- A Car Filled With Birds
On Mischief Night, not long before most will know of it, yet long after most that do know will have lost their belief, a raid will happen. There will be formidable stony figures with sabres waiting in the darkness of night. Death is their Lord. All hail him, they say, because Death has given them one night of glorious rampage, and not a moment will they waste to spread their evil and terror wherever they so find it absent. Death will raise his skeletons and they will dance to the sound of his lonely violin.
There are many monsters who awake only at this time. During the autumn rain showers, their ugly faces grabble the images of clouds and lightning. A few northern monsters will descend into the shadows of the lower towns and cities to parmi (this is simple, for monsters are shape-shifters, their beings definite as mist). Among themselves, they talk smack of the demons who only tryst on Mischief Night; those miserable louts of Hades are forbidden to cross into the light of day.
There is one particular group of monsters who gather here among the shadowy bare trees. All but one are clad with invisibility as they choose. Their laughter stains the air with blood. Often they charm themselves with greedy murders or throw stones at sitting pigeons. Sometimes they speak in front of passers-by, who questioningly glance over a shoulder, and, in seeing that no one is among them, shudder and quicken their pace.
Old Toullee, the tallest and most terrible monster of the group, takes a liking to giving himself three heads. He enjoys appearing behind windows and lurking in dimly lit rooms near neatly tucked china plates and old dining room chandeliers. Yes, Toullee has no real form, because he changes it so often. Still, all of the companions, should they be addressed as such, recognize his voice; his speech patterns are unmistakable.
Another fiend is called Scylla. As a winged demon, she bears no resemblance to her name: elegant and pearly she thinks it. She is the most treacherous of the bevy, and they think of her as nothing more than an empty killer. (“I cannet think there’s more to being a dee-men than not being able to change your shape,” Toullee retorts).
Repugnant. Like Abyezou. A gangling frame; gaping black mouth with shards of teeth and slimy strings of tar-coloured saliva; watery gray skin; empty, slanted slits for eyes; scarred, arched wings; spindling strands of something like hair on her head.
Now, it is important to be aware of the difference of interests of those pacts. There are something of ranks among the dismal creatures. Death’s own servants call themselves ghouls. Apart from giving news of those ill-fated, they stand watch and have games of Mao. They clean the blood that flows from the souls circling about in the pool in Death’s sinister mansion. But see, their inferior ranks come to enjoy this work; ghouls, in their laziness, dream of no better solution to their angst than to pass their work to other stupid little creatures.
After the ghouls, there are sparrow-men, tiny and invisible. They use their bows to combat Cupid’s cherubim. Many are fond of sending flying arrows into the moon-rays so people who look directly at the sky are cursed. Their arrows pierce one’s fortune, and they rest peaceful sleep upon people’s eyelids as they are raided (and so keep the raids a secret).
Lower still are faeries. They sing sweet lullabies to rob the sanity of those who are killed and have their lovers strangled in the next bedroom, poisoning sleeping people with thoughts of ungodly paranoia. In fact, Death’s wife had a particular liking for one of the faeries here by the name of Prince Berte. Alas, he was as haughty as she.
Yet, still none of these creatures of the underworld are as terrible as the demons. They carry the crimes in their hearts; to look them in the eye is suicide; to wish for Hellfire is more plausible than to rest knowing of their existence. Toullee is right that the demons cannot change shape, but they have much more than that:
Demons used to be the ones who collected the souls that Death had called from this world, but they did not go about this business placidly. Alas, demons have proven since their creation to be the most wretched things on any ethereal plane, and most of them have been forbidden to do this work anymore. Thoughts of murdering and torturing consume them. Rather than complacently steal the souls of those rightfully dead, they prematurely ended the life of anyone who crossed them. Howbeit, there is no punishment for demons who disobeyed Death; the only way to control the immortal imps was to promise them freedom each night to rollick mildly and to torture the dead souls. So Death struck them a deal.
Death is one being; did not choose his destiny, not really. All these dismal creatures are the real devil.
Monsters, then, are not of the underworld. They are their own race. No one has any ideas of where they come from. But they are not evil, not in the same sense as demons. They raid, but do not kill to survive. They condemn, but do not steal the souls.
So, see, these creatures are different.
There is one person, however, who is neither. She is a human girl, and she is rigid. She is not wary, because she is neither alive nor dead. She is a silhouette.
She is no one.
In that particular group, each creature is an outcast in its own rank. And they sat in a place where they plotted their crimes. Their conversation from earlier is thus:
“It cannot be taking place very far from here. If it is being too long, then surely the car we’ll get isn’t going to be driving well. Maybe not even at the river?” the girl, whose name is Kael, said.
Scylla quipped, “Prince has a plan for that.” She said Prince as if the word itself annoyed her. Prince huffed and swore.
In his high, nasally voice Prince jeered, “I has a plan for it, yea, Scylla. And so good a plan that Misses is finding it to Death himself. And that’s how good a plan it is, Scylla.”
The demon thrashed her wings and glared. “Toullee has a better plan. He’s a plan so enthralled and absurd, why The Mistress might break her whip mid-air! Toullee, go at it. Toullee!”
Suddenly he was tense and he formed himself into a tall tree. His sapphire eyes glinted in the moonlight and he growled. The girl ran and jumped, dusty hands clinging to one of Toullee’s branches. Scylla crept behind the trunk, and Prince Berte flew overhead, then clung to a branch and became invisible.
Toullee pricked his ears to the soft footsteps coming. The sky was growing just dark, and a young couple crossed before the path.
Some call this place Cat Kitty.
The cold screams bellowed in the black. When the lovers opened their eyes, they were apart from each other, limbs dismantled in a fleshy heap, and no longer did they walk in the park. They were in the earth, as if the place they were walking in never saw their footsteps. They screamed, and Toullee cackled. He broke the sky, and somewhere a clock chimed:
Ten o’clock, time to stop
Ten and twenty, bodies drop.
Ten and forty, clean the ground
so evidence is never found.
They listened and took this rhyme to heart. That was why that group was there, at the place some call Cat Kitty.
Toullee wasn’t fond of the song. But he was fond of the night, and he had been watching a young man. So the cruel eyes searched for something to use for the crime he was planning in just under a week.
“Now, Toullee, explain that plan. That plan that I think cannet be better than if I was its owner,” Scylla pressed. She glared at Prince more than usual.
Their interruption was brief. Toullee’s throat growled and he became mist. Quiet footsteps came into the earshot. They found the source as a young toddler crawled in front of Prince Berte. He second-naturedly clasped his hand around the tiny mouth, until the wide, fearful eyes closed.
