Operation Bell Witch
By Atom Mudman Bezecny
Prince Immorté of the planet Rheton was almost dead.
Virtually no one on the whole of this planet who was still living had any cares for such a thing. The man's family was almost completely composed of dead people, and while he had made many friends in life they were now friends in death, at least on their side of things. The two people on Earth who did care were making sure he didn't join those dead friends in the beyond country.
Evil eyes had flashed over Immorté's body when he went into his seizure, and the words had come from the air: “The death of the Wild Hunt of Rheton shall not go unavenged! I proclaim a death-curse on Prince Immorté...so speaks Zahl Doone of the Far Moors!”
A single beat. And the eyes were gone.
“What the hell was that?” Brian Hammerstein cried. “Lord, can we help him?”
Bloody Mary stared at her alien friend, her feelings impossible to discern. Unlikely froth formed at the corner of the Lost Prince's lips, a new flashing white at the edges of his glowing skull. From the veins in his neck it was clear his heart was pounding fit to burst. Whoever the witch was who was attacking him was trying kill him with exertion. Once she realized this, she dropped down to him, filling her silver chalice with her blood tears. “Now, Immorté, normally this will kill you, but in this case it's just gonna slow you down. Okay?”
She tried to keep him restrained, without too much pressure—a man of his strength could break his own bones easily. Parting his transparent lips she poured the blood down his throat. It took only moments for the liquid to begin to work—Immorté's hurried breathing began to slow, the veins in his neck losing their frenzy. Once it was fully kicked in, she took a step back and looked him over.
“Don't know if I can keep him down like that forever,” she told Brian. “We need to work on figuring out who that lady was, and fast.”
“Well, she made the mistake of giving us her name,” Mary said. “'Zahl Doone of the Far Moors.'”
“That mean anything to you?”
“You ever read Blackmore?” she replied.
“R.D. Blackmore. He wrote, uh...Lorna Doone. It's a biographical drama about a family feud with a romance built into it, mixed in with the death of Charles II. Boring crap if I remember right. So?”
“So, the Doone family are settled in Exmoor,” Mary said. “Exmoor doesn't mean 'Far Moor' etymologically, but it could be interpreted as such by someone who gets their languages mixed up. I think that whoever this Zahl Doone is, she's a relative of the Doones of Exmoor.”
“So we need to head to, what, England?”
“We do. And we'll take Immorté with us.”
“Is he in shape to travel?” Brian asked skeptically.
“He's tough, very tough. I don't want to leave him alone, in this goddamn cemetery. Especially when the mummy Yasta-hiqun is still wandering around here.”
Brian remembered the figure she talked about—the sloping, staggering mummy who Mik'hel and the vampire Elwyn Clayton had used as a distraction. They had said that the mummy had other business here, as if they knew what he was destined to do, but Brian wanted desperately to avert that course before people got hurt. Still. But if someone was capable of cursing them all the way from England, and that someone wanted vengeance for the Wild Hunt, then that had priority. He wondered when they were ever gonna shake off the shadow of those alien bastards.
As Mary looked for anything that could be used as a mirror, Brian considered a detail he was sure Mary was avoiding purposefully. “If we're going to England, maybe we could ask Nadine to help us.”
“Nadine and I are on awkward terms now.”
“Well, admittedly, kicking her and Tyler off the team would do that.”
“I didn't feel comfortable with her presence. Even I can't entirely justify it, besides the fact that she was rude to Dad.”
“Yeah, she did overstep her bounds. But she would probably be willing to help you if you asked her. She'd be valuable in a fight against an English witch.”
Mary had found that one of the gravestones had a gem embedded in it, which gave her enough of a reflection to use. “You ready? You grab Immorté.”
Brian sighed, and he propped up the injured alien as best as he could. For someone of his size and strength, Immorté wasn't too heavy—or maybe Brian was stronger than he thought.
Mary took his hand, and they entered the gem.
They didn't spend a long time in the Mirror-Realm, though Mary decided to keep Immorté there, rooted in place. The void would keep him safe and let him recover a bit. But he would need her to get out of there once he was healed.
As Mary silently prepared their next mirror, Brian dejectedly tried to envision where they were going. Exmoor was said to be nice, wasn't it? Parks, countryside? Relatively untouched by Nazi bombers? He didn't know where they were going to come out, or what they were going to look for, but he figured he'd just wait and let Mary lead.
