A silly fantasy story for Juneteenth

Published June 19, 2020 by Iphis of Scyros

It’s hard to know how to start this post.  Just a few months ago, when I would read about the Civil Rights Movement and various protests and such in the late ’50s, the ’60s and early ’70s, I used to wonder what I would do if I lived then.  I wanted to think I would get involved, that I would go out there and march with everyone else who wanted to see an end to racism and injustice.

And maybe I would have, if I had been living then.  But this month I’ve learned that I am not going to — that I cannot march now.  If I was twenty years younger (or about a hundred pounds lighter, or at least with more stamina and heat resistance), I am sure I would.  But as I am now, I just can’t.  I’d end up with heat stroke, or something worse.  (COVID doesn’t help there; I would have to march while wearing a mask, and I have trouble breathing through those things.)  All I can do as I am now is sign online petitions and send emails to the expletives utterly failing to represent me in congress and the state capital.  That and donate money to organizations that are fighting the legal battles needed right now.  (And even that I can’t do as much as I would like, as just this week I joined the other 40 million Americans put out of a job by COVID.)

I can’t even do social media posts because I don’t have any social media accounts, and I haven’t put up any blog posts on the subject yet because what can I say that everyone else hasn’t already said better?

So that’s why I’m not downtown right now with the other protesters.  Because my injuring myself will not help the movement.  But I wanted to do something other than just give money.  And I thought of this silly story a few days ago, mostly driven by a particular image late in the story.  It’s not useful or helpful, but it’s the only thing I can do that’s truly me.

And I wanted to do something.  Because I wanted to tell the world that I, too, believe that Black Lives Matter.  No, I don’t just believe it:  I know it.

That being said, the following story is stupid and skewed and probably not worth reading.  (It has also received almost no editing because I wrote it yesterday, so there hasn’t been time to do more than the most cursory editing job.)  So you’re probably better off not clicking on the “Read More” link.

    For Cassie, watching the news was a real challenge.  It was hard to stomach current events without calling down the lightning…but if she blew up the television, then how would her roommates watch their soaps?  (Why her roommates were addicted to soap operas was something Cassie could not answer and would never understand, but she didn’t like seeing how miserable they were whenever they missed an episode.)

    Today’s news was particularly challenging.  Of course, any day that news stories contained the words “the White House” tended to be challenging (since the last election, anyway), but today was worse than usual.  After countless stories of police brutality and unchecked white supremacists, after all those incidents of peaceful protests being violently suppressed, what response was there from the Oval Office?  Obviously, Cassie knew better than to expect that monster to suddenly recognize the error of his ways and stop being a racist wannabe-dictator.  (She didn’t even hold out much hope that he would stop retweeting hate groups.)  But surely the latest atrocity demanded at least recognition as an outrage against humanity!

    Or so she would have thought.  “An announcement came from the White House today,” the plastic-looking person on the screen said, “stating that the president would take time off from his reelection tour to hold a speech in front of Lincoln Memorial on the fourth of July.  White House staff indicated that the speech would be reminding the assembled onlookers of all the president’s accomplishments over the last four years.”

    It was really hard to use the remote to turn off the TV, and not magic.  Accomplishments?!  Stirring up hate and divisiveness, cutting every possible infrastructure and human support from the budget to allow the super-rich to get yet another massive tax cut, slashing every environmental protection on the books, screwing over the American people and the entire world in pursuit of the almighty dollar — those weren’t accomplishments, they were assaults!

    Cassie was left in the kind of rage that could only be dispelled by a little wanton destruction.  So she went into her studio and got out a nice, fresh piece of clay.  After hastily forming it up into a bust (no resemblance to certain racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic ‘politicians,’ of course), and set it on the sturdiest table in the room.  Then she looked around for just the right tool…but she didn’t see anything that seemed to fit the bill.  Well, wasting a little magic couldn’t hurt, right?  Cassie quietly cast a spell to manifest a big wooden mallet — the kind of thing Harley Quinn would use — in her hands.  Raising it over her head, she brought it down hard on the bust on the table, squashing it flat and sending bits of wet clay splattering everywhere.

    Cathartic, but was it enough?