The purple bruises around the toddler’s mouth shifted as Prince moudled the face to appear peaceful. They resembled faded stains from jam or pudding.
When the toddler was recovered, only just, Toullee saw not far away an adult: a woman, perhaps thirty, shrouded in a dank brown peacoat. He muttered to Prince Berte, who performed his spell on the woman in the ratty coat.
She fell in the snow, not dead but asleep.
The child fell silent. Suddenly, he began to cry. Due to her rage for such a sound, the girl called Kael approached. She strangled the young child. Toullee tried to pry Kael’s fingers away, only halfheartedly; he enjoyed a good killing as well as any of the others. The child writhed and soon became stiff; the fat cheeks lost their rose. The small body was cast aside as Toullee struggled to control his rage.
He was unnerved, the only one in the group. But Kael’s grip was strong…
Scylla gestured for Toullee to continue as she preoccupied herself. She made the face peaceful once again, and the body was bundled as Kael’s expression of disgust heightened. And soon the shell of this toddler was enveloped among the knotted roots of the next bony, exposed autumn tree. It looked like a terrible accident, and when the old caretaker awoke, she wretched in angst. Kael, in her hatred, found somewhere the fear of Toullee’s wrath to convince herself not to murder the woman. She eyed Prince, who threw a terrible sleeping spell over the vomiting, vile body.
Toullee wrung his hands, then fought to not wring Kael’s and Prince’s necks. He hexed the woman, now recovered and in utter damnation, to forget and move along.
“Toullee!” Scylla jeered, irritated at the interruption. “Our Mischief Night plans await. Prince! Kael!”
And so Toullee raised his voice. When the large monster’s neck pulsed with its bulging veins and the lungs growled lowly, everyone turned, ignoring Scylla’s previous attempt to get their attention. Toullee spoke quickly and excitedly; he simply forgot the previous crimes that upset him so.
“The first one will be having a car, yea. I’s made sure of that, so we has a way to get Kael from city to city to collect the bodies. Unless I sees one of the others and drops it off to them, like Pilkington, say? Anyways, for the last murder… What we do is to get a car, and fill it with the Mistress’ pigeons, and cages and cages of them is in the car. So when Her games starts and then we has a car to get away in—” Toullee switched his form to some horrible doughy monster with four arms. He said games the way any murderer would say peace or love. He meant it ironically, because the pain games are not games. They are worse than any game that is fair and real. He did not pause to explain this pronunciation, of course. For long before now, the monsters knew what he meant. He continued: “And I will be being human-like and so Kael and I shall drive the cars. And I shall drive away from here and back to the Cleopatra’s Needle.”
Scylla brushed the filth from her wings with her claws. Her fingers had pinkish scars from where the skin had split against the sabres. Her wings had the same disfigurements, never crossing paths with the bulging veins. She screeched, “And Kael is taking that body back to Cleopatra’s Needle!” She laughs despite not having a reason.
Kael shifted uncomfortably on the branch. Her blueberry eyes widened at Scylla. She forced herself to join along. “A grandedest plan,” she said.
Prince Berte was making faces as he came in front of the group. Hands on hips, he said, “I’m not doing it. Not anything that makes me being dirty, driving a car and pigeons, nah! Toullee, your plan is stupid. And I can be coming up with a better one all new just right now.”
Scylla thrashed her wings at Prince.
Prince cowered and stuck out his tongue.
Toullee came to another form, a hairy matted thing. He lowered his head along with a quivering voice. “Oh dear, Your Majesty. I- I can arrange a special thing for you. Your- Your Majesty, it is being done for certain, I is promising you that.”
Prince Berte smirked at the monster humbled before him. The stony eyes turned snobbish and dismissed the suggestion as appropriate.
Mischief Night was a week away.
But what does the Lord of Death do with such an event as Mischief Night? The Mistress certainly doesn’t take it lightly.
Death’s wife does not go by any other name than the Mistress, except around Prince Berte. She refers to herself around him as Persephone. Even Death calls her pet names more often than her given one.
The Mistress Persephone is cruel. She is vain. She obsesses over vengeance and wrath. She parades around, lashing out curses in whatever direction she desires. She raises skeletons from their graves and watches them lean and sway in the bitter wind. She watches, tearing their bones and tossing bits of them into her living-room fire. And God, the fires that she set to the wings of demons— leaving them crippled, as the Mistress sees it, is merely a game: demons can feel no pain, rather feeding on the misery of others. But soon this torture runs its course: there are only so many wings until the whole lot becomes useless. And so the others— ghouls, even the small monsters when they are carelessly caught— receive the dire treatment. It is one of her favourite pass-times.
Perhaps it is due to this evil tendency that Death does not truly love the Mistress of the Night. He has had only one affair, if one could justify calling such a piqued matter that. He stole this other girl’s feelings with quite depraved means. (Of course, that is merely folklore to some, so no one knows of exactly the placement of the stars to cause such events). Death himself has a violin strung with the other girl’s hair; this is humiliating to the marriage, but Death refuses to change his strings until the Mistress heals the other girl whom she vexed out of jealousy.
See, the Mistress is not very beautiful to men, but Death stole her for her looks. Rest still, he was dismayed at her shape-shifting to the girl’s face. She spites him, he spites her.
Neither thinks highly of marriage.
This was a sort of beginning of Mischief Night, but unintentionally. It sparked the demons into thinking that, perhaps, if her Ladyship was fond of suffering, they could make a sort of game out of it. The Mistress is still gloatingly beautiful, but she gets nothing but a sly smile from Night; greedy thing, they say, trust not in her hearing range.
It is Mischeif Night on the morrow. The Mistress calls to her sinister spouse. “The Pain Games are day after next— or have you forgotten?”
“I’ve got my violin. What more do you want?” Death combats his snarky comments and, after clearing his throat, continues.
“This Mischief Night, sweet, I cannot count that many souls…” Death glances, bored, at his violin. It has not ever been dusty, because he plays it often. He casts his eyes to the closet where his music is stored. It is a grand closet, deeply embroidered and shined more than the Mistress’ sapphire and ruby eyes. He makes a start to select his music for the evening, passing over the sheet with the certain words. For that he uses but once a year, on Mischief Night.
FOR Misses. kP
The first letter after Misses. is crossed, but it resembles an L or a K. It now has a P. for the Mistress’ name. Death— out of some kind of respect, or lust, or love, or whatever he feels for the Mistress— has put in her initial, leaving K. And only he knows why.