To his surprise, however, the mirror led into a wealthy house—one lit up bright, as if inhabited. He wondered why she was so boldly trouncing into a place where she was just going to scare the hell out of everyone, but within the mirror-image, a familiar figure stepped into place. The figure's eyes were accustomed to searching mirrors, and now, she saw the pair looking out at her.
“Come on through,” Nadine Ingomar said upon catching sight of them.
Bloody Mary did so wordlessly, looking over her former mentor closely. Her return to Ingomar Manor had been swift—she hadn't made any deviations on her path home. Close behind her was Allan Tyler, her butler, who had followed her when Mary had asked her to leave her team. Nadine didn't look begrudged by Mary's presence; quite the opposite. She was smiling. Her hair was up in a way which Mary felt was dignified. She remembered Nadine had once been Bloody Mary herself, however, and therefore she was not going to reveal her feelings easily. There was a chair nearby, with a cup of tea already prepared, and Nadine took it, facing her two guests.
“Don't say anything,” Nadine said, as Mary's lips parted. “Zahl Doone. I sensed her presence—or rather, her absence. I thought she was left clinging to the belly of her ancestral house, but I guess she's moved to the United States.”
“How did you—” But Mary already knew of the talents Nadine possessed. “Have you met Doone before?”
“We fought, once, a long time ago. She's well-trained—she's spent some time among the witches of the Karnsteins, which have given her a potent grasp on European magic. But she also spent some time on Caspak. Caspak has some intriguing life forms but the people living there are just as fascinating...some of them have knowledge of hidden arts. Zahl Doone has studied with them and become one of the most powerful curse-bringers on Earth.”
“Could her curses hurt Mary?” Brian asked.
“You should be watching out for yourself, Brian—Doone is out of your league. Some say she can bend time itself at her current level of power. Last I knew she was involved with a man calling himself Riven Blood...”
“Riven Blood?” Mary said. “I—we—saw to his death not long ago. It's complicated but he was the member of the Royal Family of Rheton. He died along with a lot of his family in a battle that involved his great-nephew.”
“I can't say I've heard of a nation called Rheton...”
“You wouldn't have...like I said, it's a long story. But I need to know where to find Zahl Doone. We need to stop her before she kills one of our friends.”
“It won't be easy to find her. But together, I imagine we can do it.”
“Does that involve offering Mary another blood-coin?” Mary said, raising an eyebrow.
“No, thank God,” Nadine replied. “Here in Ingomar Manor, I managed to bring a little civilization to the naked rigors of Mary's influence. There are files about her, maintained by our past incarnations, that I've edited and modified. We're going to summon the ghost of one of the Marys past, and talk to her. We need to find one who had a talent to fighting witches.”
“You know the names of the previous Marys?” Bloody Mary asked suddenly.
“Some of them, yes. There are still a lot of gaps in my research, but I know some of their names.” She shuddered suddenly, forgetting herself. “Some of them were dread indeed. Not all of us fought off our anger, Francine.”
Bloody Mary turned back to Francine Rainsford at that point, and she and her cousin followed their hostess to the library.
“What are some of these, uh, dread names?” Francine asked finally, as they walked.
“You may have heard them before. In fact I'm curious if you have.”
“Elizabeth Bathory...” Francine said. “Mary the First. And Typhoid Mary.”
“You know.” Nadine did not stop walking. “Elizabeth Bathory—well, you're a historian, Francine.”
“She supposed bathed in the blood of virgin girls to preserve her youth and beauty.”
“And she purloined those virgin girls with the powers she stole—with a black magic ritual, learned from any one of the vampires who were her masters. Bathory was Bloody Mary, yes, but in the end she got what was coming to her.”
“And Mary I. Called Bloody Mary for her violence against the Protestants.”
“And more. Her story is harder to figure out. For all I know she and Typhoid Mary were the same individual.” Now they were at the large ornamental door to the library—Nadine pushed inward, revealing a cloud of dust. The library was well-maintained, but for all long as it went on, there was never an end to the dust. A book collection of this size just naturally accumulated dust, and only by rending apart the collection would there ever be a stop to it.
Among these refined volumes was a large folio which had sustained quite a bit of wear over the years. Nadine acquired it quickly and brought it over to a large dry table, where she unfolded it before Francine and Brian.
