Charleston’s sleepy New Town Cemetery had once been the center of a controversy. For many years Town was spelled ‘Towen’ on the fancily etched marble dedication obelisk located just inside the main gate. The unique spelling was on purpose because the wealthy widow who had donated the land for the cemetery and paid for the obelisk wanted it that way. She claimed that it was the name of the Welsh village of her birth. Despite more than a century of weathering, you can still mark her unpronounceable name on the obelisk, but, oddly, not those of the local big shots who’d presided over the cemetery’s plating in 1882.
Come 1888 (which not at all coincidentally was the year of the Welsh benefactor’s death), Towen went the way of Nefertiti’s nose after the city council voted to ‘emend’ it. A rival rich widow claimed that only Welsh witches ever breathed the word Towen, and that there was no such place by that vile name in Wales or anywhere else on this side of perdition. Now, everyone knew that the ugsome old crone bore a special hate for the late Welsh lady (who, to be fair, scared the hell out of people), but they voted to change the spelling anyway (which appeared on the obelisk only, for the sign above the main gate didn’t appear until 1902), partly just to shut her up, but mainly because she offered to forgive the sizable tab the council had run up at a tavern operated by her son.
The ‘emending’ itself was a tribute to the little god of half-assedness. Whoever did it had skillessly hacked out the original W along with the offending E, then made a hasty repair, without filling the divit. The result: New ToW n Cemetery.
Rovers and agoraphobes, spendthrifts and misers, tramps and virgins, poets and the employable, criminals and victims, young and old, dancers and oafs, good stone masons and the other kind of stone masons, believers, atheists, agnostics, soldiers, pacifists, addicts, pimps, whores, johns, rich, poor and basic nincompoops in general accurately describe the defining life activities of the twenty-three hundred plus souls buried at New Town Cemetery. Most people were almost all these things, at one time or another, while some were almost nothing at all, seemingly in an effort to not to attract the attention of whatever god they’d been taught to fear. But all had been. And each one, no matter how base, had been both a comedy and a tragedy.
Now, before you score one for the Misanthropic Fatalist Community (there are some of those guys in the cemetery, as well) who smugly claim that justice and equality are fantasies found only at death, be advised that at precisely midnight one-hundred-thirty years to the night of her “demise” the soul of the only accredited Witch buried at New Town Cemetery leapt from her coffin and into a waiting black cat. The faithful familiar quickly took his mistress to the enchanted oak tree that stands at the graveyard’s center. There she exited the purring black cat and reminded the little fiend to keep himself handy, for they would be travelling, anon. “But first, there’s a business matter that requires attention.” Kitty smiled, baring his dagger-sharp fangs. His mistress was a great sorceress; the type of Witch you took seriously.
There are always loose ends to tie up for Witches who have just returned from their latest season in Hell. Although her loyal and efficient legion of familiars had already set up her new identity, transferred her vast, untraceable fortune into hack-proof accounts, purchased property, enchanted a few trees and set up housekeeping for her in the next community where she’d begin her latest hundred and thirty year mission, there remained a score to settle in the olde towen; for the in very instant the Witch awoke in her coffin she became excruciatingly aware of the desecration of her obelisk.
Yes, it was true: Though the rival rich widow was a useless bitch, she’d somehow known or guessed that the rich Welsh Widow was a Witch. If the woman had arrived at the truth through detective work, then she was what the Witch derogatorily referred to as a “Sadie Goodwife”; a dangerous person, alive or dead. More likely was the shot in the dark theory; a bit of name calling that got out of hand. Either way, it was a matter that required her attention.
Truthfully speaking, the Witch wasn’t any more Welsh than is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (for the record, she hailed from the suburbs of Gomorrah), but she’d developed an affection for the peasant folk of the dark ages’ village of Towen (which stood near the modern day Welsh city of West Glamorgan)—what a lusty and imaginative and tasty group they were! And she was fond of leeks, for they not only jazzed up a pot of peasant stew, their acidity also served extremely well in a vast array of potions. Though her Towen days lay buried beneath the passing centuries, the Witch was already proudly Welsh long before her first familiar crossed the Atlantic to prepare her way, late in the 16th century.
The Witch exited the enchanted tree in the mind of a black owl she’d summoned from the nearby wood. She flew to the obelisk and through bolts of light that shot out the owl’s eyes she emended the emending that was a tribute to the little god of half-assedness. Once more it said: New Towen Cemetery. She then winged atop the wrought iron sign that she had also paid for, but the dolts hadn’t got around to installing until years had gone by. (She admonished herself for getting a bit sloppy around the edges toward the end of her last run on Earth and promised herself that she’d stay attentive all the way through to her various ends in the future.) Upon hooting a series of hoots never hooted by owls not in the employ of a Witch, a shrieking, rending metallic sound began. It was very loud. Freight train loud. So loud that a light in a house across the road came on, but the Witch gazed at the house until the person who’d turned on the light suddenly decided that some things are safer when they remain only the stuff of dreams.
