The Druid In Chicago – Chapter 2
by Tim O'Connell

The Bard and The Seer

Just a little over half a mile due South of Touhy Park, in the rectory of St Jerome's, Father Joe Brennan awoke in a cold sweat. He was panting, cold, hot, cold, couldn't get warm, couldn't get cool enough, his skin was one giant nerve. Out of nowhere cold blue fire enveloped his brain.

Witch fire? Witch fire in the parish? Who in the name of God? No one in the parish was strong enough in the old ways. This wasn't possible. Ever since Granny McCool passed away, there were no more practitioners of the old ways. That meant someone new had entered the parish. Lightning flashed in his skull. He took a deep breath and began reciting Hail Marys in his head, calming the fire, cooling the heat, putting up a buffer between the magic being thrown about and his nervous system.

rutherford-church-fire2.jpgHe was about to go for his harp case when barefoot footsteps ran up to his door and knocks came frantic with a frightened young female voice, "Father Brennan, Father! Dammit Joseph, let me in. We have unwelcome guests in the parish." Joe Brennan threw on his plaid bathrobe over his cotton pajamas for the sake of modesty and then opened the door.

Sister Mary Margaret came into the room dressed in a plain grey jersey track suit that she wore when she wasn't in her full habit and, of course, her Chinese slippers. Basically from ten o'clock at night until seven in the morning. From five to seven in the morning, she jogged the mile from St. Jerome's to Loyola University on the lake. She walked a cool down over to Mundelein and then taught a very unofficial Tai Chi class on the North Lawn of Mundelein's Library to anyone who would join her, rain or shine, summer or winter. Always wearing nothing but one of her grey track suits. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who ran Mundelein had often asked her to move her "class" inside where everyone on Sheridan Road who bothered to look couldn't see her and her students. Mary Margaret would simply say, "No thank you, it's better outside." The Sisters absolutely refused to come out and say it was an embarrassment for them for a Catholic Sister, a Carmelite no less, to be practicing Taoist exercises on blessed ground. Sister Mary Margaret thought it made perfect sense. As the pastor of St Jerome's, the SOCOTBVM let their feelings about his rebel charge be known. He promised them, often, that he'd speak to her about her transgressions, but never quite got around to it. Since he was one of the only people in the city who could actually play a 36-String Celtic Harp in a city full of Irish Catholics, they gave HIM some leeway.

She came in and Joe closed the door behind her. Mary Margaret paced back and forth, hugging herself and breathing deeply and fully. After about the fifth lap she finally settled into that weird way of standing the bothered Father Joe. She looked like Bruce Lee right before he dispatched a bunch of Chinese thugs, hands at her sides, looking nowhere and everywhere, absolute relaxed tension, ready for anything. Father Joe was known to go downtown in civilian clothes and catch a martial arts film festival. He considered it a not-too-guilty pleasure.

"What have you seen Sister?" Father Joe Brennan's deep voice was legendary. Many parishioners referred to him as The Big Bopper. Father Joe began to unzip his harp's case.

"In the park to the North, behind the Cullen's, the portal has been opened. It's too late, five have entered from the Otherworld. Five who are not friends to this side."

"That doesn't make sense, I felt blue witchfire, there's a guardian present there…who?"

"Jackie… Jack…Jack Finneran has come into his own early."

"Jack?" Father Joe Brennan staggered and sat down on his bed. Granny McCool's grandson. Of course. He'd heard Jack had been hanging around a couple of low born witches with practically no powers but with a passion for potions. Father Joe had kept his eyes and ears throughout the parish on Jack, knowing that someday Joe might have to take some action in guiding the boy if he ever came into his powers, but he didn't think it would happen so soon. Of course, the fact that Jack hadn't been back to Mass since he graduated grade school didn't help matters either. He'd come into his own with a deep deep resentment toward the Church. Sister Theresa (Sister Spitfire to the kids, partly because she resembled something out of a Nazi horror movie and partly because she literally spit whenever she talked) had made sure of that. She was old school, Germanic, pre Vatican II, and she had no tolerance for those who practiced the Celtic with the Christian. She and Jack had almost come to blows when she went on a tirade about witches and old crones one day…making no attempt to hide that she was talking about Jackie's Gran. Jack had stood, his freckles fading into his burn, Kevin Calahan and Mike Kelly held him before he rushed her…he shrugged them off but then simply walked out of her catechism class, but not before he'd muttered something under his breath in Gaelic. Sister Theresa had fallen ill the next day and didn’t get better until she'd entered St. Francis hospital over in Evanston. She'd gotten better and then tried to come back, but once she crossed Howard Street back into the parish, she was stricken once again. She never returned. The children were told that she was teaching up in Wisconsin somewhere. Jack had been grounded by his mother for over a month and his Gran didn't intervene for a change, even though she did bring him all his favorites and let him watch whatever he wanted on the television.