“Typhoid Mary is the most infamous of all our kind. There are some Marys who claimed other titles for themselves, some good, some bad...Resurrection Mary, for instance. Then of course, there's the Mary...” She considered paging back past Typhoid Mary some 1500 years, but maybe Francine would understand what she was implying by the word “the.” “Typhoid Mary was different. She experimented on Mary's powers, and changed how the link between she and the spirit worked—in doing so, she became a living disease. She left this universe and began using Mary's powers to infect whole universes with her viruses. These universes would sicken and collapse, exposed suddenly to internal stresses that ripped them apart.”
Francine remembered Tsuu-Aas, and wondered then if perhaps Typhoid Mary had infected their universe.
“They say that Typhoid Mary killed several of the Golden Guardians of Time before she was destroyed. Even then, we don't know if she was destroyed for certain. The mantle went on past her, but that's the only evidence to suggest she ever died.”
“Fortunately, we won't be summoning her wraith. Instead, I think...” And she began paging backwards, now at last reaching illustrations. Francine could see an image of Bloody Mary that resembled herself—Nadine wasn't a bad artist—and before that, there was a figure who more resembled Nadine. Before that, there was a woman with high-cheeked features whom Mary didn't recognize—and before that, there was a patchwork sort of figure, wearing a torn dress similar to the one she took on in her spirit form, but more akin to something one would find on farm folk before the Civil War.
“She might be able to help us. My teacher's teacher,” Nadine said. “Katherine 'Kate' Batts. Died 1810—they say she fought in the American Revolution, putting fright in the hearts of British soldiers. A brave and intuitive warrior, and a strong Bloody Mary.”
“We're summoning her?” Francine asked.
“Yes. All we need is a mirror. There's three of us, so each of us could say a line...”
Brian and Francine wondered what she meant, at first, but as Madame Ingomar found a mirror among the bookshelves, they realized the meaning of her words. There was little light here, making it perfect for striking a candle. Once the top layer of dust burned off the old wax stump, Francine looked at her two companions, and then into the mirror.
“Bloody Mary,” she said.
“Bloody Mary,” Nadine said.
“Bloody Mary,” Brian concluded.
The surface of the mirror shimmered, and for a moment there seemed to be gray fog within it. That fog coalesced into a head, faceless at first but slowly gaining distinction—the head was crowned with wild black hair, which was not as dark as Mary's but close to it. Once the dead gray face appeared, they could see clearly her cold white eyes and her near-toothless hole of a mouth.
“Who dares call up ol' Kate Batts?” the spirit intoned.
“I am Francine Rainsford, current holder of the title of Bloody Mary,” Francine said.
“Yes...I can feel the ol' Mary-spirit wriggling around in you. So now, my soft-skinned doe-girl, what can this old witch do for you?”
“We seek the sorceress Zahl Doone. You may have known some of her ancestors, though the most famous of them lived a century before your death.”
“Zahl Doone's powers have touched the Mirror-Realm—I'm surprised you haven't noticed it, but she moves her fingers real subtle. Come into the Mirror-Realm with me, child, and I'll show you where she weaves her web.”
Francine looked cautiously at Nadine, who shook her head urgently as she glanced back and forth at the apparition in the glass. Outside of the Mirror-Realm they couldn't communicate telepathically, but it was clear to Francine that Kate Batts was not to be trusted.
But still, she had to save Immorté. And this ghost was an incarnation of Bloody Mary—she had all the same powers Francine did. That meant they were equally matched in battle if this was some sort of trick.
“Very well,” Francine said, and Nadine shook her head more urgently. “I will join you, but you must show me where Zahl Doone is at once.”
“No tricks, dearie...” And the former Mary began to laugh to herself.
Francine didn't like the situation, but she felt she had no choice. She changed to Bloody Mary and dove into the mirror. At once, she saw the figure of Kate Batts before her, hovering ominously in the dark of the Realm. It was the same space, meaning it still belonged to Francine, but there was something different about it now that Batts was here with her. She felt a certain familiar archaism which spoke to her of another world—another world in time. As if black void could have fashions, much less antique ones...but it was undeniable that something had changed.
“Come, come,” Batts urged, leading her away from where she'd entered. “It's those ribbons up ahead. A power-tap...from a dirty fingers of a thief.”
She pointed, and indeed Mary could now see long stripes of greenish light—creases in the space of the Mirror-Realm. As they swam towards it, Mary's anxiety increased. The oddities of the Realm felt realer to her now, and as the thin auroras neared, she suddenly felt the rush of a shadow swimming near her. It passed back and disappeared into the dark before she could see it properly.
