Olsav wasn’t sure how long he had slept in the crypt, but it had to have been at least hundreds of years.
Despite sleeping for centuries, he was still as prim and proper as the day he went under. Being a vampire had its perks; if you made several mortal enemies, you simply settled down in a quiet spot and fell asleep until they and their children were long dead and forgotten. By the looks of the world around him, there were no more vampire hunters keen to bloody their stakes. They must have forgotten about vampires.
He had been prowling this neighbourhood, searching for a household with someone still awake at this hour. He never liked to bite the asleep or unaware. You always have to look your prey in the eye.
One large house had nearly every light on. From inside, the sound of heavy music and laughter came. The entire house was dotted with symbols of bats, pumpkins with faces, and skeletons.
Yes, this will do nicely.
Craig staggered out of the main room, making his way down the corridor by rebounding off each wall in turn, a red plastic cup in hand. He originally arrived as a mummy, with every inch of his body covered in bandage. This far into the party, most of it had fallen off, giving the appearance of someone who had a nasty accident in a toilet roll factory.
Pounding music gave him headaches, as did alcohol. The pair always meant he felt like he was going through brain surgery without anaesthetic.
Still, he wasn’t having a bad time. In fact, as he pinballed his way towards a quieter place, all he could think about was how this was the best Halloween party he ever had, even though his head hated everything, and his kidneys grumbled about the surprise overtime shift.
He found a closed door furthest away from the party. Stairs were currently a swimming, blurry obstacle that would have probably ended in something broken, either his bones or the household furniture. This will do.
He opened the door and was welcomed to darkness, a cool chill, and, most of all, quiet. He staggered into the room and flailed a hand at the light switch until it turned on.
It was a study, with books lining the walls. They were countless, due to the sheer number and the fact they were all slightly spinning in Craig’s vision. There was only one desk and one chair. The chair was occupied by a man in a dark black cloak.
“Ah,” The man said, smiling. “A pleasure to meet you. I thought someone would come here, eventually. I am Olsav, and for hundreds of years I have rested. Now, you shall be the first of many who will fall to the reign of the night I will bring down upon this unsuspecting world.”
Olsav expected fear, desperation, perhaps even anger. What he instead got from Craig was a goofy smile. “You look incredible,” Craig said, his voice revealing he was greatly impressed. “Where’d you get the fangs?”
“‘Get’? I got these from when I was bitten, back in the sixteenth century. A mortal I was, of great ambition and dream, until one day, my humanity was cruelly stripped away from me by a creature of the-ungh!”
As hard as Craig pulled on the fang he managed to get a grip on, the teeth weren’t budging. “Blimey,” he said, even more impressed than before. “They’re real.”
“Yes, if you had let me finish my story, you would have learnt that. But it doesn’t matter. For soon you shall experience first-hand how authentic they are.” Olsav rose from his feet. “You see, I am ever so thirsty.”
“Oh? Feeling parched, are you?”
“Yes, yes,” Olsav said, slowly approaching Craig. “I haven’t had a drink in…ages.”
Craig pointed with a thumb to the door. “We could easily fix that.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Olsav said, now very close to Craig, who was still beaming his goofy smile. “I’ll just fix this little problem…right here.“
It should have been a clean bite. Instead, as Olsav bared his fangs and dove in to take his prey, he found himself blocked off from his target by the red cup Craig held up toward Olsav.
“Fancy a drink, then?” Craig said.
Olsav froze mid-bare, looking at the cup in confusion. “A drink?”
“Yeah. They’re pouring this stuff like it were water. I thought I had it in me for a sixth, but as soon as I got the cup to my lips, I knew I’d paint the walls green if I had it. So you can have it instead.”
Craig peered into his cup, double checking. “Nope,” he said. “Not since I last checked.”
“Then it is of no use to me. Except…well, it has been so long since I’ve had a good stiff drink.”
“Really? They’ll love you back in the party room, then. Lightweights always go down a treat.”
“Do you mind if I…?”
Olsav took the red cup with a hesitant grab. “As soon as I’m finished with this, though,” he said. “You’re next.”
Then he drank the lot in one go.
He smacked his lips, blinked to himself, then nodded with approval. “Giving it out like it were water, did you say?” he said.
Nobody knew who the man in the awesome vampire costume was. Nobody really minded, either. Everyone was so smashed, they accepted him like a brother they never had. He seemed great, too. Drunkenly telling stories and chugging entire barrels in one go.
Nobody remembered his name, or if he had any relation to the break-in at the blood bank, where several tubes went missing and a drunkenly-scrawled note reading ‘Heard there were more drinks here. It’s happy hour, somewhere. ~Olsav’ was left on a desk. Despite that, to those who could still recall it the next morning, it was a party they’d never forget.
Arnok stomped his way down the stone passageway, walking past a stream of zombies going the other way.
The passage certainly looked as if it would stink of damp and with a cold biting wind blowing through. Arnok wouldn’t know for sure, however, because he was a walking skeleton, and such things didn’t really leave room for senses. When your sight alone was forged by intense magical powers, necromancers didn’t care so much about adding a magical tongue so their minions can enjoy foie gras.
Beyond the passageway, Arnok stepped into the abandoned war room, just as rotten and soggy as the rest of the derelict castle. Zombies bustled (as much as shambling corpses can) around the room. A single man was at the war room table, pouring over the mouldy map of the land, dressed in grand purple robes and gold pauldrons, both of which were visibly too big for him. The man adjusted the glasses on his nose as he shuffled small wooden figures around the map.
Arnok stood beside the man and waited. He would have cleared his throat, if he had one.
When the man finally stopped peering at the map, he turned and gave a small start. “Ah!” he said, his slight surprise turning into a warm smile. “Yes! Just the man I was looking for. I have a fantastic opportunity for you, friend. Was just thinking about where to put a particularly famous minion such as yourself, and then — I had it! I had the best idea.”
The man pointed to a town.
