Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Under His Spell by Linda Wisdom



One summer solstice, luminous black-clad Jack Montgomery materialized out of the mist in a meadow. He claimed a vacant Victorian lair for his haunt. Then, with all the smooth moves of Dracula, he swiftly began to lure sweet Holly Bennett.

Holly didn't know her kids had cast an ancient spell for a dad. She only knew she was wooed with candlelight, dreamy nights and the fathomless depths of those witchy dark eyes. She hardly cared who Jack really was...not after she tasted his love elixir and reveled in the abracadabra of his secret touch. She just hoped--as All Hallows' Eve drew near--that this magic man would never disappear.


"Dark of the moon, hear us now, come to our aid and grant our plea."

"That's not a spell! Spells have words that sound the same. Everybody knows that," Ryan Bennett protested.

"Is so a spell. It's written right here in this book. And I have to say all the words before I put out the pictures you gave me."

"Is not a spell!" The little boy glared at the youth standing in the middle of a white circle roughly chalked in the dew-kissed grass. "We want our three dollars back, Kevin Elliott. You lied and cheated. You don't know how to make us a dad from magic."

"Come on, Ryan, if Mom finds out we're not in bed, we'll be in big trouble. Let's forget this," red-haired Caroline Bennett whispered, fearfully looking around the fog-shrouded meadow, as if evil ghosts might suddenly appear and spirit them off. She grabbed her brother's arm and tried to pull him away, but he shrugged her off.

"Not till Kevin gives us our money back," he in­sisted, his squared-off chin jutting out stubbornly. He sneered at the other boy. "We shoulda gone to some­one who knew how to conjure up a dad for us. Some­one smart."

"I know what to do," Kevin argued, holding up a large book with faded gold lettering across its well-worn, water-stained black cloth cover. "Mom's books are authentic witchcraft guides. If you do the spells right, you'll get what you asked for. So let me say the damn words, put the pictures in the circle and you'll get your dad!" he shouted.

"You're not supposed to say the D word," Caro­line primly reminded him, her fear forgotten for the mo­ment. "Your mom said if she caught you cursing again, she'd wash out your mouth with soap."

Kevin took advantage of his greater height and peered into his next-door neighbor's tiny face. "Well, Mom's not here, and I don't think you're gonna snitch on me, since you'd have to tell her where you heard me say damn, and then she'd tell your mom where you were tonight." That foolproof reasoning established, he challenged, "So, do you want me to get on with this or not?"

"I want to go home," Caroline whimpered, look­ing over her shoulder.

"I want a dad!" Ryan wailed, clenching his tiny fists. "A dad who will love us and Mom and not love that dumb Eileen Butkus. I want a dad so I can get into Little League when I'm bigger and so he'll talk Mom into letting us have a puppy." He stomped around the white circle. "I want a dad who will live with us and make Mom happy!" He glared at Kevin as if it was all his fault. "But you can't do it, so I want our three dollars back."

"Ryan, we'd better get home!" Caroline moaned, continuing to look over her shoulder but unable to see much even with the full moon. She was convinced someone was watching them. Even more unnerving was the fog drifting across the dewy grass in their direction. "I wish I'd never agreed to go along with this." She pulled on her younger brother's shoulder again.

Kevin, refusing to be deterred, stood in the middle of the circle and carefully placed the book at his feet, holding it open with the toes of his battered combat boots. He studied the pages again; glad he'd looked over the spell before coming out here. The words were kind of funny to read and he’d have to sound them out. Nodding with satisfaction, he straightened up and raised his arms, his fingers wiggling madly. Dressed in camouflage pants and a khaki T-shirt, with black-and-khaki camouflage paint smeared across his face, he considered himself an eminently appropriate sorcerer. ''Dark of the moon, hear us now, come to our aid and grant our plea. These children ask for a man to be their father, to be there in their time of need, to love their mother and—"

"And give us a puppy!" Ryan shouted at the sky.

Kevin shot him a look fit to kill. "Whose spell is this, anyway?" he hissed. "Just let me do my thing, okay?" He took a deep breath and raised his face, his eyes closed as he continued to chant, "To love their mother and give them all they desire. So that the spir­its might know what these children ask for, we offer up these pictures." He pointed to the ground.

Ryan immediately squatted and carefully arranged several magazine photographs of male models—and a picture of several puppies playing.

Kevin groaned. "What is it with these puppies?"

"I want one," Ryan insisted. "I figure if we can get a dad, we should be able to get one who likes dogs."

Caroline was past listening as, with wide-eyed fas­cination, she stared at the tendrils of fog now snaking around Kevin's ankles. "Look," she whispered to her brother, gesturing toward the ghostly fingers of mist.

Ryan's bravado began to dissipate as he watched the mist drift up Kevin's legs. He stamped his foot. "Now I know he's doing it all wrong," he scoffed. "We should have that fog around us, not him. Now he's gonna get the dad meant for us! Kevin's so dumb!"

Caroline's shriek split the summer night. "Look!" she cried out, pointing where the murky air was the thickest. From out of the ominous gray mist emerged a tall, dark figure—and the figure was walking toward them!

Kevin took one look, uttered a pithy curse, grabbed his bike and bolted out of sight.

"It's a ghost!" Caroline's lips quivered with fear. She stood frozen in place, and Ryan, standing beside her, was likewise too frightened to move. "It's going to eat us, and we'll never see Mom again."

"I see his fangs." Ryan couldn't keep his eyes off the masculine figure approaching them with ground-eating strides. "And his eyes are glowing red. Kevin didn't give us a dad. He used the wrong spell and made up a devil instead." He sounded angrier at Kevin for messing up the spell than terrified at the idea of being attacked by a demon.

Caroline grabbed her younger brother's hand and held on tightly, her lips moving with every prayer she could remember. 