“What was that?” she asked Batts.
“A mirror-creature. Don't know what else to call 'em...they're like big cats, or big wolves, or both at the same time...and with long feelers like octa-pus arms.”
Mary had no response; she just wanted to get to those lights. But at the same time, she had a feeling that if Batts was going to pull anything, it would be at the threshold of the lights.
Soon they were but a short distance from these fissures or cracks in the Mirror-Realm. They were not so violent as cracks or fissures—it was light leaking in from somewhere else. “Look inta that light,” Batts urged. “See who's making it.”
“Doone,” Mary said, with only a second's glance. She could see the witch's face—she was young and beautiful, but her long golden hair seemed to have a natural green tone to it in the light. Her eyes were dark, her nose short, and her chin sharp. She wore complicated ceremonial robes, adorned with a variety of symbols, including some signs of the zodiac; these robes, too, had a green tint to them. Those dark eyes flickered back and forth in the smoky dusk of the light, and now she faded away.
Batts said, “Now, see where she is. See the name of that small burg...”
She looked deeper into the emerald smoke, where Doone had once stood. Beyond Doone was the house she hid in, and beyond that house was the town that wrapped around it. There was a sign marking the town, and its population of 177: “Kebertsville, MD.” That was where she was hiding. Her curse hadn't reached from England but it had still been a far lunge to Louisiana.
“That's where she is, then,” Mary said. “Thank you, Kate Batts, for...” And she turned slowly.
The specter of Kate Batts loomed high over her, but she no longer resembled Bloody Mary. Her white eyes were lidless, and glowed yellow as the gray of her skin faded away, and she merged with the dark of the Mirror-Realm. Her claws grew longer, stretching out like shadows, and her glinting, saliva-laced fangs shining bright and stretched.
“Are—are you going to attack me?” Francine asked. “At least be honest in that, on your honor as my predecessor.”
“No, I will not strike at ye, child,” the Batts-creature rasped. “But I am giving you forewarning. There is a piece of myself under control o' the Doone woman...and that's how I could show ye where she is. That piece was torn off long ago by a demon, and it hasn't quite acted like me because o' who tore it off o' me. She—the piece of me, I mean—haunted Tennessee, which is where I fought that ol' demon...and it made trouble for the Bell family, one branch o' 'em. Because that ol' bit of me, with the demon-haint in it, haunted the Bell family, she was called by most the Bell Witch.”
Of course. As a native of Tennessee, Francine had heard of the Bell Witch. She and Brian had almost done the Bell Witch Cave tour one year. Was this Batts-beast what that Witch had looked like...?
But she was drifting now—the ghost of Kate Batts was gone. Yet Mary was not alone. As she fell into the tapesty of glow below her, Immorté was with her then, and there was only a moment as the light fell away before they found themselves elsewhere.
They were back in Ingomar Manor. Brian looked down at Immorté, checking to see if he was okay. The Lost Prince seemed to have recovered enough to start stirring. In moments, he sat up and looked around.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You're currently under attack,” Bloody Mary told him. “A witch named Zahl Doone is trying to hex you. I know where she is, though, and we can go get her.” She looked back. “We meaning me and Brian. You're going to stay here with Nadine...if Nadine is okay with that, that is.”
“I have no problems. Any friend of Mary's is a friend of mine, as I may have said before,” Nadine affirmed. “Really, Francine, you're in the will to get the house anyway, so don't worry about dropping allies here, or using the house for any other purpose, when you have to.”
“Leave me the—” Mary cut herself off. “Nadine, no.”
“It's not up for debate—at least, not now. I'm glad my old tomes were able to help. You have to go stop Doone now.”
“No.” And there was a professional seriousness in Ingomar's voice. “Go, now. Doone is dangerous, but if anyone is meant to stop her it's you.”
“And I'm going with,” Immorté said. “My body is made of mystic energy—once you told me I was cursed I was able to vent out all the old pain. That doesn't mean she can't hit me again, though...”
“Keep a low psychic profile,” Mary suggested. “Don't let her know you're with me. For all she knows, you're still seizing or in suspension in the Mirror-Realm.”
“I've been keeping my thoughts under control ever since I woke up,” Immorté replied.
“Good. Let's get going then. We'll land outside Kebertsville—there's bound to be evening dew on the entrance sign I saw that we can use. Maybe we should try reconnaissance. Find a late-night restaurant or gas station, and ask a local if they've seen anything weird.”