“See this? The town of Oakbridge? Not very affluent, I know, but it is a main hub where news and rumours are traded. Given it’s near a crossroads to the largest cities of the land, the tales of our impending army of doom are sure to spread.”
“And you want that,” Arnok said, “why, exactly?”
“Because — and here’s the good bit — if we cause enough terror, hopefully those in lesser-defensible towns and villages will flee to the cities for protection. That opens us up to their cemeteries and crypts, and that makes us stronger. If we skulk in the shadows and try to raise a few corpses without anyone seeing, we’re bound to be seen as nothing more than a shady cult.
“No, we need to hit hard and fast, look bigger than we actually are. Then when they realise we were more bark than bite, we’ll have all their corpses and we really will be as big as we claimed. And that’s why we need you! You, Arnok the old hero, to declare your return with a vengeance to kill the people of this land. Strike fear that you’ve returned! Let the people know that evil rules supreme! Do that thing where you cackle madly and throw torches at straw roofs and prod at helpless citizens until they cry! Sound good to you? Yes? Yes? Excellent. There you have it, then.”
Then the man turned back to the map.
When he realised Arnok was still standing there, he said, “oh, you actually wanted something?”
“Yes,” Arnok said, folding his arms. “You said after you raised us from the dead that if we had any questions, problems, or general feedback, to not be afraid to approach you right away.”
“Oh! Well, what is it, what is it?”
“I was just wondering how…literally every other member of the undead horde is a zombie, yet I’m a skeleton. Everyone has skin, clothes…hell, some even have hair. And here I am walking around in my birthday suit’s birthday suit.”
“Ah! Yes. Right. Well, then. That’s an easy one. When I got to your corpse in your crypt, your skin had long since decayed. Nothing to work with. Nada. All the other graves around your crypt were much more recent, and thus had some skin tissue that I could work with my necrotic magic to regenerate as much as I can.
“But don’t feel bad! I only raided that graveyard for you, after all. You being a hero of legend, and all. That’s why you can talk, and think, and not constantly walk into walls, and such. Because they were boring. You were the hero. You had power.”
“Do you know what else I had?” Arnok said. He flexed his arm, which, given he was only bones, looked pathetic. “Muscles. You know, the things needed by all heroic warriors.”
“Oh, yes, well. I’m sure all your heroic…I don’t know, abilities, talents, wits, whatever you had. They’ll lead you to victory. If you’re feeling bad, you can try some of this bubbling ichor I made!” The necromancer took a mug and a large bottle from the side of the map, pouring a thick green liquid into the mug. “The zombies love it. Raises their spirits. Not sure if they have one. But they do get raised regardless.”
Somehow giving the necromancer a look of disdain, Arnok proved his point by taking the mug and pouring the ichor through an eye socket, maintaining ‘eye contact’ with the necromancer as it dribbled through his ribs and down his spine.
“Thanks,” Arnok said, placing the empty mug back. “I feel so refreshed.”
“Right. Yes. The ‘no organs’ thing. Well, I’m sure you being the legendary, strong warrior–”
“–with no muscles–”
“–you’ll find your niche soon enough. And then you’ll be spreading undeath and causing chaos like the best of them. And that’s what being undead is all about, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” Arnok said, with a sneer. His question answered, he slowly turned and walked out the war-room just as the zombies locked onto the spilt ichor and began to shuffle towards it, lapping it up from the floor.
“Well then,” the necromancer said, beaming as he got back to his map. “Always good to have a heart-warming one-to-one with the workers. Can I get him on a skeletal horse? Oh that would be good…”
It was a cold night, so Natasha felt the need to cuddle up to the back of Ben in bed. “I want to try for a third one,” she whispered.
“You’ve already had two whiskies,” Ben said. “A third one and you’ll wake up in a random mall in the morning.”
A chuckle. “No, I mean…a third light in our life.”
Ben took a little time to work out what she meant by this. Then, he said, “what, right now?”
“No! Obviously not. Just…plan for one.”
“Why, what’s wrong with the two that we already have?”
“Nothing! Nothing’s wrong with them. I would…just like a third. That’s all.”
“The two children we have already came out with very good superpowers, you know. That in itself is a gamble.”
“Yes, we couldn’t be more blessed. Jake is doing fantastic with controlling his flying, and Alice has already used her mind reading to stop a bank robbery. They’ll both be fully-fledged heroes before we were in our prime.”
“Yes, but all it takes is for one of them to come out that…I don’t know, spits fire when they belch. Or cries really loudly. Mind control, energy beams from their hands, I don’t know! All I know is that it takes one to be a bad egg, and the whole house burns down overnight.”
“Yes, I know!”
“But you still want to pull the handle on the genetic fruits machine and see what pops out.”
Natasha cuddled into Ben’s back more. “Because I know whatever happens, we’ll take care of them. I know we can. We have a large enough place, we’re heroes, we have the money to expand if we need to. Just…think about it, okay?”
Ben rubbed the arm Natasha had wrapped around him. “When your blood isn’t 40% alcohol content, we’ll talk again. And if you’re serious about it…sure. We’ll see what we can do.”
Natasha smiled. “Thanks.”
It had been a rough few hours. However, it was one of those rough hours you were grateful you went through. All the hard work was done; all Natasha had to do was lie in bed and wait for the doctors to report the health of the new baby. Ben stood beside her, holding her hand, smiles on both faces.
A doctor came through the double doors on the other side of the wall, holding something curiously baby-sized bundled in cloth in his arms. Both of them perked up.
“Well then!” the doctor said, cheerfully. “You’ll be pleased to know that he’s not a teleporter. We had people ready to get him off of the roof, but you got lucky this time. He doesn’t seem to spew any element from any orifice, hasn’t emitted any psionic waves, and hasn’t, as of yet, turned his entire body into stone. Congratulations, you two; I think you got lucky with his superpower.”
Natasha wiped her brow. “And so the streak continues,” she told herself. “Three in a row.”
“Now that we’re all calm and relaxed,” the doctor said, placing the bundle in Natasha’s arms. “Say hello to little Charles.”
