CHAPTER FIVE

SHOWDOWN

The old wooden cottage of the Sanderson Sisters loomed before Max, Dani, Allison and their parents once again. The clouds darkening the skies overheard had turned a sickly, pale green, casting eerie shadows across the already spooky little house.

"I can't believe we're back here again," Dani muttered.

"For the last time," Max replied. "That's a promise."

"It is as I feared," Binx declared, staring up at the forbidding clouds. "The Sanderson Sisters have summoned a terrible new magic!"

"What kind of magic, Binx?" Allison asked apprehensively. Before Binx could answer, a searing bolt of greenish lighting suddenly lanced down from the sky and struck a nearby house. The house was instantly enveloped in a greenish glow. Seconds later, wisps of pale vapor began to rise from the house into the night sky. Max swallowed.

"Is that what I think it is?" More bolts of greenish lighting began to streak down from the sky, striking more buildings. Soon, all the wisps of vapor began to swirl together, forming a terrible, ever-growing vortex.

"My god…" Mr. Dennison gasped

"They feed," Binx said, his voice a deathly whisper. "We must stop this, before all of Salem is lost!"

"Sure, no pressure…" Max muttered to himself.

"Are you sure I can do this, Binx?" Dani asked nervously, still not sure about her part in their plan.

"I have faith in you, Dani," Binx replied. "I will stand beside you, and give you what aid I can."

"Everyone ready?" Max asked. "Mom and dad will provide the distraction; Dani will go for the book, and try to use it… and Allison & I will do our best to help her."

"You can count on us," Mr. Dennison promised. "Just take care of Dani."

"And yourselves," Mrs. Dennison added, reaching out to hug her son.

"Don't worry mom," Max told her. "We'll be okay. The witches couldn't beat us before, and they aren't going to now."

"SO SURE ARE YOU?!" Winifred's evil voice boomed in reply. Max whirled around to see that the three Sanderson Sisters had suddenly materialized in front of the cottage, and were flanking its single door. Winnie stood in front, Mary & Sarah on either side of her. Grinning, Winnie raised her hands threateningly.

"This shall be the last time you & your wretched family interfere with my plans!" Bolts of magical lightning flashed from her fingertips, striking Max hard and hurling him to the ground. At the same moment, Mary & Sarah rose into the air on their brooms and flew forward to attack. Unfortunately for them, their would-be victims were far from unprepared.

Sarah swooped down and tried to grab Allison by her hair, but Allison ducked out of the way and grabbed the handle of Sarah's broom instead. The youngest Sanderson struggled in vain to pull away. Despite the fact she should have easily been able to overpower Allison and escape, Sarah instead twitched about helplessly, looking like a child playing a game.

"Let me go!" she hissed.

"Sure thing!" Allison shouted. Before she let go of the broom, however, Allison reached into her jacket and pulled out a familiar container of salt. Opening it, she sprayed salt directly in Sarah's face. Then she let go of the broom. Sarah, trying in vain to swat the salt away from her, suddenly found herself being catapulted into the air. She gave a surprised shout, and seconds later went hurtling through one of the cottage's windows!

Mary, meanwhile – at last riding an actual broom - chased after Mr. & Mrs. Dennison. Mary wasn't exactly able to make pinpoint aerial maneuvers, however, and her prey was easily able to avoid her. Hiding behind two trees, the Dennisons stretched out a rope they had brought with them. They let it lie out of sight on the ground until they saw Mary hurtling towards them again; then, at the last moment, they jerked it up off the ground and pulled it taut between them. Mary couldn't stop in time and hit the outstretched rope hard. The impact hurled her from her broom and sent her crashing to the ground.

Back at the front of the house, Winifred advanced on Max. Her outstretched fingers crackled with malevolent magical energy.

"No more witty comebacks?" she challenged him. "No more threats from the 'great and powerful Max'? Are you truly so easily beaten?!" Max struggled to get to his feet, but his body didn't seem to want to comply.