    No, no, it really wasn’t.  Cassie started making more busts.  This was going to take a lot of squashing out…

    She hadn’t finished more than a dozen busts — even though these were faster-to-make, highly-simplified versions without any details whatsoever — when one of her roommates came traipsing in, calling out in a sing-song voice:  “Oh, Ca-ssan-dra!”

    Cassie flinched, and resisted the urge to hide her mallet.  Creating it was exactly the kind of abuse of magic that she usually got on the other girls’ cases for…

    “What are you doing?”  Malia stopped just inside the door, staring at the row of blank busts.

    “Just some creating-and-destroying.  For stress.”

    “What do you have to be stressed about?” Malia retorted, crossing her arms.  “You’re not the only Black person in the county.”

    “Malia, we’re the only people for twenty miles in any direction.  You really don’t have to worry about racist violence as long as you don’t go into town.”  Not that there was much chance of violence in town, either; the only town in this sleepy back-woods county had about five hundred people in it, and all three cops were octogenarians who had never noticed that they were past retirement age.  For that matter, most of the other people in the town were too old to be violent, too.  All the young people had left for more lively places, which was exactly what had made this location so ideal for the coven.  There was no one around who was sprightly enough to have any chance of discovering them.  “Anyway, did you want something?”

    “Yeah, Eiko and I had an idea we wanted to put to the coven.”

    Something fluttered uncomfortably in Cassie’s stomach.  It had probably been a mistake to admit a tengu to their coven, but…well, when her wings were hidden, she didn’t look like she wasn’t human.  But she was awfully prone to tricks, some of which she was inclined to make rather more dangerous than they needed to be.

    “I’ll wash up and join you as soon as I can,” Cassie promised.

    Once Malia left again, Cassie hastily squished all the little busts with her hands, lumping them back into the unused clay, which she returned to its airtight container before washing her hands and heading for the meeting circle.  To her surprise, it really was the whole coven waiting there for her.  They hadn’t all gathered together in one room since New Year’s.  The room was uncomfortably quiet when Cassie arrived and took her seat.

    “All right, now that we’re all here, let’s get this meeting started,” Malia said, rapping her knuckles on the table to ensure everyone was paying attention.  “We all know what’s going on in this country — and in the world — right now.  Well, it’s high time we did something about it, not just watch from the shadows!”

    “Are we finally going to use our magic to clean up the environment?” Daphne asked hopefully.

    “No, first we need to cure COVID,” Paula said.

    “It’s true that we should do both of those things, but that’s not what we called this meeting about,” Malia replied.  “Eiko and I have a plan to — ”

    “I call it the Harry Potter spell,” Eiko interrupted, bursting with energy as always.  The name sent a lot of angry mutters through the assembled members of the coven.  It always had, of course, since it would make coming out to the world of men that much harder now that they had preconceived and very wrong perceptions of what a magical society in the modern world would look like.  But ever since the author made some transphobic comments, the name had become even more toxic among the coven, particularly among its trans members!

    “That’s not a good name for it, Eiko,” Malia interrupted.  “It’s a spell to transform works of art into spirit vessels.  Any hand-made work of art depicting a deceased individual will become a vessel to house that individual’s spirit and allow them to interact with the living once again.”

    “So the statue in the Lincoln Memorial can get up and dropkick that mofo at his own press event!” Eiko squeaked excitedly.

    “That would be fatal,” one of the elders of the coven intoned with a disapproving stare.  “We do not use magic to harm others.”

    “But as long as he just scares the guy and delivers a rousing speech about how Black Lives Matter, it’s fine, right?” Malia said, smiling up at the elder, who nodded her approval.

    “Why not just enchant the Lincoln Memorial, then?” Alex asked.  “If we try to make all art capable of acting as spirit vessels, it would be a massive spell that will leave us drained even if we all contribute energy to it.  And you’d risk bringing back spirits that should never be allowed voice again:  what if one of those white supremacists has painted a portrait of Hitler?”

    “Well, obviously, we’ll want to make the spell selective, so it won’t bring back any corrupted, irredeemable souls,” Malia agreed, nodding.  “But it can’t just be the Lincoln Memorial, or people will think it’s a trick.  It has to happen all over the world, and with as many works of art and people as possible, so no one can deny that it was actually Abraham Lincoln’s spirit who castigated that bastard.”

