“Rose!” My roommate stuck her head into my office. I only looked up to give her the impression that I had to. “C’mon, girl, we’s goin’ ta church!”
I didn’t bother to hide my skepticism; neither of us were the church-going type. For a moment I remembered Granny, zealous and more than a little senile in her faith. I bit down on my emotions, lest the illusion I wore might falter. “The hell you doin’ goin’ ta church fer, Maddie? Don’ they frown upon…” she hesitated, then waved toward her roommate. “Ev’rthing ya do.”
“Turn th’ other cheek, an’ all that,” Madeleine brought a hand back to slap her own rear. “An’ they like mah cheeks. ‘Sides, ah heard they’s got a young new pastor, an’ he’s a looker. Ain’t nutin’ a righteous man loves more than ta git a sinner on ‘er knees. Y’ gotta come, too, maybe find yerself a man to take care of ya.”
I ignored the fact that I could take knowledge of the insecurities which drove Madeleine’s behavior. I kept my powers clamped down tight; the less I knew, the less I had to care. “I don’ need no man, I has a career ta worry ’bout.” More, I didn’t want a relationship; the power within me would lead to nothing but tragedy for anyone I was cruel enough to love.
“C’mon, Rose, yer career will be there fer ya when yer old an’ grey.” Maddie’s voice took on the high pitch whine that she’d learned from a young age made others do what she wanted. “You’s already in yer twenties an’ ah bet you ain’t even kissed ah man. Now c’mon, we’s gotta git there early so’s they sees us. Or are ya like them weirdos out west? Girls kissin’ girls an’ all that?”
I almost told my roommate to go to hell, but the power deep within me writhed. The urge was more powerful than any sexual impulse I’d ever known, undeniable and bordering on painful. I knew then I would go, for the Greenwitch demanded I do so.
“Fiiine, but if’n ah git the chance, I’m takin’ tha’ pastor jus’ ta teach you a lesson.” I put on the requisite show of complaint, both external and internal, but my self-imposed exile from humanity had worn on me. I could admit I was lonely.
“Hah! You kin try.” Madeleine ran off before I could retort. In that moment, I think I made it into a competition, and the short but curvaceous Maddie knew she had the edge over my illusory figure.
We made it to the church in record time, before the sun had even begun to rise. Even before the parking lot came into view, I knew there was something wrong, as the two crowds faced off. The one in front of the church was the blacks I assumed made up the congregation, led by a tall, strong looking man in front.
The other side had several men dressed up in white cloaks. I had heard about them in hushed whispers and rumors, or at least I assumed I had. I’d remained detached enough from society that I could not be certain.
Or, another couldn’t be certain, but I had options. I reached out with my sight, into the minds and souls of both sides. I would know these people, in small portions, and weigh their lives accordingly.
The fear they inflicted on the congregation was to be expected, though the tall pastor kept an impressive lid on his own. They stood together, not out of strength, but out of fear to be the first to run, the one who would be singled out.
The seven members of the Klan weren’t much different. I anticipated the hatred in their hearts, but was surprised in the end that it wasn’t the source of the violence. If I were to pick a single word, it was weakness. I’d expected Evil Incarnate, instead I found the pathetic insecurity of schoolyard bullies, children in the bodies of men.
Once I got over the initial surprise, this revelation disgusted me. The Greenwitch understood Evil, was guilty of acts these men could not fathom, hideous cruelties inflicted not of hate, but because it was useful and the victims were convenient. Evil was nothing but a word used by lesser beings, it meant little to me. What I could not abide was this childish cruelty done out of cowardice.
At some point, we’d come into view of the building. “We gotta git outa here!” Madeleine went to stomp the gas and drive off.
I made her mind slip, causing her to shift into neutral and flood the engine. Then I altered the memories of all present, forcing them to forget one another, if for minutes at most. I needed to act fast, before my concentration broke.
Madeleine smacked the steering wheel. “Useless trash!” Her, I needed aware of her surroundings, save for the Klan before us.
“C’mon, Maddie, le’s git out there an’ see all th’ men you promised. Ah bet one o’ them will help out a couple girls havin’ car problems. Men love doin’ that, right?” I nudged her mind, tweaking the insecurities that drove her to validate herself by her attractiveness to men. I might have pitied her, but I wasn’t interested in caring that much.
I walked as fast as I could into the congregation group, and even then seconds remained before I lost control of the subtle mind control I had over them. I felt confident enough the brains of those in the crowd would smooth over the last few moments, find ways to justify what wasn’t forgotten as a dream. They would not realize who I was, or what I’d done.
The pastor, I noted, recovered faster than the others. While not amongst the Blessed, he was a strong willed man who’d served in The War, and came back strong rather than broken. The Greenwitch could break him, but it would not be subtle.
He took a step forward, sensing a weakness in the Klan as they recovered from the power of the Greenwitch. “Now I ain’t gonna tell ya again. This is a house of God. What would Jesus say, to see you here attacking His flock rather than thanking Him for His love?”