"You haven't won yet…" he managed.

"No?" Winnie cackled. She lunged towards Max, and bolts of magical energy again crackled from her fingertips and enveloped him.

"Dost thou feel so brave now?" Winnie laughed evilly. She lifted her outstretched hands to strike again.

Standing nearby, Dani watched as Winifred Sanderson relentlessly attacked her older brother.

"Binx!" she called out to the spirit beside her. "We have to do something!"

"Use your magic!" Binx replied. "You can stop Winifred!" Dani looked panicked.

"My magic? B-but I don't know how… I don't even know how I did it before!"

"You must trust in yourself, Dani," Binx said. "You can do it. Here… let me try to help you…" Binx held out his ghostly, insubstantial hand. Dani hesitantly reached for it. Binx's ghostly finger seemed to melt through her own.

"I will try to guide you," Binx whispered to her. "Now focus on what you want the magic to do…" Dani swallowed and closed her eyes. In her mind's eye, she tried to think of a way to stop Winifred, to drive the evil witch away from her brother… she wasn't sure exactly how, she just wanted to do something – anything.

All at once, bolts of luminescent energy erupted from Dani's hands and slammed into Winifred, knocking her back with a cry. Dani gasped.

"I did it!" she cried out jubilantly.

"Now quickly… we must get to the book!"

"Not without my brother!" Dani rushed over to Max's side.

"Max, are you all right?!" Max nodded shakily.

"I'll live," he muttered. He looked up at his sister.

"Get going," he said urgently. "You've got to get to that book! We'll be right behind you!" Dani nodded in reply and took off towards the cottage at a run. With all three of the Sanderson Sisters momentarily stunned, she was able to run right in through the front door with no opposition. The moment she was inside, the door suddenly slammed shut behind her.

"Hey…!"

"Come in," Balthazar Sanderson's sinister voice beckoned. Dani's eyes widened in terror. Balthazar stood on the far side of the room, with Zagor perched on his shoulder. In one hand he held a chain, attached to one of the small dangling cages that hung from the ceiling. The cage was positioned directly over Winifred's boiling cauldron… and trapped within it was none other than Billy.

"Billy! What are you doing here?!" Dani screamed. Balthazar grinned.

"The foolish boy came to rescue you," he taunted Dani. "Now it seems he is the one in need of rescuing." To illustrate his point, Balthazar relaxed his grip on the chain. The cage began to lower itself towards the bubbling cauldron.

"No!!"

"Surrender yourself my dear and the boy will come to no harm. Continue on this foolish path, and you will both die!"

"You must not give in to him," Binx's voice echoed in Dani's ear.

"I can't just let Billy die!"

"Talking to yourself?" Balthazar mocked her. "Has the hopelessness of your situation finally driven you mad?" Dani ignored the jibe. Then something occurred to her.

"Wait… he can't see or hear you, can he Binx?"

"No… only you & your family can."

"Then that gives me an idea." Dani whispered. "See if you can sneak around behind you-know-who and get that chain from him!"

"I can try," Binx whispered back. He gently let go of Dani's head and began to creep towards Lord Balthazar Sanderson and the bubbling cauldron in front of him. Dani, meanwhile, steeled herself for what was to come.

"This isn't over," she called out to Balthazar Sanderson.

"No? What miracle do you think you can call upon to get yourself out of this?" Dani forced a smile.

"This." Reaching within herself again, she called upon the magic that had been thrust upon her. This time she imagined it reaching out not towards Balthazar, but the witch's cauldron he stood before. Dani's eyes flashed briefly, and then an invisible wave slammed into the cauldron with enough force to tip it completely over. Balthazar fell back, and Zagor flapped away with a panicked squawk. At the same instant, the chain slipped from Balthazar's hand… and fell into a waiting invisible one.

"What?!" Balthazar roared angrily. He watched, unbelieving, as the dangling cage was lowered to the ground seemingly by itself and then opened. Billy staggered out.

