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
Hamilton Fisk, the witch Queen of Abra Cadaver, opened her orange eyes and a moment later her mouth. Ham’s teeth were long and shiny like the black keys on a piano. My hand was trembling and the shirt I was using for a glove slipped off when I tried to slide the bottle from her grasp. The pupils of her eyes expanded from thin snake-like slits into dark watery wells as they focused on my face. “Pažadinti!” she hissed. What looked like twenty six discarded black robes suddenly fluttered to life with human forms inside. The frigid air inside the walk-in freezer was suddenly filled with schizophrenic shrieking and exhaled vapor clouds.
“Run!” Baby Bat pleaded as she tried to pull me toward the cast-iron door. My only thought was that Susan was going to die if I didn’t recover the stolen ethereal salts. Shoving Baby Bat toward the exit I slammed my fist into Ham’s wrist and, using my discarded shirt, caught the bottle-made-of-ice before it shattered on the floor. There was a moment when I thought I might actually escape … then I heard Baby Bat scream. I turned holding the precious bottle high above my head threatening to smash it if anyone came any closer. Several of the Goths took a step back.
Two of the Abra Cadaver cult members held the struggling girl while Ham yanked her hair from behind and traced a bloodline across Baby Bat’s throat with a sharpened fingernail as black as her teeth. “This Spoon for the bottle,” she said thrusting her other claw-like hand forward.
“Don’t do it,” Baby Bat moaned. “She’ll kill us anyway.” Ham dug her fingernail deeper into the girl’s throat and wiggled the fingers on her other hand.
“Give it to me!” Ham was staring at me … and then she began to smile.
JoAnne Wolf stared out the window of Melania Descombey’s upstairs bedroom. The sun had sunk behind the western horizon only minutes before and now an inky blackness settled over the city of Cloverdale. “They should have been back by now … if they were successful.”
“Hamilton Fisk is only half alive,” Allison said as she spooned warm tea into Melania’s mouth, “and her power comes from moonlight. Over an hour remains before the night sun rises in the east.”
Melania raised a withered hand and pushed away the spoon. “The girl is right,” she whispered. “I fear the two have failed and are in great danger!” She motioned for Allison to help her sit-up and her apprentice propped pillows behind her. “I have something that will stop the Salty Lake Witch … or at least slow her down.” Melania stared at JoAnne and then pointed to a wooden box with Ombré carved on the front sitting on her lamp-table. “Inside is a pack of very old Tarot cards,” she said. “Remove the Death card but be very careful not to touch the illustration with your fingers.”
JoAnne walked to the table and carefully removed the lid from the box. A dull glow like bottled fireflies radiated from the box. She took a step back and massaged her fingers. When a witch like Melania said be very careful … she meant it. JoAnne flexed her fingers and then began to sort through the deck careful to only touch the top edge of each card. Near the center she spied the Death card. An illustration of a crow perched on a tombstone before a landscape of the world turned into a cemetery. JoAnne cautiously lifted the card from the box, careful to only hold it by the edges.
“Inside the eye of the crow is a hole for moonlight to pass through,” Melania told her. “The beam becomes saturated with magic and very powerful when it passes through the card.” She stretched out a boney finger and caressed the carved box. “The Ombré was carved from the wood of a sacred Juhar tree called Zevot in the year 419. The paper cards were made from the pulp of the scrap wood left behind on the woodcarver’s floor. The broom used to sweep up the sawdust is in that corner.’ She gestured with her hand. JoAnne gazed at a straw broom with a twisted willow-bark handle leaning against a bookcase. “Every part of the Zevot is magical and extremely dangerous to those with the touch.” Melania flicked on the lamp next to her bed. “Hold the card up to the lamp and practice directing the light.” She noticed JoAnn’s hesitation and smiled. “Don’t be afraid. Lamplight has not the power of the moon.”
Joanne held the card before the lamp and was surprised to see a tiny beam of light projected through the crow’s eye making a tiny spotlight on the wall. She turned the card slightly and watched a beam of light cross the dark floor. A dark shape suddenly skittered in front of the light and JoAnne jerked her hand. There was a brilliant flash of light, the smell of burning flesh, scorched-blood and singed hair. “What was that?” Joanne gasped.
“A troublesome mouse that my cat has been trying to trap for months,” Melania said. She chuckled at the wide eyes covering the girl’s face. “I said the lamplight had not the power of the moon,’ she said. ‘I did not say it was without power.”
I was aware of being bound inside a dark bag and dragged across rough ground. My head was swimming like a college fraternity initiation gone terribly wrong. At least Baby Bat was not dead yet. I could hear her cursing our captors from what I presumed was her own black bag. “Silence them!” Ham’s voice was that of a hungry frog coming across a cluster of mating flies. “We must not attract undue attention as we move through the town.”
