Category Archives: magic

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 20

Canto Twenty – The Evil Island

We were lost because the Reefer Mary Celeste no longer had a navigator aboard, and Chinooki had apparently destroyed the radio and all the other electronic equipment on board as well.  Kooky and I tried to keep her on the course we had been following, but two of us were simply not enough people to manage a ship of the size of the Mary.  We quickly lost our way in a thick fog and we were going in an unknown direction at too high a rate of speed.  We knew how to use a compass and we might even have been able to wait for the stars if our minds hadn’t been turned to Jell-O pudding by the mermaid’s singing.

“She killed all of our crew, didn’t she?” said Kooky.

“She did.  You know, Chuck warned us about her.  We should’ve listened.”

“You are right, Captain.  I realize that now.  But at the time, it was like I was under a spell or something.  She had power over me.”

“Yes, she did.  Over all of us, apparently.”

“I am so sorry, Captain.  I’ve caused the death of us all, haven’t I?”

“None of us should ever have let someone else take control of our lives.  We should’ve realized the danger from the start.  You can’t blame yourself alone.”

It was right after that conversation that Kooky spotted Chinooki sitting on a distant rock.

“I am going to make her pay, Captain.  She is going to regret coming on board the Reefer Mary Celeste.”

Kooky was at the wheel, and he steered the entire ship directly towards the rock where Chinooki was sitting.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I’ll ram her!  I will run her over!”

“Kooky, she’s singing right now.  Do you think maybe she wants us to do exactly what you are doing?”

“Maybe so.  Maybe not.  But I have ta!” And the strangest thing is that I let him do it.  I let him ram the Mary bow-first into the rock.  It tore through most of the front end of the ship, separating her at mid-ship into two parts, both of which sank to the bottom.  I remember swimming in the ocean with shark fins in the water near the horizon.  I remember hearing Kooky call out and a sudden thrashing, and I wondered if it were the sharks or the mermaid herself who claimed him.  I never saw him again.  I never saw any of them again.  I blacked out, and don’t remember anything before awakening on the sand of the Evil Island’s shore.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 18

Canto Eighteen – Library Lies

The four young Pirates took the invisible Captain into the Norwall Public Library, into the reading room where all the encyclopedias were kept, along with the piano used for community sing-a-longs after town council meetings.  They all took seats around one of the round tables used for meetings and, on rare occasions, students doing homework.

Valerie kept staring at the empty space behind the floating glasses where the Captain’s face actually had to be.  If she squinted and stared real hard, she could almost picture a face there, though an older face than the yearbook photo Mary had shown her.

“Uncle Noah,” Mary said, “You have to answer some questions for us now.”

“Well, um, heh-heh… what exactly do you children want to know?”

“How did you become invisible?” Danny demanded.  “And can you teach me how to do it too?”

“Why do you want to be invisible?” Valerie asked Danny, while poking him in the ribs with a finger.

“Yeah… well… you see, I could go into the girls’ locker room at school, and…”

“Okay, not that question!” insisted Mary.  Pidney beside her was a bright crimson color in the face.  “Tell us, Uncle Noah, why you became invisible.”

“Well, that was not a matter of choice.  Did you read the log book I sent you?”

“Not all of it, no…”  Mary looked at the empty air behind the glasses with a very skeptical expression.

“Well, you see, there was this witchdoctor… also called a juju man…  His name was Mangkukulan…  He put a curse on me, and made me invisible.”

“Why did he put a curse on you?” Pidney asked.

“Well, uh… you really should read about it in the log book first.  It tells the story better than I can here and now… um, before you read it.”

“Just summarize for us,” suggested Mary.

“Well, um… the truth of the matter is… um, I am in need of a… well, a pure sort of… a girl who…”

“What, Uncle Noah?”

“I need a virgin.”

“Cool,” said Danny.  “What do you need one of those for?”

“Um, well, I… Mangkukulan needs a virgin to give to the mayap mapali Matuling Lupa.”

“The what?” asked Valerie.

“That wouldn’t be a volcano or something would it?” asked Danny.

“Well, sorta, kinda… the god of volcanoes.”

“And why does Man-coo-coo-man think he needs to get a virgin from you, Captain?” asked Pidney, frowning.