He cannot practice the music, Danse Macabre, yet he knows it from memory. It has bold notes, a singing melody which entails chords not fit for a happy day. And he plays it with his soul, despite not having one; suppose he fakes it well.
“Have the servants count them, then,” says she in an icy retort. Under her breath she adds, “They do everything else for you. Might’ve married one of them. I see them more than you.” The Mistress Persephone’s teeth are sharp and whiter than the bleached hardened bones in the caskets. Her lips are drained and withered.
Death shakes his head, not hearing the most recent comment in a string against him. “You still have your pain games. And Cleopatra’s Needle.”
But wives are never happy…
The pallid skin splits easily as a horrid breathy voice entails the silver blade its task. The dismal creatures take turns with their own tools; Toullee choose knives with grinning edges; Prince utilises boxcutters; Syclla prefers her scythe; Kael is the last, with her axe.
Toullee has appointed the victim, a young man new to the city. The monster is aware that in this back corner, where the smog and cold fog are thick, few people go. Occasionally, people will cut through to avoid the bridge the next street over. The ice there is thick, the air cold enough to see one’s own breath, but it overlooks a prettier view than the buildings here. It is odd for a flat to be here, among offices long out of use. Unless of course the tenant thinks life itself just another business.
After several minutes of torture, there is far less bleeding, no more pulse, no more breath. All is crimson. All is still and silent. The muffled screaming can be heard no more. This is the group’s final murder. Others give them hell for how few things they kill, but trust every drop of blood, every scream, every jerking movement wrought from the purest pain imaginable, is cherished. They enjoy tortures that last a while, so that death is almost an afterthought.
The window is closed, and the lattice is shut very tightly, on account of the sepia wind… the window itself is unfaithful to latching; the lines on the pane are swollen, the glass slightly bruised and thinner on the ends than in the middle. The door hinges stick more often than they open, as if prodding the walls with splinters rather than smooth wood. Aside from being offensively unkempt about the exits, the flat is bare.
The young man was not so different.
Kael jumps from the balcony. She cannot feel the sprain in her wrist from a less-than-graceful landing. The body is tossed by Scylla through the window. It drops it like the dead meat it is on the cobblestones. The limbs become bent at unnatural angles. As the first car starts, Kael is left alone to conceal the carcass.
The car was a useful gains from another murder committed earlier that night. That body was taken back by another monster by the name of Pilkington, because Toullee had threatened him. The group made an attempt to kill someone (or multiple someones) from each major city in the whole of England. That never worked before Kael appeared; she was the one to take the last body back, the only way of paying her keep to a group that could not be less interested in anyone, even if they were useful.
She shoves the cadaver into a care filled with cages of pigeons. The cages are stacked haphazardly, making opening the doors almost impossible. The corpse is shoved between a row of birds and the torn up leather seats.
Pigeons squack indignantly and Kael uses profanities reserved usually for Prince Berte. She thinks she is finished, when she sighs at the sight of her work. The red blood is drying like new veins on the seats; it is beginning to turn black.
Her work is hard and underappreciated; she rearranges her modestly timed crime scene several times over. When she is finished, only a few specs of red are found on the pigeons’ wings; they have calmed down. She curses vehemently at Scylla, although she knows Scylla and the others don’t hear her:
“Damned monsters. Damned dee-mens. It’s not fair, this work. And those fucking monsters, the way they see me! I’m not so much as a burden to them. But you’re lucky; hell is being nicer.” She almost yells, but remembers her sinister duties. She makes a final jerk so the cages of birds form a nice line, covering the horrific mess lying underneath.
And once she is done, she says, “I am not being sorry.” She sighs heavily again. And again, and again, as if the escaping air is a nice sensation, yet it slips away when she cannot take any more of it from the brim of her lungs. She lets her breath out once more, slowly, and watches. It looks like smoke. Except it feels warm and damp against her frozen cheekbones. She begins coughing, but stops for her own sake. The girl slams the trunk quieter than she thought she could.
Done, it is… she thinks.
Suddenly, Kael’s heart pounds as she hears footsteps approaching. She peeks from the alley. It is an aging couple. The girl thinks they look oddly familiar. The old gentleman is impressively dressed, despite the hour; Kael wonders for a moment whether he is some sort of businessman. But when she examines the navy velvet coat pocket, she finds a rose. In the old, graying eyes she finds a hollowing. His expression is pathetic. Even Kael knows they are not happy.
She feels something, just for a moment.
The rose looked alive, a hint of muted crimson against the sepia earth, the sepia people, the sepia air and clouds and cold and dark. She remembers roses. Soft to touch. It was her favourite flower in life. Alas, in death, it is nothing. Who would wish a petal against the cold palm to shrivel and follow such a suit?
The soul and feeling retreat, and the heart grows chilled once more. She wants murder. The smile is blatant. The eyes shimmer in the darkness. She makes a waving motion, preparing a brief hello.
The man raises his hat. It is handsome, unfitting for his visage. Yet the man’s body is not meek. His aura is dark and sad, shuddering away from him like the cold, dead breath of the evening.
Kael nods briefly, draws her arms over her chest to hide what blood she may. She is not invisible like the others, but she is as stealthy as them. If she was caught, she would be in the asylum until Armageddon. When the two pass her at a decent distance, she decides to kill them. She steps forward again, again, foot in front of foot, until she is close enough to touch the train of the velvet coat—
A petal grazes the feet against the cobblestone earth, and Kael freezes. The petal takes a long while to stroke the top of her foot before blowing away. She watches it. Smiles a smile so small it looks as if she is merely preparing to speak. At any given moment, Kael has at least three plots on how to kill something. Suddenly, something comes over her… she decides to spare bruising their taut necks, or slashing them open, or bashing their skulls with the butt of her axe. She stumbles back towards the alley, looking behind her at the couple. The woman turns around, but Kael is gone by then. For monsters well have taught her to sense the impending glance of those alive.
But still she watches from the corner. The petal dances a few inches above the sepia earth. It floats away on the sepia sky, to the sepia zephyr and clouds, until its glimmer is untold, as before.
Kael blinks, but they have passed. She decides she does not know the faces.
She scampers around the car to the driver’s door. The shrill cracking of a pigeon’s throat draws her back. She stares. Dark car. Dark, like inside of it.
