Fiction             by Robin Artisson

It was Wednesday, November 14, 2001. When Norma left Circle that night, the High Priestess was standing at the door. "Thou art Goddess," Norma said to her as she walked out.

The High Priestess smiled at her. "Thou art Goddess," she said in response. That was the way the Circle members always said goodbye to each other.

By Thursday afternoon, Norma didn't much feel like a Goddess. As a secretary for a large law firm, she depended on her computer, and it just wasn't working. And somehow her boss seemed to think that it was HER fault. And of course he wanted his documents completed on time, regardless of how the computer was behaving. She had to stay late, and she still didn't get half her work done.

She was alone in her house that night. Her ex-husband ("Please," he would say, "call me your FORMER husband, not your EX-husband") had picked up the kids from school, and they would be gone until Sunday evening.

Norma was exhausted, angry, and frustrated by the time she arrived at her empty house. She went into her living room and pulled the coffee table around so that she'd be facing north when she sat on the floor in front of it. She wiped the table with Windex and put one candle on it. She got out her prize possession   —   a worn, pitted little statue of Isis that dated back to the Fourth Century BCE (she'd paid $500.00 for it) and carefully put it next to the candle.

Just before she turned off all the lights, she glanced down at the newspaper and noticed another article about the two Christian aid workers, college girls, who had been arrested by the Taliban. They had been in a jail in Afghanistan for more than three months. They were accused of preaching Christianity, which is a crime under Taliban law. The maximum penalty was death.

Norma thought, "Here I am, worried about myself, all wrapped up in my silly little problems. But these two women REALLY have something to worry about." Norma closed her eyes ... and for a second she could feel their terror. They were helpless. Powerless. Alone in a foreign country. Completely at the mercy of armed religious fanatics. Men whose legal system required the amputation of limbs for certain crimes. Men whose religion regarded women as second-class citizens.

They were in a country where one could face the death penalty for practicing the wrong religion. To the Taliban, these two young women were ... witches.

Norma turned off the lights. The only illumination in the room came from the tiny flame of the candle. She said something she had never said before in her whole life: "Goddess, forgive me."

She sat down on the floor in front of the coffee table, crossing her legs comfortably, facing magnetic north (months before, she had taken the trouble to shoot a perfect azimuth with an expensive compass, and she now knew exactly how to align things). She closed her eyes and forced herself to relax, to become part of the universe.

She felt words flowing out of her mouth; she didn't know where they were coming from. "Goddess, Isis, Enchantress, be alive in me. You are the Great of Magick. You are ... you always were ... and always shall be. By your power, free these two children, your daughters. Free them, protect them, let no harm come to them. Cover them with your outstretched wings. So mote it be. So mote it be."

Norma sat there on the floor for a long time, focusing, not focusing, not sleeping but not awake, her mind and spirit drifting on a wave of ... something. Finally, she got up and went to bed, and fell instantly asleep.

A few days later, she heard that the two women, Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, had been set free by their captors. The newspaper article included a photograph of young people at the Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. They were holding up their arms, celebrating, with joyful smiles on their faces, thanking their god for answering their prayers, for doing a miracle.

Norma just smiled. She knew where the miracle had really come from.

And the interesting thing, the one fact that the newspaper articles barely mentioned, is that the girls were innocent. They had been falsely accused. They had NOT been preaching Jesus in Afghanistan; they were just aid workers handing out food. They might as well have been arrested for heroin possession. The charges against them had been false.

But they WERE Christians, and it makes a better story if people are allowed to assume that the girls were street preachers who got arrested for their faith.

POSTSCRIPT: Eight months after their release, Ms. Curry and Ms. Mercer were touring the country to promote their new book, which was based on their ordeal in Afghanistan.

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