"He must be either very tired, very high, or both" concluded Mary Margaret. Her eyes rolled back in her head for a moment. "He's picked up a piece of oak and he's playing with his energy, that's what you've been feeling. He knows the five are there. He knows they don't belong here. Joseph…I think he's figured out what his name means."

crucifi3.jpgFather Joe grunt-chuckled, "He's just playing so far? Jesus help us if he gets serious. How strong is he? What all did she teach him?"

"How exactly do you think I'd know that?" Mary Margaret snapped and paced again. "It's not like Granny trusted me with any of her knowledge. She didn't like me much, remember?"

Father Joe nodded. Granny McCool wasn't too fond of "blenders." This generation kept finding links between cultures and blending their arts. Mary Margaret was definitely a blender. He was just as happy celebrating Mass as she was attending an American Indian drum circle as she was going down to Chinatown and practicing Tai Chi in the park with about 250 other practitioners. Oh, and of course, she was one of the most powerful seers Joseph Michael Brennan had ever encountered.

By all rights and tradition, Granny McCool should have taken young Peg Kelly, red-haired and all knees and elbows under her wing when her family first came to the parish. Peg's parents had moved to Roger's Park when she'd started having her visions, at about the age of 13. They'd heard Granny had taken other girls under her tutelage and hoped that she'd take on Peg. After their first meeting though, both women, young and old had decided that they simply couldn't work with each other. Granny thought the young lady was confused and distracted by too many different schools of thought. Peg thought the old lady was simply a close-minded throwback. They didn't "get along." Luckily, Roger's Park wasn't exactly short of…practitioners of alternative arts. Over on Estes and Greenview lived the Birch family. Emily was the matriarch and, as seers go, wasn't too shabby herself. The fact that she was British and Anglican no less, didn't make Granny's love for Peg grow any. No one was more shocked then Gran when Peg disappeared at age 18 and then had come back six years later as Sister Mary Margaret.

Father Joe shook off the wool gathering and stood up. "Well, step outside and let me get dressed. We should get over there. One way or the other, we'll have a mess to clean up when all is said and done."

The nun just stopped and put her hands on her hips.

"No. No matter what we do, it will be too late. You can play and sing a warding for him, and I can pray but other than that…"

She turned to look at him.

"He needs a druid is what he needs, not us."

Father Joe got angry now. "Don't start that again. You know we can't call himself."

"You can't obviously, you're the one that pissed him off."

"I'm the one that wouldn't let him go any further while wearing the collar you mean."

"Exactly. It's not like we're pure as the driven snow."

"He wanted to head down paths too dark. I believe many of the old ways are gifts from God, but he…he wanted to explore the serpents' arts. The fact that Patrick was made a Saint tells me everything I need to know about what the church thinks of that!"

"And yet still, the five have entered from the otherworld, a young, untrained Jack is about to confront them, and we need himself this morning like we've never needed him before."

Joe's eyes flashed now. "We don't know it's the five o' them. We don't. We have no idea which five have crossed." He went back to opening his case.

Sister Mary Margaret took a deep, calming breath and whispered, "I do Father. I know. It's them. I'm not likely to forget the likes of them."

Father Joseph Michael Brennan met the young Sister's eyes. "I know." He could feel the witchfire crackling in the distance, wild, uncertain, too powerful in one too young.

"Call him, do NOT use my name. He always loved the boy, use that."

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I'm intrigued man! Can't wait for next week!


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