Brian nodded at this idea, and turned to look over at Nadine. “What about you?” He looked at Mary. “What about her?”
“No, I don't want to come with,” Nadine smiled. “I will save you the trouble, Francine—Mary. I will remain here. But if I can help again, please let me know.”
Bloody Mary nodded respectfully, and she took Immorté and Brian's hands. Then, they all vanished into the mirror.
Sure enough, there was moisture on the sign identifying the boundary of the small Maryland town. Once they emerged, Immorté looked up high at the moon, and clutched his torso. “I feel like I got cut with a cutlass...and I know too well how that feels,” he said.
“Both Brian and I have things to worry about, if she can affect you. Curses are psychic energy so they can hurt me.”
“Well, let's find out where she sleeps,” Immorté said coldly. “I like that gas station plan. Let's go.” Then he clicked under his breath. “Zahl Doone, you said?”
“Riven's girlfriend. They wanted to have a child but Riven brought some, uh, complications to the table. It didn't help that becoming a Wild Huntsman turned Riven Blood into an alien being, unable to mate with a human, besides his other difficulties. Weirdly, I don't have those challenges—being able to mate with humans, that is...”
“Do you have kids, Immorté?” Brian asked, half-laughing. But Immorté didn't answer.
Soon they were coming up on an all-night restaurant. Bloody Mary turned back into Francine Rainsford, and she looked at Immorté. “You should probably stay here,” she said, but he shook his head.
“I can use my psionics to ease people into my appearance. Been doin' it all my life. You learn how to do it when you look like me.”
Mary shrugged. After all her experiences she was hardly in a position to contradict him. They entered, and saw the place was empty save for a skinny white boy in a bowtie mopping the floor.
“How, uh, how can I help you three?”
“We're looking for some information. Consider it part of a formal investigation,” Francine said.
“Wait, like, government business?”
“Something like that, yeah,” Immorté put in.
“Well, I'll help where I can,” the teen said.
“Have you noticed anything weird around here?” Francine asked.
“What, like Nazi spies or somethin'?”
“Um. Something like that?”
He got in real close. “Listen. My best friend's a Jew. Don't tell no one he is because they don't know and I don't know if he wants people knowing. But around here, we've got Ku Klux Klan folk. They...well. They've sorta taken over the town.”
“The Klan?” Francine was taken aback. She wondered now if Kamarack was here as well, maintaining his alliance with that band of murderous ingrates. “Are you sure?”
“I wouldn't mistake those robes.” He choked. “Look, since you folks—two of you, at least—are colored—maybe it would be good if—”
“We're not going anywhere,” Brian said.
“He speaks the truth,” Francine affirmed. “Who's in charge of this band of Klansmen?”
“His name is Anthony Bell,” the server said. “He hates Maryland for 'betraying' the Confederacy.”
“That would explain how they got the Bell Witch up here. She haunts members of the Bell family. Wonder if she ever expected one of them would want to be haunted.”
“What are you guys talking about?” the waiter asked. “Listen. I want to try to help get rid of the Klan! How can I do that?”
“I'm not sure it's something you can get into,” Mary said, considering what Batts had told her about what the Bell Witch was. “But a good first step would be keeping your voice down. In a small town like this—”
Once more, an interruption. A knock at the door.
“Why are they knocking?” Brian said, turning slow. “Why don't they just come in?”
As he looked, he saw the robes, and the torches. There was no mistaking the Klan. Their whole mob must've been prowling around and heard the talk. Brian looked back at the waiter angrily.
“What's your name, kid?” Francine asked.
“H-Henry Donner-Hughes,” he choked nervously. “I-it, uh, I know it's a rich-sounding name, but I really don't...”
“I don't care, Henry. Just get out of sight.” And she turned back to Bloody Mary. Henry was frightened by this, but he feared the Klan more than the woman who was about to be their victim. He dashed back to the kitchen, and she hoped that if any of the other staff were still around, he could keep them away from where there was likely to be shooting.
The Klansmen kicked the door in, brandishing rifles, as expected. “Immorté, keep 'em off Brian,” Mary said. Immorté just nodded. The hint entered their minds that shooting Brian was a waste of bullets, and he forced them to accept it. That gave him an opening to rush up and start showing them his fists.
