FAIRY CIRCLE Word began to preach, expecting to have words given to him like last night. But it didn't happen.
He fumbled for a moment. Paused. Tried to remember the sermon he actually wrote for yesterday.
"I'm not good at this," he said. "And I think a lot of you came here hoping that you'd see something miraculous. But I... it's not something I control. I can pray for God's help for you. And I can teach you the words of the Lord. So you can live a better life. Do the things that lead to happiness. Love the Lord with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself."
"Can you pray for my boy in prison?" called out a woman. "He didn't do it!"
"I can, Sister," said Word. "I will."
"Well is he going to get out?" she demanded.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't even know if letting him out would be the will of God. It's God's will we have to follow here. Maybe your son has things he needs to learn in prison."
A couple of men in the congregation laughed bitterly. "Learn lots of good things in prison," one of them said.
"How old is your son?" asked Word.
"Sixteen," she said. "But they tried him as an adult. Can't vote, but he can do time like a grownup!"
"If he be black, they know he do it." A Jamaican accent.
Word was at a loss. He also knew that a lot of blacks went to prison because they did do it, no matter what their mothers thought. But that wasn't a good thing to say to a grieving mother. Or to a crowd in the street that came for miracles and was already disappointed.
"Brothers and sisters," said Word. "I wish I were a better preacher."
What was he supposed to do, pretend that he grew up in South Central? What good would that do, to be a liar?
"How can I know what to say to you? I was blessed in my childhood. My parents were happily married. They still are. My father's a professor. My mother's an administrator. I got the finest education. I grew up surrounded by books. We never knew what it was to be hungry. What do I know about the life your son had?
"But Jesus knows about his life. Jesus grew up in a good family, too. A mother and father who worked hard and loved him and took care of him. Jesus kept the commandments and served God.
And they took him out and crucified him cause they didn't like the things he said. You think Jesus doesn't know what it's like to be in jail for a crime you didn't commit? You think Mary didn't know what it's like to have them take your son away and put him on trial and all the people shouting,
"I'm not preaching here today because I know anything. I don't. I'm too young. My life's been too easy. I'm here today because Jesus knows. It's the good news of Jesus that I want to bring you."
For a lot of them, that was good. They moved a little closer, then nodded, they murmured their assent.
But for others, the ones coming to see something sensational, it was over. They started to walk away.
Rev Theo spoke from behind him. "You doing fine, Word."
Word turned gratefully to smile at him. That's when he saw Mack and Yolanda come out of the door of the church, between the two deacons watching over the collection bowls. He felt a stab of guilt over having performed what amounted to a sham marriage, just so they could hump like bunnies in the pastor's own office. What was he thinking? Even if Mack was somehow magically eighteen, he was still younger than she was. No way did he understand what he was doing, how he was being used. Magically and sexually and every other way.
Speaking of being used...
He felt the invisible hand reach up his spine and spread through the back of his head. It felt to him as if the hand was somehow connected to Mack. And as it touched him, Yolanda winked at him, as if she was aware of what was happening.
He turned back around to face the congregation in the street. "Sister," he said, "your son in prison—what you don't know is that he did the murder he was convicted of. And he killed two other boys that you don't know about. And he's not sorry about it. His heart is like stone. He lies to you and tells you that he didn't do it, but the tears he sheds aren't remorse, they're because inside that prison he is fighting for his life against men much tougher and more dangerous than he is. And all the time that he's bowing before their brutal will, he's remembering how powerful he felt when he killed those boys and dreaming of the day when he can kill again."
"Sister, I pray for your son. I pray that the Lord will turn his heart to repent. But most of all I pray for you. You have another son at home, sister. He's a good boy, but you don't even notice him because he's not the one in trouble. All the time you worry about the son in prison, but what about the son who obeys you and works hard at school and gets teased by other kids because he's a good student and all the time his brother's gang is trying to get him to join up. Where are you for that son?
The prodigal is not ready to come home. Why don't you love the son you have?"