“Because I… well… I sorta… um… spoiled the one he had.”

“You what?  And what virgin were you planning to give him in return?” asked Mary, almost loudly and angrily enough to be heard by the librarian in the next room.

“I hate to ask this, Mary dear… but… well… are you still a virgin?”

“What?  How can you ask a question like that?” Mary roared.

The librarian, Val’s Aunt Alice, looked into the room just as the Captain hastily pulled the hood of the cloak over his head.

“Is everything all right, Mary dear?” the librarian asked.

“Oh, ah… we are fine.  We are just having a friendly little argument.”

“I see…” Aunt Alice frowned at the cloaked and hooded figure slumped down in the chair across the table from Mary.  “Call me if you need anything, girls.  I have a handy phone on the desk, and there’s a new deputy sheriff in town.  We have a deputy who actually lives in Norwall now.”

“That’s good to know, Ms. Stewart.  Thank you so much.”  Mary smiled grimly at the cloaked Captain.

Captain Dettbarn seemed meek and chastened after that.

“You can’t really believe you can take a girl from your home town and give her to a witch doctor to throw into a volcano?”  Mary said quietly through gritted teeth.

“No, I suppose not.  But I still might need to know… um, for magical reasons.  I do have to solve the problem somehow.”

“You don’t have the right to ask that question,” said Pidney, simmering with anger.  “You are talking about a young lady’s honor.  She loses something no matter what the answer is.”

“How can she be losing something?” asked Danny, looking thoroughly confused.

“She loses her right to privacy.  And besides, if she answers that she is one, the creepy old Captain here may kidnap her and throw her into a volcano.”

“Oh,” Danny said.

“I really need to know, Mary, honey… because the witch doctor’s magic follows me everywhere.  And I am afraid he will try to take you if you are.  After all, you are the daughter of my good friend Dagwood Philips, and the witch doctor will know that you are important to me.”

“And what will you do if it turns out that I am one?”

“Well, I can’t do anything about that… but your boyfriend here could.”

“Captain!”  Mary was angry again, and Pidney was a glowing red with embarrassment again.

“Is Valerie in any danger?” asked Danny, suddenly panicky.

“This pretty little one?” the Captain asked.

“Of course,” said Mary.  “Is she in danger too?”

“Well, I don’t know.  She’s obviously not as important to me as you are, Mary… but she’s even more obviously a virgin.”

“Well, that’s disturbing,” said Valerie.  “Because I have my doubts that Pidney can solve the problem for both of us.”  The notion tickled her insides.  The idea was not without its good side.  But, still, it made her angry that they all made that particular assumption about her.

“I, um… I better be going now,” said the Captain.  “I have put you girls in enough danger already.  But… I promise, I will find a solution to this problem.  You, however, need to read the log book.  If I have any chance of finding the right magical spell to save us all, I’m going to need your help.”

With that, there was a sudden burst of light from flash powder, and the Captain was gone.  His cloak remained.  As did his clothing and his yachting cap.

“Oh, my gawd!” swore Pidney.  “What will we do now?”

“I think we have to do some serious reading,” said Mary.  “And we may have to think about some other things that kids like us probably shouldn’t be doing either.”

A thrill ran up Valerie’s spine.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 11

Canto Eleven – Clubhouse Craziness

Two days had passed since the magic cat had given Valerie the strange wooden statue.  Now, it sat on the crate that served as a table in the middle of the Ghost House.  The newly re-formed Pirates were all there.

“I think it’s called a Tiki idol,” said Pidney.

“How do you know that, Polack?” sneered Conrad Doble.

“It looks kinda like the ones in the Tiki Bird Show at Disneyland,” said Pidney sheepishly, “Mom and Dad took me there when I was twelve.”

“Didja like the show?” asked Doble.  “The singing birdies and everything?”

“Yeah,” said Pidney matter-of-factly, “I have always loved everything by Disney.”

Both Valerie and Mary Philips smiled at him.  Pidney was always gonna have a lot of the little boy he used to be in him.

“It reminds me of the book you were telling me about, Mary,” said Ray Zeffer.

“What book?” asked Pidney.

“Ray was there when I showed the book to Mr. Salcom.  He’s in my Modern Novel Class third period.  It’s the book about the last voyage to the South Seas.”

