. Saw their power. Felt their own helplessness. Hated them, feared them. And remembered.

Did that mean there were werewolves and vampires, too? What about Superman and Spider-Man and why not Underdog, too?

It couldn't all be true. But some of it was. There was real power in the world, and it was dark and cruel, and Mack didn't know if he was right to trust Yo Yo; he knew he was right not to trust Puck.

Maybe the human race had reason to fear little creatures lurking in the woods, or people who walked the earth in human form but were really controlled by cruel entities who could make you love them, or beings of light that could be captured in bottles or jars, and if you turned them loose they'd grant your wishes and then laugh at the agony your own wishes brought to you.

Maybe the mob outside Yolanda White's house had the right response. Maybe powers like this needed to be destroyed whenever they surfaced.

Then again, he liked Yo Yo.

But how could he trust that feeling, when he knew she could make him like her, make anybody like her?

The people gathered outside her house, pounding on her doors and getting ready to break her windows, they were his neighbors. She was the stranger.

Hadn't Ceese said she tried to kill Mack himself when he was a baby? He owed her nothing.

But when he tried to imagine himself joining his neighbors in attacking Yolanda, he knew he couldn't do it. She wasn't the one who put Tamika Brown in a wheelchair. There was evil in this world, but right now, at this moment, it wasn't her.

It was the hatred he saw in the faces of his neighbors. It was the wolflike howling of their voices.

So he kept jogging down the hill until he was among them, pushing his way through them. Then he stood on the porch, shoving aside the men who were kicking at the door.

"Where's your burning cross!" he shouted. "You can't have a lynching without a burning cross!

Where are your white hoods? Come on, do this right! You gonna kill somebody without a trial, just because you're scared, then get the gear, wear the outfit, follow the recipe!"

"Why are you doing this?"

"She's a witch!" shouted a man. The others murmured their assent.

"So when LAPD shows up and wonders why there's a riot in Baldwin Hills and maybe even a lynching, you'll all explain that you had to burn a witch, is that your plan? That's what we'll see when they show your pictures on the evening news. Niggahs riot again but this time it's cause they all 'fraid of witches." He poured all the scorn he could muster into his words.

"Mack," said Ebby DeVries, "I'm scared."

"Of course you're scared," said Mack. "Ugly things happened here tonight. And it doesn't make sense, because what happened, it was magic. Evil. Just like you think. Just like poor old Curtis Brown tried to tell us all those years ago. He woke up and Tamika was swimming around inside his waterbed and he only just saved her life. Impossible! Couldn't happen! Like Deacon Landry. He never did nothing to Juanettia Post. He wished for it! That's all he did! Any of you men ever wish for a woman wasn't your wife? That was all it was, wishing. Then all of a sudden, just like Tamika in the waterbed, he's in the middle of church naked with Juanettia Post right when people start arriving for church."

"Choir practice," somebody corrected him.

"Tonight Grand Harrison and me, we dug up old Mr. McCallister's grave and opened his coffin and saved the life of Ophelia McCallister because she wished she could be with him and that same evil magic granted her damn wish."

There was a murmur through the crowd.

"And what about you? Why were you suddenly so sure you had to come attack Yolanda White? Who told you she was a witch?"

"Nobody had to tell us," said Lamar Weeks.

"That's right," said Mack. "You just knew. You woke up and you knew she was a witch and you had to go... do what? What were you going to do?"

"Get her," somebody said.

"Get her and do what?" demanded Mack.

They had no answer.

"Burn her alive? Was that the plan? Like they used to do when they lynched uppity niggahs in the South? String her up and light a fire under her? Don't you see? That same evil magic got into you and made you act like the most evil people you ever knew of. And you didn't even try to stop yourselves." He looked at Ebby. "Ebony DeVries, what you doing here?"

"Watching you save your loverbaby's life," she said bitterly.

"How do you know so much, Mack Street!" called out Ebony's father.

"Because that evil magic been doing ugly things to me my whole life. I been seeing your dreamsthe deep dreams, the wishes of your heart. This whole neighborhood, I been seeing your darkest secrets in my dreams my whole life."

"And you telling us there's no such thing as witches?" said Lamar.

"I'm telling you that there is such a thing as evil, and tonight you are his slaves! Unless you stand up and say no to the devil."

"You say no to the devil!" shouted Lamar. "Get away from the door and let us through."

"Start by killing me, Lamar," said Mack. "Not the whole mob here, just you. Come up here and kill me. Do murder with your own hands. Show everybody how you're the enemy of evil. Kill a kid."

"Nobody going to kill you, Mack," said a woman.