    “I see two major flaws in your plan,” Cassie said, shaking her head.  “First, the Lincoln Memorial can’t get up and move around; any part of Lincoln’s body that’s touching the chair doesn’t exist, because the chair and the statue are the same block of stone.  And second, I don’t think Lincoln would cooperate.  Yes, he was always an abolitionist even before he was elected, but…we’re talking mid-19th century mentality here.  Racism was even more ingrained on their minds and culture than it is in present-day America.”

    That set the room to muttering again.  Malia pounded her fist into the podium to get all eyes back on her.  “We’ll do a test run,” she said.  “We have time, after all.  We’ll just call up Lincoln’s spirit into a single work here, and talk to him, make sure he’ll do it.  If he won’t, we just send him back to hereafter, and come up with another plan.  But if he will, then we prepare for the spell, and someone can go to Washington and cast a spell on the Lincoln Memorial to make it so it can get up.”

    Cassie sighed deeply.  As the only artist in the coven, that would surely fall to her.  And that was not something she wanted to do, for a lot of reasons.  Still, she did know a full-round spell, so it wasn’t outside her ability…

    “Shall we put it to the vote?” Malia asked.  “All those in favor of a test run calling Abraham Lincoln’s spirit into a single portrait here on coven grounds?”

    Aside from a few who disapproved of any contact with the spirit world — and one decidedly disgruntled medium whose magic would be all but useless if Malia’s larger plan was put into action — the entire coven voted in favor of the test run.

    Which, of course, meant Cassie had to go back to her studio and carefully craft another bust, this time in the best likeness of Abraham Lincoln she could muster.  Once she finished sculpting it, she cast a heat spell on it to bake the clay (firing it in her kiln would just take too long!), then brought it to Malia’s room.  “Where do we want to do this test run?” she asked, as Malia checked over the sculpture.

    “The elders suggested we use one of the outer spell sheds,” Malia said.  “So it won’t be too close to the complex if something goes wrong.”

    Cassie had to agree with the wisdom of that, and they set out for the spell sheds, gathering the others they would need — and the other ingredients — on the way.  After they passed through the fence around the coven’s central housing and meeting areas (which too many of them called ‘the complex,’ calling up unpleasant thoughts of cults in the mundane world), they walked along the lane between the fields and groves where they grew their food, until they started coming to the sheds built beyond the fields.  Most of the nearer ones had magical signs on the doors indicating that they were in use, mostly spells incubating within, but a few were also being used for the care and breeding of magical beasts, and other less typical purposes.  Eventually, they found one that was vacant, and headed inside.

    Cassie carefully set the bust on the table in the center of the room, then turned to look at the others.  “Are you really sure this is going to work?” she asked.  “In the short term, simple animation of a work of art might be hard to tell from turning it into a spirit vessel.  But in the long term, people will find out.  And that would completely undercut your message.”

    “Do not worry, Cassandra,” Serena said, setting a hand on her arm.  “It is a version of a spell taught to me by my grandmother, one passed down from mother to daughter, bruja to bruja, for many generations.  The original version only works on el Día de los Muertos, but my version is less limited.”

    Cassie was not completely convinced, in all honesty, but nodded to indicate that she was hoping for the best.  Or whatever everyone else thought on seeing her nod.  She wasn’t needed for the ceremony, so she kept out of the way as the others worked.  It didn’t actually seem that difficult a spell, though the spiritual drain of it was plainly intense; everyone was sweating and looked like they might pass out by the time the bust on the table let out a faint moan.

    Jess hurried up in front of the bust and quickly explained to the awakening soul where and when he was and what had happened.  Aside from the fact that his voice was higher in pitch than Cassie would have expected, he certainly seemed to actually be Lincoln.  But Jess was the coven’s history expert, so everyone was leaving it to them.  In fact, after a while they all just plain left, leaving Jess alone in the cabin with the animated bust.

    Everyone who had taken part in the rite was sitting around in the shade under a tree enjoying some saké Eiko had provided (and trying not to notice the filthy rice bowl she was drinking hers out of) when Jess came up to fill them in on what had happened in their conversation with the bust of Lincoln.

    “I’m not an expert on Lincoln, of course,” they said, “but everything he’s said has checked out with what I know.  I did brush up a bit while Cassandra was getting the bust ready, of course.  I think it worked correctly.”