“The one your Uncle Noah gave you,” added Ray.

“Noah Dettbarn is NOT my uncle.  He’s just a family friend.”

“Did your Uncle come to visit you recently?” asked Danny Murphy.  “Since he came home again, I mean?”

“He’s NOT my…  Oh, never mind.   It came in the mail a month ago.  It’s where I got those stories I was telling you about, Pid.”

“Oh, yeah.   The stories that you’re gonna share with us to become the Merlin of the Pirates,” said Pidney.

Valerie admired the way Pidney’s eyes sparkled when he talked about stuff that excited him.  And Mary’s stories were always something that excited him, no matter where she got them from.  Mary’s eldest half-brother, Branch McMillan wrote lots of fantastic stories full of lies and jokes and other nonsense.  A lot of that had rubbed off on Mary.

“So, you have a magic book after all?  Like old Milt Morgan had?”  Conrad Doble looked at Mary with an accusing stare that made Val want to punch him in the ear.

“Well, it’s not a magic book.  It’s a ship’s log book.  It has latitudes and longitudes in it, sonar readings, and some stories about what Captain Noah Dettbarn has been up to that are either huge honking lies, or the most fantastic things that ever happened to someone from Iowa.”

“Cool.  You have the book with you?” asked Doble.

“Not yet.  I’ll bring it to the next meeting.  I have to read all the stories myself first,” Mary said.

Doble squinted at Mary.  Valerie thought that must either mean that old King Leer didn’t believe her, or that his tiny brain was being squeezed too tightly by all the information Mary had just given him.  Surely it was the latter thing.

“What are we gonna do with the Tiki-thing?” asked Pidney.

“You really got it from a magic cat?” Ray asked Valerie.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s a magic cat, exactly.  It’s that ugly white alley cat that lives behind the Main Street businesses, by the water tower.  Crazy old Miss Haire asked me to go talk to it.”

“And did it talk back?” sneered Conrad Doble.

Pidney and Ray both glared at Doble, apparently not liking the tone of voice he used with Valerie.   But it was pretty much the same ugly tone he used with everybody.

“Um… It talked to me… yes.”

“But I didn’t hear it,” said Danny.   “Only Val has the witch ears that crazy old Miss Haire was talking about.”

“Witch ears?” asked Mary.

“She calls it the knowing,” answered Valerie.  “She says it is using all your senses to tell you more than any one thing can tell you by itself.”

“That’s real dog poop!” growled Doble.

“Miss Haire is rather eccentric,” said Mary, “but I believe she’s a good person at heart.  Did she say anything about the Tiki idol?”

“We talked to her before we got the idol,” said Val.  “We didn’t see her or talk to her afterwards.”

“Well, I think we should look up more about it in the library,” said Mary.  “Val, isn’t your aunt the head librarian?”

“My Mom’s sister, Aunt Alice, yes.”

“Can you, Pidney, and I meet in the library tomorrow afternoon?”

“You bet!”  Val liked the idea of looking stuff up with Pidney.  Using his football muscles to pull books off shelves and turn encyclopedia pages really appealed to a girl who liked to see football muscles in use and up close.

So, it was settled.  The Captain’s log book would be the magic book that sealed the New Norwall Pirates, and Valerie would get to do research with two of her favorite people on Earth all because of a silly little wooden-headed man in a grass skirt and a very ugly mask.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 10

Canto Ten – Cat Magic, and It Isn’t Even a Black Cat

Valerie and Danny walked back towards Main Street unsure of what to do next in spying on Billy’s weird family.  How do you find out if someone is being hurt or tortured by their own family?  And what was old Witch Haire talking about?  Didn’t she know how scary she was?  And couldn’t she just come out and tell them what she knew?  Did she have to make kids discover stuff for themselves?

“Are you gonna try to do what she said?” asked Danny, kicking a stone down the street ahead of them.

“Do you even understand what she wants me to do?”

“Do I understand what a witch wants?”

“Yeah, that.”

“I have no frapping idea.”

“Frapping?”

“Hey, I have to go home and face Mom later.  She’ll know.”

Val grinned at him.  “Yeah, I suppose she would.”

“Look there, Val, it’s that damned cat she was talking about.”