"I been fighting off these dreams of yours for years, ever since I figured out how it worked. If I let the dream finish, then it might come true. So I'd make myself get out of those dreams of yours. I wouldn't let them finish. But tonight, our enemy started making his move. He forced the dreams through to the end. Ophelia McCallister wishing for her husband to be in her arms again. Sabrina Chum wishing she didn't have such a big nose all over her face. Sherita Banks wishing that boys would find her desirable. Professor Williams wishing people would read his poems. The wishes of their heart. Tonight they finished those dreams. I told Ceese and Yo Yo, and they been working all night trying to stop bad things from happening to these decent people. No more like Tamika! We didn't want any more like Deacon Landry! Maybe Ceese got to the others in time. I know that with Grand Harrison's help, me and Yo Yo saved Ophelia McCallister. And now you want to do the devil's work by killing a woman who helped me save Ophelia McCallister from her own terrible wish!"

"He making this shit up," said Lamar.

"Find out if I am. Call the Chums. Call Sherita's house. You check with Grand Harrison."

He didn't tell them to talk to Ophelia McCallister. Not if she was going to still be babbling about Yo Yo being a witch.

Of course, they might all be infected with the same delusion. In which case, what could he do?

He wasn't strong enough to fight them off.

And he couldn't explain to them about the king of the fairies. Not if he wanted anybody to believe anything he said.

right? Isn't that the dream?"

Lamar took a step back. "You stay out of my dreams."

"How many times have I got you out of that dream? Taken you into my dream, riding along in a clunky car through a canyon and water comes down..."

"Stop it!" shouted Lamar.

"I been keeping you all safe from your own dreams. From the wishes that come up out of that pipe in the ground!" He pointed toward where it was. It was just behind the lip of the hillthey couldn't see it from there. "Go look at it!" Mack said. "Go see the place. It flows up out of there, poisoning the street, poisoning the neighborhood. A river of power, a river of magic, taking your dreams, and I have been protecting you."

They began moving away from Yolanda's house. Out of her yard. Toward the edge of the little valley where rainwater collected to flow down the drain.

Mack didn't know what they'd see. Maybe only the drainpipe just like always. Or maybe the red glow he had seen.

Ebby came up to him. "You really have a crush on me?"

"Of course I do," said Mack. "But I didn't expect to tell you standing on a porch yelling at a mob."

"I don't know what got into me," said Ebby. "I just knew she was evil and stealing you away, only it doesn't make sense, and now I can see that she... that you..."

"It's cool," said Mack. "It's all cool now. Nobody going to kill nobody."

"But I was so sure. Like it was the most important thing in the world. To stop her."

"Come on," said Mack. He held out his hand. She took it. They walked up the hill behind the others.

They lined up along the edge of the valley, looking down. It still glowed red, but not as strong.

Could anybody see that except Mack?

If they couldn't see it, why were they still looking at it?

"Anybody else see what I see?" said Lamar. "That thing look hot enough to melt."

The others murmured their assent. "Red," somebody said. "Red hot."

"Red as the devil in hell," somebody else said.

They were silent. Listening to him respectfully, now that he had woken them from the trance of blood lust.

"I tell you what it is," said Mack. "It's the one who made me. The king of... it's going to sound stupid, but it's not. The king of the fairies. The elves. The leprechauns. He's been shut up under the earth. Imprisoned for a long time. He's mad as hell and he's getting ready to make a break for it. He's been sending his power out into the world through that pipe."

Through me, Mack thought but didn't say.

"I feel it more than anybody," said Mack. "Being found by that pipe the way I was. It's inside me. That's why I see your wish dreams. But I got no power of my own. I'm nothing compared to him.

We got to stop him, and I don't know how. Yolanda, she's not a witch. She's good. But she's got a little bit of power. That's all. She used to have more. She used to have so much, she was the one who imprisoned him. Get it? She's his most terrible enemy, so that's why he sent out his power and tried to get you to kill her tonight."

"Through that pipe," said a man.

"He going to give me that Lexus?" asked Lamar, half mocking.

"How about this," said Mack. "How about if you suddenly wake up in that Lexus, going seventy miles an hour and heading right through a guardrail and over the cliff above the Santa Monica pier?"

"Yeah, right," said Lamar.

"Or you wake up in that Lexus and the whole LAPD on your ass going down the freeway like O. J. and you all covered with blood only you don't know whose blood it is. Maybe the owner of that Lexus. Maybe that's how your wish gets fulfilled. Everybody see you in that Lexus, man! On TV!

Only there's a dead Lexus owner back in his garage and your prints all over the golf club that beat his brains in. How about that for getting your wish?"

"Never happen," said Lamar.

"Ophelia McCallister woke up tonight inside her dead husband's coffin," said Mack. "That couldn't happen either."

"I think we ought to talk to these people," said Osie Fleming. "Find out what's true before we believe this bullshit."

They heard the sound of a motorcycle.

They turned and saw a single headlight coming up the hill. Two people on the bike. Had to be Yolanda in front. And behind her, when she got close enough, when she turned into the driveway of her house, was Sherita Banks. Couldn't be anybody else, those hips.