    “And?  Will he do it?” Malia asked, leaning forward eagerly, her eyes widening in anticipation.

    “He agreed that the current situation I described was deplorable, and that he wanted to give that man a piece of his mind.”  Jess smiled weakly.  “He wasn’t ready to agree to anything more specific than that at this time.”

    “Well, as long as he’s willing to demand that the systemic racism needs to be eradicated, I suppose that’s better than nothing,” Malia sighed.

    “That, at least, he agreed with completely,” Jess assured her.

    “Will he be willing to toss that creep across the Potomac?” Eiko asked, her eyes glistening mischievously.  “Or he could — ”

    “We are going to build it into the larger spell that no spirit brought to this side of the veil by means of our spell is to bring physical harm to a living human,” Serena said.  “If they attempt it, they will be returned to the other side.  I will not allow my magic to be used for harming others.”

    “Oh, but he’s not human — he’s an icky little worm!”

    “Technically, he’s human.  Basically.”  Cassie coughed.  “Sort of.”  She shook her head.  “Close enough to human that it’s not right to kill him.  Besides, don’t you want to see him sent to jail for his crimes?”

    Eiko shrugged.  “Among the tengu, if you sin, you’re punished equal to the magnitude of your sin.  I think he’d be thrown into the sun by now.”

    Everyone laughed at the idea.  But then the business of the task ahead of them began to loom over the conversation.  Another meeting of the coven was convened to vote on it, and the bust of Lincoln was brought in to speak to the coven and assure them of his reality and veracity, not to mention his willingness to help.  The results of the second vote were not nearly so one-sided as those of the first, but the overwhelming majority still voted to go ahead with the plan.

    After the vote, the meeting became a massive planning session.  Jess was going to prepare a comprehensive history lesson for Lincoln’s spirit, filling him in on everything that had happened since his death, and the last twenty years or so in excruciating detail; because of that, they left to get ready right away (taking Lincoln’s bust with them as they left) while the rest of the coven attempted to plan out all the other preparations.  Additional witches were going to be needed, both to provide the raw power for the spell and to transmit its effects efficiently across the world.  Serena promised the support of the bruja network of Mexico, and Consuela said she would get in touch with a curandera she knew back in Peru who might be able to provide magical assistance from her local network.  Katarina promised the aid of the few magically gifted left among the Gypsies, and Eiko set off back to Japan as soon as the meeting was over to call on the other yokai for help drumming up the magical power needed.  Malia would speak with the practitioners in New Orleans, and see if she could reach her contacts in Haiti.  The elders, of course, were going to contact the other covens they knew in America, Canada and Europe.  There were still huge swaths of the world where no one in the coven had contacts, unfortunately, but the elders were sure that everyone contacted would reach out to all their own contacts, and soon all the magically gifted individuals in the world would be involved.  While Cassie loved the sense of unity of the idea, the more people were contacted indirectly, the more risk she saw of things going awry…

    Not that Cassie was given much time to worry about it.  She had her own ritual to prepare for.  She had developed her full-round spell after sculpting a similar seated statuette in the late years of her magical training, only to be told that she was to animate the statuette magically, in order to make it perform a few basic tasks.  Just low-level golem stuff, really, but it was going to be very difficult (or rather icky-looking) if she tried to make the entire sculpture do all that stuff.  (For an overstuffed armchair to walk — or sit! — would require a very squash-and-stretch form of animation that was not going to be attractive to witness.)  But she hadn’t really felt like she had time to sculpt a new one, so she had come up with a spell to split the figure in the chair from the chair itself.  In that case, it had worked fine, because it was a simple clay statue no more than a foot tall, and she had made it herself, so it was filled only with her own energies.  But the Lincoln Memorial?  Entirely different question!

    The scale was enormous, she would need to research who built it and guess at what kind of energy residuals might still survive from them, and coaxing the stone to split into two pieces…!  Difficult didn’t begin to cover it.  Especially since the results would (hopefully) end up on live TV feeds around the world, so the new sculpt would have to look as much like the old as was physically possible.  She barely finished her research, planning, and pre-casting work in time to reach Washington before the end of June.

