With the Klan sent running with their tails between their legs, the congregation began to talk amongst themselves, a cacophony made of whispers. Rose noted them the back of her mind, but her attention was on the pastor, who stood there collecting his strength. Rose couldn’t fault the man for needing a moment to recover; he just faced down a mob with guns, followed by the kind of being that stripped away all pretense and reduced said mob to the cowering children they were inside.
Rose considered a deeper look into the pastor’s nature, using the Greenwitch’s power eliminate all mystery from the man and know him more intimately than he knew himself. She dismissed violating such a noble man as unacceptable, and bit back that instinct. I will not use this power to ruin the lives of good people, like Granny ruined mine.
The pastor, having steadied himself, took a breath and turned to face the congregation, with a lopsided boyish grin which would no doubt serve him well with the female members. “We should go inside, I’d hate my first day on the job to be a no-show.”
The laughter was forced; people were too busy getting their head around their new pastor’s casual response to near-death experiences to experience humor. Rose knew he was faking, but he was magnificent in his deception. She glanced over at her roommate. Sorry, Maddie, this one’s mine.
She took a couple steps to place herself in the perfect position to meet the man, with a small amount of psychic ‘shove’ to convince others to clear a path for her. She even managed to make it look like she was frozen in surprise in the path, rather than trying to attract attention.
He stopped in front of her, and offered her a patient smile. “Hello, miss, you look like you’re a little lost.”
If she were more self-aware, she may have noted that her own father used to treat her with that same sort of doting patience, back when she was a child. Instead, she felt her heart throb in her chest.
“Yes,” she said. “Well, after a fashion. It has been a while since I’ve been in a church.” Later, she’d kick herself for dropping her fake urban accent in favor of the upper middle class of her upbringing before her apprenticeship with Granny.
“I’m new to this, myself, but I can assure you that today was a rare exception to normal proceedings.” He extended his hand, which Rose took after what she hoped was a demure delay. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Roselle.” It took a remarkable amount of concentration for her to fake a blush, but she’d had years of practice. “Ev’rone calls me Rose.”
“That’s a lovely name.” He let go as he said it, and Rose almost tapped the Greenwitch to know if that’s because he wanted to, or because he had to for the sake of polite company. “I’m Reverend Hinton, but I prefer to go by Domenic.” He projected his voice so that the rest of the congregation could hear him.
“Ain’t ya glad ah brought ya along?” Madeleine gave Rose a nasty glance as she took position next to her in order to put her own effort into getting attention from the man. “That was real brave of ya, standin’ up to those Klanners. Weren’t ya scurred?”
Rose did her best not to glance at Maddie or let it be seen how annoyed she was. Instead, she drew the conversation back to her, in a roundabout fashion.
“Lucky the Greenwitch was here to help,” she knew then she’d said the wrong thing, so she stumbled and tried to switch tracks. “Or we’d all be in trouble, right?”
Domenic’s face lost some of that boyish charm for a more pensive and thoughtful gaze. “Perhaps we should get inside. I’ll be staying after the sermon to meet with everyone.” Again, his voice projected in such a way to imply that was an open invitation to everyone.”
Rose stepped out of the way, to allow him and others to pass while she stayed behind. Madeleine stayed back with her until they were the last two outside. “Th hell is you doin’?”
Rose raised an eyebrow, though she kept the smirk hidden behind her illusions. “Ah told you I’d take him for myself if you brought me along.”
“Ah din’t think ya’d do it, ya hussy!” Rose wondered how Madeleine would have reacted if she dropped her disguise at that moment, but instead she tolerated her roommate’s abuse. “An’ what you think you doin’ talkin’ all high an’ mighty like yer some yankee college brat? Jus’ ta git with him like ah hussy!”
“Ain’t my fault I have an education.” Rose ignored Madeleine’s attempts to upset her in favor of basking in the smug pleasure of her victories today. She turned to walk into the church, while the power of the Greenwitch writhed inside her, a serpent ready to sink its venom into whatever enemy she desired. She felt powerful, a warrior clad in the armor of a god.