"I love my boy! Don't tell me I don't love my boy!"
"You have the power of healing in your hands, sister," said Word. "Go home and lay your hand upon your good son's brow. Touch his head and say, 'Thank you Jesus for this good boy,' and you will see how the Lord pours out his blessing upon you."
"I didn't come here for you to tell me I'm a bad mother!" she shouted.
"You came here for the miracle you want, but I'm telling you how to get the miracle you need.
When that murderer repents and turns to Jesus, then you'll see a miracle in his life, too. But he won't get a miracle while you don't even have faith enough to do what the Lord tells you to do for your good son."
A fiery young woman standing next to her yelled at him. "God supposed to bring comfort!"
"God brings comfort to those who repent. But those who still love their sins and won't give them up, God doesn't bring comfort to them! He brings good news to them. He brings them a road map showing how to get out of hell. But there aren't any get-out-of-hell-free cards in the game of life, because life isn't a game! You can't change the rules just because you don't like the outcome! There's a path you have to walk. Jesus said I am the way. And you, sister, you so angry with me, I'll tell you right now, the Lord knows the pain of your heart. He knows about the baby you aborted when you were fourteen and how you dream about that baby. And the Lord says, You are healed. The scars in your uterus are made into normal flesh and your womb will be able to bear a child. So go home to your husband and make the baby you both long for, because the Lord knows that you have repented and your sins are forgiven and your body is made whole."
The woman sobbed once, then turned and ran toward the edge of the crowd.
The people who had been wandering away were coming back now.
He heard urgent whispers behind him, and he turned around again. Mack was lying on the ground, with one of the deacons bending over him. Yolanda didn't even seem to notice. She was watching Word intently.
Word stepped away from the pulpit and asked Rev Theo what was happening.
"Woman says her husband just fainted," said Rev Theo. "Go on with your ministry, we'll take care of the newlywed groom."
Mack woke up to the sound of a short burst from a police siren. He tried to sit up and found one of the deacons trying to hold him down. "Got to get up," he said.
"Don't worry, you not getting arrested today," the deacon said, smiling.
"Let me up," Mack insisted, and he rolled over and got up on his hands and knees, then stood.
Yolanda was there, but not watching him, and Mack turned to see what she was looking at.
A police car was at the edge of the crowd, which was even larger than when Mack came out of the church onto the street.
"Move out of the road," said a voice from the loudspeaker mounted on the roof of the car.
"There is no permit for this assembly. Clear the street."
Mack watched as Word stepped out from behind the pulpit and walked to the police car and laid his hand on the hood.
The car's motor stopped.
The cop turned the key and tried to start it, but the only sound was clicking.
The two front doors opened and two black policemen stepped out of the car. "Step away from the car, Reverend," said the driver.
"Son," said Word, "Jesus knows you didn't mean to do it. I tell you right now, he forgives you, and so does that boy you killed. He is happy in the arms of his Savior, and the Lord honors you as a good man and his true servant."
The officer staggered and leaned against the car for a moment, then turned and leaned against the roof and hid his face in his hands and wept.
His partner looked back and forth between him and Word. "You know each other?"
"Jesus knows you," said Word. "Stay out of your neighbor's bed. You've got no right there."
The cop got back into the passenger's seat and leaned across and tugged at his partner's belt to get him back into the car. They tried to start the engine again. Again.
Then Word laid his hand on the hood of the car and it started right up. They backed out of the crowd, did a Y-turn, and headed away.
them for yourself, and admit them all to God, and let the miracle change your life?"
"Did he heal anybody?" asked Mack quietly.
Yo Yo turned to him and grinned. "Oh, he's been doing miracles. Mostly, though, he's been whupping ass and taking names. I tell you, if this was what Jesus did when he was a mortal, no wonder they crucified him."
"I had cold dreams again," said Mack.
"I figured you did," said Yo Yo. "But I also figured I'd best wait till you were done before I woke you up."
"It's bad stuff, Yo Yo," said Mack. "We got to get back to Baldwin Hills and talk to Ceese and get going on saving the ones we can."