I thought for a moment he stood a chance, in part from his natural charisma, and in part from the suggestive state my power left them in, what the new sciences called ‘hypnosis’. I was tempted to add the extra push, to make them repent, but I chose to watch this pastor succeed or fail on his own merits. It turned out he failed, and his words had the opposite impact; their moment of doubt only fed the insecurities which fueled their hate.
“You ain’t got no right to invoke God’s name, nigger!” The man who shouted stepped back in the same moment. Others would have seen it as an act of retreat, and it was, but it was also what let him get an angle to bring up the gun he had in his robes.
I called upon the Greenwitch again, this time forced the man to forget what he was aiming at. He emptied his revolver into the wall of the church, well above the heads of any of the congregation. I ignored the screaming congregation, some of whom ran. I had my hands full preventing the others of the Klan from remembering their own weapons. If this came to violence, they had the manpower to take lives even with me running interference.
My pressure on their minds was too blatant, however, a grip rather than a guidance, and so my grip began to falter. With no other choice, I gave up on simple tricks and invoked the true power of the Greenwitch in all its glory. In everyone’s minds, an image of myself- my real self, green skin and hair and eyes- stood nude before them. I took some satisfaction at those who appreciated my figure before realizing who and what I was.
“You are pathetic.” My illusory copy spoke with perfect diction, as I sometimes did when I forgot the lie of Rose which I projected to the world. “Know now that you face the power of the Greenwitch. Beg forgiveness of your God, for nothing less can save you now.”
They stumbled back, confused and afraid. Some parts of the country had begun educating the public on those who were becoming known as Imbued, but here we were almost myth, seen as hoax more often than reality. Granny Greenwitch more than most; amongst the families who’d been here for generations, she was spoken of in whispers and awe.
They didn’t fall to their knees and beg, though they did run screaming away from her. Under another circumstance, that might have been enough, but I was livid. How dare these worms act as if they’re Gods to decide life and death? As much as they love lynchings, they should appreciate this.
My illusory Greenwitch extended its hand, and all the Klan members fell, gasping and grabbing at their necks. It took effort, but I convinced them that their clothes were strangling them. As they struggled to pull imaginary nooses from their necks, I manipulated their minds so they undid their own hoods and revealed themselves to the community they sought to terrorize.
“Oh, God!” One of the crowd recognized someone, so I allowed him to speak. The only thing man fears more than the unknown, is to be known by another. “Bill, how could you!?”
“That’s enough!” the pastor shouted. “You made your point. If you need someone to be an agent of God’s mercy, then let it be me. I beg you, let them go.”
He stepped up to the Greenwitch, imposing himself as well over a foot taller than the woman. I knew nobody expected such a terrifying and powerful being as the Greenwitch to be intimidated, least of all the pastor, but he tried his best.
I blinked; I had expected praise or fear, not for the pastor to beg for the lives of those who’d tried to murder him just seconds ago. I fought down the tears welling in my eyes.
“As you wish,” my avatar said. The illusion of strangulation ended, as the men struggled to their feet. I selected two last acts to warn them not to return, ever. “Know that the Greenwitch has declared this place under her protection. Let all who defy it do so at their own peril.” Even the Archangels would think twice before acting now.
I reached into the will of my Demesne, to find one of my remaining relics; the still-living skulls which were batteries of suffering turned into powerful tools, twisting and perverting the world with their own insanity. They could do almost anything imaginable, though in a small area only. Seven of them exploded in their clay jars, one for each of the Klan. Their fermented agony infused these men, who hunched over in pain, collapsed to their knees, and began to vomit on the street.
I smiled. Such a rare treat, to witness justice served such a beautiful and circular way.
When they could pull themselves up, their pretty white robes were covered in filth. More than that, their precious white skin and hair had changed to features which could have come out of the heart of Africa. The Greenwitch cackle as they retreated, while I laughed alongside her.
With the Klan sent running with their tails between their legs, the congregation began to talk amongst themselves, a cacophony of whispers. I noted them the back of my mind, but my attention was on the pastor, who stood there collecting his strength.
I 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 reduced said mob to cowering children. That he stood at all spoke volumes to his strength. I considered a deeper look into the pastor’s nature, using the Greenwitch’s power to eliminate all mystery from the man and know him better than he knew himself. I 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.
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 appreciate the humor. He was faking, but he was magnificent in his deception. I glanced over at my roommate. Sorry, Maddie, this one belongs to me.
I took a couple steps to place myself in the perfect position to meet the man, with a small psychic ‘shove’ to position others. I even managed to make it look like I was frozen in surprise in the path, rather than trying to attract attention.
He stopped in front of me, and offered a patient smile. “Hello, miss, you look like you’re a little lost.”
My heart throb in my chest at his gentle yet strong smile. “Yes,” I said. For a moment, my disguise almost slipped. “Well, after a fashion. It has been a while since I’ve been in a church.” Later, I’d kick myself for forgetting my urban accent for my classical language skills.
“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 I took after what I hoped was a demure delay. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Roselle.” It took a remarkable amount of concentration for me to fake a blush, but I’d had years of practice in my powers. “Ev’rone calls me Rose.”
“That’s a lovely name.” He let go as he spoke, and I 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 me a nasty glance as she took position next to me in her own effort to get attention from the man. “That was real brave of ya, standin’ up to those Klanners. Weren’t ya scurred?”
