The Lorelei Signal
Prista Indulges in Tricks and Treats
Written by Mary Jo Rabe / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow
Prista Frieden looked up at the clock and reluctantly abandoned her lazy daydreams, an unnecessary luxury anyway considering her powers. Obviously, she could do whatever she wanted. If the universe didn’t react the way she calculated, then she could do something else.
However, now it was time to deliver her honest librarian’s day’s work for her—all things considered—adequate day’s pay. Often, as in most jobs, just being there was enough and she could simultaneously pursue more important goals.
Even though it was only prudent to keep it a secret from mortals, the genuine immortality witches enjoyed was indeed convenient. There was nothing like having your physical body maintain its substance and appearance without any effort on your part. Actually Prista’s appearance was more attractive now than it had been back in 1540 when the superstitious citizens of Wittenberg murdered her.
She hadn’t had any access to mirrors as Prista Fruehbottin, but every now and then she had seen reflections of herself. Back then she was emaciated, sickly, and generally filthy, stinking as badly as everyone else she knew. Today she looked comfortably middle-aged, still shorter than average, somewhat chubbier than most, but with smooth skin and short, thick, brown, curly hair.
She had more than enough wealth at her disposal to insure her a privileged lifestyle which, of course, included access to any hygienic products or processes necessary to keep her immortal body pleasant to be around. Her informed judgment evaluated her appearance as mildly attractive though not especially memorable. This suited her purposes.
Today was October 31st, the anniversary of the day when Martin Luther had delivered his ninety-five theses to Bishop Albrecht von Brandenburg and, according to his friend and cohort Philipp Melanchthon, nailed them to the door of the All Saints’ Church, the castle church of Wittenberg.
Prista, of course, was no longer a fan of any organized religion. Nonetheless, at this point in time she appreciated the ideal of scholarly research and education and tried to encourage such endeavors in her own way. She firmly believed knowledgeable human beings could do great things.
Today therefore was her busiest and most important day of the year. She stood up and took the kilos of delicious Swiss chocolate out of the trunk next to her desk. She had used her magic powers specifically to summon them up for this day.
Even though Reformation Day was a legal holiday here in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, the Research Library for Reformation History located in the Wittenberg castle complex was open. Prista had been able to convince the state authorities of the logic of this exception. Surely this day, more than any other, had to be a day when people should have the opportunity to learn more about the Reformation.
Prista remembered everything since transitioning to her witchly existence, but mortal human beings didn’t. That was one problem with immortality. Once you got started reminiscing, events from years or even centuries past always demanded your attention. You had to pick and choose the events that were relevant to your current situation.
Unfortunately no scholarly library users ever wanted to use the library on Reformation Day, but that wasn’t necessary for Prista’s pursuits. Having the library open was.
Her colleagues who didn’t want to give up a holiday had been pacified after she announced she would work alone on October 31st. Prista, of course, preferred to be alone; she had her priorities which she could best accomplish without interference or misguided help.
Prista looked around her modern library office containing state-of-the-art technology that hardly ever needed the assistance of magic. She felt content as always because her library research center was located in the oldest section of the Wittenberg castle. The yellowish-orange stone walls, quarried centuries before, were a constant source of strength and power. The stories they could tell…, all of which Prista now also knew.
However, today’s immortal witches didn’t obsess about the past; instead they learned from it and used this knowledge for their own purposes. In 1540 a Prista Fruehbottin and her reluctant would-be executioner Magnus Fischer, both accused and convicted of witchcraft, were burned at the stake in Wittenberg. Prista Frieden, though, as she called herself afterwards, lived on forever.
Except for the extreme horror of being burned at the stake—her immortal body still flinched at the memory of the excruciating pain of the flames—the joke was on her enemies, the rulers, the judge, the religious authorities, and all the superstitious townsfolk. They had blamed her for their cattle dying during the worst drought in five hundred years. After her death, of course, the drought continued, and more animals died.
Before the superstitious frenzy began, she hadn’t given much thought to anything except pure subsistence survival. Later it became clear to her that ignorance was the cause of much unnecessary human suffering.
Not especially popular in town, Prista had been a perfect scapegoat for the hysterical witch hunt, just an unlucky human being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She in fact didn’t become a witch until the instant of her death when a coven of witches appeared to her and extended the invitation. She quickly accepted the chance for a new life.
Prista made the right choice. It took a few decades before she was a full-fledged, full-powered witch. There was a lot of history to learn. Her new witch companions advised her to change her name so no historians or genealogists could cause trouble for her in the centuries to come. She decided they were right and chose the name “Frieden”, meaning of course “peace” in German.
Prista learned how to absorb the power of witchcraft from Mother Gaia, from the firmness of the earth, the flow of the wind, the refreshing sustenance of water, and the warmth of fire uncontaminated by human hatred. After she successfully completed her apprenticeship, no one could stop her.