I felt Baby Bat’s bag brush against my own and could hear her frantic breathing. “Where are they taking us?” I whispered.
“Black Rose.” Baby Bat said. “There is a huge wooden cross there that hasn’t soaked up its quota of blood.”
“Be still!” I heard a thump like a wooden bat striking a pumpkin follow the harsh outburst. “There will be time enough to scream when the nails find you!”
I saw stars a split second before I heard another thump … the speed of light is many times that of sound … and then there was only darkness.
JoAnn didn’t know she’d been sleeping until a tiny door on a Black Forest cuckoo sprang open and the hands on the gilded dial began to spin backwards. Almost a dozen objects flew out from the chiming clock. Blue silk wings fluttered and spinning gears hummed as tiny mechanical birds circled the room. “It’s after eleven O’clock,” Allison said. “You must take the card to the place of bones by midnight or your friends will die.”
“How could you let me sleep,” JoAnne complained. She stared at the clock face. The minute hand was now a quarter after. “I’ll never make it there in time.”
“All magic bends light and therefore affects time,” Melania whispered. “Pick up that broom and sweep my floor!” she commanded.
“My friends are about to die and you’re worried about housekeeping?” JoAnne looked to Allison for support but Melania’s apprentice just handed her the broom.
JoAnne shrugged her shoulders and began to sweep. Tiny dust bunnies seemed to hop and dance before the yellow bristles. She had to move quickly to catch them. The wooden floor seemed to brush away with each stroke and then the house. Clouds appeared and then a black sky with stars. JoAnne was suddenly flying high over the city of Cloverdale. She gripped the broomstick with one hand and held the edges of the fluttering card with the other. Her legs were pressed tightly against the straw fibers. The cool night wind blew her blonde hair back like yellow ribbons tied to a window fan. Dizzying heights took her breath away and replaced it with an insane kind of euphoria. She saw the tiny intersection of Townsend Street and Vineyard Road below and leaned crazily to the right. She was laughing out loud as wind tears streamed from her eyes. The broom turned north toward State Hospital North and to Black Rose Cemetery beyond.
I was semi-conscious when they pulled the black bag from my head. The members of Abra Cadaver were clustered around me and Baby Bat. Hamilton Fisk held an iron mallet and several sharpened railroad spikes in her claw-like hand. I could see the bottle made of ice that held the ethereal salts on a large flat stone behind Fisk. “You foiled our pleasure with your Goth Queen!” Ham spit on Baby Bat. “Your cries will have to be twice as loud to make up for it!”
I looked around. Black Rose Cemetery was empty except for a shimmering moon which appeared much larger than normal, peering from behind dark tree branches as if it had moved closer for a better look. Only those who enjoyed our screams would be able to hear them. “Don’t be such a Doom Cookie,” Baby Bat laughed at Ham. “I’m sure you must have done something right these last … what’s it been … nine years?”
“Tie them to the cross so they can’t move,” Ham screeched. “No quick and easy! I want the spikes to crawl like snails through their hands and legs.”
“I was hoping for something a bit quicker!” I gritted my teeth as two burley Goth Forks (males) positioned my arms along the cross. . Next, they bound three foot long shoelaces around my wrists, tight enough for the wet leather to cut into my skin. They flipped the heavy wooden structure over. I could hardly breathe with my face buried in the dead grass but I knew the worst was yet to come.
“You know when you fail this time, Abra Cadaver will have to choose a new leader don’t you?” Baby Bat was taunting Ham even as she was tied to the other side of the cross. She giggled. “The shame will be too great!”
“Raise the cross to the night sky,” Ham thundered. “I will drive the spikes in myself!”
I felt myself lifted into the air but it was not the relief I expected. Four Forks hoisted Ham onto their shoulders so she could reach my hands with her spikes and hammer. “Perhaps when the infant bat hears your agony … she’ll think twice about insulting me.”
Hamilton Fisk placed the sharpened spike against the palm of my hand and raised the hammer high above her head. And then she hesitated, enjoying my horror as the cult began to chant.
Dooba Nanbean … ra da go.
Let us rend what others sew.
Rise the moon and tide the blood.
Drinking tears of gloom and mud.
Dooba Gonwat … goo ta rut.
Let demons eat that which they cut.
We are your shadows … wake to die.
Wings of terror … crucify!
I saw something move across the face of the moon a split second before the hammer was blasted from Ham’s hand. Every face in the execution party looked upward. I thought it was a very large bird flying with folded wings until I noticed the tail was not feathers … but made of straw. JoAnne Wolf was crisscrossing the night sky on a broomstick. She held what looked like a playing card in her right hand and each time she crossed the face of the moon a beam of light filtering through the paper created destructive mayhem on the crowd below.