    Most of the rite was performed before she got on the plane, and almost all of the rest could be done in her hotel room, but a small amount of it had to be done at the memorial itself.  So she snuck out there in the dead of night, casting a spell across herself that was as close to invisibility as one could get:  it suggested to the viewer’s eye that it wanted to look elsewhere.  Not the greatest thing in the world, but it was a lot better than nothing.  Thankfully, it was raining that night, so there weren’t many people out anyway, and they were all in a hurry to get back inside, so no one noticed Cassie, and soon she had completed the rite and was able to inspect the statue and see the fine lines that indicated the new interior surfaces.  She was quite glad to get back to her hotel room, dry off, and get as much sleep as she could before having to get up at the crack of dawn to head to the airport.

    Cassie was back with the rest of the coven well before the big day.  Everyone would have been on excited pins and needles of anticipation by the time they turned on the television to watch the broadcast, except that they were all badly drained by the spell, even though the burden had been shared out among magic-users across the world.  Though they had completed the spell at midnight (the ‘witching hour,’ after all, did have some serious potency) of their own time zone, it had been structured not to take effect until a few minutes into the speech.

    And sure enough, the speech started without a hitch, unfortunately.  But as they watched the broadcast, looking past the hideous lump that was speaking, Cassie was thrilled to see one of the hands of the statue inside the Lincoln Memorial begin to stir.

    The enormous statue of Lincoln was on its feet before the crowd began pointing and screaming.  The Lincoln statue walked right up to the lump, ignoring the way the Secret Service agents were demanding that he back away.  They even opened fire on him when he reached down to pick up the pathetic little man, a firm grip of marble around his corpulent torso.

    “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” the statue said, scowling down at the wiggling man in its hand.  “But what have you done other than foster division?  You would pit every man against his neighbor, white against black, Christian against Muslem, rich lording it over the poor.”  He shook the figure in his hand slightly, and the witches in the coven let out howls of laughter at the sight of a trickle of urine beginning to drip down onto the platform far below.  “The purpose of a government is to give structure, stability and succour to its people.  Those who suffer should be able to find a friend among their leaders, not a baron out to rob them!  You are no leader — you are a thief and a liar — a petty, would-be tyrant who bribes and bullies his way out of every hole he has dug for himself!”

    The other witches were laughing so hard by this point—and the crowds on the screen screaming so much—that Cassie had trouble making out the rest of Lincoln’s speech, which was a pity, because it was quite a long one, and Cassie wanted to know what he said.  She’d have to look it up online later; she hoped there was a long passage reminding the world that back in the 1860s, the Republican party was the liberal party.  Eventually, Lincoln deposited the quivering wretch back on the platform, and smiled down at him.  “I have just one more thing to say to you — to all of you,” he said, turning towards the terrified crowd.  Then he raised his fist in the classic ‘70s Black Power pose and said “Black Lives Matter!” before returning to his proper place inside the monument.

    Everyone threw a big party that night to celebrate the unrivaled success of the spell.  It was firmly agreed by all that it had been fantastic work on Jess’s part to teach Lincoln about the Black Power movement as well as all the current troubles.  The highlight of the party might have been when Lincoln popped in to the bust (which had been given a place of honor in the room, just in case he wanted to say hello) and shared with them the story that all (well, most of) the Presidential portraits in the White House were now berating everyone they could about the current state of affairs in the country.

    The next morning, Cassie woke fairly late (she might have gotten a teeny bit drunk at the party), and over her leisurely breakfast she scrolled over various news feeds on social media from the time of the event onwards.  The earliest feeds about the walking Lincoln statue were proclaiming it a vile hoax.  But then other reports of “living” statues and paintings began to come in, and by morning everyone had grudgingly accepted that it was all really happening.  (And Eiko was not alone in comparing it to Harry Potter.)

    Over the next few days, wilder and more disparate reports came in of just whose portraits were coming to life, along with a few stories of frantic museums trying to keep full sculpture portraits from simply walking away!  Cassie’s favorite story might have been the one about experts in the Macedonian dialect of ancient Greek gathering in Naples because the mosaic of Alexander the Great facing off against Darius III had begun screaming:  more specifically, the two combatants were screaming at each other across the divide of their own armies, because neither of them was complete, and they couldn’t move from their spots.  It would be interesting, Cassie reflected, to see how history changed after this.  All the voices that had been lost to time, all the stories that were missing from the old history books, how many of them would now be presented to the public in vibrant, first-hand life?

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