"Now you don't have anything," Dani challenged him angrily. She clenched her fists.

"Let's see how brave you are when you're not threatening helpless prisoners!" Reaching into herself once more, Dani again summoned the magic. Her eyes flashed again as luminescent bolts of light streaked from her outstretched hands towards Balthazar. The dark Lord Sanderson recovered quickly, however, and summoned an invisible shield to deflect Dani's attack. He motioned again, and a crackling fireball began to grow in his hands.

"Burn!!" he thundered, and the fireball burst from his hands, hurtling towards Dani. Dani screamed and instinctively shielded herself with her arms, hoping against hope that the magic would somehow protect her. Half a second before the terrible flames would have engulfed her, they struck an invisible barrier instead and were blown out by a suddenly-appearing wind.

"This cannot be!" Balthazar sputtered. "No mere girl can thwart the will of the Lord Balthazar Sanderson!!"

"Don't look at me," Dani gasped. "It's your magic!"

"Would you like to see my magic, little girl?" Balthazar threatened. "I'll show you what it can really do!!" He raised his hands to cast another spell. Lying on the ground nearby, still recovering from his captivity, Billy watched the battle between Dani & Balthazar unfold. He didn't pretend to understand everything that was going on around him – much less how Dani was doing the things she was doing – but he knew she was in great danger. It was time for him to do something about it.

Jumping to his feet, Billy leapt forward, driving his head into Balthazar's stomach with all his strength. The evil warlock staggered back, stunned by the sudden attack.

"Now!!" Binx shouted to Dani. "While Balthazar is distracted… use the book!"

"But Billy…!"

"He will be fine… if you act quickly!" Trying to ignore the nagging doubts in the back of her mind, Dani rushed towards the forbidding spellbook, still resting on its stand.

"What do I do, Binx?"

"Find the page with the summoning spell Balthazar used to resurrect his sisters…and read it backwards!"

"I'll try!" Dani began to flip through the pages of the book as quickly as she could, but she had no idea where the spell she sought was. She could only hope she would find it in time.

"GET AWAY FROM THAT BOOK!!" Balthazar thundered. Recovering from Billy's attack, he lashed out in a fury, hurling his teenage attacker away from him. Billy soared across the room and crashed into a wall, hard. He crumbled to the ground and did not get up.

"And now for you!" Bolts of searing magical lightning crackled from Balthazar's hands, heading straight for Dani. They never made it. Binx jumped in front of Dani and absorbed their deadly impact himself.

"Binx?!" Dani stammered. "How are you…?"

"I'm not," Binx replied. "We are, together." Dani looked down to see Binx's hand joined with hers once again.

"I can only use the magic to protect us for a few moments longer. You must use the book, while there is still time!"

"I-I'm trying! I can't find that spell!"

"You will never find it!" Balthazar bellowed, unleashing another magical attack. Again, Binx turned it back.

"Wait… I think I've got it!" Although Dani couldn't read most of the words on the page – they were in the language of magic, after all – 'Spell of Summoning' stood out at the top of it. Now she just had to try to read all those strange words backwards…

Hearing Dani start to chant, Balthazar knew she had found the spell at last. A cold fury seized him.

"STOP!!" he roared.

"Zagor!" he called out to his demonic pet. "Bring me the book!" Zagor rose into the air at his master's command and dove towards Dani and the book. Before he could reach her, however, a thunderous explosion shook the cottage. The sealed front door exploded inward in a shower of wooden shards.

"What?!" Balthazar demanded. Max & Allison rushed inside, followed moments after by Winifred.

"Nice shot, Winifred!" Max taunted his enemy. "You hit the door instead of us!"

"A mistake I shall soon correct!" Winifred snarled.

"Fools!" Balthazar shouted. "While you argue, our fate is being sealed!" Winifred frowned at her brother. Then she heard Dani's slow chanting, and her eyes widened.