A beam of light bounced among the tombstones and I heard one of the Forks who had lashed my hands to the cross yelp like a coyote with his foot caught in a trap. He flung the black hood covering his head back and tried to beat out the orange flames devouring his red hair with hands as white as desert bones. The beam of light struck a large gravestone and chunks of polished granite exploded outward like organic shrapnel. The cult began to scatter and Ham had to bellow to keep them from routing. “A war from the sky is what you want?” Her eyes were like a snake’s trapped in the corner of a stone foundation by a sharpened shovel. “Then let the terror come forth!” She raised her arms in the air high above her head.
All the leaves on a giant cottonwood tree suddenly fluttered to life and became small black birds with slashing talons and angry beaks that swarmed as a cloud after the young girl riding the broom. JoAnne tried to cover her face and when she did the card she was holding fluttered to the ground.
Each time the tumbling card lined up with the moon a powerful beam of light projected toward the ground. A three foot length of cast iron lattice from the fence that surrounded the cemetery disappeared in a puff of smoke. The branch of an elm tree was severed at the trunk and sent spinning into the darkness.
The 1938 Adler Damenrad ladies’ bicycle that Abra Cadaver’s reining Doom Queen had enchanted to pedal in circles high above the cemetery came suddenly crashing to the ground as if the light beam passing through the playing card had severed an invisible tether wire. Hamilton Fisk tried to leap out of the way but the ancient bicycle struck her in the back as she dived for cover.
The Goth members as well as the enchanted birds became like dry leaves and scattered in the wind. I watched Ham pedal out the cemetery entrance with a bent front wheel wobbling horribly as JoAnne used a rope to lower the cross to the ground. The gashes in my wrists were almost cuts from the leather laces but I still laughed as a smiling JoAnne Wolf walked to a flat stone and held up the ice bottle containing the ethereal salts.
The night proved to be much shorter than I expected. The sun was rising in the east when Allison Weatherbee appeared in the sitting room of Melania Descombey’s mansion and said that Joanie Otter was awake and wanted to see me. Joanie had dark rings under her eyes but other than that she looked on the mend and rested. “Thank you,” she said. “I usually don’t like it when someone outside the wardrobe gets involved in Goth business … but in this case I’m glad you did.”
“Did Melania tell you why I was looking for you in the first place?” I was glad to see Joanie well but I couldn’t help thinking about what was going to happen to Susan if I didn’t stop the two Negatives stalking her and my son.”
“She said you were concerned about Lingerlings following an old girlfriend.” Joanie smiled. “Are you jealous or do you really think she’s in trouble?”
“I saw two ghost-like Orientals with knives and icepicks,” I told her. “I don’t believe they were delivering takeout!”
“After all you’ve done for me and Cloverbone,” I want to help!”
“Are you sure you feel up to it?”
“Today is the eclipse,” Joanie said. “It’s now or never!”
The crowds converging on Cloverdale were enormous. Townsend Avenue from Main Street to Wallace was blocked off to motor traffic and vendors were hawking eclipse merchandise to excited crowds. I had the leftover ethereal salts in one of Melania’s antique flour sifters in my right hand covered with my jacket. There was only going to be a little over two minutes of totality the time in which the Negatives were frozen and unable to move. I had to make sure both Chinese were salted before the sun once again came into view. I put on the viewing glasses that I’d purchased from the second hand store and was surprised to see just as many Negatives or Lingerlings as Joanie and Egbert called them mixing with the crowds of living.
“In this crowd it will be hard to keep track of your Lingerlings especially if they separate,” Joanie said. She left to visit Ted Burlap and see if he had a second pair of the special glasses. I was furious when I noticed the two Chinese lingering on the sidewalk just down the street from Spare-A-Dime and I knew Susan must be inside working. I peered inside the café and saw her waiting tables. Another Negative this time an elderly lady that looked like she could be anyone’s maiden aunt stood guard in the doorway. I remembered Egbert saying that not all Negatives were bad and I hoped this woman was there to protect Susan. When I saw her watching my former girlfriend from time to time and then glancing toward the Chinese … I was sure of it and felt better.
Joanie noticed my improved mood when she returned with her own one-of-a-kind specs. “Ted insisted that he sold you the only pair until I explained to him what Cloverbone does to civilians that lie to us,” Joanie said.
“And that is?”
“You’re better off not knowing,” she insisted.
I told her to put on her glasses and told her where the old woman was standing. “Looks like we might have some help from the other side,” I smiled.
Joanie looked puzzled when she took off her glasses. “The woman looks very familiar for someone who is dead,” she said. “I know I’ve seen her picture somewhere before … but I can’t place her.”
“Does it really matter,” I said. “We need all the help we can get.”
To my utter amazement Joanie turned and run down the sidewalk. “Where are you going?” My good mood was dissolving fast. “The eclipse begins in twenty minutes!”
“To see my mom at the Comanche County Library,” Joanie called over her shoulder. “I’ll be back as soon as I can!”