It was indeed the cat the witch had mentioned.  It was a whitish color, about the color of muddied milk.  It had an ugly, misshapen head that was as flat as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier on top.  Valerie imagined little flying flea squadrons taking off from it in formation.  Its cat’s eyes were unusually large, expressive, and somewhat scary.  It had one light blue eye and one sickly green-colored eye.  And scariest of all, it was looking back at her like it was waiting for her to say something.  It just sat there in the alley behind the fire station, looking at her as if it wanted her to speak.

“Gawd, you are one ugly cat,” she finally said.  It blinked.

“You are pretty for a human.   But aren’t you supposed to talk to me about something else?”

Val was startled.  “Danny, did you hear that cat say something just now?  Without moving its lips, I mean?”

“Um, well, no…  Why?”

“What makes you think the stupid tail-yanker could hear me?  Did you know he once tied firecrackers to a cat’s tail and it wasn’t even the Fourth of July?”

“Danny?  That cat is talking to me.”  The cat seemed to be frowning, not something Val had ever considered a cat to be doing before.

“Val?  Are you feeling all right?”

“My name is Scraggles.  I don’t know if Mistress Haire told you that.”

“No, she didn’t,” Valerie said to the cat.

“Who didn’t what?” asked Danny, confused completely.

“Mazie Haire didn’t tell me that cat’s name, did she?”

“Sure she did.  She said it was called Scraggles.”

“If you are capable of learning the knowing, girl,” the cat hissed, “you’re gonna have ta pay a lot better attention than that.”

“Scraggles,” was all that Valerie said.

“You need to follow me down this alley,” said Scraggles in his spooky cat-voice.

“Okay,” Val answered.

The cat leisurely stood up and turned about, showing his somewhat scuffed-up hindquarters to Valerie and Danny.  It sauntered in an unhurried manner down the alley.  It passed between the fire station and the water tower.  Then it went behind the Post Office.  When they got to the garbage barrels in the alley behind Martin’s Bar and Grill, it sat down in the middle of the alley.

“Barkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbark… BARK!”

Valerie and Danny both nearly jumped out of their skins.  It was Barky Bill, the dog the Martin family kept to keep the rats away from the trash barrels.   It shot out towards the cat who continued to sit with total unconcern.  Then, reaching the end of its chain, the dog nearly strangled itself and flipped on its back in a cloud of gravel, inches from the cat.

“I think the stupid dog knows he can’t get me,” said the cat, licking its right front paw disdainfully.  “It always nearly pulls it own head off to get me.  It is a beast with very little wit.  You’ll never hear any talking from him, no matter how much knowing you actually learn.”

“I think it’s cruel of you to torture the poor dog like that,” Valerie said.

“Are you talking to me or to the damned cat?” asked Danny.

“To the cat.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t you have some important questions to ask me?” the cat said.

“Yeah.  How does a cat talk like this?  You don’t seem to be moving your mouth.  Is it telepathy?  Mind to mind?”

“You are using the knowing.  You see what I do.  You look at the movements I make and the expressions I have on my face, and knowing what you know about cat behavior, you can actually infer what I have to say to you.  It is a matter of your brain figuring out what your eyes are actually seeing.”

“Why can’t Danny hear you?”

Scraggles looked at Danny, making Val turn towards him too.  She noticed the confused look of stupefaction on Danny’s face.

“He’s a boy.  Not even a very smart example of the species.”

“Hmm,” said Valerie.  She didn’t like the way this was going.

“So what…?”  Valerie stopped mid-thought.  What was the misty purple smoke that was suddenly filling the alley?   “What else am I supposed to learn from you?”

“Follow me.”   The cat continued down the alley, behind the Hardware Store and into the smoke.

Valerie followed.  Danny followed her.

Lurking at the far end of the alley was a dark, cloaked figure that seemed to be wearing a yachting cap, or a cap like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island wore… a white one.

“Who’s there?” Val asked.

“I see him too,” Danny remarked.

In that instant someone seemed to whip off the cloak and cap… and then no one was there.  The alley was empty, except for a small wooden man carved from a block of wood and wearing only a skirt of grass and a super-ugly mask.