After two minutes or so passed, the wrought iron sign above the main gate also now said: New Towen Cemetery. The Witch was pleased. She then had the owl return her to the oak and wanted a wolf. But the intrusion of peasants had driven the wolves too far afield for the sake of expediency, so she settled for a nearby, surprisingly antisocial black Labrador, who’d recently arrived at the conclusion that the peasants weren’t all that they ought to be. The Witch pushed open the main gate with her mind; the chain holding the lock snapped and the Lab (whose undignified peasant name was “Tookey”–but was changed forthwith to Chandeaux–of which he heartily approved) entered and took the Witch to the graves of four persons buried in the re-Christ–um, rebranded New Towen Cemetery. Although the graves were scattered in various locations across the fourteen acres she had set aside for her own sake, she knew where they were and directed Chandeaux accordingly.
The first three graves were those of the male peasants who had been the town council that voted to emend the cemetery’s name. Although there were times when the trio of venal toadies had served the Witch’s purposes, that was then. Since each one had been a model, prosperous, churchgoing, community first! businesspeasant in life, the Witch had no doubt that all of them were currently rotating on the Great Spit in Hell, for the creation of such a persona runs contrary to what it means to be a peasant. Since the Witch’s existence alternated between Hell and Earth for terms of a hundred and thirty years, it did not bother her that she could have exacted a more personal form of revenge on the council as recently as yesterday, if she had known about the betrayal. But since she’d be free to look them up, so to speak, on her next sabbatical down yonder, a little grave desecration would have to tide her over until she had the chance to feed properly.
High end Witches (as our Witch most certainly was and is) endow their familiars with what a peasant might call a “Superpower.” The Witch gifted Chandeaux with the ability to urinate an extremely corrosive acid at will, an endless supply, which hurt him in no way–in fact it was a superpower he instantly cherished. The only regret being that he couldn’t use it on the peasant son of a bitch who’d routinely connected “Tookey” to a staked six-foot chain in the yard all day and expected the dog to adjust to the situation without getting antisocial about it.
Chandeaux was amazed and tail-waggingly pleased after the Witch had him lift his leg above the tombstone of the first councilpeasant and saw that the Witch had directed his pee to etch Pedophile in the stone. There was also a special mark burned into the stone that only accredited Witches, not their chroniclers, can make. It was a charmed mark that gave anyone who read Pedophile full knowledge that the perverted councilpeasant routinely frequented a Seattle brothel that specialized in underaged “wares” and “first editions” On the next, Murderer (enhanced by the vision of the peasant’s role in a lynching) appeared, and the last got Wives Beater–plural because he had been twice married (the first marriage ended tragically; “She must have tripped on the stair.”)
Although the Witch was a gleeful Mistress of Lies, what she had Chandeaux “write” on the councilpeasants’ headstones was the absolute truth; she couldn’t have special marked them otherwise.
The Witch sensed that it was nearing three–her most powerful hour of the night. She wanted to be on the road by sun up, in time to catch the flight booked by her longest serving human familiar (a former Welsh peasant). Fortunately, there were only a few more bits of business left to transact.
She had Chandeaux return her to her own grave, then she dismissed him, first reminding him to return prior to sun up, then suggesting “Maybe you can use the time evening up the score, if you catch my drift.” Most dogs wouldn’t have caught the drift, but Chandeaux was now a Witch’s dog, thus had a taste for payback. He ran off to his revenge as happy as a month old puppy destroying a slipper.
“Oh, my lovely rats,” her soul sighed. “What would I do without you?”
Indeed. Rats, an incalculable multitude, carpeted the ground surrounding her opened grave. They were the Witch’s most loyal fan base. Whilst she’d been gone, hundreds, no, thousands of sleek ebon rats had excavated her site and unsealed her coffin; there, untouched by corruption, lay her perfect bones, thirteen jeweled necklace and a black raiment still immaculate against the decay of time.
She willed her essence onto her bones and shortly thereafter rose as the woman she’d be for the next hundred and thirty years. As always, the rats applauded when she sat up in her coffin; little pink paws enthusiastically coming together. And as always, she smiled and nodded graciously at the horde. She decided to go with a Mediterranean look this time, augmented by those lovely chicory-colored Babylonian eyes she’d always so admired. The possibility of a Sadie Goodwife queered Wales this time around.
