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When Alex was seventeen he met a girl who was a keen spiritualist.
Learning of his interest in the occult she invited him to a meeting.
He was curious to see if it had anything in common with witchcraft and went along with her.
During the evening a medium in a trance singled him out.
‘I see horns on your head,’ she murmured.
There was a ripple of laughter; horns could mean he was a cuckold.
But Alex knew them as
the symbol of witchcraft and was impressed by such perception.
He went along to every meeting at the spiritualist church and before long he was being trained as a medium.
At heart, he felt he was cheating, for while they talked of going into a trance, he was working witchcraft.
But what did it matter, he asked himself? The end product was the same, a glimpse into the future, and he was not disobeying the
witch law by working alone.
Without telling his companions he was using powers taught him by his grandmother, he began healing.
There was a woman who suffered from fibrositis in her back, a man whose face was disfigured with a twitch and in all about a dozen cases of ailments.
It was nothing to Alex; with his gran, he had practiced the same cures in aid of her neighbors almost ten years ago.
But to his spiritualist friends, this was magic indeed.
Word spread and the little church was inundated with appeals for cures.
Glad to be able to use his gifts, Alex spent nearly every night laying his hands on troubled bodies.
There was nothing in it for him save the glow of satisfaction, the happiness in being needed, but those who were cured showed their gratitude to the church.
Money poured in, the building was redecorated and refurnished, the congregation increased to an unprecedented size.
It was interesting work and the praise he reaped was gratifying, yet spiritualism to Alex was but a pale imitation of witchcraft.
Disturbing the dead was too close to necromancy, to which witches object, and he disliked keeping secret the source of his powers.
Witchcraft was infinitely more satisfying because each member actively participated, there was no passive audience as in spiritualism.
Alex’s newfound popularity turned his head, however, and he began to boast that he could have any girl he wanted.
One of his colleagues in the laboratory was a quiet girl, tall-at five-foot-seven, the same height as Alex and more refined than the others.
Doreen and he became lovers.
He was twenty-one, she nineteen, when they married and moved into a small two-up-and-two-down house in Vale Street, Hulme.
Almost from the start he felt trapped.
What had happened to the rosy dreams he had had?
Here he was in a 6 shilling a week house with no hot water and, most frightening of all, there was a baby on the way.
He redoubled his efforts to find another witch with whom he could work magic if only to influence his opportunities for promotion.
Doreen had, no idea that she had married a witch, and as he lay beside her at night, frustrated and resentful, tantalizing glimpses of the
future flickered before his eyes.
He could see parties, himself in evening dress (although he had never worn it), fifty or a hundred guests greeting him as their host.
There was a ballroom, his own , and once again the death of someone he loved, in swift succession the pictures flashed by.
Lying awake long into the night, he tried to reason how he, a low-paid, poorly educated analytical chemist, living in a near-slum could ever come to afford such lavish parties.
He shied away at the thought of another death.
His father was now a permanent invalid, but the death in his vision seemed to be that of a woman.
Alex Sanders’s activities in the spiritualist church kept him busy, and he was happy enough at work.
Whilst at work he compared modern formulae for patent medicines with age-old recipes of witchcraft-sometimes to the former’s disadvantage.
However, Alex was unaware at first that his marriage was beginning to break up.
Doreen leaned heavily on her mother, who disliked Alex, and neither little Paul nor, later, baby Janice did anything to cement the marriage.
Paul was three when his sister was born in the room upstairs, and the first thing Alex noticed when he went up to see the newly born baby was her right foot.
It was twisted back to front.
The midwife sent for the doctor and he brought a specialist.
The baby was taken to the hospital for an immediate examination and returned two or three hours later.
Nothing could be done until the child was thirteen or fourteen.
Alex rebelled, he had to help his baby even if it meant breaking the witch law by working alone.
After Janice had been fed, he carried her downstairs and sat her on his lap before the fire.
He prayed to his god for advice and help. ‘Warm some olive oil and rub it into the joint’, was the message that sprang to his mind.
Accordingly, he fetched some oil and poured it into a saucer.
He dipped his fingers into it and began to touch the baby’s crooked foot.
