The raven was standing on the little table in the wicked witch’s private room. Expecting a new kind of feast, he dipped his beak into a bowl of wiggly white worms. And spat them clear across the room. “Great Suffering Succotash!” he exclaimed. “What is this stuff?’
“It’s ramen noodles,” the witch replied calmly. ”They’re cheap. And you know we need to save money. El Presidente’s got men cruising around the country doing whatever they want to obstruct justice. We’re all trying to save money and build up the resistance.”
Just as the raven was beginning a grand expostulation against faux food (because there was so little real food), there was a knock at the door and three of the refugees came in. These were Mrs. Worthington née Gonzalez, who had come into the country as a child and worked at a sewing machine for forty years; Mrs. Janedoe, whose family’s newspaper had been firebombed; and Mrs. Ashrawi, whose distant home had been bombed by a dictator who called himself a president. The husbands of all three women had been blown away by the winds of war.
“Missus…” Mrs. Janedoe began, but Mrs. Worthington stepped forward. “Are you aware there’s a militia driving around?” she asked. “Raiding communes and farms like ours? They’re boasting about ‘deporting’ us Unamericans.”
The witch nodded. “Yes, and I’m very worried. We have to do something. But what?”
The three women took seats around the table and the raven perched behind the witch. They immediately began to discuss what good, honest women could do to protect themselves and their families, or at least what was left of their families. It was a long discussion that ranged from the use of weapons (frowned upon) to the use of magic (aha!). Mrs. Worthington had brought what looked like a doll, except it was a skeleton dressed in a sort of flamenco-dancer dress and carrying a scythe. “This is Santa Muerte,” she explained. “Our Lady of Holy Death. Though she seldom kills people. She is the saint of the last resort, and she helps people being persecuted. If I may build an altar to her? She will protect us.” As the witch nodded, Mrs. Ashrawi spoke up.
“Although my husband was a follower of the Prophet and understood that Islam means surrendering to and walking a peaceful path, he never knew that my ancestors were Qabalists who wandered all the deserts of the Middle East. My grandparents escaped from the Ottoman Turks. I have, er, recently been dreaming about a many-times-great grandmother and the, er, magical work she did. Actually, she’s been teaching me!”
“And,” said Mrs. Janedoe, “I come from a family that escaped from Salem in 1692 and landed up in N’Orleans. I must say…I also know a thing or two….” And the discussion went on.
“So, to conclude,” said the wicked witch, “we are all wicked, at least as far as certain men are concerned. We understand that it’s time for increased action. The time for scarecrows as surrogates is past. Let us each do what we can do.” She turned to the raven. “Kahlil, will you summon the other birds?”
“You betcha! Girls, I prophesy that you’re gonna do a bang-up ritual here, and us birds’ll help you. People gotta be safe.”
There followed the posting of sentries around the farm; the same thing was happening at the other farms, and people across the land were also organizing, going to town meetings to protest certain proposed laws, distributing petitions, and laying in increased stores of food and other supplies. It was almost as if they were preparing for a war.
And one day it happened: a dozen jeeps crowded with big-bellied, middle-aged, white men wearing camouflage uniforms and bearing mighty weapons drove onto the farm and parked in the field where the scarecrows had stood. Behind the jeeps came a Hummer, which drove to the front of the ranks. As soon as it stopped, a tall man wearing a Stetson hat and a huge sidearm jumped out and walked straight toward the wicked witch. He didn’t notice the altars on the four sides of the field because people were standing in front of them.
“Ma’am,” he said to the witch, “I am Colonel Beauregard Jefferson. I am called to command the Great America Army of God. I represent the President and all Good Americans. I am here to Clean the Scum and the Vermin out of Our Land. [Yes, he spoke with capital letters, so exalted was he.] Now, Ma’am, if you’ll just get out of the way, we’ll Go On About Our Business.” He turned to signal his troops, “Men, you know what—”
Before any militiaman could move, a flock of the biggest, blackest birds anyone had ever seen arrived. A militiaman tried to wave them away. He lost his eyeballs. Another raised his gun. It was snatched away. As the ravens got bigger and louder, the militiamen cowered in their vehicles. Colonel Jefferson was stuck in the middle of the field, precisely where the scarecrows had formerly stood.
Now people stepped away from the altars. In the east stood an altar bearing black and red candles, a sword, a wand topped with feathers, and three Tarot cards drawn that morning: the Empress, the Chariot, and the Falling Tower. “I call upon Ogun the Warrior.” Mrs. Janedoe raised her hands to the sky. “I call upon Aganju, Brother of Volcanoes.” A fiery wind arose, hands came out of it, and those hands touched the assault weapons in the jeeps. As the weapons began to melt, the militiamen holding them began to howl in pain.
In the south stood a table with three Holy Books lying on a drawing of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. “By all the Universal Powers,” cried Mrs. Ashrawi, “I release the demons and djinns and succubi of the Qliphoth upon you. Let the husks and shells of evil suck you up. Suck out your evil souls.” Although no one could quite see what was happening, they heard howling and whispering and hissing. Then they saw flashes of rainbow light and wiggly white worms rising out of the earth. The militiamen were mostly unconscious by now.
In the west stood a table holding the statue of Santa Muerte, plus candles, incenses, and oils. Mrs. Worthington was praying in Spanish. For a minute, nothing happened, and then the saint’s scythe doubled in size and invisible hands began sweeping it through the militia, mowing down jeeps and men alike. Ogun the Warrior, the demon Azazel, and Santa Muerte, now seven feet tall, stood on three sides of Colonel Beauregard Jefferson, who was visibly wilting. The giant ravens flew over him again and again.
And in the north stood a table with nothing visible on it. Then there appeared a dish of nails and thorns and fishhooks, and a fresh roll of black duct tape. As the magical tools began to pierce and bind the colonel, the wicked witch stepped forward. “Thus saith Angelo in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure:
We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.