"Shouldn't you kids be home in bed?" The man stopped a short distance from them. His deep bari­tone emerged from the encroaching fog. His dark gaze took in the drawn circle, the antique book lying aban­doned in the middle, and the two children frozen like statues.

"Are you gonna eat us?" Ryan asked, curiosity overtaking fear.

The man smiled. "No, son, I'm not going to eat you, but I do think you should get on home. It's past midnight. Your mother will be frantic if she discovers you gone."

Caroline took an experimental step backward, and when she discovered she could move, after all, she took another step. She pulled on her brother's hand.

The man carefully kept his distance. "You were probably taught not to speak to strangers and such, but I have an idea it's a long way home for you. Would you trust me to drive you?" He suspected he was pressing them to go against parental dictates, but he also knew he couldn't leave the tykes alone in the meadow in the middle of the night.

Ryan studied the man. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, dressed in a lightweight black sweater and jeans, he looked like a modern-day vampire. And vampires drank blood! Still, he didn't jump on them with his fangs bared, and he had a nice voice and smile. Could Kevin have said the spell right after all, and this man was going to be their dad? Hope sprang up in his tiny chest.

"He won't hurt us, Caro," Ryan whispered, his de­cision made.

She wasn't as trusting. "Mom said we're not sup­posed to talk to anyone we don't know or ever get in a stranger's car. Maybe he eats kids," she whispered, her fear making her think the worst.

"That's only in fairy tales," Ryan scoffed as only a big, grown-up five-year-old could. He stared at the man still standing off to one side, his dark figure par­tially obscured by the steadily thickening vapor. "Are you magic?" he challenged.

The man chuckled. "Magic? No, I'm afraid not, son. My name is Jack, and I've recently moved here from a place far away. I can't leave you here this late at night, so what do you say I give you a ride home?"

"We can trust him," Ryan said firmly.

"Ryan!" Caroline was shocked. "I'll tell Mom you talked to a stranger."

"We can't tell Mom anything, and you know it." He lowered his voice. "Besides, I think he's supposed to be here." With growing confidence, he walked to­ward Jack. "And I'm getting cold." The moisture from the night air had seeped through his thin T-shirt.

Caroline was also feeling the midnight chill, but the mysterious man's offer wasn't helping any. Still, she knew she couldn't abandon her brother the way Kevin had abandoned them.

Jack turned and gestured toward the road. He then walked away, aware of the two children slowly fol­lowing him, pushing a rusty little bike.

He smiled as he thought of what he'd heard a few minutes before. So these two wanted a father badly enough to allow that other youngster to feed them a line about magic spells. He sensed three dollars was a lot for them to pay the little con artist in hopes of conjuring up a father. He glanced back at the chil­dren and noticed they'd left something behind. "Shouldn't you bring the book?" he asked.

Ryan looked over his shoulder and shook his head. "Let Kevin get in trouble for taking one of his mom's books. If Mom finds us out of bed, we're gonna be in enough trouble."

Jack smiled. "How old are you?"

"Five. Caroline, my sister, is seven. I'll be six real soon," he proudly announced.

Jack's smile dimmed. Five years old and already acting like the man of the house. Judging from the comments he heard earlier, the father had left the family for some woman named Eileen.

When they reached his parked car, he opened the passenger door for the kids and set their bike in the trunk before he walked around to the driver's side.

Caroline hung back as she studied the low-slung black vehicle. "What if he flies away with us and we never see Mom again?" she whispered.

Ryan shot her a look. "Caro, he won't hurt us," he assured her, pulling on her hand. "Come on."

Nervously recalling every horror story of children being kidnapped and never heard from again, Caro watched the streets whiz by as Ryan directed Jack to their house. What would happen to their mother if they were kidnapped? She didn't have any money to ransom them. Caro had overheard her tell Aunt Ivy their dad's support checks were never any good. She didn’t know what that meant, but she had an awful feeling it had to do with Mom working so hard.

She stifled a sob, but Jack heard the muffled cry. "Here you are, Caroline, home safe and sound," he said quietly as he parked at the house Ryan indicated. He climbed out of the car and walked around to open the door for them. He hefted the bike to the sidewalk.

"We'll have to go in the way we came out," Ryan explained in a hushed voice, staring at the man he be­lieved more and more was the result of Kevin's spell. "Thank you," he said belatedly.

Jack smiled. Children who believed in magic, and well mannered, too. "You're very welcome. All I ask is that you don't do this again," he cautioned. "Next time you might not be so lucky."

Caro nodded her head so hard it threatened to fall off. She edged away, wanting nothing more than to run into the house and hide under her bed. With luck, perhaps she'd wake up in the morning and realize this was all a bad dream.

Ryan remained steadfast. "You were worth the three dollars," he announced. "Don't take too long seeing Mom," he called softly over his shoulder before run­ning off, Caro hot on his heels.

Jack stood by the car, watching the two children quietly park the bicycle near the front porch, then carefully open a window and crawl inside. He looked around the neighborhood, noting its shabby gentility. Despite their carefully tended yards and gardens, the houses had clearly seen better days. He glanced once more at the children's home, with its faded paint and unevenly cut lawn, then shook his head and drove off.

Two pairs of eyes watched him from an upstairs window. "See? The fog is gone now," Ryan whis­pered to his sister. "And his car is black and very fast. He probably only drives it so people won't know he can fly. I told you he was magic.”

"He can't be," Caro argued in a low voice as she jumped under her bedcovers. "Kevin was just play­ing a joke on us, and now we don't have the three dol­lars we saved up."

Ryan shook his head. "No, he's magic that came from Aunt Ivy's book, and he's gonna be our dad," he insisted. "You'll see. After all, everyone knows witchcraft works best here in Salem."


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