The doctor parted the cloth to reveal Charles’ face. Inside the bundle of cloth was a stapler.
“What–” the doctor began, his face turning pale. “Why is there–? How did he–? Help! Somebody help! There’s a child loose in the hospital!” he cried, running to the double doors and barreling through them so hard he almost fell over.
Natasha sat up in bed, horror across her face. “Where’s Charles? Where did he go? Why did they give me a stapler? Where is he?!”
“Stay calm,” Ben said, lightly pushing her back. “These people are professionals. They had a kid that shot laser beams from his eyes and still kept it together enough to put goggles on him. I’m sure they’ll find Charles.”
“But what if they don’t? Why on Earth did he come in and give me a bundle of cloth with a stapler in–“
Natasha gestured to the stapler in question. She was now holding a hand of bananas in the cloth bundle.
“Wait,” Ben said. “Why are you holding the bananas from the fruit bowl?”
“I’m not,” Natasha said, looking at the identical-looking fruit in the bowl beside her. “So why is it…?”
The pair looked in confusion and silence as the sound of shouts came from outside the ward. Then, Ben gave a laugh.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I think I know what Charles is up to.”
With the tip of a finger, Ben gently tickled the body of one of the bananas. It gave a giggle like a baby, before its entire form morphed into the shape of a baby boy.
“Shapeshifter,” Ben said to himself. “And very good control over it at that age.”
“Oh god,” Natasha breathed. “He’s going to be a hellion growing up, isn’t he?”
“Growing up? Can you imagine what he’s going to be like as a teenager?“
The pair exchanged a terrified look.
“Well then,” Ben said. “I’ll go inform the doctors as to what happened. Good luck with him, alright? Let me know how he turns out. I’ll just be in our old home, enjoying myself, with the children who aren’t total nightmares.”
Even though Natasha knew Ben was joking, she still snapped with a “Oh no you’re not. You’re going to help, too.”
“You’re right,” Ben said. “I’ll do my part and research tracking devices and dog collars for when our child turns into a vase. Be right back!”
Ben left the ward.
Natasha looked down at her new bundle of joy. She wanted to kiss his forehead, but given that ‘he’ was currently taking the form of her bedside lamp, it could wait. All she knew were that the coming years were going to be interesting, especially after Charles would learn the value of deception.
Maybe a collar wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.
“But there’s no way it can be done,” Lauren said through the spacesuit intercom. “We’ve spent so long on it that I can’t perceive it being done.”
Thomas agreed. He woke to an unfinished job for the last two years straight. When he went through his mental list, however, nothing seemed out of place. The air producers worked. The gravity generators operational. The base was properly sealed. There was only one way to know for sure.
For the first time, Thomas took off his helmet in the base and breathed the air.
“Well you better believe it,” he said with relief. “As of today, we’re officially the first two residents of Mars. Everything’s operational.”
Lauren removed her own helmet. She took some suspicious breaths. “Well, my head hasn’t exploded. So you must be right.”
“Then I suppose there’s nothing more to do than to call home–”
From the inner airlock that lead to Mars, a knock came.
Lauren and Thomas exchanged a look.
“Nobody came with the last supply shuttle, right?” Thomas said.
Lauren shook her head.
“So who was that?”
Lauren simply stared at the airlock.
Thomas didn’t believe in monsters, and serial killers had to have a huge ambitious streak to commit murder on Mars without a spacesuit. More worrying was the idea that the knocking was the structure around the airlock falling apart. Wearing his helmet again, he crossed to it and pressed the open button.
It revealed two green-skinned aliens, big smiles on their faces and what looked like miniature trumpets for ears. As soon as the door opened, they both waved.
“Ah, hello there!” said a female-sounding alien. She thrust a bouquet of strange-looking plants akin to miniature pool noodles into Thomas’ hands. “Good to see you! We let ourselves in through the outer airlock. Hope you don’t mind. I’m Zib, and this is Xom.”
“Hello,” Xom said with a male-sounding voice, shaking Thomas’ hand with a slightly rubbery one of his own. “Pleasure to see you. Hope you like it here.”
“So this is your place!” Zib said, walking in. “I so wanted to come and help, but Xom kept saying, ‘no, no! They can do it by themselves, we can’t be nosy neighbours!’. And now you’re all finished!”
“We were wondering when you’d arrive,” Xom said. “Studying Earth from afar. Learning your languages, how you lived, all your customs. It was only a matter of time until you visited, and blow us down, here you are.”
“Well, if we knew aliens lived here, we would have come sooner,” Lauren said. “None of our scans of the planet revealed advanced life.”
“Of course it didn’t,” Xom said.”We made sure to block those. Nosy neighbours peeking into our lives, never good.”
“Yet you studied us freely without our permission.”
Xom winced. “It was, uh…good neighbour practice. Neighbourhood Watch and all that. Anyway, set yourselves down, we’ll sort everything out for you.”
“But–” Lauren began, but she didn’t get much farther. The pair of humans were already being hustled to the nearby sofa and sat down upon it, as the aliens went about sorting out the base for Mars life.
“These Earth flowers are nice,” Xom said, running fingers through a vase of fake ones. “You’ll find that Mars tubes will grow without oxygen or sunlight. A lot of us don’t need those, you know.”
“Mars tubes?” Thomas asked.
“Yeah, the bouquet.”
Thomas looked at his handful of ‘flowers’. It made sense why he was gifted what looked like oversized spaghetti for a present; it was probably the nicest-looking flower that grew natively on Mars.
“Where do you keep your food?” Zib said, her voice coming from the kitchen, punctuated with cupboards opening and closing. “I’ll put dinner on.”
“Oh, ” Thomas said. “No, it’s fine, really–”
“No, no, stay seated. If you’re making a new life on Mars, it’s only natural we show you some traditional Mars hospitality. Oh, I see you have some dishes that need cleaning too.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine! You’ve spent the last two years making the place, it’s about time you put your feet up.”
At that moment, a tuneful beeping sound filled the base.