“Thank God there is still two of us,” I said as I smiled at the old woman. I moved down the sidewalk and vowed to keep as close as possible to the Chinese. When the sun was blocked out I was determined to get them both.
I waited anxiously for Joanie to return. When she didn’t I knew it was up to me and possibly the old woman to save Susan and my son. Just after the moon began to cover the sun people poured into the street and Mrs. Lee closed the café so that all of her employees could watch. I watched Susan come out of the café and a minute later leave the day care center across the street with Jackie in tow. Then I lost them in the crowd.
I did however find the two weapon wielding Chinese and they appeared to be pressing through the crowd of negatives trying to get as close as possible to Susan. I ran into dozens of people as I was blind with the glasses on but I was determined not to let them out of my sight! Digging Bear saw me trying to push my way through the crowd and became an Indian plow.
There was less than twenty seconds until totality began.
I noticed the Negatives all become frozen like statues as the whole town was suddenly plunged into darkness. People gasped as they pointed to stars never seen in the sky just before noon. I jerked my jacket from the sifter and let it drop to the ground. For a frantic forty-five seconds I couldn’t find the Chinese and then I located them. They were about two steps behind Susan and Jackie. Thank God the old woman was between them. I vaulted to where they stood and raised the sifter over their frozen heads. My heart almost went into convulsions when the handle on the side wouldn’t turn. I banged the metal three times with my fist and rust fell from the crank. There was twenty three seconds of darkness left.
Joanie was suddenly behind me. She grabbed the flour sifter filled with ethereal salts from my hands and cranked it furiously over the head of the old woman. I watched in horror as the old lady gasped soundlessly and then began to spin, sinking into the ground like fog going down a flushed toilet … there was what looked like a fishing knife and line clutched in her fingers.
“What have you done?” I moaned.
“Given you a second chance at love … I hope!” Joanie said.
The town was in a carnival mood and we went to Melania’s house to get away from the crowds. “How did you know?” I asked her.
“Her face looked familiar,” Joanie said. “So I went to the library where my mother works to look up the archives. Edith Crane died last year in the basement of State Hospital North. She was one of the worst mass-murderers in Montana History and had been in a coma for over twenty years in the basement of the mental hospital. She ran a day care center in Cloverdale fifty years ago, nice lady great with the kids and everyone loved her … until that one day!” Joanie’s eyes took on that lost-look typical of so many who choose to walk in darkness.
“About 5 PM people started showing up to collect their kids, but Mrs. Crane’s house was locked. By the time the cops finally broke down the door, nine sets of parents were standing outside. The cops went in first and tried to stop the parents from seeing … but a few got through. Looney Edith had drowned all the kids in the bathtub, thirteen in all. Probably did them one at a time, then she laid them out in a row, gutting them and cutting their throats. The sweet old lady, crazy as crazy gets, threaded a long piece of clothes line through the neck and out the mouth of each child. She strung the whole line up, like you do drying fish, across her living room from wall to wall. Mrs. Crane was rocking in her chair and singing a lullaby, the one that goes hush little baby don’t say a word, when the cops came busting in. Susan’s mother was supposed to be number fourteen … but was home that day with a cold. I guess the ghost of bloody old Mrs. Crane wanted to finish her killing on at least one member of Susan’s family before she moved on to other worlds.”
“But the armed Chinese who looked so treacherous … who were they?” I gasped.
“They were there to protect Susan from Mrs. Crane!” Joanie explained. “Susan’s grandfather, John Demotte, worked as a forman at the famous Blue Bonnet Mine the one owned by Elisabeth Walker. In 1896 there was a cave-in and two-dozen Chinese ex-railroad workers were trapped in the long tunnels almost a half-mile underground. Most of the people of South Fork stopped digging after three days but not Elisabeth or her forman. They worked day and night and pulled six Chinese out alive, a week later. A grateful Frank and Wanda Chang swore that they would honor the sacrifice Demotte and Elisabeth made and protect their descendants for a thousand years. I guess a promise made by a Chinese person is one kept … even after death.”
Melania was getting tired and after the members of Cloverbone left I found myself back on Townsend Avenue. There weren’t quite as many people … but there was still a crowd. I threw the special eclipse glasses in the first over-flowing garbage can I came to. I don’t know what Joanie did with her pair. Some things in life … and in death … are better not known. I lingered outside Spare-A-Dime waiting for Susan’s shift to be over and laughed and wrestled with Digging Bear. I felt good … better than I had for years.
It was time for a new start …
Note: Edith Crane makes her first appearance in “Creepers” written in 2012 and part of a collection of bite sized horror stories published as “Cloverdale: Tales of Terror” available to download from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/CLOVERDALE-Tales-Terror-Randall-Peterson-ebook/dp/B00IC4URYK