That’s all, before silence. She begins to cry slightly, and the red stains on the fair face become lighter and lighter until her clothing becomes dingy with blood. She whispers, barely audible to herself:
“I do what I must, unlike you is— I can’t be feeling sorry for you! No, you die and then it’s done. But not for me… it’s never done. And those people! Every time I see them, how they’s alive, I wish to kill them. But too easy for them. Foolish, damned mortals! To hell with them. But then I cannet be thinking that even that will make it better. Never does…”
She turns to the lifeless body underneath the pigeons. “For you, it is over. Even if you isn’t escaping, you has still got a year to sleep.” Alas, even with how much she despises those living, she cannot bring herself to kill them and live with it. She realizes that by taking life she does not give herself a death; nor by letting live will she gain the heartbeat of life. She knows she is nothing, and even at the darkest of times she cannot believe the lies she feels so strongly when she kills— that she will one day be among these people, either in Heaven or on Earth.
She resents this emotion and turns straight away her face to the road. It is the last time for seeing the house. Kael, without another glance, drives away into the night.
Dear god, to be dead. I awake to the sounds of birds, rattling, and tire vibrations. I look at myself, convinced that it was all only a dream. But then I examine the ravines carved into my arms, the stab wounds indenting everywhere on my chest. I touch them, run my fingers all over them. But I feel none of it, not so much as the pressure of my own body lying here on the floor. I remember quiescent sleep, and then horrid cuts, throbbing pain and the scent of rust. But that was a dream. Things like that don’t really happen. I pray to God in Heaven that I shall read his book and hold it truer than ever I did. Heavenly Father Father, not to Hell! Don’t send me to Hell!
But still I feel it now, being cramped underneath cages and cages of squawking pigeons in a very unkempt car. I push through the metal, and it makes a horrid screeching. My hands are shaking, my eyes are constricted, and my breaths— not ragged, it won’t come… I try to force it out, and my chest is a hollow thing! I finally slide on of the cages over, and its contents shriek as a bloody wing is clipped between bars. I notice the driver in the seat, but all that she does is hum breathily and cough. She takes no notice of the commotion among her passengers. I cannot feel, I cannot breathe, I cannot think, except that I should definitely not let her see that I am still alive.
The back drop is completely two-dimensional. It never changes, until we near a gate where a man in a black police uniform stops the car.
The nasty driver curses as she pulls over. She motions hard with her hand to get down, and I oblige so that I can only see through a gap between the bottom of one of the cages and the window. He asks her for something, and she titters politely. The officer seems neutral and gestures foreword:
“Madam, on your way. There isn’t much out here, but I do believe some while away there is a nice place…” I can’t hear him anymore, but his hopeful tone must be reflected in sparing eyes. I never see his face because it goes by in a blur.
The car filled with birds is mad. Their tails are daubed with blood, their metal cages dripping. It looks like black sludge against the dingy seats. I shift the cages and sit upright again. This car would be better used as a hearse, and almost resembles one— except I can see the back of the nasty driver’s head. The hair is damp and matted in between pins and razors. It is stained red. The birds give a few flustered shrieks, and a trail of blood spins on from a pool behind my hand. The carpet reeks.
Suddenly, a shrill voice knocks the air: “Not much out here— he says there’s isn’t much out here! But Scylla and Prince Berte and Toullee know better. Because they is knowing about things others don’t know of. And they taught what all they know and told it to me. There’s much out here that happens— it’s where the monsters live— look out the window!”
I assumed she thought I was dead and was speaking to the air. But I obey and see that our scenery has twisted into a comical graveyard. It is dawn. Soft light trickles through the boney trees onto mineral-tinged gravestones. Two people, who resemble very closely skeletons, are digging. I purse my lips, because I can’t draw breath in.
“That’s at where you’ll be soon resting.” Her tone has fallen flat, as if being buried bores her. She coughs. “That’s where the old me’s resting for always. I didn’t always live with Scylla and Prince and Toullee like I do now. Not before. I wish I still was like that...”
I can’t stand for this madness anymore. Skeptically I ask, “Who are you?”
She mustn’t have heard me. I want to know who Toullee and Scylla and this Prince are, but she sighs heavily, interrupting any further questions. She takes a few moments, I suppose to recollect. Coughing, she muses, almost tastefully, “On Mischief Night, I made a deal. To get one of the dead ones out. Because… just because, see?”
I shake my head, taking all that’s within me to keep a good face. Where she can’t see underneath the pigeons, I wrings my hands. Because if what she says is true, that she might choose to void whatever is going to happen, I’d like not to spoil it. Perhaps if I make merry to her stories, I shall have a chance of getting out of here.
The driver coughs. She must have sort of illness. I suppose it’s the consumption, or a severe chill, but contagions are the least of my worries now. She turns without warning, and the pigeons squawk. I flinch as she grabs a particularly small bird by the neck; it has climbed right through the twisted bars of the cage. She is strangling it as she lifts it. Pulling a blade from her horrendous mat of braids, she slices the pigeon’s neck until it is nearly decapitated. It struggles and writhes and wheezes something high-pitched and terrified. Its eyes are wide and it screams—
Then it becomes limp.
She tosses it aside. She laughs. “Look familiar?”
Jerking the car back into the road, the nasty driver swears. The pigeons seem more agitated and they begin to peck at their feet, each other’s wings, and my fingers. The entire car shakes as a bitter and strong draft passes. A clouded sky is gray and spinning. The decapitated bird flies into the back seats, leaving a sticky mess. The gashes on my arms begin to sting, and then the holes in my chest and the slashes through my neck. It becomes like an unbearable vivisection as blood pours from my veins in death as it did in life. Globules form like tea drops flowering on paper; they join together and make a red sleeve. Before the edges touch each other, everything is turning like Armageddon is coming. We spin faster, until I cannot bear to keep my eyes open.
When the pain ceases, we come to another otherworldly place. A few of my wounds heal, turning into white snow snakes on my skin, as if the flesh were pavement.
The driver seems largely unaware of what happened. She coughs and says, “We has to get blood for the Mistress or she won’t be being happy. There’s a flask beside me here.”
She turns, coughs again, and the car sputters. I am trapped. Doomed in this ungodly car with this monster. Wringing my hands, struggling to stop shaking, struggling to breathe breaths that won’t come, I lay and stare at the ceiling. I was incorrect about the future: there is no hope for escape. Intuitively I know this is only the beginning. This must be the Gates of Hell.
“Not all bad is it; welcome to Cat Kitty. The real Cat Kitty. More people to kill here, for the pain games. And soon you’ll be meeting Toullee and Scylla and Prince Berte. Enjoy that while it’s now.”