“Ah! Xom said, crossing the room to the ringing phone. “You two stay seated, I’ll handle this. Always wanted to talk on an Earth-based phone.”
“Ah, but,” Thomas began nervously. “That’s the Head of the Mars Expedition wanting his report, I’ll take it–”
Xom had already lifted the receiver.
“Yes hello?” Xom said down the phone, the receiver resting unevenly on his trumpet-like ear. “Ah! Hello. This must be the human head of the Mars Expedition I’ve heard so much about. Greetings! What’s that? Oh, I’m Xom. A martian. Yes, I’ve lived here for years. Of course this isn’t a prank, welcoming neighbours is hardly a prank. Proof? Alright. Say hello, you two!”
“Hello,” the two humans called out weakly to the handset Xom held out.
“See? It’s not ‘putting on a voice’. We’re very much the real deal. Yes, of course we ‘come in peace’, that’s pretty much granted. People are visiting? How many?” Xom listened, then asked the pair, “how big is ‘the entire department?'”
Thomas swallowed. “Do you have any hotels you can rent out?”
“Ah. That many, huh? Well, I’m sure we’ve got spare mattresses. Alright then, other humans, we’ll see you soon. What’s that? Yes, I’m sure we come in peace, please stop worrying. Okay? Bye!”
Then Xom hung up the phone.
“Phew,” he said. “Such lively creatures. Do you think all the visitors will want some Mars tubes, too? They might get horribly jealous.”
Thomas swallowed. They were about to have one of the most important meetings in human history, and one of the aliens will present them with weird tubes and the other will tell them dinner’s ready.
Still, it sure beat alien abductions and blowing up the White House, so Thomas figured the next few days will be fruitfully eventful, if not also very strange.
Welcome to my fifth anniversary piece for #FlashFriday! This is a continuation of the Ms. Mayberry saga, where I add another story to the ongoing conflicts between Gareth and Ms. Mayberry each year. You can read the past issues here:
Prior reading isn’t essential to ‘get’ this story, but it is recommended!
Enjoy, and here’s to another year of Flash Friday.
Gareth was having a very good day.
Usually, on this day, he’d be worrying about what on Earth Ms. Mayberry was up to in the deathtrap she dared call a ‘store’. This year, however, he found the solution for his problems; simply don’t visit. Don’t check on how she’s doing. Don’t walk past her store. Don’t even think about her. Just stay at home and watch TV. It was already working wonders.
Gareth changed the channel on the television and sank into his chair. Yes, this was definitely the better way of spending a day.
The doorbell rang.
Gareth’s spike of panic subsided when he realised there was no way Ms. Mayberry knew where he lived. In fact, it was far more probable that it was the pizza delivery he had ordered a few minutes ago. He went to answer the door; but not before attaching the door chain, just in case.
Turns out, his suspicions were valid. Not only was it not the pizza delivery man, it was the very woman he didn’t want to see today. She peered through the gap with a crooked grin, eyes full of mischief.
“You didn’t come by my store this year,” Ms. Mayberry said, with a tone not too unlike a witch.
“Of course not,” Gareth said. “Last time I did, I was arrested in France on the grounds of suspected terrorism. How did you know I lived here?”
“From your Ms. Mayberry loyalty card details.”
“But I don’t have one.”
Ms. Mayberry pushed a card through the crack in the door. It simply featured her wearing dungarees and holding a spanner, shooting a confident look at the camera. ‘I experienced the brilliance of Ms. Mayberry’ was written on the side. “Now you do.”
“Brilliant,” Gareth lied, noting with mild worry that he was Member No. 000001. “But no matter how many repeat customer loyalty programs you put on me, I’m not going to the shop today. Sorry.”
“Really, now? That’s alright,” Ms. Mayberry said alongside a creeping grin. “You don’t have to go anywhere.”
Then Ms. Mayberry closed the door.
Did she just admit defeat? Gareth hoped so. After all, there’s no way she can rope him into demoing another awful invention if he never left home. Settling back into his chair, he tried not to think about what she had planned if he had left his house.
That’s when the tremors began.
The entire house began to quake, as if the foundations themselves were being rocked. For the years he had lived there, Gareth hadn’t feel the ground shake, even after his neighbours dropped a bookcase down the stairs. Was it an extremely rare earthquake?
Something within him felt the answer wasn’t so simple.
When Gareth looked out the window, he wasn’t sure what was going to find. What he did find, however, was Ms. Mayberry wearing goggles and a huge grin. Even more worrying, she was surrounded by what looked like several large speakers face-down on the floor. All of them were aimed in his direction.
He managed to leave the front door in record time.
“Did say you didn’t need to leave the house,” Ms. Mayberry said, with just a hint of malice. “But you can come watch if you want.”
“What the bloody hell are you doing?!”
“Testing my new invention, of course!”
“You’re testing your earthquake-making device on me?!”
“No! I’ve already tested the earthquake generator, I don’t need you for that! I’m testing the anti-earthquake generators!”
She pointed at Gareth’s house.
Following her finger, Gareth saw four strange brace-like devices clamped onto the front of his house. They looked like they were out of science fiction, with blinking red lights.
“Fantastic, aren’t they?” Ms. Mayberry said. “People won’t lose buildings to earthquakes no more.”
“But we don’t get earthquakes here!”
“All the more reason for you to prepare when they do come! Besides, it’s doing a good job, isn’t it? So there’s no need to worry.”
“Even if we did have them, they wouldn’t be this strong on the richter scale!”
“The what? Dunno about any ‘scale’. Just whacked all the generators to ’10’.”
“Great. Can you please call off the test?”
“Depends. How impressed are you?”
“Very impressed, Ms. Mayberry.”
Ms. Mayberry scratched her chin. “Alright then,” she said. “Suppose it has been long enough.”
Turning the dial on the machines off, the earthquake came to a halt. Gareth’s house was still standing, to his relief.
“So then,” Ms. Mayberry said, hands on her hips. “Now who’s a genius, hm? Your house went through all that, and look! It’s still standing, isn’t it? I think someone owes someone an apology, don’t you think?”