As he did so, he felt impelled to twist the joint and, although he was alarmed, he followed his instincts.
The child did not wake as the foot responded to the manipulation, and he sponged off the oil before returning her to her cradle.
He did not tell his wife how the child had been cured but let her and the doctor believe it had been spontaneous.
The friction between husband and wife increased.
One day when Alex returned from work he found that she had taken the children and most of the furniture and had left him for good.
Until now he had neither smoked nor had he drunk.
As well as this, he had always handed over his pay packet unopened.
He had considered himself a model husband, not realizing that his own immaturity had been one of the causes of the separation.
He was twenty-six and he believed he had finished with women.
Soon afterward fire destroyed his place of employment.
For the second time in his life and, out of work, he became utterly despondent.
His sister Joan spent all her free time with him, cooking his meals and trying to cure his depression.
One evening she helped him to paint the kitchen, urging that a change of colour would help to cheer him up.
Together they worked through the night, not finishing until the early hours of the morning.
‘Do you know what day it is?’ Joan asked, when at last they put away their brushes.
‘ It’s Shrove Tuesday. Let’s have the first pancakes in the world.’
Companionably they sat by the fire, eating pancakes.
Suddenly Alex could keep his secret no longer. ‘Do you know that I’m a witch?’
‘Don’t be daft,’ Joan replied.
‘But I am,’ he insisted, and went on to tell her of his childhood initiation and the magic he had worked with Gran.
She laughed at him, thinking he was making it up as he went along.
‘If you can work magic and conjure up spirits as you claim, prove it. Goon,’ she dared.
‘Bring one of your demons here now.
Obediently he unsheathed his black-hilted knife, which was no longer kept hidden as it had been when his wife was at home.
Discomfited by his earnest manner, Joan had second thoughts.
‘The joke’s over, Alex, I didn’t mean to tease you.’
But Alex ignored her.
He commanded a demon to visit them, someone they both knew.
Hardly had the incantation ended when there was a loud knocking on the front door.
Horrified, Joan begged him not to answer it.
Seconds later the knocking was repeated, this time on the back door that led directly off the kitchen where they were sitting.
She crept behind him as he opened the door.
The visitor was an actor, a friend of their family.
‘I wonder if you’d help me out,’ he said. ‘My mates have let me down and I’ve nowhere to stay for the night. Could you put me up?’
Alex was about to let him in but his sister was almost in tears.
‘You can’t stay here,’ shesaid. ‘You’ve no business knocking on people’s doors at three o’clock in the morning.’
Offended, the friend went away leaving Alex to comfort his sister.
‘I don’t know if his visit was a coincidence,’ she said hysterically, ‘but I don’t like it. You must not play about with spells ever again. You must stop all that, do you hear?’
‘Stop it?’ exclaimed Alex. ‘I’m only just beginning.’
Bitterly he gave a long recital of the self-denial he had practiced over the years.
And what good had it done him?
No job, no wife, no money.
‘I’ve finished with stupidity now. I’m going to think of myself for a change.
From now on I’m going to use the powers I can muster to work for me.
I’m going to have all the things I’ve never had. Wealth, luxury, leisure, and so on.
‘But you just said you must not ask for these things,’ interrupted Joan.
‘I’m not going to ask for them, I’m going to demand them.
All right, so the powers may turn against me in the end.
Well, let them.
I’ll enjoy the present and to hell with the future.
I’ll make damned sure of the present first.
All the while he was talking he was walking about the room collecting incense burners, swords, a white-hilted knife to match his athame, and a dish of water which he placed on the black antique dresser that his grandmother had left him.
It had served her and her grandmother before her as a witches high altar and now it served Alex.
By the light of candles, he described a magic circle with his sword, excluding Jan.
When she made as if to speak he told her to keep quiet or get out.
The air became heavy with incense as he worked the spells and recited the words that would lead him from white witchcraft to black.
By all the powers I command the demons to bring me wealth, riches, power.
Joan sobbed quietly, not understanding all that was going on but realizing that her beloved brother was bargaining for his soul with the devil and that, in the end, someone would have to pay.