"It's a shame you missed the show," said Yolanda. "This Word boy, he's good at it. Oberon's got him a fine pony this time."
"He's Oberon's pony?"
"I saw all his plans, remember?"
"Yo Yo, there's terrible things happening in my neighborhood. Worse than last night, some of them. We got to go."
"Good idea." She took his hand and led him quickly away from the sidewalk in front of the church.
When they were free of the crowd, they began to jog, then to run. "So what did you think about the sex?" asked Yo Yo as they ran.
Mack couldn't believe she was asking him like that, as if it had been a movie. What did you think about the movie? Like it? Plan to see it again? Plan to recommend it to your friends?
"Oh, I forgot, you're shy."
"There's people in trouble," said Mack. "And the sex wasn't all that."
"Don't lie," said Yo Yo. "You want me again right now."
"No," said Mack truthfully. "I don't."
They jogged in silence for a few moments. "That son-of-a-bitch made you a eunuch."
"Stop!" she shouted.
At first he thought she was shouting at him, but then a police car pulled over to the curb. Yo Yo grabbed the passenger door, pulled it open, and said, "Get in, Mack Street, this is our ride."
The two officers in front welcomed them cheerfully and the driver listened as Yolanda explained where they were going. He reached over and switched on the siren and they made their way quickly back toward Baldwin Hills.
"What's going on?" asked Mack.
"I made love to you, and that filled me up with some of the power that my dear husband stored up in you. I could make this car fly right now, but only for a little way, so I thought speeding along the ground would be good enough."
Mack ignored the fact that she thought of "my husband" as someone other than him. "What do you mean, Word's his pony?"
"He's preaching what Oberon wants him to preach. And the miracles he's doing, he's not turning them over to Puck to make them perverse. He's playing them straight. But that's the worst trickery of all, because it's all about building up Word into some kind of miracle-working saint. Wish you could have seen it. Word's a great one. He uses language almost as well as Shakespeare. And it isn't written down, he speaks it right out of his head. It's like poetry."
She quoted Word as if his sermon had been broken up into lines of verse: Do you really need to come to me To face your sins?
Can't you see them for yourself And admit them all to God And let the miracle change your life?
"Shakespeare was better than that," said Mack.
"Not off the top of his head, he wasn't," she said. "He stammered, you know. When he didn't have written lines to say. Stammered. Not real bad. Just couldn't get words out. Made him quiet in company. Ironic."
"So Oberon doesn't give Word the words to say."
"Oberon gives him knowledge. Ideas. Then Word says what he says and Oberon makes it true.
Or makes the people hearing him believe it's true. Whatever works."
"Oh, sure they are," said Yo Yo. "Tells a woman to go home and save her baby from choking, and Oberon makes it so the baby chokes just as she gets there. That kind of thing. And some of it's probably true."
"So he doesn't really heal anybody."
"Of course he does. Don't you get it? That's the trick. He uses the power he stored in you to make wishes come true. But it'll also make Word famous. Important. A saint. And Word is a good boy. Smart. He understands people. Oberon doesn't understand anybody. So he trusts Word to show him what's good to do in order to win people over. By the time he's done, Word'll be king of the world."
"We don't have kings in America."
"You will," said Yo Yo. "Because the prophet of the beast is speaking, and can the beast be far behind?"
"I had a dog once," said the officer who wasn't driving. "He was always tagging along behind me. On my bike. Got killed trying to cross a street that I barely made it across before the light."
The officer's cheery little observation silenced them for the last couple of minutes of the drive.
Mack wondered what the policeman was thinking, underneath Yo Yo's control of him. Did he seethe with resentment? Would he, when his own will reemerged? Or was he oblivious?
For that matter, am I?
Nobody should have that kind of power, to make someone want what they didn't want, or feel what they didn't feel.
Now that so many people were aware of the perverse way magic was invading their neighborhood, Mack and Yo Yo and Ceese had help.