She just had to learn to choose her battles. Every witch had her own priorities and of course her own limitations.
Now it was late afternoon. Due to Prista’s consistent efforts at advertising the opening hours of her library, hordes of children would soon show up. Prista would initiate the same procedure as last year, the same procedure as every year. She took the braided, willow wicker basket she had made centuries before and filled it with individually wrapped rectangular slabs of high-quality chocolate. Then she headed over the fastidiously swept, gray, stone floor toward the ancient, wooden, outside castle door.
It was no problem for her to keep track of details of all the Halloween festivities in Wittenberg. Her library, of course, had its own consistent traditions. The holiday itself wasn’t even celebrated in Germany until the 1980’s, after the various Hollywood Halloween horror films became popular. In Saxony-Anhalt such decadent western traditions didn’t arrive until after the reunification of Germany in 1990.
Prista had immediately recognized the advantages of such festivities. While it was good that adult scholars frequented her library, she had been racking her brains to find a way to connect with intellectually malleable children.
She started telling her colleagues to bring their children to the library to get candy on Halloween, then relied on word-of-mouth advertising to spread the word. After a few years she started sending posters to schools and pre-schools, welcoming children to the research library on Halloween.
Fortunately the bell rang and brought her back to her current reality. Prista opened the door and let herself hope. It was cloudy, bleak, afternoon, and the cold wind swept through the leafless trees in the castle courtyard.
Two blonde little girls and two dark-haired boys, all about ten years old, in somewhat unimaginative costumes, perhaps princesses and jesters, chirped “sweet or sour” and held their hands out expectantly. Prista, now more worldly as a centuries-old witch, still thought this German translation of “trick or treat” was odd, but it had established itself, and the children here were used to it.
In any case, she only had sweet chocolates for her visitors.
“What day do we have today?” Prista asked them.
“Halloween,” the two little girls shouted. The little boys looked confused but still held out their hands.
“It’s Reformation Day,” Prista said. “And you have to say ‘Happy Reformation Day’ if you want to get any candy here. This is the Reformation library. We don’t just celebrate Halloween; we also celebrate Reformation Day.”
The children looked at each other. The two boys shrugged and chanted in unison: “Happy Reformation Day. Now can we have our candy?” Their unimaginative little minds didn’t show the slightest glimmer of curiosity.
Prista probed their minds gently and unobtrusively. She then nodded. These pampered children weren’t worth her time. There was no hope they would ever make any use of the brains they had. She motioned for them to stick their grubby little hands into the basket and grab for candy.
After they left, she closed the heavy door, walked back to her office, and looked out the window. She could see the new addition to the Wittenberg Castle, this magnificent edifice, in the now officially designated Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the Martin Luther City of Wittenberg.
The newer additions to the castle complex were only three stories high so they didn’t detract from the magnificent tower. The castle itself, the oldest sections built back in the twelfth century, spread an invisible atmosphere of power and knowledge, the perfect location for an ambitious witch.
Some witches wanted to get far away from their original home areas, but Prista felt a special bond to Wittenberg and to this castle area. In life, of course, she had only been an ignorant peasant, though more curious than most. People had found that annoying, which made it easy for them to suspect she was a witch.
As a witch with a much larger overview of humanity, she had found Martin Luther surprisingly interesting. He died in 1546, and so she only experienced him as a foolish, superstitious, old man when she was alive. Yet in earlier years he had had his worthy accomplishments.
Obsessed with the idea people should read the Bible for themselves, he had single-handedly done the necessary preparations. He more or less created the modern, universal German language out of hundreds of dialects so he could translate the Latin Bible into something even uneducated people could understand. But he wanted them to read it for themselves, and so he threw himself into efforts at establishing universal education, setting up primary schools with mandatory attendance for children.
Of course things proceeded in ways he couldn’t have predicted, but when all was said and done, he did create a basis for liberating the poor and downtrodden through giving them the gift of literacy and knowledge.
Prista approved of that even if she found most of the poor man’s writings less than admirable. If she had had the chance to read and learn, her peasant’s life would have been very different, or so she liked to fantasize. In any case, she thought encouraging and helping people think and learn was a good thing.
She had had her reasons for taking the position of head librarian in the Research Library for Reformation History, located here in the Wittenberg Castle. She, of course, wasn’t religious now that she was a witch, but she found the atmosphere in the famous All Saints’ Church next to the castle useful. For various historical reasons it served as an entryway into people’s consciousness. There was something about the atmosphere in the entire castle complex that made people more open to suggestion.
The bell rang again and Prista opened the heavy, wooden door. On a good Halloween one or more children would ask an intelligent question or make a statement Prista could work with. She would have to be patient.
This time three younger adolescent boys, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, all three with unusually unattractive, shaved heads, stood in the doorway. “Do we get candy?” the tallest one asked.
“That depends,” Prista answered. “First you have to wish me a Happy Reformation Day.”