Ms. Mayberry beamed a big grin.
Then the house collapsed.
Gareth couldn’t do much else other than look at the flattened ruins of what was once his home. Well, that wasn’t entirely true; he also managed a horrified look at Ms. Mayberry as well.
“Ah,” Ms. Mayberry said, looking equally as horrified. “Turns out it doesn’t as much stop earthquakes as it does delay them. Well, that’s some scientific progress, at least. Please stop looking at me like that, it’s scary.”
“You destroyed my house!”
“I did, didn’t I. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that…you’ve saved enough loyalty points on your card for a new house. So you have that going for you. It’ll just…take some time to come through. You don’t mind hotels, do you?”
“Now listen here–” Gareth started. He was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder from behind.
“Sorry,” the pizza delivery man said, pointing to the ruins. “Is this 43 Station Drive?”
“Was,” Gareth spat, taking the pizza. “If you look hard enough in the ruins, you might find my wallet.”
The delivery man eyed the flattened home. “Let’s call this one free.”
“Thanks,” Gareth said. He took a particularly aggressive bite from his pizza, swatting away an encroaching Mayberry hand as he did. It looked like Ms. Mayberry was here to stay.
Dr. Godfrey had only one goal; to save a life. Ever since he awoke from the car crash on a hospital bed with stitches across his body and with two less parents than he had that morning, he had vowed to repay the favour. The problem was, even though he was in the top ten percent of his graduating class, he still hadn’t got the chance to perform a life-saving surgery at his hospital.
Sure, everyone knew he was smart. That’s why they called on him for all the cases that nobody else could solve. Dr. Godfrey remembered them all, and always for the wrong reasons. The person who came in reporting chronic back itching, which Godfrey solved by removing the security tag left on the shirt. The case where someone claimed a strange, white sticky substance was leaking from their head, which Godfrey assigned to the showers to clean the bird poo out. The angry patient who claimed the inhaler he prescribed to them caused an allergic reaction that rendered them unable to breathe, to which Godfrey calmly informed them that you had to breathe through the other end.
Dr. Godfrey had an outstanding record, in the same way that someone skilled in painting would be highly revered by the blind.
This time, however, it was different. It was the first time a nurse had interrupted his lunch break with a word never yet used toward him — ’emergency’. This was his moment, he knew, as he followed the nurse to the operating room. He was going to save a life.
Dr. Godfrey approached the patient on the operating table as he put the last of the gear on. The patient was a teenage boy, slightly overweight, lying on the table with his eyes closed, out for the count. Three operation technicians fiddled with machines around the table, alongside the nurse, who was waiting anxiously.
“Alright then,” Dr. Godfrey said, stretching the gloves into his hands. “What are we dealing with?”
“We had this boy come into the hospital just now. Patient reported of a severe headache,” the nurse beside him said. “Said that it’s near blinding.”
“So, I take it he’s here because he’s been diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
“If I’m going to do such a complex operation on such short notice, I at least…wait, what do you mean by maybe?”
The nurse shrugged. “It might be a tumour. I mean, that’s one symptom of a headache. Might not be this one. He’s only, what, fifteen?”
“You mean you put the patient under and we don’t even know what’s wrong with him?”
“Eh?” the patient said, suddenly stirring out of his ‘sleep’. “You’re going to put me under? Why?”
Dr. Godfrey blinked. “The patient isn’t even out?”
“No, of course he’s not,” the nurse said. “You don’t knock people out just because they have a headache.”
“So why is he in an operating theatre?”
“What?!” the patient said, looking around in a panic. “I’m going to be operated on?!”
“No! I’m just asking why you’re here!”
“You said it yourself,” the nurse said. “After that one case the patient claimed they had gone deaf and you pulled their earplugs out. You g0t all angry and said that the next case you get ‘better be in the operating theatre where I belong’. So here he is!”
“That’s not what I…nevermind.” If Godfrey was going to be dragged out of his break for this, he might as well finish the job. “What might your name be, boy?”
“Alright, Patrick. Can you tell me why you have a headache? Did you bash your head? Perhaps you have migraines?”
“Ate too much ice-cream, sir.”
“Wonderful. And you were called here as an emergency because…?”
One of the operation technicians gestured sadly to an empty pot of painkillers.
“Right. Got you. Well, you’re lucky I have a packet of paracetamol in my pocket, or else we really would have had to go to red alert.”
“Oh,” Patrick said. “My mum says I should always tell people something before they give me paracetamol.”
“Was it ‘thank you’, by any chance?”
“No, don’t think that was it. It’ll come to me, I’m sure. You’ll see.”
“I’m relieved to hear it. Here you go. And someone get some water to help it down.”
Patrick gladly took the pills he was given and washed it down. Wiping the excess water on his sleeve, he suddenly brightened up. “Oh! I just remembered what I had to tell people!”
“Go on, then,” Dr. Godfrey said. “Break the tense cliffhanger for all of us.”
“It was, uh…how do I put it, uh…ah! Yes. ‘Fatally allergic’. Mum says that I’m ‘fatally allergic’ to paracetamol. Told you I’d remember!”
Patrick beamed a big smile, around the same time as the blood completely left Dr. Godfrey’s face.
Those who were walking past the operations room at that point jumped out of the way as the doors burst open. Dr. Godfrey pushed Patrick’s bed toward the toxicology department like a buyer armed with a trolley on Black Friday. He may end up saving a life yet.
As one of the founding members of the cult, High Mage Sears had big plans. His companions respected that. They believed putting him on the forefront for hiring and training new recruits would be the most effective use of his skills. Sears agreed. He wish he didn’t
Cults don’t attract new members in droves; they often come in dribbles, often just the one, often just a few, always very stupid. Well, not always. Sometimes a well-meaning and efficient servant of the darkness will approach and prove themselves worthy. Most, however, were simply applying so they can see a demon, or read too many gothic novels, or saw it as a better alternative than a day job.
