Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
My throat was dry and I couldn’t swallow! A crowd of sround twenty-four would be murderers disguised in long black robes chanted under a huge wooden cross. Mayor Otter’s daughter, Joanie, slumped unconscious on the cross in an upright position. She had been fixed to it by nails. I knew I’d never free her without help … so I crouched low and ran back out of the cemetery. Once back in the rental car, I thundered towards the cemetary’s gates at eighty miles an hour. As I neared the open area near the back where the crucifixion was taking place, I hit the car’s high beams. Every white powdered face looked up when I plowed through a row of tombstones, blasted the horn and aimed the careening car’s headlights directly at them. Most of the dark figures jumped out of the way but at least a half-dozen wearing black-lace funeral-dresses arched their backs like cats and hissed as they surrounded a hunched hooded figure mounting an old bicycle. I figured if she was important enough to die for she must be the leader. So I cranked the wheel and steered the car toward her.
Large blocks of broken granite slow a car considerably and I was down to forty miles an hour when a small army dressed in black somehow flew onto the hood of the car and clung to the fenders and wipers. Furious white faces with snarling black lips covered the windshield and kept me from seeing the massive Cottonwood tree until it was too late. It wasn’t so much a crash as an explosion. Broken branches, leaves, torn black cloth, shattered glass and blood filled the air. Just before I lost consciousness I saw the hooded woman on the bicycle rise into the air and fly across the face of the moon chased by what looked like a large flock of shrieking black birds and then darkness took me.
“Are you okay mister?” I opened my eyes and then lunged backward at the black-hooded, white-face leaning in the window. Stream from a hissing radiator rose in the air and gave the scene a surreal quality. “Don’t worry … we’re the good guys,” he said. “Well … relatively speaking.” Through the broken windshield I could see a dozen other figures all in black lowering the huge wooden cross with Joanie still nailed on it, gently to the ground.
“What the Hell is going on here?”
“It’s a Black Wedding … a contest of Forks,” he said. I could see traces of teenage pimples under the white powder on the boy’s face. “Ham and the other members of Abra Cadaver had Cloverbone ravaged and enslaved before you showed up! If you hadn’t chased them away Joanie would have bleed-out and we would have been taken back to Salt Lake City in chains.”
“Tony!” One of the girls hovering over the wooden cross waved her hand. “Baby Bat needs a claw-hammer to pull the nails out of Joanie’s hands.
“Sorry,” the boy leaning in the window said. “JoAnne Wolf is my master and I have to do her bidding.” I noticed the ring on the waving girl’s finger looked like a twisted handle from a broken piece of silver-wear and Tony wore the corresponding spoon on a chain around his neck. I watched as the boy ran toward a black bag leaning against a tree.
I climbed out of the car, dazed and disoriented, and staggered to the wooden cross just as they were pulling out the nails. Joanie moaned as if in delirium. Two girls covered her nakedness with a blanket. “My radiator is leaking but I think it will last long enough to get Joanie to the hospital,” I said.
“Don’t be a doom-cookie,” the girl who had ordered Tony to get the hammer said. “The Queen of Cloverbone does need help but she’ll get it from Melania Descombey not some pill pusher who doesn’t know what the Hell he’s dealing with!” I watched as they loaded Joanie into the back seat of my crumpled car.
“We’ll ride with the Lone Ranger to visit the witch,” the girl called Baby Bat told the others as she climbed in the back with Joanie, “meet us there as fast as you can pedal!”
JoAnne flung open the door to my car and then slid across the seat to the passenger side. A moment later she leaned toward me and hissed. “You’re the only one who can drive, Tonto,” she said. “So I guess you’re coming along!”
I looked at the keys dangling from my trembling fingers, some habits die hard, and then I climbed into the rental-car and started the engine.
The large stone Victorian mansion on the south west corner of Main and Galbraith Streets was much the same as I remembered it as a kid. The turn of the century landscaping had fought a heroic hundred year war with Vine Mint and Morning Glory and had finally surrendered. When I was a ten-year old my friends and I used to throw lighted firecrackers on the lawn and then run like the Devil was after us … and we’d believed that he was.