"Book!" Winifred called out. "Come to me, my darling!"

"No!" Zagor said petulantly. "Master say me get book, so me get book!" Snarling, he leapt into the air towards the book.

"Ridiculous creature! Get out of my way!!" Rushing towards the forbidden spellbook at the same time as Zagor, Winifred turned and unleashed a searing bolt of magical energy at the sudden annoyance. Zagor was hit hard, and flew back… right into Balthazar. His own magical bolts went wild, striking Winifred by mistake. Suddenly, all at once, all three of the Sandersons and their allies were down.

"Dani!" Max called out to his sister. "Finish the spell! Quickly!!" Dani didn't bother to answer. She focused instead on repeating the last few words of the spell, in reverse. The moment the last word was out of her mouth, a fountain of blinding white light shot up out of the book, knocking Dani to the ground. The stand the book sat upon began to shake violently, and soon so was the whole cottage.

"Dani!!" Max leapt to his sister's side in an instant.

"Are you okay?"

"I think so… but what did I do, Max?!"

"I think we're about to find out." A terrible shrieking sound echoed throughout the cottage, as the fountain of white light pouring from the book suddenly became a terrible vortex, pulling everything into it!

"No!!" Winifred screamed as the power of the vortex reached out for her. She tried desperately to grab onto something, anything that would keep her from being pulled in. Zagor wasn't so lucky. He was forcibly pulled into the book itself with a final whimpering shriek, vanishing with a blinding flash.

"Maaaasterrrr!!"

"Zagor! Curse you interfering brats!" Balthazar shouted in a rage. The power of the vortex reached outside the cottage as well, ripping through the doors and windows and exploding through the walls. Its terrible grasp snared Mary & Sarah.

"Winnie!!" Sarah wailed. She & Mary tried desperately to escape from the pull of the vortex, but it was no use. They, too, were pulled inside the book and vanished.

"This is all your fault, Winnie!" Balthazar snarled at his sister.

"Mine?! You were the one who couldn't even best a frightened little girl!"

"If you had stopped her the first time, none of this would be happening!"

"I tire of your wining, brother! You failed… now pay the price!!" With that, Winnie flung a final bolt of magical lightning from her fingertips. It struck Balthazar hard in the chest, causing him to lose his grip on the overturned cauldron. Crying out in rage and disbelief, Balthazar was sucked into the vortex with a deafening roar.

The roar grew louder, and louder, as the vortex began to spin wildly out of control. Despite all her efforts to avoid it, Winifred felt herself being inexorably pulled in. She refused to pass into oblivion alone, however. Her hand snaked out and wrapped itself around Dani's ankle.

"If I must embrace oblivion, then so shall you!!"

"Max!!" Dani screamed in terror. She tried to kick out at Winifred, to knock her loose, but the evil witch's grip was like iron. The pull of the vortex slowly dragged them both closer and closer to oblivion. Max vaulted forward, grabbing his sister by the hand.

"I've got you, Dani!" he called out. Grunting, he began pulling back, struggling to break Winifred's grip. Winifred pulled back harder, and soon it looked as though both Dani and Max might be pulled into the vortex with her.

"Max!!" Allison grabbed hold of Max's legs, Mr. & Mrs. Dennison forming a chain behind her, and together they fought back with all their strength.

"You cannot win!" Winifred hissed. "We shall embrace oblivion together!"

"Embrace this!" Dani shot back. The last of the Sanderson's magic welling up from within her, Dani lashed out with one last attack. A blast of purplish light struck the old witch right in her face and Winifred cried out in pain and rage, instinctively letting go of Dani. She realized what she had done moments later, but by then it was far too late.

"NOOOOOO!!" Winifred's last words still hung in the air long moments after she was finally swallowed up by the cruel vortex emanating from the spellbook. With the last of the Sandersons gone, the book began to shake violently on its stand, the vortex expanding as if to consume everything in sight. Then, with an ear-splitting shriek, the spinning vortex collapsed back into the book… and, with a blinding burst of light, the book itself exploded into the thousands of tiny glowing fragments. The cottage shook on its foundations with the aftershocks, and then all was suddenly quiet again.