Sear’s three current students were not efficient servants in the least. But he always had to try them, just in case he was wrong. He never was, but just in case.
“Now then.” Sears gestured to the altar in front of him, the air thick with incense smoke. “Present to me the reagents needed to call upon Our Dark Lord, Nzeleth.”
The student standing between his companions looked at them, as if hoping they’d answer for him. When nobody said anything: “call upon who?”
“Nzeleth. The very reason I had you go get the reagents. Did you not read the tome as I instructed?”
“No, it’s sixty quid at the cultist student bookshop.”
“Well, find a preowned one on ebay after this, it’s very important. Regardless.” Sears picked up a sinister-looking knife from the altar. “First, present to me the animal sacrifice that you prepared.”
All three of the students perked up, keen to show the fruits of their efforts. One of them picked up a sack that was sitting on the floor, dug into it, then slapped a dead chicken onto the altar.
Sears peered at it. “It’s dead.”
“Yes,” a student said, nodding. “Sacrificed, see?”
“But I’m the one who’s supposed to sacrifice it. You’re supposed to give it to me still alive.”
“Oh. Well, next time, we’ll nail it. Save the farmer the mental scarring, at any rate.”
“Please do so. For now, please present to me the next offering; the flames of hellfire itself, contained within a suitable vessel.”
Once more, the students dug into the bag. One of them presented, then placed down, a chili pepper.
Sears looked at it with great disdain.
“It’s really hot,” one of the students said in defense. “Like, I gave it a lick and my tongue came out in blisters. If that’s not hellfire, then I don’t know what is, honestly.”
The other students nodded in agreement.
Sears’ face twitched in annoyance. “Very well,” he said, when everything was, in fact, not. “The first two reagents are shadowed by the third, most important offering; give me…the virgin.”
The first sign that something was very off was when the student’s eyes lit up and they dug, once more, into the sack. As if holding the holy grail, they proudly and enthusiastically presented their bottle of extra virgin olive oil.
“See?” one of the students said, tapping the word ‘extra’ on the bottle of oil. “It’s more virgin than you originally asked for, so it has to be better.”
The students gave each other high fives, then watched Sears as if awaiting the gratuitous amounts of praise they were about to receive. They didn’t get it.
Sears managed a heavy sigh. “I sent you,” he began, slowly, “on a mission to summon the avatar of the god of darkness who you’ll eventually serve for the rest of this life, and the entirety of the next. What I got were the perfect ingredients for a chicken stir fry.”
A shrug from one of the students. “So, what, does that mean we get a B?”
“What it means is that you three clearly don’t understand the kind of dark powers you’re utilising. Perhaps if you gazed upon the visage of our Dark Lord himself, you’ll be better equipped with the fear and respect that all acolytes should embrace. Behold!”
Other mortals had to give Nzeleth offerings in order to summon his avatar into the world. Sears, however, had given so much devotion to Nzeleth’s cause that simply slamming the end of his staff against the floor was enough to call him. Where Sears struck his staff on the floor, a black spot of darkness appeared and grew. Black tendrils creeped out of the spot, taking hold of the floor around it, before pulling up what looked like an octopus with eyes across its entire body and a mouth packed with teeth.
“My liege,” Sears said, bowing. He gestured to the three quaking students. “These acolytes failed miserably to entertain your demands. I request that you show them exactly who they are dealing with, so they do not fail you again.”
The eyes on Nzeleth closest to the altar swiveled to observe the offering. Then, in a deep voice that echoed around the room without moving his mouth, Nzeleth ‘said’, “your offering represents myself in no way whatsoever. This is an offense to me and everything I do. A dead chicken, some chili, and olive oil come together to make nothing of…”
The eyes peered at the offerings, as if realising something. Then, after a small period of thinking: “have you tried…adding cashew nuts?”
Sears blinked. “My liege, we are not in the process of making a chicken stir fry.”
“I can see that. You haven’t even got the noodles yet. Can’t do anything without noodles. Your Dark Lord Nzeleth demands egg-fried. They’re the best.”
“But these acolytes failed their exam of summoning you!”
“Oh, shut up. I’m sick to death of eating sacrifices. A bit of change once in a millennia won’t hurt, far less calories than virgins. Now, do you have the ceremonial wok on hand? Go fetch it.”
“Understood, my liege,” Sears said. At least leaving to get the wok meant he didn’t have to look at the smug faces of his acolytes.
Detective Hall examined the corpse’s face, turning it left and right. “And you said you know what killed him?”
“That’s right,” one of the three policemen on-guard said. “Rat poison. We did a search on the premises and found this.”
Hall took the bottle that was handed to him. It looked like a regular-sized beer bottle without any label. “In this?”
“That’s right, sir. We managed to get in touch with the owner of the premises, and he attests that this bottle is kept within the cellar with the drinks. Rat problem is nasty down there, or so I heard.”
“I see. So, if the murder took place last night, and there’s no way of anyone entering or leaving the establishment…then it has to be one of these people.”
‘These people’ referred to the people who stood by, watching the proceedings with curiosity on their faces. Ten people stayed overnight at Thornbush Mansion; and one of them committed a murder most foul.
“It seems so,” the policeman said. “Unless ghosts and poltergeists have started committing crimes, of course. One of these people did the deed, and to be frank, we’re at a total loss as to who–”
“It was the butler.”
Everyone — even the police — looked at Hall in surprise.
“But…” the policeman continued. “How are you so sure?”
“It had to be the work of someone who knew the location and contents of the bottle. Given the window of the murder was during the five-minute break between events, it had to be a quick get-out, grab, and poisoning of the victim’s drink.”
“It could have been anyone,” sneered the butler. “Anyone can pour poison.”
“Yes, but only you could have committed it. Given the evening events for the mansion, nobody would have a reason to come down to the cellar. Even if they did, they would have passed by such a nondescript bottle and assumed it was just alcohol. Nobody in their right minds would automatically assume a non-labelled beer bottle left in a cellar amongst hundreds of similar brethren would contain poison.