“What’s that?” the tallest boy asked.
“Who cares?” the shortest said. “Happy whatever, and give us our candy.”
Prista was somewhat hopeful. Curiosity was a fragile flower, not easy to find, and far too easily crushed. “Thank you for asking,” she said. “On October thirty-first, fifteen-seventeen, Martin Luther wrote down ninety-five ideas he had about what should be changed. He gave them to the local bishop, the ruler here at the time, and nailed them to the church door just around the corner from here so everyone could read them.”
“So what?” the shortest boy asked.
“That marks a time when a process began,” Prista said. “Martin Luther encouraged people to learn and think for themselves. This led to all kinds of good developments.”
“And that’s why you celebrate it?” the tallest boy asked.
“Yes,” Prista answered. “Don’t you think that is something worth celebrating?”
“Sure, why not,” the third boy answered. “Can we have our candy?”
Prista held out her basket and while the three scooped out as much as their oversized paws could grab, she sent a few telepathically conveyed commands. She couldn’t exactly add anything to people’s brains, but she did have the power to enrich and encourage various neurons and synapses, influencing the minds.
Without knowing why, these kids would mull over the possibility that learning and thinking were good things to do. Gradually they would want to know more. To encourage such thinking she also sent them commands to believe in themselves, to believe they could become anything they wanted to.
Prista was optimistic. She had had a fair amount of success with this method so far.
The next bell chimed briefly. Priska opened the door and saw a group of seven pre-teen children, all definitely not from Saxony-Anhalt, most likely from countries bordering the Mediterranean. They looked like they were getting ready to turn around and run away.
One courageous little girl said hesitantly, “Sweets?” The others almost jumped back. Prista pointed to the basket.
“For you,” she said and motioned for them to help themselves. The children were more than shy, but after Prista took out some chocolate and placed it in the smallest girl’s hands, the others reached in gratefully.
Priska wasn’t going to overwhelm these kids with information about the Reformation or even European history. Instead she sent subliminal commands to encourage them to be optimistic and unafraid and to be eager to learn new things. The children smiled as they left with their candy.
Prista refilled her basket, and the bell rang several times. When she opened the door again, she was confronted with a group of angry middle-aged men. They looked angry but didn’t seem to be drunk.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” an overweight, bald man asked while shaking his fist at her.
“Handing out candy as is customary on Halloween,” Prista said. “And reminding the children that this is first and foremost Reformation Day, a day to honor the work of the Reformation.”
“Then why are you giving candy to the foreigners’ kids? The damned traitorous government let these people in. They get all the money they want thrown at them while we get nothing, no jobs, no pensions, nothing. And they’re all heathen Moslems, not Lutherans,” another man yelled.
Prista counted swiftly. There were ten of them. Her powers might get diluted if she tried telepathic commands on all of them at once. But it wouldn’t do any good to change a few minds and leave the rest angry and ignorant. There was also a chance their unreasoning anger would leave their minds vulnerable to a little manipulation.
“Why do you think that?” Prista asked. “Have you checked your facts? What if people are deliberately lying to you to make you angry?”
This made the group angrier and made it easier for Prista to enter their minds, since they were distracted. She sent commands for them to doubt everything the extremists told them. Since that didn’t exhaust her, she sent out additional commands to feel empathy for refugees who were forced to flee for their lives and ended up in a less than welcoming Saxony-Anhalt.
“The castle church congregation serves meals to the poor and homeless Monday through Friday,” she continued. “Why don’t you help out there and get to know these people, including the refugees? You might find you have more in common with them than you thought.”
None of them answered her directly, but the group dispersed and the men walked away slowly without talking. Prista had just enough mental strength left to sense she had made some headway.
Prista gathered more chocolate bars for her basket. There was something about Halloween or Reformation Day that made it easier to manipulate people’s minds. Maybe the spirits did roam the earth on that hallowed eve. You couldn’t argue with results, and so far Prista had been successful with her efforts every October 31st. People had changed their minds. Children had increased their curiosity about learning.
Witches had power, power to do things, to make changes, though only small scale. However, considering the chaos that was the universe, small-scale changes often led to large-scale ones. For herself, Prista decided to eliminate stupidity and superstition from the human race, obviously a task only an immortal could take on.
She waited eagerly for the next group of Halloween or Reformation Day visitors. Maybe she needed to summon up more chocolate.
Mary Jo Rabe grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa, got degrees from Michigan State University (German and mathematics) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (library science) where she became a science fiction fan. She worked in the library of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany for 41 years, and retired to Titisee-Neustadt.
She has published "Blue Sunset", inspired by Spoon River Anthology and The Martian Chronicles, electronically and has been published in Pulphouse, Fiction River, Whispers from the Universe, and other magazines and anthologies.
She indulges in sporadic Facebook and Twitter activity facebook.com/rabemj and @maryjorabe