Reverend Hinton was nowhere to be seen when she entered the church and picked a spot in the back next to the aisle. The church wasn’t large, in fact the fifty or so people here filled it almost half full, and she wanted to be noticeable. Besides, near the back she could keep an eye out in case the rednecks sent in backup, perhaps others of power. She felt confident she could take on any enemy, even another of what Granny called the ‘Archangels’.
Madeleine followed her in, then sat two rows in front of her. Rose considered switching to the other side of the aisle, but Reverend Hinton took to the podium not long after, and she couldn’t maintain such vulgar uses of power on these people without causing long term side effects.
“I’m sure it comes as no surprise I had a sermon written up, which I poured over for hours hoping to get everything perfect.” With a rue smile, he held up several pieces of paper, then tossed them over his shoulder. They ruffled and fell in a pile behind him, held together by a staple. “But I think there’s a certain elephant in the room which needs addressed. Namely, the events which happened not but ten minutes ago.”
“Now, I am sure everyone has an opinion on the issue.” He used the pregnant pause to full effect. “We were in mortal danger, and then this angel came down from the heavens to save us. A miracle sent to save us by God Himself.”
Murmurs of ‘amen’ spread through the congregation, though Rose felt no joy as he spoke. She knew and dreaded what would come next. She saw the look in his eyes when she mentioned the witch, and had long ago become familiar with animosity.
“Want to know what I saw out there?” Hinton looked out over the crowd, which had gone silent in anticipation. Rose joined them, if for her own reasons. “I saw an act of the devil!”
There it is. Rose closed her eyes, fighting to ignore the bitter taste in the back of her throat. The creature inside her flexed its imaginary muscles and readied its formless claws to retaliate for the crime of speaking up against it and its mistress. With but a thought, she could silence him and introduce him to such horrors that even the much-maligned Satan would cringe. Instead, she sat in silence and listened as the pastor read off her failings.
“Now, I know some of you may think scripture is vague on the subject, that not all these beings are agents of evil. Some would argue many a prophet, miracle-worker and saint wielded powers not unlike what we saw today. Colleges and up north these days are calling them Imbued, and claim powers are natural, no more magic or miracle than a thunderstorm.”
He had them, he’d addressed all the possible arguments, most of which these people rejected. They were lower class, uneducated baptists with little love for higher education or the Catholic tradition of Holy Warriors. Only a small handful, the youngest and those who’d suffered the Klan on a personal level rather than as a bogeyman, would not be swayed without more of an argument. The problem, Rose knew, was that Pastor Hinton had not yet begun to make his case.
“I say it doesn’t matter!” For emphasis, he slammed both of his hands down on the pulpit. “It does not matter if they are witches or shamans or Imbued! Nor does it matter if their power comes from Satan, or God, or is no more special than the electricity powering our homes!”
Rose had to admit, she was caught by surprise with this line of reasoning. She’d heard countless arguments about Imbued in the past, even partook in a few, but never had she witnessed anyone go on the offensive with ‘it doesn’t matter’, before. That tended to be the realm of those defending people like her. She expected his words would be all the more powerful for the novelty of them.
“Let us say, for the sake of argument, that they are natural,” the pastor continued his circuitous path. “That these forces are just a science we don’t yet know, or even that they’re blessings handed down by God. As I need not remind you, the devil is a corrupter, not the Creator. Lucifer himself, and all the power he holds, was made by God first and foremost.”
Oh. Rose now knew where this was going, and she didn’t like it one bit.
“Or, perhaps somethin’ less rarefied.” Hinton stepped out from behind the pulpit. “Drugs.” His voice carried, and the subject matter was now doubly powerful. “Used by good hands, by those who hold God’s love in their hearts whether they know it or not, drugs can be used to do God’s work. Just because we can explain medicine, does not mean doctors aren’t helping to bring God’s miracles into the world.”
So this is how he choses to pronounce my damnation. She was enraged to the point that she had to bid her illusory disguise to ignore her behavior, lest she draw attention to herself.