They were too late to stop Nathaniel Brady from waking up in midair, having dreamed that he was flying. But Ceese phoned to waken his parents, who found Nathaniel lying on the driveway, suffering from a severe concussion and several broken bones. The paramedics assured them that he would not have wakened on his own and probably would have been dead by the time anybody found him in the morning. "What, did he think he was Superman?" asked a paramedic.
And when Dwight Majors found himself in the midst of making love to Kim Hiatt, Miz Smitcher was at the Hiatts' door and was able to calm everybody down and reassure them that it wasn't rape.
It took more than a little tearful conversation before it emerged that it wasn't Dwight who had been wishing for Kim—Dwight was happily married. It was Kim whose wish brought her high school flame to her as he was making love to his wife. In fact, it was Michelle Majors who took the most persuading, even though she had seen her husband simply vanish.
Madeline Tucker was able to borrow a really huge brassiere from Estelle Woener so that thirteen-year-old Felicia Danes could deal with the enormous breasts she had grown during the night.
Grand Harrison and Ophelia McCallister helped soothe a hysterical Andre and Monique Simpson after they found the desiccated corpse of their six-month-dead baby between them in their bed.
"We knew about the wishes last night," said Andre, when he could talk. "We tried not to wish for our baby to be with us."
"I don't think you can tell yourself what to wish, deep down," said Ophelia. "Because I didn't wish to be with my husband, not consciously. I thought I was waiting to see him again in heaven."
Aaron Graves, Alonzo's little brother, was returned by the firefighters who found him in his pajamas, straddling a firehose at the top of a crane that was working on saving the top story of a four-story apartment building.
And Mack performed CPR on Denise Johnston until she revived. He wouldn't tell her who had wished her dead, or why.
It was after eleven at night before all the wishes had been dealt with, as much as possible, and about seventy adults were gathered in front of Yolanda White's house. This time they weren't a mob.
They were frightened—more than ever—but Mack and Yolanda and Ceese had the only explanation that fit all the facts, and they were disposed to listen.
"It's going to go on like this," said Yolanda. "Night after night. Every time Oberon, bless his heart, uses his power in this world, your wishes are going to be set loose to break hearts and cause havoc."
"But we don't wish for these things," Ophelia McCallister insisted.
"Your wishes get twisted. And you can't stop them. They're already stored up."
Mack was grateful that she didn't explain exactly where they were stored.
"So we can't do anything?" demanded Myron Graves. "Both my boys tonight—we're lucky social services didn't come and take them away because we're negligent parents and don't watch them at night."
"Why is it happening now?" asked Denise Johnston. "And can the same wish be granted again? I have a right to know who's wishing death on me."
"No, you don't," said Mack sharply. "The person who had that wish never would have acted on it. It was malice but not murder. And I don't think it'll happen again to anybody. Except maybe for the little kids, because they didn't understand their danger so they still wish for the same things."
A lot of people wanted to know who it was, but Yolanda refused to tell. "He doesn't know that Oberon is using him as a tool. He's a good man and it would tear him apart to know what's happening. And it wouldn't change a thing because Oberon will get his way, as long as he's imprisoned and has to work through a pony here in your world."
"It's a horse?" asked Miz Smitcher.
"He rides a human being like a pony. His power is irresistible."
"So we can't stop him," said Grand.
"Not by talking to the poor tool he's using. But yes, I think we can stop him. And by 'we' I mean all of us. All of you."
They promised that they were willing.
"Oh, you're willing now," said Yolanda. "We'll see what you think when I tell you how it's got to go."
"What can we do anyway?" said Romaine Tyler. "I'll do anything if it can undo the damage that's been done."
"It can't undo real things. Magic things, yes, they'll fade. But the injury to your father, that was caused by a real I-beam falling on him."
"Then why can't my wish be granted before you stop all the wishing?" said Romaine. "Because every moment of my life I wish I had never wished my stupid wish."
"How can we bury our baby again?" said Andre Simpson. "How can we explain even having his body?"