“It could only have been committed by someone who knew, beforehand, that the inconspicuous bottle in the cellar wasn’t beer, but was, in fact, rat poison. The only person who could have done it was you. Well?”
The butler shrugged. “Suppose the game is up. Yes, it was me.”
“Alright then. Take him away.”
As the policeman cuffed the butler’s hands behind his back, the butler gave Hall a particularly nasty glare. “Thanks for ruining everything, by the way.”
“I didn’t ‘ruin’ anything. I just put a murderer into custody, where he belongs.”
“No, you definitely ruined everything. Do you have any idea how much mystery there was behind this murder? Do you have any idea as to the motive? The backstory? The heart-rending yet bittersweet history of my life that lead up to this point?”
“I’m sure we can get all that in interrogation.”
“But that’s not the point! It was going to be a whole string of clues that leads to an uncovering of a mysterious and intriguing criminal underbelly! There was going to be a gang boss and everything, for goodness sakes!”
One of the other guests of the mansion gasped in horror. “Spoilers!” she exclaimed.
“It was going to be a damn riveting adventure, and you’ll be scratching your noggin for days, and I even had it set up so you’ll fight a shadowy assailant in a clock tower at the dead of night. It was going to be thrilling! And your annoyingly precise brain ruined it!”
“I’m sure I did,” Hall said. “Take him away, I’ve heard enough.”
The police did so.
“Well, then.” Hall clapped his hands together, beaming a smile at the other patrons. “I’m glad we managed to solve that. I bet you’re all feeling very relieved.”
They weren’t. They all looked like they had paid full price for a premium theatre ticket and got a school play.
“Well that was a load of tosh,” one guest said. “A whole load of mystery and intrigue, ruined in five minutes.”
“I’d say so too,” another one said. “Honestly, what kind of murder mystery was that? Just straight-up pointed out the murderer at the beginning and had him arrested. If this were a novel, it’d flop the moment it hit the shelves.”
“I just potentially saved your lives!” Hall spat.
“Maybe so, but you could have at least given us some time to think about who did it. To be frank, I had all my bets on Jacqueline. Suspected her right from the start.”
The large, frumpy woman that was presumably Jacqueline gave a disgruntled snort.
“Well,” Hall said, unsure as to why he was the one defending himself. “Perhaps if the killer didn’t use such an obvious method that pinned all the evidence on him, I wouldn’t have worked it out so soon.”
“Ah! Yes, I suppose that’s valid. Nothing ruins a good mystery like pegging the murderer on the first clue presented. That’s a shame. Well, no matter; I’ve got another dinner coming up within the month, and the host has a grudge on most of the guests. I’m sure there’ll be a better head-scratcher of a murder happening there.”
“Same here,” said another. “I’ve got a frankly suspicious invitation to inherit a vast sum of money from a ‘distant relative’ I’ve never even heard of. Definitely some sort of ploy to get myself and others all under the same roof. Can’t wait to see how that one pans out. Been needing a good mystery for a while now.”
“Well, now that this mystery is ruined,” said yet another, “I don’t see much point staying here. Shall we be off?”
With disgruntled nods and shuffles, everyone left for their rooms, presumably to pack. Detective Hall was left alone at the crime scene, with nobody to keep him company bar the victim.
“Well,” he said to himself. “I think I did a good job, at any rate.”
Trevor, dressed in his black suit and top hat, pulled a card from behind a boy’s ear. “Was this your card?” he said, presenting the King of Hearts to the crowd.
The boy’s jaw fell open. “That was!” he gasped. “But how–?!”
“Magic, my dear boy, and nothing less.” Trevor tapped the side of the nose. “Keep the card, I have plenty. Let’s hear it for Nate, everyone!”
The audience of children packed within Nate’s living room cheered. Trevor had performed in many venues before, but children’s birthday parties were always his favourite, mainly because nobody tried to work out how he did his tricks, and everyone believed he was magical. Some days, he wished he really was magical; for now, however, he had to rely on sleight of hand and illusions to get his kicks.
“And next!” he said, to the now very-attentive crowd. He took off his hat. “I will pull a ribbon out of this hat.”
The crowd didn’t doubt him.
Trevor picked up his wand from the table. It felt strange to him. He had used a black and white ‘baton’ since he began his career, but when he accidentally snapped it, he had to find a quick replacement. He found the solution in a strange little local shop which sold just about everything. The storekeeper’s eyes lit up the moment Trevor mentioned he wanted to ‘bring magic into his own life’. The storekeeper darted into the back and brought out what looked like a stick with a Christmas tree star stuck on top. Trevor said he wanted something a little more professional. The storekeeper said it would be free. Trevor relented.
Trevor tapped the hat with the wand. The wand glowed briefly. Ah, so that’s why the storekeeper was so enthusiastic about it. Cute.
Trevor placed the hat onto the table and reached within. The children watched in amazement as he pulled multiple feet of ribbon out of the hat. Trevor used both hands to emphasise how long the ribbon was, smiling as his audience watched, captivated.
Then, the ribbon jammed.
Trevor had never encountered this; not even in rehearsal. Everyone else seemed to think it was part of the show, giggling as Trevor frowned in confusion. Holding down the hat with one hand, he tugged at the ribbon with all his might.
“Just a minute,” he said, smiling to the crowd. “It appears my ribbon is being–”
Then the ribbon gave way.
Like something out of a cartoon, the huge head of a very annoyed-looking dragon popped out of the tiny hat. Its jaws were clenched around the end of the ribbon like a fish on a line. It gave a steely gaze to the audience; then, the owner of the ribbon that dragged it through.
The children fell dead silent.
Trevor, no idea as to what was happening, acted upon his tried and true magician fallback plan; if things go wrong, stuff it in a place where nobody can see it. Putting a hand against the dragon’s snout, he began to try to shove it back. The dragon, annoyed that it had been dragged through such a tiny hole, was now livid to discover it was being pushed back through it. It snorted and billowed smoke until, with the sound of a cork unfastening, the dragon’s head popped back in. The ribbon followed suit, shooting into the hat like someone slurping spaghetti.