Sherita looked up at all these people watching her from fifty yards away and buried her face in Yo Yo's back. Yo Yo turned and saw them, too. They watched her put down the kickstand and worm her way off the bike without Sherita getting off first. And when she helped Sherita off, they could see that the girl was wearing a blanket wrapped around her like a skirt.

"What's happening, Mack." Yo Yo called out to him.

Mack didn't answer. He got ahead of the pack and turned and faced them. "Not one step closer," he said. Over his shoulder, he called out to Yo Yo. "Some of these folks got to thinking you a witch tonight. Came to pay a visit. Maybe have them a lynching."

"Nobody going to lynch nobody," said Lamar.

"Me? A witch?" said Yo Yo. And she laughed.

It was a glorious laugh, warm and resonant. It seemed to reverberate from the hills on either side. It seemed to make the stars twinkle clearer overhead.

More people were walking up the hill and down the hill to converge at her house.

"Sherita!" called out Ebby. "What happened?"

Sherita burst into tears and hid behind Yo Yo.

"She nearly got raped, that's what," said Yo Yo. "She was asleep in her own bed having this dream, and she woke up at a friend's house and there was her gangbanger brother getting all set to start a train on her. Yeah, that's what! And you know why it didn't happen? Cause Mack saw her dream and told Ceese and he called his buddies on the force and they got there in time. Isn't that right, Sherita?"

They could see that Sherita was nodding.

"What you people want here?" demanded Yo Yo. "Leave this girl alone. I just brought her here to clean up and borrow some clothes before she went home. She didn't want her daddy and mama to see her with nothing on."

Lamar turned to Mack. "All that proves is the two of you got your stories together."

"Give it a rest, Lamar," said Osie Fleming. "The girl isn't denying it. And Mack's right. It's crazy to be going after a witch like this. What were we thinking?"

"He believes in magic, dammit," said Lamar. "It's not like he's saying there's no such thing as a witch!"

"And I'm saying we're crazy to treat this like an emergency," said Osie. "What were we thinking?

Plenty of time to talk about this tomorrow. Find out how much of what Mack Street here told us is the truth. We can talk to Ceese. We can talk to the Chums. We can talk to Byron. Let's go home and go to bed. Witch hunt in the middle of the night. We must be crazy."

Yo Yo called out from the driveway. "Any of you need a ride up the hill, I'll be back outside in a minute!"

Shut up, Yo Yo, Mack thought but did not say. You're not making any friends teasing them like that.

"I heard that, Mack Street," she said to him as he approached.

"You did not."

"Did so."

"What did I say?"

"You said, 'I'm your hero now, Miz Yolanda, cause I kept them from breaking up your house.' "

"I didn't know you wasn't inside," said Mack.

"So you were saving my life."

"Take that girl inside, Yo Yo."

But Sherita didn't go. She turned to face Mack. Now that the crowd was dispersed, she didn't feel so ashamed. "Officer that saved me said it was Ceese Tucker told him to come save me. And Ceese told me it was you saw what I was getting into," she said.

"I know you didn't choose to do it," said Mack.

"Thank you, Mack," she said. "And for what it's worth, I never thought you was crazy."

Behind her, Yo Yo waggled her eyebrows. But Mack didn't laugh. "Thank you, Sherita. Now you go on inside with Yolanda."

It was near three A.M. before Yo Yo got Sherita back to her folks and extricated herself from tears and hugs and thanks. And not long after that, Mack joined her, along with Ceese and Grand Harrison down Cloverdale, between the Snipe and Chandress houses.

"What's he doing here?" asked Ceese. Yolanda was just as suspicious.

Mack smiled. "He was my ride?"

"You walk everywhere, Mack," said Ceese.

"He helped me dig out Miz Ophelia," said Mack. "He knows what he saw. He knows you got powers, but he believes you're not a witch. There's no reason to leave him out now. And we need all the friends we can get."

"If I can," said Mack. "I'll hold on to him and Ceese and get them inside."

"And what about me?" asked Yo Yo.

"You don't need my help."

"You ever seen me inside there?" she asked.

"No."

"Then how do you know I don't need your help?"

"PuckMr. Christmashe gets in and out just fine."

"That's cause it suits my husband's purposes to let him. But me? I don't think so."

"If he's watching everything you do," said Ceese, "then how can you expect to fight him and win?"

"He's not watching," said Yo Yo. "He just made this place so it locks down hard if I come up."

"So what makes you think Mack can get you in?"

"Cause he's such a lucky boy," said Yo Yo.

"That's why I'm so rich," said Mack. "Come on, let's see if we can all go at once, holding on to each other. If we can't, I'll take you one at a time."


Chapter 17 | Magic Street | Chapter 19







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