I did my best not to glance at Maddie or let it be seen how annoyed I was. Instead, I decided to draw the conversation back to me, in a roundabout fashion.
“Lucky the Greenwitch was here to help.” I knew the moment I finished I’d selected the wrong path, so I 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.”
I stepped out of the way, to allow him and others to pass while she stayed behind. Madeleine stayed back with me until we were the last two outside. “Th’ hell is you doin’?”
I raised an eyebrow, though I kept the smirk hidden behind my 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!” I wondered how Madeleine would have reacted if I dropped my disguise at that moment, but instead I tolerated my 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.” I ignored Madeleine’s attempts to upset my in favor of basking in the smug pleasure of my victories today. I turned to walk into the church, while the power of the Greenwitch writhed inside me, a serpent ready to sink its venom into whatever enemy she desired. I am powerful, a warrior clad in the armor of a god.
Reverend Hinton was nowhere to be seen when I entered and picked a spot in the back next to the aisle. The church wasn’t large, in fact the fifty or so people was half its capacity, and I wanted to be noticeable.
Besides, near the back I could keep an eye out in case the rednecks sent in backup, perhaps others of Power. I could take on any enemy who dared, even an Archangel.
Madeleine followed me in, then sat two rows in front of me. I considered switching to the other side of the aisle, but Reverend Hinton took to the podium not long after. Moving would be too conspicuous without power, and I couldn’t continue such vulgar uses of my power on these people without harmful consequences.
“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 rueful 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 of 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 I felt no joy as he spoke. I knew and dreaded what would come next. I had long ago become familiar with animosity, like that on his face when I mentioned the Greenwitch.
“Want to know what I saw out there?” Hinton looked out over the crowd, which had gone silent in anticipation. I joined them, if for opposite reasons. “I saw an act of the devil!”
There it is. I closed my eyes, fighting to ignore the bitter taste in the back of my throat. The creature inside 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, I could have silenced him and introduce him to such horrors that even the much-maligned Satan would cringe. Instead, I sat in silence and listened as the pastor read off my 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 might argue many a prophet, miracle-worker and saint wielded powers not unlike what we saw today.” He looked out at the crowd, all of whom stayed silent for his words. “Colleges up north are calling them Imbued, and claim their powers are natural, no more magic or miracle than a thunderstorm.”
He had them; he’d mentioned all the arguments, most of which these people rejected without so much as considering. These were lower class, uneducated baptists with little love for higher education or the Catholic tradition of Holy Warriors. Only a small handful here, the youngest and those who’d suffered the Klan as more than just a bogeyman, would defend me now. The problem, I 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!”
I had to admit, this line of reasoning caught me off guard. I’d heard countless arguments about Imbued in the past, even partook in a few, but never had I witnessed anyone go on the offensive with ‘it doesn’t matter’, before. That tended to be the argument of those defending people like me, not the attacker. I 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 to his point. “That these forces are just a science we don’t yet know, or even that they’re blessings handed down by God. Would that change matters? As I need not remind you, the devil is the corrupter, not the Creator. Lucifer himself, and all the power he holds, comes from God first and foremost.”
Oh. I now could see where this was going, and I didn’t like it one bit. I did not take my attention away from the pulpit, and this man, hoping I was wrong.
“Or, perhaps we can talk about somethin’ less rarefied.” Hinton stepped out from behind the pulpit. “Drugs.” He dropped the word like a lightning strike, 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 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. My hands shook to the point that I had to bid my illusory disguise ignore my behavior, lest I draw attention to myself.
“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 I had to concentrate to hear him from my 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 by the corruptor.”
“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 knew it would. I had to admire the skill which he used his words every bit as much as than 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 spoken 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, as it is that 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 I 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 to a judging God?”
I stood, ready to run, to escape before hearing the final words of this man’s condemnation. I stood to formulate an argument so brilliant that it left everyone here disgusted with the reverend. I don’t know why I stood, but what I did was stand in the aisle and listen with tears in my eyes. Thanks to my power, nobody noticed me.
“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, so too 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!” I shrieked at the top of my lungs, but with my illusions in full effect, nobody noticed. In fact, I was the only person in the room who missed the portion of the sermon I interrupted. “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. That he had called down the wrath of a monster who could destroy his very soul. “These are acts which serve Satan’s will, not God’s.”
“You want to see Satan’s will! So be it!” I reached into the forbidden cellar, home of ancient, hideous crafts built of true torture, and drew on the darkest of them. My Demesne, long neglected, awoke from its hibernation to serve the Greenwitch.
“Know that I will see your house destroyed, your family ruined, and everything you know and love left in tatters!” My territory awoke, drawing upon stored strength to see my will to fruition. Within me, the Greenwitch cackled as it awoke to its full power for the first time in a decade. “So the Greenwitch decrees, and so it shall be.”
I 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 me, 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-.”
I slammed the door behind me; I’d heard more than enough about God for one lifetime. I knew I was a monster, a murderer, a torturer, and worse. What I did to Domenic Hinton and all he begot would be proof enough of that.