Rats make the best soldiers because they do not anticipate their orders. The standard procedure, upon her rising, was to fill her coffin with stones then return the site to normal.
Although the rats had a hidden cache of stones already prepared, it impressed the Witch that not a single one of them had forgotten itself and thought it practical to tote a stone to the rising. This proved wise because there was a change of plans.
“My babies,” the Witch said. “We have a Sadie to dispense with, ere we go our way.” She then gave a series of orders and directions in North American Rattish. The Witch effortlessly leviatated from her grave and watched half the rats go one way and the others go another. Not long thereafter the first group of rats passed by carrying stones and headed off where the second group had gone. By and by the second group returned with the foul, mildewed remains of the rival rich widow who’d made the mistake of crossing the Witch and tossed them into their master’s abandoned grave. As the second group of rats expertly restored the grave site to its former condition, the group that had carried the stones returned and told the Witch that her will had been done.
As the first streaks of pink appeared in the eastern sky, the stretch limo that would take her to the airport, followed by three immense tour buses (confiscated from a phoney Satanic death metal band–for faithless Satanists were even lower than Sadies and betraying peasants), pulled up to the crest of the hill in which New Towen Cemetery was platted. The Witch laughed, clapped her hands and spun around in the air once. This served as an “all aboard” signal for her beloved “children.”
Nobody needed to be told twice. Flocks of bats and owls and shrikes and ravens and all other things with dark wings swooped into one of the buses; the rats alone filled another; whilst a sizable battalion of black cats and other nefarious mammals and reptiles took the last, still leaving plenty of room for new recruits (and the distant wolves) to pick up along the way. The Witch had told Chandeaux and the black cat who’d fetched her from her grave to ride in the car. The black lab arrived last. The Witch had to smile. She saw and smelled smoke coming from where he’d been.
Alone, she trained her chicory-colored gaze on the grave now occupied by the putrid remains of the possible Sadie Goodwife.
“I don’t think you were a Sadie, old woman,” she said. “If you had been, then you’re the worst I’ve ever seen at it. You had years and years to make a mark on my grave and forbid me reentry, but you didn’t do it. You had endless opportunities to lock me away with the other defrocked crones, endlessly and tiresomely bemoaning her fate, wondering how she had been so stupid as to allow a peasant Sadie to ruin her career. A simple chalk mark would have closed the door. The rain washes the chalk away, but never the mark.
“Regardless of your unlucky guess and/or incompetence, I didn’t get to be ancient by taking shelter in seemingly safe assumptions. You see, it’s you who are now trapped for all time. Nothing you know can ever reach your fellow Sadies; you are permanently unplugged from that slow moving, albeit sometimes effective psychic network your kind shares and flows from the dead to the living. Even if you got word of my rise out tonight, I’ve cut it off, like the head off a flower yet to bloom. Word never gets out of a closed Witch’s grave.”
The Witch knelt and a piece of chalk appeared in her hand. She drew a cross on the headstone. She smiled. “Surprised, Sadie? Taken aback because I shouldn’t be able to form a religious symbol without causing injury to myself? That used to be true. But, unlike you, I’ve been in a position to watch the world change more in the last century than it had in ten thousand years. Hell, afterall, has always been the center of the Information Age. I saw the world wars, I know about the great bombs; and though it will be gibberish to you, I learned to set the clock on a VCR, and then watched that skill become obsolete. A fantastic technological revolution, that has no memory, that had only just begun when we shared the same time, has banished good and evil superstitions to the children’s table. Yet for whatever reason, of the unseen only God has hit the skids. And–get this–millions now openly declare their affection for my Master. And don’t get me blushing about Witches. We have become extremely popular. No longer do all eyes immediately train toward the castle when a peasant turns up missing.”
The Witch rose and gazed smilingly at the grave for a long time, then said: “His time hath come round at last. Goodbye, Sadie.”
The Witch slipped into the limo. She reached back and patted Chandeaux, who was seated behind her, and the smiling black cat curled up in her lap. She had her driver (who’d begun his long service as a coachman) wait and allow the busses to take off first for their long drive to where she’d be arriving shortly by air. As they went by she gave each one her profane blessing.
As they drove to the freeway that led to the airport, the Witch got a load of the peasants getting into their vehicles and walking between coffee houses and donut shops. She texted her Master (Hell’s internet service is unparalleled): GONNA BUY A FITBIT. PEASANTS MUCH PLUMPER THAN EVER BEFORE. A GIRL’S GOTTA WATCH HER FIGURE 🙂 🙂