Immorté swept a few aside with his telekinesis, but Mary was the centerpiece. They opened fire on her, but the bullets meant nothing. They screamed at the sight of her, even with Immorté in the same room, and once her claws cut into them their screams only got louder. Everything human in Mary that made the screams of other humans repulsive to her was muted for this bunch. She was considering now the dynamics of action vs. reaction. These bearers of power were the actors; she and her friends were reacting. Yet they got the blame for this type of war, when they were the passive voice folk—they were “being done to,” rather than “doing.” Maybe she did take it too far—farther than it needed to be taken. But she wondered sometimes.
There were only a dozen of them, and between boxer's fists, psychic's blasts, and ghost's claws they were all down. Mary wondered which of them was Anthony Bell, but just then, she looked out into the expanse of the night they'd passed through when coming out to this nameless little diner. More torches—more men in robes. Quite a few of them. One of them wasn't wearing a hood.
Mary turned suddenly, seeing that Henry had come out from the kitchen.
“The unmasked one. That's Bell.”
He didn't look like a leader to Mary. Short hair, gray at the edges, wild blue eyes, and bared teeth. He looked like an idiot dressed in that white frock of his. She took out her claws, relishing the coming prospect of tearing down another Klan leader. Take down the leaders, and they were just scared little boys in pajamas. Albeit ones with long criminal records.
But then it was like a fist struck her in the stomach, and she knew at once there was magic around. That meant Doone. Sure enough, there she was right before her—she'd snuck in, invisible with some spell. Mary lashed out with her claws as she soon as she saw her, but the blonde who snapped into view only laughed at her assaults. Mary couldn't believe it at first—she was cutting into her belly, after all. But the Zahl Doone standing before her was suddenly just a straw dummy, and the real witch was behind her.
She really did have that greenish tint to her hair—how she pulled it off Mary had no idea. “You were stupid to track me here, Immorté—and to send your guard dogs after me.”
Mary dove for her again. “I'm the one who's coming after you, Doone. Immorté didn't kill your lover...Riven's grand-nephew did. The guy called 'Ultrablood.' He was the potential-future child of the Blackbird and the Falconer.”
At the words “potential-future child”—which even Mary herself was unsure of using—Doone's eyes seemed to flash, but Mary didn't know what that meant. Instead, she suddenly felt a cold hand at her throat, as if Doone was strangling her, though she was still a few feet away.
“The Pumpkin Master told me that I could use Bell and his faction, now that his experiments with them were done,” Doone said. “That witch of Bell's is powerful. But that's because she used to be you, right? Isn't that right, Bloody Mary?”
Immorté and Brian went for her at once. She took a step back and raised a hand against Immorté, who stopped as soon as he landed. He fell to the ground at once, collapsing into another seizure. Brian shouted out his name and swung a fist hard into Doone's face. She flinched, but laughed—there was damage but she felt nothing. He lashed out again, this time only glancing her before she tossed him backwards.
Mary needed to get her blood open to Immorté, but then she saw what Brian's second punch had done. Zahl Doone was unfazed by his attacks but he had still managed to cut her forehead. She looked at the flailing alien prince.
“Immorté! If you can hear me—she has a cut! Her blood is exposed!”
Immorté was reeling from the seizure, his conscious thoughts pulverized by the physical struggle of the ordeal. But he still heard Mary cry out, and knew what her words meant. He barely summoned the burst of strength which set Doone's blood ablaze.
Mary didn't have time to celebrate this blow to Doone. At once, she felt her own form of sickly force enter her, though she wasn't having a seizure as Immorté was. Instead, she felt the agonizing distortion of her magic being leeched out of her. She looked around frantically for the source but whatever was stealing from her was invisible, as Doone had been. She watched now, almost helpless, as Brian braced himself for the Klansmen entering the restaurant. There was nothing more he could do to stop Zahl Doone—Immorté was taking care of that, and as the witch's screams echoed through the building Immorté regained his strength as her hold on him broke. But then Brian was on the ground, smacked by a Klansman rifle. It was Anthony Bell who dealt the blow.
“Bloody Mary, Mr. Jason's told me all about you through his foreman Mr. Kamarack,” Bell said, a thick Tennessee accent filling his voice. “And if you don't want me to blow your cousin's head off, you're gonna sit right there and let my family's Witch have her fill of you. She's been roaming this Earth for over a hundred years, and it's time for her to finally have a family of her own. Once she has enough of your energy, she'll split in two, and that's where I get to work. With Ms. Doone's help, of course.”