The white-faced children slowly warmed into smiles. Then, applause.
“Thank you,” Trevor said, not entirely sure what he had just done. “Yes, thank you. All part of the trick, I assure you.”
But something wasn’t right. As the children clapped, he peered into the hat to figure out what had happened. Where the bottom of his hat should have been was instead a small hat-sized portal to another world. The view from the portal was quite high in the sky, which was emphasised by the fact the dragon he just pushed back through was flying directly below it. The ribbon still in its mouth, the dragon gave Trevor an annoyed look before flying away.
Now that the dragon was out of the way, Trevor could better see the other world from his sky-high view. He could see green hills and bustling cities. Giant lakes and towering mountains. Familiar animals and mythical creatures. Most of all, however, he could see magic. Magic everywhere.
Had Trevor done it? Had he finally cast a real magic spell? He didn’t know how he did it; everything he had used to this point was what he normally used for all his magic trick. That is, everything except…
As if answering him, the wand began to glow.
He picked it up. It had sensed home. It felt like a dog eager to be taken for a walk, sitting at the front door, tail wagging, waiting to be let out. It also reassured Trevor that it did, in fact, know plenty of spells to slow falls, should he decide to jump into any sky-high portals in the near future.
So that’s why he was given it.
Trevor looked at the crowd. They had since recovered from the dragon, and were now patiently awaiting the next trick.
Trevor smiled to himself. Oh, he had a trick alright.
“And now,” he said, slowly. “For my next and final trick…I will make myself disappear.”
He gave a wink to emphasise his point, tapped himself with the wand, then put the hat on.
Hats usually rest on heads. This one, however, didn’t come to a rest until it had hit the floor, ‘devouring’ Trevor as it went. It landed in a shower of sparks, and everyone applauded such an amazing trick. Even when they lifted up the hat, there was no sign of Trevor.
And thus, nobody heard of Trevor again; however, everyone agreed that it was a very impressive trick, and that it must have taken him years to practice, so they gave him five stars on Yelp for it.
A knock came from the office door.
Trevor looked over from his computer. “Come in,” he said.
The door opened. A tall, built man entered the room, dressed head to toe in spiked leather, his face covered by a white hockey mask. He carried a large machete in one hand and a full, bloody sack in the other. He crossed the office towards Trevor’s desk and took a seat opposite, placing the machete onto the desk and the sack beside him.
Then he waited.
Trevor finished typing something on the computer before smiling at the newcomer. “Ah, yes. I was expecting you in another ten minutes, but starting early is not a problem. Let’s see here…” Trevor peered at his screen, scrolling with his mouse wheel. “Ah, here we go. ‘Jacob T. Slasher’, am I correct?”
Jacob gave a single nod.
“Excellent. Yes, I remember you. You were the one enquiring about the treehouse residency, weren’t you?”
“Yes. Well, I’m sorry to say it, but we had a witch come in just a few days ago. She loved that property so much, she handed the deposit over there and then. You know what witches are like; they always like those sort of treehouse-type residencies, don’t they? You understand, don’t you?”
Jacob reached for his machete.
“Ah, wait a minute!” Trevor added quickly. Jacob paused mid-grab. “Before you, uh, do something drastic, I took the liberty of finding other suitable abodes for you. Ones that matched the conditions you specified to begin with. Well, would you like to see them?”
Jacob let go.
“Excellent. Then let’s get started. I noted you were looking for somewhere that was reclusive and out-of-the-way, so I had a look around and discovered this beautiful shack in the middle of the woods.” Trevor turned the monitor to face Jacob, showing a run-down wooden building surrounded by fog and trees. “Very iconic piece. Very classic. Many serial killers before you made good use of shacks. Nice and remote, nobody around to hear the screams, dark and brooding. Plus, it’s bills inclusive.”
Jacob nodded with approval.
“Good, good. Glad you like it. There is this other property I found; much less remote than what you asked for, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about it. Old meat packing facility, very large, very spacious. Previous owners didn’t remove the meat hooks, so you’ll have plenty of places to store corpses. Fridge still works, hidden away in a suburb, and — yes — while it is technically near a city full of people, that only means that you’re, hah.” Trevor gave a smirk. “Only means less of a commute to your work, doesn’t it?”
Jacob gave a single laugh at this joke. He pointed to the warehouse on the monitor and gave a thumbs-up.
“Glad to hear it. Yes, we have many a serial killer come in here looking for the perfect place to stay, so we always have a, how do you say it, certain premonition about what they like in a home. Would you like to make a deposit now, or do you want to look around the property first?”
Jacob simply ducked down toward his bloody sack. He began to draw out skulls from it, placing them in a row along the desk.
“Oh, awfully sorry,” Trevor said. “We don’t take trophies as payment.”
Jacob snorted with annoyance, scooping all of the skulls back into the sack with one sweep. Digging into his wallet (made of skin), Jacob drew out a credit card.
Trevor peered at the card. “Yes, yes, we accept MurderCard. This is all well and good. All I need is to enter the details into the computer and…there. You should be able to move in within the next week or so. Hope you, uh…” Trevor said, as he handed back the card. “Hope you make a killing at your new place, eh?”
Jacob’s face was entirely hidden behind the mask, yet he still gave a face as if he had heard that one far too many times before. He simply took his things and stood.
“Make sure to, ah, paint the town red, eh?”
No response; Jacob simply kept walking until he was out of the office.
Trevor shrugged the moment the door closed. The veterans of the trade had heard all the jokes before, but it never hurt to try. Actually, if he made a joke that was especially bad, sometimes it did hurt to try. But it didn’t stop him.
Trevor looked over his schedule. Jacob’s promptness meant that Trevor had a little time before his last two appointments of the day; the space alien secretly studying the human race, and a governmental lizardmen who wanted to keep on the low. Both known to be particularly fussy clients, but they always bought the higher-priced properties, so it was well worth the effort. For now though, he could do with some coffee; and maybe disinfect his entire desk while he was at it.