3. The Drive
Toullee and Prince Berte arrive in one of the cars, pigeon free and quite well-rested. Of course, Prince is happier and rejuvenated more than Toullee, who was forced into listening to Prince. Eventually, Prince Berte resorts to colloquialism with the other faeries and sparrow-men. This is rare on account of his pretentiousness toward them, but the pain games are like a holiday. Besides, the fact that he’s stuck favour with the Mistress is enough to impress the tiny, silly imps. Prince leaves the car, flying through one of its broken windows. He complains of car sickness as soon as he sees Cleopatra’s Needle on the foggy horizon. Toullee does not mind being left alone; he is more than agitated after the drive. He hadn’t changed form to anything useful the whole trip; most of his energy was allotted to bearing Prince’s company, and so his creativity was a bit dry.
As he pulls up, Toullee becomes a massive snake. He hopes that the other monsters have made better time than he— of course, they do not have to deal among demons. Toullee’s consanguinity is farfetched, for until other creatures of the north arrive, he will romp all over the low halls of Cleopatra’s Needle, preparing for the pain games. However, Toullee is not as excited as Kael, who has taken her sweet time to return.
The way that these creatures come about in this limbo world can be different. As for Kael, she must drive through the country before she comes upon a portal set out by Death. She takes a while to find it every year. Alas, the girl has no choice in finding it, because she is a human, and she has to be in the dark world anyways to be with the clan of Cat Kitty.
The monsters did not have to drive back at all, but because Scylla makes for deadly company, Prince Berte and Toullee commit one last murder on the way to London to get another car. The monsters of the north come through in many ways. They are beings definite as mist, and can travel like the morning showers to wherever they wish. How nice it is, that perhaps the beautiful dew drops on a spider web might be a monster’s disguise— or perhaps he is the spider.
Scylla flies back in her own way. No one cares to follow demons so closely as to find their method of returning to the shadows, or at least no one curious enough would ever live to recount. Either way, to each his own. The dismal creatures all come down somehow to meet at the place so evil Hell would’ve spat it back out.
The girl called Kael is often seen speaking to herself; about anything; once the heartbeat goes, the breath goes, the blood goes, then, following suit, the mind goes as well. Currently, however, she speaks not to herself but to Scylla. There is a specific preposition she is annually enticed by, but it is difficult to come by— it’s the sort of thing that must be proposed or it would be uncanny to go about. Rest, Kael knows with remarkable clarity when it is the optimum time to ask for something.
Kael finds Scylla in her room, the same room they shared last year. The same room that they’ve shared since forever. It is a fine room: two four-poster beds are near touching, forming a narrow sliver near to the wall. It has a bay window. The curtains are black and crisp from being used as towels to catch blood. There is a very quaint cherry wood desk that Scylla sits on when she plots by herself. Years ago, she pulled the brass handles of the drawers off and arranged them in rings on the wall. She still uses this as a target for practicing throwing the knives. Kael likes this room. One other monster, Coulee, will join them. Not one monster has ever stayed through consecutive years.
Slowly, the girl enters the room. Raises she her eyes, batting the lashes in a sickly display to the demon:
“You are must looking forward to the games. And surestly I am doing that too!”
Scylla bears her abhorrent teeth. She sneers, “Of course. Now shut up! I know what you want! You ask me every fucking year…” she groans something awful, something low from within her disgusting chest. Finally, she says, “I know what it is you want. I suppose you think I’ll acquiesce, but I’ve got a price to pay for that unnatural behaviour…”
“Oh of course,” smirks Kael, mocking peevishly the sarcastic tone of her enemy.
Kael sits on the floor before the cherry wood desk. Draws up her knees to her chest and awaits the silver snakes of blades and blood to enclose her. Scylla enjoys nothing more than torture. She can only barely look at something without feeling the overwhelming urge to maim, to destroy, to murder. Having someone agree to play the part of a victim enthralls her. Kael is quite aware, and she readily allows the silver blade to carve her like a morbid statue of insanity.
Perhaps, even though the pain can no longer be felt, the mind’s eye of agony is present and only foreign thoughts calm it. The girl, be sure, does not fear, but rather plots. With wide eyes she imagines Scylla’s tactic being employed on the nerves of a shadow who can still feel the cutting sensation. It perks her; she delights that the corpses will see her as a horrid, nightmarish specter when she informs them of the start of the gain games.
This macabre imagery lasts only a fleck of a minute. For there are more important things at hand: this year, as with every other, Kael will decide a soul to save— even should they not escape on their own. Kael examines her options: where to hide, plot, make ready herself to capture the corpse, how to convince the body, and most importantly, how to prevent one of the others from stealing it. It is a lovely time, if one has as deranged a mind as hers. But if she sees saving a stranger as good fortune bade or merely a morals-aside challenge— only she knows.
This year, there are new bodies to consider. Kael occasionally will save a shadow who has only been at Cleopatra’s Needle for one round. Mostly, she will choose someone who has been re-killed time and time again. She doesn’t like old faces; finds them boring.
As Scylla finishes her torture, she begins panting. She screams and tears at her head, giving every morsel within her wretched being to stop herself and merely observe. “Burn in Hell,” she says. She shakes and her snake-pit eyes are a degree from unhinged.
Kael is not fazed by such a comment. Oh, no. She knows how to compose herself by now. She piques, “Priced for one feat it is! A cadaver. Every year, to that damned Mistress!” She knows that making rounds at the Mistress pleases Scylla. Scylla loathes everyone, but especially the Mistress, who confines her actions to the night, to the underworld. The way Scylla sees it, one night of glorious rampage does not do justice to any of the dismal creatures. She sees it almost a waste.
As such, the demon jerks a nod, knowingly. She cackles. “Take the old man—no fun to have a rotting body! Now. Get. Out.”
Kael has already vanished. By the time the last syllable left Scylla’s lips, Kael decided on her copse. Success.
Toullee sees the other monsters of the north only at this time. He does not view them as companions, only as beings definite as mist. The other monsters do not model his whims, being that he spends his time in a waste among the faeries and demons and the girl called Kael.
The other monsters romp about upstairs, and he joins them. The dismal creatures are in constant battle for who will take the penthouse; this year, monsters have won. They discuss their killings. One monster, called Ives, takes a likeness to Toullee that neither fully understands nor attempts to, and they find themselves cautious in amity.
Of the monsters, there are two distinct groups. Some are like Toullee. By that, it is implied that they do not like plot nor partake in life’s moot and dank tasks in solidarity. Hardly any are as bitter as when they are without camaraderie. Toullee is, as is well established by those monsters of the north, as unique in his choice of fellowship as his being is definite as mist—between the girl, and the faerie, and the dee-men. But so there it lies.