"Wow…" Dani whispered.

"You can say that again," Max agreed. "What just happened?"

"The forbidden spellbook of Winifred Sanderson has destroyed itself," Binx replied. "It could not survive after being used to do something good, by a person with a good heart."

"I thought you told us once nothing good could come out of that book?" Allison asked.

"Dani was only able to use it because she used the Sanderson's own magic; but being used for good was more than such an evil book could withstand. It's all over, at last. The Sandersons will never threaten this world again."

"I hope you're right, Binx," Max said softly. "Now maybe everything can get back to normal."

"Yes… and now I can return to my family, and my eternal rest." Dani blinked back tears.

"Thanks, Binx… for everything." Binx smiled and reached out to gently hug Dani, just as he had years before.

"Remember… I will always with be you." Pulling away, Binx smiled again, and then he slowly faded away. Max found himself exhaling deeply.

"Looks like we finally did it," he said. "Without their spellbook, the Sandersons are gone forever."

"I sure hope so," Dani replied. "I've had enough of witches and black magic to last me a lifetime." A sudden thought occurred to her. She jumped to her feet.

"Billy!!"

"What?" Max frowned.

"Billy! Billy Preston! He's here! He tried to help me, and…!" Kneeling at Billy's side, Dani gently tried to help him to a sitting position.

"Billy?" she said softly. "Are you all right?" Billy gave a low moan.

"What hit me?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"After everything I've seen tonight? Try me. Are they… gone?"

"Who?"

"The Sanderson Sisters; That is who that was, right?" Dani swallowed.

"Yes… but how did you know that?" Billy looked up at her.

"I followed you tonight. I wanted to help you. No way all those… things… could have come from anywhere else."

"You wanted to help me?" Dani sounded puzzled. Billy looked away.

"I couldn't let anything happen to you. I… I care about you too much." Dani found herself struck speechless.

"You've always been a good friend to me," she managed. Billy drew in a breath. This was going to be harder than he thought.

"Dani… I love you. Not just as a friend, either."

"Billy…"

"Just let me say this. All these years, I've watched you run after guys like Brad Williams; jerks who didn't deserve you. I wanted to say something, so many times, but I knew you wouldn't appreciate it. Figured you'd just think I was jealous or something." Dani felt a twinge as she remembered accusing Billy of just that when she asked Brad to the dance… and he had been right about Brad after all.

"So I just did what I've always done… I supported you, whenever and however I could. When I saw what happened tonight though, I just couldn't stand by anymore. I knew you needed help… and I knew I'd never be able to live with myself if something happened to the woman I love more than life itself." Billy looked up into Dani's eyes, now wet with tears. Gently, he reached up and brushed them away.

"I love you, Dani Dennison." Dani was silent for a long moment. Billy grew afraid he'd said something wrong. Then, just when he thought all hope was lost, Dani threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. Max stifled a groan, though the two young lovers couldn't hear it.

"Knock it off," Allison said teasingly, elbowing her fiancé.

"C'mon… that's my little sister."

"So? Isn't she allowed to love someone too?" Max fought back a smile.

"Okay, okay… just so long as I don't have to watch it." Allison winked at him.

"You'll be too busy for that."

"Busy with what?"

"With this," Allison replied, and she leaned in to kiss him.

As the sun rose into the morning sky, signaling the end of another Halloween night, two pairs of young lovers and their parents began the long trek home. For them, the long night and the long battle with the Sandersons were finally over. Anxious to put as much distance between themselves and the accursed cottage as they could, none of them noticed a tiny, faint flickering light sparkling in the shadows. The source of the light was a pair of tiny, disembodied eyes, staring out at the Dennisons with undisguised hatred… a promise of dark tidings to come…

THE END