“Good Gawd!” gasped Danny.  “Did the cat do that?”                                                                                                

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 9

Canto Nine – What a Witch Wants

The house was called the Gingerbread House by all Norwall kids because back in the days of the original Pirates, the old German Lady, Grandma Gretel had lived there.  She had been a survivor of Bergen Belsen concentration camp during World War II, and was so full of life as a result that she baked endless piles of gingerbread to feed to the local kids.  She had treated them like her own grandchildren, the grandchildren that she would never have otherwise, thanks to the dragons of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.

Mazie Haire had bought the Gingerbread House in an estate sale after the old German Lady had passed away with no heirs.  Not only did the mysterious Ms. Haire move in, but she totally changed the fundamental nature of the place.  It still looked like a gingerbread house on the outside, except for the horrible face on the door knocker, but the inside was like a Gothic horror novel.   The walls were now bare gray brick, like the inside of a medieval dungeon.  The wall that once separated the living room from the kitchen had been knocked out, leaving only a support pillar in the center of the big room.  The fireplace had been expanded into a considerable hearth, all of gray stone.  In the center of the hearth was a massive black cauldron where she apparently did all her cooking.  In fact, Val knew that she would only use specific kinds of wood under that cauldron because Daddy Kyle had made the mistake of offering to sell her wood for her fireplace a couple of years ago.  She had made him search all over Iowa for the amount of dogwood she needed and for sweetbriar that turned out not even to be from a tree.  She wanted the apple-scented flowering plants with hooked thorns to burn in her fireplace, but the ones she planted in the yard of the Gingerbread House wouldn’t be ready to harvest for two years.  After he finished that difficult job for her, he never volunteered to do such a thing again… even though she always seemed to have plenty of money and offered to make it worth his while.

“Hold that ice pack on the lump, girl,” Mazie said when Valerie accidentally let it slide a little to one side.

“Thanks for helping us,” mumbled Danny, “but if Val is better, shouldn’t we be going?  I mean… err… you are going to let us go, right?”

Danny glanced nervously at the silent black cauldron on the hearth.

“Afraid I’m gonna cook ya and eat ya, are ya?”  Mazie cackled softly.

“No, um… “

“Don’t you worry none, Danny Murphy,” Mazie said.  “I don’t need your pushy old mommy meddling in my business any more than she already does, so I believe I won’t eat you and give her reason to fret.  I have baby-sat for your little sisters and brothers.  I didn’t eat them, did I?  Cooking don’t make Murphy’s taste any better than they do uncooked.  I’m likely to get food poisoning.”

“You don’t really eat people do you?” asked Valerie, nervously.

“I might eat you, sweet girl.  Especially if you go around committing sins like spying through people’s windows.”

“You’re one to talk!” growled Danny, “with that telescope of yours in the attic room.”

“Oh, for goodness sakes, child.  Get yourself up to the attic and see for yourself.”

Mazie pulled the folding ladder down from the ceiling.  She forced both kids to go up, at the same time forcing Val to press the cold pack against the aching lump on the side of her head.  She followed them up.

The telescope itself was fairly large.  It sat on its tripod in the middle of the single upstairs room.  It was pointed out of the dormer window.  It was pointed up at the sky.

“That is not a spy telescope.  It’s a stargazer.”

Valerie looked all around her at the many pictures on the walls.  Most of them were fanciful drawings of constellations done in colored marker, and using both five and six-pointed stars.

“Well, you could point it at windows in people’s houses, couldn’t you?”

“Sure I could.  Try it young Murphy.  Find a window to point it at.”

Danny took hold of the telescope and pointed it more towards the buildings that faced the Gingerbread House on that side.  There was the back side of the Fire Station.  There was also the back side of the Post Office, Kingman’s Grocery, the old Brenton Bank, Victor Martin’s Bar and Grille, and Stewart’s Hardware store.  He could also see the ground under the water tower and the front corner of old Cecily Dettbarn’s front porch.

“Not much to see, huh?”

“Well…  If the windows were open…”

“How many windows do you count, boy?”

“Not counting the windows on the Dettbarns’ porch?” asked Danny.

“Not counting them…”

“Two.”

“One is the window in the back room of the fire station, and the other is on the back side of the Hardware Store.  And, as you can plainly see, that one got broken a few years back and is covered from the inside with wood and cardboard.”