He turned his rifle off of Brian for just an instant, and with a resounding blast, shot Immorté.
“Immorté—!” Mary yelled.
But the Lost Prince was far from dead. Red blood spat through the black surface that looked like his costume, right through his abdomen, but he groaned. “I-I'll be okay,” he said. “Ain't the first time some fucker's done that to me...”
“Enough o' this!” Bell barked. “Like I said, Mary, there's gonna be two Bell Witches when that little piece of who you once was finishes drinking off you. And one of those Witches...is gonna be me.”
That was ludicrous enough for Mary to gain the strength to speak. She wished she could get her claws on the Bell Witch for doing this to her. “What the hell do you mean? You—you can't gain the power of...” She grunted, and in her pain old memories flashed back to her. Distantly, she wondered if old Kate Batts was helping—even incidentally. After all, it was the ghost of her ghost that was stealing her power. Somehow, she remembered back to the early days of the Mary-spirit—when she was first called forth as the ghost of Wahn'go. Ancient city of the Wild Women...
“Bloody Mary is a woman's power,” Mary said then, echoing something she was sure Nadine had told her once. “You can't have it for yourself.”
“There's gonna be a goddamn Tony Bell Witch and there's nothing you can do about it,” Tony Bell proclaimed. “The Bell Witch is free now, to haunt this little shitstain of a town. I'll let her free, by the same power that I'll take for myself.”
By now Zahl Doone was nearly recovered from Immorté's attack. The same magic that allowed him to survive Bell's bullet also let her survive her blood literally boiling in her veins. “Let's get started, Bell. And together, we'll get vengeance for my dear Riven and what these abominations put him through.”
Bell had no response to that. Doubtless he didn't care a bit about Doone's revenge quest. He was going to use the power of the Bell Witch, or the “Tony Bell Witch” as he called it, to do what the Klan wanted to do. He was going to hurt the innocent, just as they always did.
Mary nearly laughed. The hypocrisy of all this. And they said they were—
It was the same thing that Kamarack used to control this rabble, and the Pumpkin Master beyond him. The same thing that made them disposable goons for that pair and nothing more.
“You know,” Bloody Mary said then. “Jesus Christ will condemn you.”
Bell at first tried not to answer. None of the dozen-odd Klansmen gathered had anything to say about it.
“You don't think any of this is against what you believe?” she asked. “You all hate Catholics 'cause you claim to be Protestants. You—” And she pointed at one of them. “Why do you hate the Jews?”
Frightened by her appearance, he said, “Because they killed Jesus!”
“Yes, yes, that's right,” Mary lied, taking advantage of the fact that they couldn't see her roll her eyes. (Jesus was the King of the Jews, how did they keep forgetting that?) “You hate things that defy your Lord, don't you? You hate me, in fact, not just because I'm a Negro woman but because I'm a Satanic demon from Hell!”
And they hollered at this, aiming their rifle at her once more. There was shock in Bell's eyes. He was losing the balance of power, but already, near to him, two apparitions began to manifest. They were the same as the hideous shape Kate Batts had taken back in the Mirror-Realm—grotesque twin parodies of Bloody Mary, all stretched and distorted. One of them, at the gestures Zahl Doone was now quietly making, stepped into the same space as Tony Bell, and the two of them, together, began to glow.
“Mary...” Immorté groaned, but she hushed him.
“But listen! Don't you remember Sunday school? 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' That's what Jesus wanted. If you claim to be as good and pure as those white sheets of yours imply, then you should be ashamed of the fact that your Grand Cyclops of whoever is using the services of a whore of Satan!” Raising a clawed finger at Zahl Doone, she realized this was too much fun. The tone she used was perfect—now, those hood-clad eyes were turning on both Doone and Bell. Anxiously at first, but with growing sureness. Bell stared urgently at his hired witch, wishing urgently that she would hurry up.
“And now, Mr. Bell says he wants to become a spirit of the devil. I bet he said something about how he was brave enough to control the power of the Bell Witch, and that it was all just symbolism anyway, like how your hoods are supposed to make your ghosts. Ghosts are said to be evil in the Bible too, you know.”
It wasn't that she was convincing them by being their friend—it was that she was speaking to fears they couldn't ignore, even in the face of their own hypocrisy. Truly this was how Kamarack spoke to them—he spoke to their fears. No human could resist, at least initially, and by the time the fear had worn off and some sense had come to these men, they were killed either by the cops or by their own, who, so often, were one and the same.
