There's a witch in a wedding gown here. She has a green face and purple fingernails. Her gown is all white and lacy. You can see her in a window at the Buffum's department store. She's the one getting married to the red-faced gorilla in the white tux. He's the one carrying a gold cane.

All right. We'll buy the premise. Anything can happen in sunny, nutty southern California, especially near Halloween. Anything? Could the beautiful Chargers be 3-5 and headed for darkness? Could a paperboy winging the Sunday bird cage floor onto your porch be throwing better than Dan Fouts?

Dan Fouts in civvies on the sidelines Monday night against the Redskins?

Dan Fouts not wearing the helmet with the lightning bolts?

Dan Fouts, the Chargers' virtuoso, throwing a Nerf ball?

Ed Luther at quarterback in his place? Ed Who-ther?

Yes, to all of the above. Luther, 26, a fourth-year quarterback with slight experience, said of Monday night: "It is a great opportunity for me and this club . . . It's (the 3-5 record) almost unbelievable. You're talking about a half-dozen plays, really, or we could be 6-2 . . . We need a big game to turn ourselves around."

After 67 straight starts (only Joe Ferguson and Ron Jaworski have longer quarterbacking streaks currently), Fouts is resting his bruised throwing shoulder. The Chargers worry that one more solid lick could put Fouts out for the season. A worst-case possibility, whispered about, is that further injury could ruin Fouts' rotator cuff forever.

"He's throwing a little ball, like styrofoam, to give some motion to the shoulder," said Don Coryell, the San Diego Chargers' coach. "But he hasn't thrown a football since New England."

When Fouts went down on his right shoulder against the Patriots two weeks ago, the controls of Air Coryell were handed to Ed Luther, for three seasons one of those NFL anonymities wondering when (if?) he'd get to play.

"I'm not Dan Fouts and I never will be and nobody else ever will be," Luther said this afternoon before practice. "You'd like to emulate the things Dan does. But you have to do it with the talent you have."

Just as Cliff Stoudt watched Terry Bradshaw all those years, as Danny White waited for Roger Staubach to go away, as Bob Holly now holds Joe Theismann's coat, so did Ed Luther sit in the copilot's seat (hands off the stick) while Dan Fouts took the Chargers flying.

Luther mopped up in 30 games his first three years, completing 11 of 22 passes for 149 yards. Those were Fouts' numbers for some quarters. Now with the Chargers floundering in a loser's cycle of injuries and killing bad breaks, it has fallen to Luther to operate the NFL's most sophisticated offense. Trick or treat, indeed.

Coryell, like his student Joe Gibbs at Washington, believes in giving the No. 1 quarterback all the work during the week. He uses a No. 2 rarely, even in lopsided games, on the theory that too many bad things can happen in the loose moments of such games and do damage to the No. 2's confidence. Some thinkers wonder if a No. 2 wouldn't profit by more exposure to the cold, cruel world.

"I used to think that," Luther said. "But then I'd watch Pittsburgh wiping people out and Stoudt would never get in. That's the way it is in the NFL. Three minutes is a long time, and a lot of things can happen to make you lose, and you don't see backup quarterbacks coming in."

Luther, if you'll review the bidding there, still thinks a No. 2 needs his feet to the fire a time or two.

Anyway, his first start was inauspicious. In last week's 14-6 loss to Denver, Luther was 22 for 48 with three interceptions. The Chargers' 299 yards on offense marked the first time in the last dozen games they didn't go over 400. They also had 14 penalties, three for delay of game when Luther didn't get the snap called soon enough and five more for illegal motion.

The Chargers haven't scored a touchdown for six quarters now.

But like all quarterbacks who survive natural selection to be professionals, Luther comes with the unblinking, square-jawed, right-stuff swagger that tells you, even before you hear the words, "There really isn't that big a difference."

He means the difference between practice and a real game. He played some a month ago in New York when Fouts was hurt. "Everybody asked me then, 'How could you go in there and you haven't completed a pass all year?' It's not like I'm kept in a case and they just opened it up."

Every day during the week, Luther works as hard as Fouts, throwing to anyone who'll catch. With Fouts hurt so much, in fact, Luther often worked in practice with the first-line offense, a luxury many backup quarterbacks never get. More than Cliff Stoudt probably, certainly more than Bob Holly, Luther was as ready as any backup could be.

A chance to play, like a chance to be president, "could come at any time," Luther said. "You're only one good pop away."

Still, practice sessions aren't games. Practice is 11 on 11 at alleged full speed in front of no spectators with no color, no frenzy, no risk. Games are life on the ragged edge; games are car-lifting adrenaline spreading the good news of competition to your throwing arm; games are different.

How does it feel, Ed Luther, to be in a real game after waiting so long?

"Feels good," Luther said, and if you took his pulse right then, while he was smiling so big, betcha it revved up a little.