“In the hands of those serving Satan, those same drugs are a poison. A scourge which takes life after life in our community.” His voice dropped as he spoke, until by the end Rose had to concentrate to hear him from her position in the back. He was good at what he did, knowing full well everyone could hear him, but only if they all stayed silent. “There is no mystery to heroin. It comes from the simple poppy plant, made by God, and turned to poison.”
“It may be Satan’s bidding, but it is not of his making. The devil doesn’t sit over the shoulder of every user and every pusher. It is human hands, hands created by God for us to use, which do most of the work. Or do you imagine the devil spends all day cooking drugs in hell?”
An interesting point to stop for a joke, but it broke tension as he no doubt knew it would. Rose was struck by the skill which he used them as much as the words themselves.
“No, much as it pains any man of God to admit, people serve Satan of their own free will. Out of lust and greed, out of love for pleasures of the flesh. Pleasures God gave us, perverted by the Adversary’s hate. For corruption is the devil’s only power.”
Reverend Hinton took a breath, in part theatrics, and in part because he’d managed to the last portion of his speech in one breath.
“Which brings us back to today. Whatever arguments exist for the cause of powers, let there be no doubt that these so-called Imbued are as human as you or I. That is fact, not conjecture. Another fact, all human beings are capable of sin, and anyone can give themselves to Satan rather than God.”
He left another pause, as he let the congregation consider his logic. As arguments went, it was as ironclad as any Rose had ever heard in the past. Not a single member of the congregation found a reason to object, nor would they have had the courage to dissent if they did.
“From there, it is a matter of looking at facts.” Again, the pastor’s tone changed, from soft and introspective to cold and analytical. “What I saw out there started as an act that might even have been good. What evil is there in defending honest, churchgoing folks from men so steeped in Satan’s will that they fear showing their faces a judging God?”
Rose stood, though she was unsure why. She wanted to run, to escape before hearing the final words of this man’s condemnation. She wanted to formulate an argument so brilliant that it left everyone here disgusted with the reverend. What she did, however, was stand in the aisle and listen.
“Then the screaming started,” the pastor’s tone went back to soft, pained even. “She used such magnificent power, regardless of its source, as an instrument of torture. She inflicted cruelty for cruelty’s sake, and laughed as she did so. She might claim it was for some noble cause, but the Nazis thought their cause noble, too. So does the Klan. Her acts were an affront to God’s mercy. Then she laid claim to this house of God, as if-”
“I saved you! You should be praising me!” Rose shrieked at the top of her lungs, but with her illusions in full effect, nobody noticed. In fact, she was the only person in the room who missed the portion of the sermon she was interrupting. “I am the Greenwitch! Powerful men speak of me in terrified whispers! I am the better god by far than the impotent, invisible man you worship! It should be me you bend your knees to worship!”
Reverend Hinton still spoke, unaware of the enemy he had made this day. “These are acts which serve Satan’s will, not God’s.”
“You want to see Satan’s will! So be it!” She reached into the forbidden cellar, home of the crafts built by the Greenwitch which had lived during the Civil War, and drew on the darkest of them. Her property, long neglected, awoke from its hibernation to serve the Greenwitch as it always had.
“Know that I will see your house destroyed, your family ruined, and everything you know and love left in tatters! So the Greenwitch decrees, and so it shall be.”
She stomped off, with one final pulse of power into the minds of the congregation. Come this time tomorrow, not a single member would be able to recall Rose’s face, or that she’d been here today. All save Madeleine. The Greenwitch had something special in mind for her.
Behind her, the pastor continued his sermon, another change in tone, one soft but hopeful. “Still, the bible teaches us that no sin is too great for God’s love, and he forg-.”
Rose didn’t listen, she’d heard more than enough about God for one lifetime. She knew she was a monster, just as Granny, who imagined herself an angel, was before her. Deep within, the Greenwitch was content for the first time since it had chosen her as its mistress.
The Greenwitch Must Endure.