“Yeah, um…”

“There’s no x-ray vision knob on there anywhere, is there?”

“No, ma’am.”

“There most certainly is not.  I do not use that thing for spying on people.”

“But my dad says you are always up here watching everything with this during the day.”

“I don’t generally watch people.  Here, look at these.”  Mazie opened a drawer in the sideboard and pulled out a sketchbook.  It was filled with pictures of dogs and cats.  Mostly different pictures of one dog and one cat… one very ugly cat.

“That’s Billy Martin’s dog,” said Danny.  “That’s Barky Bill.  I don’t know the cat, though.  It’s a really ugly cat!”

“The cat’s true name is Scraggles,” said Mazie.

“True name?” Valerie asked, “what’s a true name?”

“It is said, mostly by me, that if you know a cat’s true name, the name he calls himself, then you can divine that cat’s thoughts and personality.  Scraggles is what you might call a devil cat.  He is somewhat evil and works to further the causes of Chaos.”

Danny looked knowingly at Val as she continued to hold the ice against the throbbing half of her head.  “A witch, right?” he whispered.

“You may call me a witch,” Mazie said as if she heard Danny clearly in spite of the whisper, “but people who have the knowing are important to the community.  They can steer you down the road where your destiny lies.”

“Erm, sorry, Miss Haire,” muttered Danny.  “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Yep,” said Mazie, almost to herself, “If there is one admirable quality about that Mary Murphy with her great big personality and loud ways, it’s that she is good at teaching her children to be sorry about the wicked things they do.  Now, if only she could do the same for that vile old grandpa of yours.”

Danny frowned at that.  Val almost laughed at the change in emotion on his face… flustered embarrassment to confusion to indignation to almost speaking out, and back to flustered again.

“So you don’t spy on people with the telescope,” said Valerie.  “How is it that you seem to know so much about the people in this town, then?”

“It’s the knowing.  You are a clever young girl and could have it too if you just paid more attention to what you are seeing.  Try it.  Use it to solve the mystery of Billy Martin.  He needs you two, you know… just not in the way you believe now because of what you thought you saw.”

“How do I use it?” asked Valerie, wrinkling her nose in disgust.  “I don’t know how it works.  I don’t even know what it is, or what you mean when you say it.”

“Try it on the cat.  On the way home.  Look old Scraggles in the two mismatched eyes.  Try to figure out what he’s trying to tell you.  If you can do that, you can begin to use the knowing as a force for good in the world.”

Val nodded as if she were agreeing, though, in reality, she was merely anxious to get away from this strange old lady.  She didn’t even care anymore if she ever found out the answer to what a witch wants.                                                                               

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Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

It is, of course, one of the most powerful, masterful, and best-known pieces of music ever written.

Mozart completed the “little serenade” in Vienna in 1787, but it wasn’t published until 1827, long after Mozart’s untimely death.

The Serenade is incorrectly translated into English as “A Little Night Music”. But this is and always has been the way I prefer to think of it. A creation of Mozart written shortly before he hopped aboard the ferryman’s boat and rode off into the eternal night. It is the artifact that proves the art of the master who even has the word “art” as a part of his name. A little music to play on after the master is gone to prove his universal connection to the great silent symphony that is everything in the universe singing silently together.

It is basically what I myself am laboring now to do. I have been dancing along the edge of the abyss of poverty, suffering, and death since I left my teaching job in 2014. I will soon be taking my own trip into night aboard the ferryman’s dreaded boat. And I feel the need to put my own art out there in novel and cartoon form before that happens.

I am not saying that I am a master on the level of a Mozart. My name is not Mickart. But I do have a “key’ in the name Mickey. And it will hopefully unlock something worthwhile for my family and all those I loved and leave behind me. And hopefully, it will provide a little night music to help soothe the next in line behind me at the ferryman’s dock.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 7

Canto Seven – Of Witches in Little Iowa Townships

Old Missus Rubelmacher was most definitely a witch in Valerie’s estimation.  Miss Rubelmacher had been teaching Science forever at Belle City.  She taught it in both the Elementary and the Junior High.  Valerie had the extreme bad luck to have her for the one and only fifth-grade class she taught.  And single old maid teachers who taught Science were definitely witches when they made you learn the scientific names of ten butterflies and recite them by memory.  Ten Lepidoptera!  Who in their right minds was ever going to need to know that a Danaus Plexippus was a Monarch Butterfly?  She ought to get an F on purpose just to let the old witch know how stupid that was.   Homework on a holiday weekend on top of it all.