The other sort of monsters—and these two are equally distributed by the nasty creatures—are tremendously macabre. They enjoy their plotting alone. They enjoy their murders alone. Boasting is the one time that is not really essential but nonetheless enjoyable for these types to interact with the other dismal beings.
Ives is unmistakably part of the latter. He is the darkness of twilight, the fire of hell, the sickening dip in a startled heart, the throbbing, eerie silence of despair for all those unfortunate mortals whom he graces with his presence. Currently, Ives describes to the others in blistering detail the decapitation of four souls this year.
“There I is, a tree, and the girl, she come up to me in her daze. Making a pattering on the window. And she goes to slam her lattice, and now that I knew she’s up I followed on just like that. Well that damned girl, she just goes back to her mirror. So I went to her door, because in the mirror’s reflection she would’ve seen me coming…”
The young woman stood by her mirror. Her tired brain rambled with profanities because it was late in the evening, it was unfortunate in terms of weather outside, bitter and smoggy; but mostly because the young woman couldn’t find herself the head upon her shoulders to accept her beau’s recent rejection. That was when she heard the knock on her door downstairs, from up in the sterile environment of her chamber.
It was unfortunate, rest ask anyone, to disturb someone at such an hour. No one decent came about past sundown, especially not for this girl. Anyways, she decided to check the door chain, because she knew the imprudence of answering. From her stairs, she looked at the small foyer. The view outside the transom stayed depressingly vacant; at any other time, it would be her aunt, as friends were an absent occurrence. Had she had more incentive to look into it, she might have attested the transom had altogether disappeared…
“She comes downstairs after I’s tapping on her door. Daft for even going down, but that’s all of them, and that’s why it’s so fun to kill ’em!” He throws his ugly head back, a tremendous and shudder-inducing guffaw, horribly malice. “I poured myself through the fan window. Better off now; that big head of hers never did sit well on her shoulders, why I sliced it off, ha!
“I covered the face with me hand; just screaming up a storm, she was, and I told her she best let it out; she ain’t got much opportunity coming up, has she, once her neck’s in shambles! I took me axe and I showed the tart, real slow-like. Got the back of the blade and grabbed them hands o’ hers. Pinned ’em right up the small of her back, shoved ’em up the sockets to her shoulders. Popped right out, and the elbows bent all at sharp angles. Ah, the screamin’!” he trails off, almost drearily. Once he is recovered from such grotesque detail, he pauses no time to delay dismay.
“Hard to believe there’s that much blood in them mortals’ veins, ain’t it? And that mouth gaped open as it laid there, stupidly, ha!” Ives struggles out his sentences between gasping laughs. “Might’ve been a relief to have an open mouth and some silence, I’s sure of it!” The horrid creature breaks into another roaring cackle, storming all in his presence with a harsh, putrid wind and icy retort. Once this shameless display is made over with, Ives continues on, telling the murders as if they were no more significant than a passing storm. He cares not to repeat the same details every time; the syllables must remain fresh on his tongue to retain their splendour, after all.
After Ives gets a round of vulgar comments and applause from the nasty monsters, they begin to all recollect at once. A monster named Pilkington raises his voice above the rest:
“The fires were the best,” he gushes with a slobbering mouth. “I- I- I can hear the screams, the skin charring and peeling off layer by layer!” He snickers quietly, breaking into gasping breaths. “And then I poured the rest of the liquor on, turned it bright blue!”
Thrasher laughs excitedly, “You could’ve heard the boneses smashing down the rocks with mine, ha!” He takes a different approach in his killings— throwing people down stairs and off bridges, and smashing their skulls with rocks or his fists. He does this for three reasons: firstly, because Thrasher is embarrassingly incompetent at using a knife or other tools; secondly, because throwing requires almost no planning, which he is equally incompetent at; and thirdly, because he finds his joy in the slow sounds of cracking bones, each one having its own timbre leading to the skull.
“Quiet, you son of a bitch,” snaps Moritiana. “I’ve the best killings.”
“We all knows how ye pins them to the walls,” Toullee smirks and looks away. “Glossy kniveses and all that. Not much of a story if it’s being always told the same every year.” Suddenly, the chatter stops as his eyes return. Toullee is used to Scylla and tells her off as he pleases, but the monsters exist in quite different hierarchy.
Moritiana narrows her eyes. She breathes heavily and slowly. She becomes a massive three-headed dog, and shrieks with all the power she has, “And does that make it any less riveting, to consistently murder more than any of you? I’ve killed hundreds. And you, why you wait with those detestable outcasts. You forget your place. No matter how I’ve done it, rest if you say anything of my methods, I might be so inclined to employ them on you. There are worse things than purgatory, worse things than being among monsters. Remember that. So, perhaps, Toullee, if you believe that my stories hold no hand, you’d ought spend time in the lower wards with those more befitting of your miserable existence.”
The terrorist’s voice is somber. Dead shark eyes stare menacingly at the world, stone cold, merciless.
Toullee, embarrassed but not having any less faith in his comment, bows his head and turns to mist. He assumes a smaller form outside the door in the dim hallway, watching as the others continue to recount stabbings, crucifixions, burning, hangings… He notes how their laughter has changed to become more lively; part of him briefly wonders if it is more lighthearted due to his absence or due to Moritiana’s outburst.
“Toullee, how was your measly plot?” Coulie piques. “Toullee? Toullee?”
“Damn ’im. No’ a right monster anyway,” Ives muses. Eyes glinting, his comment tells the creatures that their stories are finished.
The nasty driver must be taking a while to turn, because the car seems to be falling to one side faster than anything that could happen to prevent an accident. I can feel the slits on my body now. But nothing matters to that pain— soon I imagine worse things will befall. I smell smoke and damp leaves. We are driving through a forest. Nothing about this circumstance would seem out of the ordinary had I witnessed a passing car just a few days ago. It sickens me.
4. Cleopatra’s Needle
“Scylla!” Prince Berte whines. “Scylla! None is better than me in finding that Toullee and I isn’t finding him in this building!”
Snarling in irritation, Scylla flies off into the stairwell. “Find him for yourself, you stupid imp; rest, you’re the most useless thing in this building. No wonder you can’t find him. He ought to hide from that voice of yours!” she retorts under her breath. It isn’t long before she melts into the dark stairwells and catches sight of a monster’s large and bloody footprints. She knows where the monsters are, and by extension, Toullee. In that case, she considers annoying Prince further by saying the prints were the monster from Cat Kitty’s.