I parked on a carriage-house driveway with heavy stone fitted together like a parquet floor and JoAnne and Babybat carried an unconscious Joanie up to the door. Babybat banged a heavy iron gargoyle knocker on the huge carved door several times before it was finally opened by a good looking woman who had to be just out of her teens. “Melania is resting,” she said, “but please come in.” She stared at me standing by the car. “All of you!” I had no choice; I followed the girls into the very house that had given me nightmares as a kid.
“My name is Allison and I’m Melania’s helper and apprentice,” she said as we were led into an old fashioned sitting room. The walls were covered with paintings of cats; some looked to be hundreds of years old. One large yellow feline sat sulking on a gilded throne looking regally majestic and properly bored. “What seems to be wrong with your friend?”
“She was crucified,” Baby Bat said, “about twenty-minutes ago in Black Rose Cemetery!”
“Another crucifixion!” Allison gasped. “That makes three this week!” She laughed and then shook her head. “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself … you all looked so freaked-out coming in here!” She glanced at me. “Especially you!” Allison cleared off a cluttered table and told them to lay Joanie on it. “I’ll ask Melania what she wants to do.” We watched as she left the room through a large arched doorway and seconds later saw her scampering up a grand staircase to the second level. “Is Joanie going to be okay?” JoAnne gasped.
“I hope not,” Baby Bat said. “I want her the same wreck as she was before.”
I was as startled as the others when an old upright piano began to play with no one sitting at the padded bench. A large jar of glass beads had toppled over on a shelf above and the shiny spheres rained down on the keyboard playing an excellent rendition of Tchaikovsky’s - Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major.
Allison returned just as the song ended. “Melania has only the strength to entertain one visitor,” Allison said. She looked directly at me. “She will allow you to speak with her but you must only stay a minute or so. Time is precious to everyone … especially to Melania in her late times.”
“Him!” Baby Bat sputtered. “What about Joanie?”
“This concerns what’s best for your friend and everyone here,” Allison said. I followed her up the stairs.
Melania lay propped up in a king-size canopy bed. The room was lit by black candles that strangely cast no shadows. Everything about her looked at least a hundred years old except her eyes. She stared at me with the intensity of a cobra when I walked into the room. I stammered not knowing what to say. “I know why you’re here,” she shook her head. “The ethereal salts you need to destroy the Lingerlings are the same substance that will restore Joanie Otter to health.
“I don’t know you and I’ve never been here before,” I blurted. “How could you know what I was looking for?”
“A person doesn’t live as long as I do without learning to perceive what isn’t said and to know what a person desires even before they do.” A black cat with eyes the color of a desert sky jumped onto the bed and Melania stroked its fur. “Hamilton Fisk, the witch Joanie and her friends call Ham, is very powerful and you must be careful.
“That twisted old hag riding the bicycle in the cemetery!” Freezing shivers ran down my back from the memory. “What’s she got to do with any of this?”
“Ham stole the ethereal salts that Joanie had been collecting for other purposes. If you can acquire them from her and her followers, you can stop the Lingerlings and help Joanie.”
“You said this woman, this witch, is very powerful. I know nothing about magic. How can I even think about going up against her?” I had visions of seeing myself nailed to a giant wooden cross. Thinking about what was going to happen to Susan was the only thing keeping me from leaving Cloverdale forever.
“All things have their weakness,” Melania whispered. “Ham radiates so much energy during the night she and the members of Abra Cadaver must sleep during the day to recharge their powers.”
“Kind of like vampires?”
“They don’t sleep in coffins,” Melania said, “but in very cold and dark places. You’ll find the ethereal salts in a sealed bottle made of ice. Ham keeps her fingers on the jar at all times to keep it from thawing …even when she’s sleeping. Take the bottle from her and bring it to me as soon as possible. The bottle will thaw very quickly. Then I’ll tell you how to help your friends.”
I tried to ask Melania where I should look, but Allison ushered me out of the room. “You’ve already gone past two minutes,” she said.