No honor amongst thieves. Maybe there was a Tony Bell Witch, at least for a little bit. But someone cracked, and cracked easy, as she expected. She hadn't even had to hope—it was nearly guaranteed, given who she was facing. The shot hit Tony Bell straight in the back, and as he cried out so too did Zahl Doone.
“No—!” she screamed. “W-we're still mystically bound! I can't lose my power to him...” She strained and struggled, feeling some of her strength sap away into the body of the dying man—where it would be crushed and dissolved by his death. Stolen from her forever. It had been her magic which had bound her to Riven; it must never leave her.
“You won't take my power to your grave—!” And she let out a psychic burst, much like the kind that Immorté's brother Mik'hel had used. It was weaker, but it did its work. In a second, Anthony Bell gave yet another shriek, and he was blown away, his chest now a cavern full of ashes.
At this, the assembled Klansmen realized what they had done—or specifically, what one of them had done. But they didn't know which of them had fired the telltale shot. A firefight broke out among them, and while it would wreck much of the restaurant, a good cluster of them were already running instead for the borders of town, into the woods. There, those of them who fell would do so far from innocent people, like the young Mr. Donner-Hughes. Tony Bell lay dead on the ground, his face twisted with fear at what awaited him in the next world, after he'd died doing what he'd done.
Brian sat upright, slowly, as did Immorté. “Mary,” Brian chuckled. “I didn't know you converted.”
“I didn't,” she smiled back at him, “but I know, from whatever it is I do believe in, what fanaticism can do to itself if you lean on it.” Then she blinked. Her smile felt odd, as if it was about to become bitter—as if suddenly this would once again be the last of her smiles Brian would see for a long time.
The Bell Witches, both of them, were gone. She could feel their presence fade into the distance, to return at another time, perhaps. But she saw then that Zahl Doone was recovering faster than expected. She had no interest in joining the internal battle the Klan was now driving against itself. Instead, her desire for revenge blazed all the hotter, even hotter than the fires Immorté had set in her veins.
“I lose one weapon, to gain another,” she said. “What I need to kill you, my Prince, awaits us in the future. As for you...Bloody Mary.” And her Exmoor voice dropped to a low hiss. “You are the friend of my enemy. And that means you too must die. But I am starting to see now how much you, too, had to do with Riven's death. Immorté will die slow...but if you keep helping him, you may die yet slower.”
Mary frowned. The psychic energy all around them now was incredibly strange—and distantly, she remembered for some reason that Nadine said Doone could even manipulate time.
What was that she'd said about the future...?
And a new weapon?
Zahl Doone snapped her fingers.
In an instant, the restaurant—and Brian—were gone. At least, as far as they were recognizable. Instead, Mary and Immorté were in a cell of some kind. Mary went fast to the bars and tried to squeeze between them—but some unseen force, like invisible hands, kept her back. Next, Immorté threw his weight against the bars, then a flash of telekinesis. Neither to any effect.
Mary was about to say something when the door across from their bars slid open. In marched a familiar sight. As if they had never gone, here were three more Klansmen, but they had a new guest. It was Zahl Doone again, and she grinned at them.
“That was fairly easy. Using Bell as a makeshift sacrifice gave me the necessary power.”
“What is this, Doone?” Immorté barked at her.
“Immorté, I want you to use your powers to reach out to Kebertsville. We're still there, after all, and you two haven't moved an inch. It's the building that changed around you. What matters, though, is that you find a mind, any mind. And learn the year.”
Immorté reached out as she asked, but had no idea what she was talking about. It was 1942—he knew that clearly. So she had rearranged the building with magic—that was far from impossible in his experience. But then he struck a mind, so distant from him for some reason, like there was a psychic barrier of some kind around this building. He could gleam only basic facts from this mind—he didn't even known who it belonged to. He learned from these basic facts, however, something which shocked him.
“Mary—you told me once you traveled through time, right?”
“Good. We're both previous time-travelers, then.”
“Why do you...?”
“Mary. It's not 1942 anymore. I don't know how, but it's 1947.”
“Yes,” Zahl Doone replied. “I brought you here, with my magic. But that's not all I arranged. You see, once you were in the future, I could undo the victory you scored for yourselves all those years again.” And she laughed cruelly. “The KKK has had complete control over this town for the last five years!”
To be continued in The Psychic's Corpse...!