Toullee is by himself, finding bits of dust and quite a lot of blood in the rooms where the best of the re-killings had happened. The blood is black now. Everything smells like rust. Toullee hadn’t take part in the actual killings here; he mostly stays quietly and attacks on the lower levels, not killing unless the corpses were just about to escape. Usually he bullies Pilkington into carrying the bodies from the whole building. When the corpses are all accounted for, the torture begins. If Moritiana is absent from the scene, which is next to never, Toullee can usually persuade Ives to let him have a few rounds. But mostly he melts into the shadows, watching as best as he can: never killing but nonetheless satisfied with the pleas and screams that echoed all over the hallway.
Perhaps it is good to get some idea of the places that these creatures are in. This place, Cleopatra’s Needle, is second from Hell. It reeks of smoke and blood and peeling paint and rubber; the veins in the walls have been painted by the blood inside the veins of those in the pain games, and no traveler would stay here. There are fifteen floors in all; the top three are reasonably nice despite the dismal creatures staying in them.
The space is airy, with no definite ceilings. Each floor has an arch of steps to the next level, upwards on the left, downward on the right, along the edge of the building. They form a scallop pattern. The dismal creatures often forego using the stairs at all, instead opting to jump all the way to the lobby. The back edges of the floors have concealed stairs, which the corpses prefer, so as to not be jumped on.
The edges of the floors alternate between protruding slightly and dinting back perhaps a half a foot: similar to a flattened edge of a steam cog’s teeth.
There are foam floors in the basement, and a run-down elevator. The third floor is the lobby, a grand hall with large gray tiles. An arching double stairway resembles arms set in an embrace. There are two fountains, sirens from the Greek myths. The lobby is faded a bit these days, of course. The tiles have become cracked and grow mildew. The remaining nine floors have well-maintained exhibits, save the blood and dust; but the mirrors have not been shattered, nor the exhibits maimed. Most of the re-killings happen in the hallways, anyways.
The exhibits have only small side rooms such as bathrooms that are apart from the common space. Other than that, they are occupied by ship dioramas made from burned matches, silk Chinese tapestries weaved with assiduity, several cabinets filled with crystal glasses, porcelain basins to hold running water, painted canvasses, fine carved wooden chairs, several delicate and broad statues of bronze and the like, majestic stone fireplaces, eccentric shoji, pulchritudinous porcelain teapots…
History bit awry—to say if it was created for this purpose or if the Mistress merely found it is moot. Either way, the creatures have had it for a very long time. It changes in architecture mildly every year—not that the third floor will not be the lobby, but the placement of the artifacts and such.
On any ordinary day, Death only receives those whom he has called. During the games, however, he repairs each corpse from their murder injuries. Those killed try their best to escape, or be put into the earth until next year. Although the raids happen for only a few hours, time stops completely until everyone is either freed or dead. Pray it be the former (but that would depend upon the side that one finds themselves cheering for).
“Well, darling, how is it?” Death says. He rounds the table at which his wife sits, making his arms a cold scarf about her shoulders. The Mistress turns her head from facing the table to the side opposite Death. She wants him to know that she is in no mood to speak with him. Of course, being so self-absorbed, he does not render any clue.
“You stupid imp,” sighs she, defeated. She retreats to her chamber, which is as glorious and beautiful as she is. There, she calls for a servant. He is a lackey, and perhaps the most arrogant and self-absorbed as anything ever could be, but because she is a highly esteemed one, he feels esteemed to be there, no matter what he is doing.
“Prince Berte! Prince, come at once. It is a dire circumstance, and only your company shall do.” The Mistress can speak with any of the underworld imps. Her voice can raid their minds, if her mind’s eye should draft up a picture of the creature whose thoughts she wishes to disturb.
In pretty good time, Prince Berte comes. He whines and sneers, for he had plans to do exactly what he will be doing now, only with fellow faeries. She looks over her shoulder as he enters, sighs. She lifts her arm and waves Prince passively over.
The Mistress’ chamber is made of glass, of wood and stone. She owns several fine artifacts: an ebony engraved couch, on which the Mistress lounges; gems like cold, hard sapphires, xanthous topaz, bright tourmalines; and crystal scrying balls, of different colours and diameters. With them she spies on the mortal world and the underworld. If ever she has the whim to wish for a picture of the world above, she merely chooses her memory, her place, and there she will see whatever it is that she wants to. These glass orbs were a gift from her husband.
“Here now, Prince.”
He obliges. “Whet is ye wanting Mistress?”
“He doesn’t understand…” she sighs. She rises from her seat, trailing her arm along the top edge of the wood. She slouches and scuffs her feet as she turns to a large mirror that encompasses the entire wall opposite her bedding— (that is a mountain of duvets, deceitfully nice: the covers underneath are cold. She prefers to look at it rather than sleep in it).
The Mistress Persephone pours out her heart to the languid, moony faerie called Prince Berte.
Once, no one exactly knows how long ago, but long enough to be faded from coeval memory, there was a girl. Dreadfully ill, she was. Consumption. Her speech was breathy and heavy with sickness, and her body ached, frozen like a slab of granite over a grave. The chills were the worst; how completely mad she felt as she laid there dying, unable to comprehend the nature of her curse of health.
The Mistress and Death were getting on quite well for their 240th anniversary. Quite young for a marriage of the supernatural kind, and it hadn’t had many quarrels. Of course, this could be taken to mean that in 240 years, Death mostly worked and left his wife abandoned, preferring to lavish her with gifts rather than his own company. Death has a head on his shoulders, even if they should be all bone).
There is something that the Mistress has always had a talent for. She has a vial of life essence, which she uniquely can create, and only she is to administer it. If another meddles with it, however much is left is all that will ever be; she can only compensate for the amount that remained untouched. Which brings us back to the ill girl, who was very much in need of an antidote.
The ill girl was beautiful, and she was sweet. Actually, it was a classic tragic case, that Death should rip out someone’s heart when they are young, green, and happy. Nothing could make this girl’s spirit fade whenever she was in good company. Sometimes she would sing. Bell-clear. It is well to see a beautiful person doing something beautiful. And then there was reading; sometimes she would read out loud, in funny accents and tones, because she was a very good impersonator and reading like that always made a good riddle a bit better. But then her voice withered one day. That was when the coughing started. Just a little quiver in her voice was enough to get a good melody through or just one last reading. For a few weeks or so, that was the case. Then her voice left altogether. By the time her coughs turned red, she had been committed indoors.