Baby Bat was hysterical when I told her they we had to recover the ethereal salts from Ham before we could help Joanie. “That salty Goth Queen will never give up her plunder,” she said. “How will we keep Joanie alive until we return?”
“I’ll have Egbert Callahan send over some of his haze-ice from On a Cloud Garden,” Allison said. “Breathing the frozen vapors should keep her living for a day or two.”
I remembered the frozen mist that stung my face and the delightful sensation of euphoria that resulted when I walked through the mortuary. “What exactly is haze-ice?”
“For thousands of years explorers like Juan Ponce de León and others have searched for the fabled Fountain of Youth,” Allison said. “But they’ve always looked in the wrong place. The sacred spring lies just inside Motha Forest but it might as well be on the moon. Only the Momett are allowed inside the sanctuary and all living things within protect the impassable borders. Egbert and a few others trade with the Momett about once a year delivering special items like books and in return they receive a very small amount, less than an ounce, of the fabled water. Egbert has found a way to disperse the water into an extremely fine vapor which even when frozen hangs suspended in the air. The sensation you felt when you walked through the mortuary was actually fine points on your skin becoming new again.”
Allison walked to drapes covering a large window. I was amazed when she opened them and sunlight poured into the room. The night had passed much too quickly. “You must find Ham before tomorrow,” she said. “This day is half gone and another eclipse will not pass over Cloverdale for more than three hundred years!”
JoAnne stayed with Joanie. Baby Bat and I began to search for the hiding place of Ham and Abra Cadaver. “We know it has to be someplace very dark and very cold,” Baby Bat said. “My guess would be a freezer.
“Ham must have at least thirty disciples,” I reasoned. “It would have to be a place large enough to hold them all while they slept without being disturbed.”
We drove around in my battered rental car, searching the town and could find no place where they might be hiding. It was almost twilight when we stopped at Spare a Dime to get a bite to eat. I put the eclipse glasses on long enough to see the two Chinese Negatives lingering outside the entrance to the restaurant. Susan happened to be working the booth that we sat in and her hands shook with subdued fury when she took our order. Baby Bat was at least ten years younger than me and she looked like she just crawled out of a grave. “I’ll have a burger and fries,” BB told Susan.
“All of our fresh hamburger is gone,” Susan snapped, “because of the crowd in town to see the eclipse. I’ll have to thaw out some frozen and it’ll take at least a half hour.” I was thinking she was hoping that we would leave when suddenly it hit me.
“Where do you get your frozen hamburger from?” I asked her.
“We used to get it from the meat packing plant out on Canyon Road,” Susan said. “But that place closed down last year. Now all of our frozen stuff is trucked in from Missoula.”
I was out of the booth and dragging Baby Bat with me. “Next time bring your bad Chinese friends with you,” Susan called as we left.
The Comanche County Meat Packing Plant looked long abandoned. Grass and weeds grew up from cracks in the asphalt parking lot. A half-dozen sodium lamps were just beginning to flicker on so I knew the building had to have some power. Most of the exterior doors were locked or secured with heavy chain. Around the back Baby Bat spotted a window that looked like it had been recently broken. I boosted her up and a minute later she opened a side door.
The interior of the meat factory was dusty and covered with cobwebs. Light streaming in from a row of windows next to the ceiling was growing dimmer by the minute. We wasted about ten minutes of precious daylight before we found the huge iron door near the loading ramps. It was a giant walk in freezer and the cold took my breath away as we stepped inside. What looked like a pile of black bags lying on the icy floor turned out to be the members of Abra Cadaver. I had to move several of the bodies to uncover Ham. She lay with her bony fingers grasping a bottle that looked like it had been made with some kind of ice-cube tray. “Hurry!” Baby Bat whispered. “The sun is sinking fast.”
The bottle was too cold for me to touch with my bare fingers. I had to remove my shirt and cover my hand. Ham was gripping the bottle tightly and I was just prying loose her fingers … when the witch opened her eyes …
TO BE CONTINUED …