But Valerie always made A’s in Science.  That wasn’t about to change.

Still, after hating the old witch all the way home on Milo’s bus, she rode on into town with Danny Murphy.  Milo, the crotchety old bus driver, never seemed to mind carrying her on into town when he stopped at the end of her family’s lane… as long as she told him she was going with Danny.  Milo probably thought she was Danny’s girlfriend, the way he always smirked when she told him about going into town.  But that was no never-mind…  She had no interest in Danny as a boy.  Only as a friend.  Only as the one person in the world that she could really tell secrets to because she had seen him naked and could embarrass him royally if he ever told anyone else.

“Why are you coming into town today, Val?” Danny asked.  They were sharing a seat in the middle of the bus, as they often did.  Val waited until they were both off the bus to answer.  They walked past the Post Office together.

“Well, I’m a Norwall Pirate, now.  I have responsibilities.  We are going to try to get Billy Martin into the gang, right?”

“Yeah.  Billy needs some friends.  He has a sorta tough life.”

Valerie nodded.  Church ladies were always tutting their tongues about the horrible, sinful Martin family.  Victor Martin, the head of the family, owned the bar that was once the Uptown Café in the middle of Norwall’s Main Street.    Sinful things happened there.  There was drinking beer, playing pool, a lot of bad language, drinking beer, women who couldn’t be trusted around other peoples’ husbands, and did drinking beer come up already?  In the middle of it all was a long-haired, mostly unwashed boy who was made of spindly sticks and always looked like a lost puppy that someone had recently kicked.  Billy was the son of Richard Martin, the extra-lazy brother of Victor.  The sister of the two Martin brothers, Kelly Martin, was the closest thing that Billy had to a mother in the house, though Valerie was pretty sure that she was not the boy’s real mother.

“We need to do some research about Billy,” Val said like an expert.  “We need to find out more about him.  He doesn’t talk to you much, does he?”

“I don’t think he talks much to anybody.”

“How do we ask him to be a Pirate, then?” Valerie asked.

“You go right up to him, introduce yourself politely, and just ask,” said a grating voice from behind Valerie.  The girl immediately turned to catch the amused glint in the glittering eyes of the dreaded Mazie Haire.

“You were listening to our conversation?” Valerie asked as a sort of justified accusation.

“Of course I was,” said the gray-haired, gimlet-eyed hag.  Truth be told, Valerie was deathly afraid of the old Haire woman.  She was as scary as Dracula’s coffin on Halloween.    Of course, everyone had her pegged as a real witch… a thing that Mazie Haire took no trouble to deny.

“What business is it of yours?”

The old woman bored holes in both kids’ souls with her eyes.  She was a scary and formidable woman.

“I am an old woman who doesn’t tell lies.  I have a lot of knowing.  I see things, and I don’t forget.  This boy you are talking about does indeed need your help.  But it’s not for the reasons you think.  You need to forget about these stupid little kids’ games you and these other little Pirates keep playing.  You need to actually see what you are looking at.”

Valerie was completely at a loss for what to say.  She just nodded at the old crone stupidly, like she agreed to whatever was being asked of her.

Apparently that satisfied old witch Mazie Haire.  She nodded.  Smiled a tight-lipped and thoroughly scary smile, and walked away.

“What was that about?” Valerie asked Danny.

“She’s mysterious,” Danny said.  “It is hard to know what she is really up to.  They say she spends most of her waking hours in the attic room of that gingerbread house of hers and looks out the window at us all through her little telescope.  She watches people.  She creeps me out.”

“Do you suppose she’s right about just going up to Billy and introducing ourselves… and say what we want?”

“Well… she has a good point about the direct approach… but she’s a witch, you know.  Do you really want to do what a witch wants?  Especially if she’s a wicked witch.  Do you want to do what a wicked witch wants?”

Valerie grinned at her awkward, silly-sounding friend.  “What a witch wants?   You sound silly when you say that.”

“Yeah.  I guess I do.”

“But silly or not… I think you are right.”

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