Death decided that he ought to come and check how things were in that small city. The consumption was a very minor epidemic, and all of those infected were close enough to dying that the sickness wasn’t going to make another round until the next spring. Death remembered all of the awful plagues, how busy it had made him. How often he could use it as an excuse to be by himself, and away from a fretting wife. Things were running stale, and so rather than going as he usually did— that is, a spectre, he went as a young man. This young sir decided to be a local apothecary.
He saw that every ailing body would make good time to his door. Whenever he reached the girl’s bedside, she was in a dreadful state. As with the others, he promised that he had something to give her. He reached in a bag filled with vials of liquids, most happening to be water soaked with mint or mixed with herbs or brandy. He chose one of the least fermented saffron phials. This would do nothing, of course.
For the rest of his day, the young sir walked about the entire city. A thick ashy layer of smog hung like a spectral shawl in the worst parts of the place. It is well to know that even if he looked like a man, supernatural beings don’t feel fatigue. But they often feel boredom. And so, after he finished his tour of the very boring city, he went on to another one, and another one, until he had been to every major city in the world that he’d wanted to visit. By that time, it had only been a few seconds in the minds of mortals. All the while, he couldn’t stop ruminating; he had never felt anything toward the mortals whose souls he vanquished. And yet, he felt the tiniest of pangs concerning killing the girl. He began to rationalize that perhaps it was simple boredom. After all, that is why his boredom is the ailment that it is: how is one to fill an eternity, when a tour of the universe takes less than a day?
When the young sir returned home to the underworld, he became himself again. “Good evening, darling,” he said to Mistress Persephone. She looked at him longingly. How she wished that she, too, could wander wherever she pleased. But someone had mind the dismal creatures. She had, as it happened, met and taken a liking to one of the faeries, a certain Prince Berte.
“Yes, hello… dear.” But by the time her reply was made, he was already in his chamber, alone. As he had been doing for the past 240 years.
Death set the plans for returning to the world the next day. He would’ve waited out of concern for his anonymity a few more days, but he knew that she wouldn’t last that long. He emptied one of his vials of water. As it touched his hand, it vaporized. He threw the last droplets into the air, where they floated in a mist. His thoughts turned to killing the girl. Perhaps he could refurbish her, and then kill her?
The girl was surprised, as were her parents, to find the young man at their doorstep again. The master maintained that he had not sent for an apothecary, and he mustn’t be charged for it. If his daughter was dying, let God intervene. The mother begged that another look be taken at her child, lest they overlook something vital to cure her. In the end, the young sir once again saw the girl. Her visitor was handsome, and he wasn’t exactly a regular schlockmeister. Of course, the girl knew nothing of this.
He opened two flasks, one with water, and another with something remarkable. He took a bluish oily drop from the second and swirled it into the water. He ordered her to drink it. He assured her parents that she would be much better by morning. They were skeptical, yet hopeful. All anybody can expect from a humble apothecary and one who travels at that, is that he failed out of medical school or never aimed to become a doctor. And yet, with a simple wave of his hand, the master and mistress of the house had forgotten his visit the day before.
Once again, Death vowed that he would return the next time the girl grew sick, and he would kill her. But for now, he travelled the world once more, this time the exotic jungles and mountains. He thought of eternity. He thought of the girl. And then he went home.
Evening came, and morning followed: the third day.
The young apothecary’s visit came as a surprise again to the master and mistress of the house, and to the servants and their likes. He was pleased at the girl’s recovery; her spirits were lifted, as being able to breathe often tends to do. Unfortunately, the coughs were still red and quite painful. Just one miniscule drop of blue into the water flask. Rather than wait for her to rest, the young sir inquired about his patient. She supplied very conservative answers, saying her love of prose and how she used to sing. But not before breaking into a fit of coughing.
“Miss, that should go away with this elixir. Give a bit of time for the maladie.”
Amid trying to suppress another cough, the girl sat up and put her fist over her mouth. “Kuhuh-kuh— mmhmm- k-hm-k-hm,” she answered curtly. She wondered that her parents hadn’t been to see the visitor yet. She looked discreetly across the room out into the hallway. Upon seeing this reaction, the young sir cleared his throat.
“I’ll have a brief word with the master of the house about your recovery status. Mind, get a good doze in.” The girl was asleep at the wave of his hand.
Death—the young sir—stood up as the girl laid back down. He stood over her, his bony, atrocious hand on the brass knob of the bed headboard. After a few moments— mortal time— he brushed a finger, gently and smooth as a scythe, over her pallid cheek. It grew some colour, then faded. He bent over slightly, grabbed the air above her mouth, stopping its flow. After another mortal moment, he let go.
“Tomorrow,” he mused nonchalantly, “I shall kill you. At least your last moments would be healthful. And dearest mummy and pa won’t remember your name.”
As he returned home, Death barely remembered his wife. But then again, she expected no different. Death wandered the earth as a spectre. He played his violin, a gift that he had acquired from their marriage. She filled her endless days tormenting the demons. She spoke with Prince Berte, or rather at him. She made no note of her life essence vial growing steadily smaller.
Another blue drop, some more water. Rightfully, the girl was almost cured. She was reading whenever the young sir came in. This time, she hastened that he needn’t return on the morrow. This time, there was a skeptical edge in her voice. She demanded to know what the elixir was. And she called to her parents.
Her mother fluttered in. “Dearest? Everything alright?”
“Yes, it’s just that I think I’m cured enough now. And I’d like to sleep.” She gestured to Death. “His visits wake me.”
The mother clicked her tongue. “Why, this good young man is very nice to see you. He comes in good time, when you’re spared and feeling better. Hold your tongue to say that you’ve got to wake to see him. He’s got what’s good for you, I’m sure.”
“Yes. The last few days he’s given me an elixir. And I don’t think that I’m ill enough anymore for him to come every day.”
The mother furrowed her brow. Her protest was interrupted by the young sir.
“Every day, that is? Miss, I’ve only just come to see you today. Do you have a fever that makes your head fuzzy for dates?”
“Oh,” cooed the mother, “she must. “I’ll put on another kettle for tea then.” She kissed her daughter and left the room.
The young man looked eerily at the girl, who suddenly did not feel so recovered.
“If you come here again… They can’t remember when they’ve hired someone for five days straight… I want to see a proper doctor if I need one. No more of you.” She fitted her fingers toward the door, widening her eyes. “Now, if you please.”
“Of course, ma’am.” Death closed his medicine bag startlingly. He silently stood up, slowly like molasses. Raised his brow, turned his head in cruel acknowledgement. He closed the door by its handle, turning the knob so he could see it. She heard in the hallway the young sir say that she was asleep.
“Good day, Madam.”
The phial’s contents were dwindling.