"We'll work it out," said Yolanda. "But first we got to stop any more of these damned wishes being granted. Or are any of you curious to see how tomorrow night's wishes turn out?"
"I don't have the power to stop him, not by myself. I've never been as powerful as he is anyway, and I've spent the last few centuries with my soul divided from my wanderer."
"Whatever that means," murmured Miz Smitcher to Mack.
"Here's what has to happen. My soul has to be freed from its captivity and rejoined to me.
When that happens, in that very moment, the way these things are intertwined, it means that Oberon will be freed from his captivity. But his wanderer is gone, too, and he'll be hungry to rejoin it. He'll come first to Fairyland, and then he'll seek a passage through to this world."
"Kill him? What part of the word 'immortal' don't you understand?" said Yolanda. "No, my poor husband Oberon is dangerous right now, but it's because he isn't really himself. I wish you could have known him back in the day. He was glorious then, full of light. People thought of him as a god, and he deserved it. But over the centuries he got bored and started playing pranks to amuse himself, and after a while they stopped being funny and started being mean. He competed with Puck to see which one could be more vicious, and when Puck refused to go on because they were starting to hurt people, Oberon enslaved him and made him continue to play."
"Who are you people?" said Miz Smitcher. "What gives you the right?"
"That's how I felt," said Yolanda. "What gives us the right? Nothing! That's why I imprisoned my husband in the first place. Who else had the power to do it? But during his captivity he deliberately removed from himself every shred of goodness. Everything I ever loved about him, he cast out of himself and became a terrible thing. A monster."
"And you're going to let him loose?" asked Grand.
"He's going to get loose one way or the other," said Yolanda. "He's been storing up power, and his wanderer is controlling a young man that he's going to propel to power in our world. Right now the boy's own virtue is still shaping his actions, but as Oberon puts more and more power in him, he'll crush the goodness of that boy and the world will be ruled by a being more cruel than Hitler or Stalin or Saddam. That's what will happen if we do nothing—not to mention all the destruction in this neighborhood when all those wishes come true."
"How did he choose this neighborhood?" asked Andre. "What did we do?"
"If something bad coming, of course it happens to the niggahs," said Dwight Majors.
"You got no reason to be so bitter," said Miz Smitcher. "You wasn't even alive during Jim Crow."
"Just cause you had it worse don't mean I got to like what happens now," said Dwight.
"Maybe it was just the fact that he found that drainpipe," said Yolanda, "or it might be something more than that. Maybe your wishes drew him. Maybe black people in America are more passionate, have stronger wishes. And maybe he was drawn to Baldwin Hills because this is a neighborhood where black people actually believe they can make their wishes come true."
"You still haven't told us what you expect us to do," said Ophelia.
"I need you to form a fairy circle," she said.
Byron Williams laughed aloud. "We're supposed to dance in the meadow at dawn? Only one problem—we aren't fairies."
"You're forgetting who I am," said Yolanda. "If it's my circle, joined to me, then it's a fairy
"So we all join hands and sing 'Ring Around the Rosie'?" asked Byron skeptically.
"Long as it ain't 'Eeny Meeny Minie Moe,' " said Moses Jones.
"We form the circle here, now," said Yolanda. "I touch you all, and a part of me is in you. Then, later on, you form the circle again in a different place, and even though this body won't be with you, I'll still be connected to you, and as you dance, your power will flow into me so I can capture him and imprison him again."
"Of course we'll all do it," said Grand impatiently.
"There's no of course about it," said Yolanda. "Before you decide, let's find out where the final circle is going to be. Mack... in Fairyland, there should be a place of standing stones. They might be fine columns, or they might look like boulders, or something in between."
Mack nodded. "I've been there."
"Do you know where it is in this world?"
"Oh, yeah. Ceese and me both know. Cause I wrote a message there for Puck, and it showed up in the real world."
"Both worlds are real enough," said Yolanda. "And that one's realer than this one."
"You want to know where the connection is?" asked Mack. "It's where Avenue of the Stars crosses Olympic. Right on that bridge."
"Then that's where the fairy circle needs to form up at dawn," said Yolanda. "Exactly at dawn."
"Whoa," said Ceese. "That's not going to work."
"Why not?" asked Yolanda.
"Century City's got security. You suddenly get seventy black people there, forming a circle that blocks Avenue of the Stars, with no parade permit, and they're going to call LAPD down on us so fast—"
"The circle doesn't have to be in place for very long," said Yolanda.
"Depends on how fast Oberon flies when he gets loose. And how fast you can run."
"Me?" asked Ceese.
"You ain't in that circle, I can tell you that," said Yolanda. "Nor Mack. I got other work for the two of you."
"Oh, you'll see plenty," said Yolanda. "And you'll absolutely know when it's over. Whichever way it turns out."
"So you might not win?" asked Grand.
"If it was easy, I wouldn't need you-all's help."
"Is it dangerous?" asked Moses Jones.
"Oh, shut up, you girly-man," said Madeline Tucker.
"Yes, it's dangerous," said Yolanda.
"Could we, like, die?" asked Kim Hiatt.
"You're mortals," said Yolanda. "Hasn't it dawned on you that you're going to die someday, no matter what?"
That was such a stupid thing to say. Mack looked at Ceese for help.
Ceese stepped in front of her. "It's dangerous," he said firmly. "But not as dangerous as not stopping him. Yes, you're putting your lives at risk. But if you don't do it, then the wishes he releases in the months and years to come will put your families at risk. And what he does with his pony—his slave—that will put the whole human race at risk. So we're the army. We're the special forces. If we succeed in our mission, then the whole world is safe and they won't even know the battle was fought.
And if we fail, then those of us who die are merely the first of many, many thousands. We're like the people on that airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 instead of blowing up the Capitol."
"They all dead," pointed out Grand.
"And they was trapped in a plane," said Willie Joe Danes. "They had no choice."
"They had the choice to sit there and do nothing and let even more people die," said Ceese. "We got the same choice. But that's why Yolanda White here wanted to make sure you understood just what's at stake, before you agree to be in the fairy circle. Because whoever's in it, they can't change their minds and run away. You got to see it through. And no shame if you say you can't do it! No shame in that! Just be truthful with yourself."
Fifteen minutes later, only five of the adults from Baldwin Hills had left, and a dozen more had arrived, so there were seventy-seven now who would form the circle. Some were young adults, some were quite old. Yolanda assured them that physical strength didn't matter. "It's the fire in your hearts that I need," she said. "That good old mob spirit you showed last night."
Mack and Ceese, who would not be part of the circle, watched as Yolanda led the volunteers to the open ground around the drainpipe and had them join hands in a huge circle. She stood at the drainpipe, watching them, assessing them. Then she slowly began to walk around the drainpipe, pointing at each person in turn. Without taking a step or moving in any way, each person was slid an inch or two until they were all exactly the same distance from the drainpipe and exactly the same distance from each other.
She walked around the circle then, kissing each of them firmly but brusquely on the lips.
Mack watched from the brow of the hill, and as she made the circle he said to Ceese, "You see it? You see how each one she kissed, they got a little spark of light above their heads?"
"No, I don't," said Ceese.
"Well, it's there."
"What I been thinking," said Ceese, "is how to get the LAPD to back off long enough for this fairy circle to do its job."
"Think of anything?"
"It's coming to me," said Ceese.
"You as scared as I am?" asked Mack.
"If I had brains enough to get scared, would I be a cop?"
"I don't want Miz Smitcher to get hurt. Or your mom. Or any of them."
"You didn't bring danger to this neighborhood," said Ceese. "You part of the solution, man, not the cause of the problem."
"I feel them inside me," Mack said. "All their dreams. All so... wistful. And hungry. Or angry.
And filled with love. So mixed up."
"When all this is done," said Ceese, "maybe they'll all have their own dreams back again, and you'll be free of them. Free to be just Mack Street again."
"Whoever the hell that is," said Mack.