Chapter 2 : House of Horrors
Carlotta let the front door snap shut behind her and leaned back against it, closing her eyes. For the first time since extracting herself from the scene in the car park, she allowed herself to fully relax.
What. A. Night.
She vaguely wondered if Regina and Azzie were still beating each other black and blue, and whether they might have stopped briefly to set up a live stream of it. Silently chuckling to herself at that thought, she heard the familiar staccato tap of paws approaching. Dracula careened out of the kitchen, skidded mid-pivot, then began wobble-dashing down the hallway towards her like a sack of potatoes on four stubby legs. His tightly curled tail was wagging furiously and his razor-sharp teeth were just visible in the happy gape of his mouth, pink tongue lolling to one side.
Carlotta kneeled down to gather him into her arms as he hurtled towards her, “Hey buddy! Hey my beautiful boy! How has your evening been, huh?”
In response he began to vigorously lick her face, his large brown eyes taking on a slightly manic glaze as he did so. Just as she was trying to angle her head away from the onslaught, a voice came from the kitchen.
“Car? Is that you?”
Writhing pug still in her arms, Carlotta made her way down the hall and into the kitchen. Mindy and Nisha were sitting at the kitchen table with mugs of warm blood and a pile of magazines. The two were the youngest members of the nest and were often to be found together. As millennial vampires, turned in the 80s and 90s, they were still in that awkward phase of newly-minted immortality where the remnants of one’s human life were everywhere. Mindy had her hair in curlers and was wearing a large fluffy pink dressing gown with bunny slippers. Carlotta looked her up and down, then shifted Dracula under one arm to check her watch.
“I thought you two were off stomping in a muddy farmer’s field somewhere with the rest of London’s aging raver population tonight?”
Nisha rolled her eyes at the description, “That’s tomorrow night, you generiatric square. Moondance is in Wandsworth Common this year so it’s hardly an illegal rave in some Home Counties paddock,” she looked wistful, “not like in the good old days. We used to have to ring some dodgy number and listen to a crackling voice message with vague directions. Now it has its own app. Such a shame.”
Carlotta nodded as she bent to put Dracula back on the ground, “I see, well let me know if you want me to turn on the sprinklers in the back garden for you and bang some pans together. You won’t be able to tell the difference, it’ll be like 1992 all over again.”
Nisha and Mindy both groaned, like kids hearing their Nan being shirty about ‘youth culture’. Mindy swivelled in her chair to face Carlotta as she moved around the breakfast bar to the fridge for some blood.
“More importantly than your steady and inevitable slide into senility, Car, how was the date?? Why are YOU home so early?”
Head deep in the fridge, Carlotta let out a short, mirthless bark of laughter. Straightening back up, bag of blood in hand, she turned back to the seated pair as she slammed the door a little harder than intended. “The date you ask? It was…hmm, what’s the right word…uh…an absolute fucking nightmare.”
Mindy and Nisha both grimaced comically in unison but said nothing, their eager silence urging Carlotta to give them a full run down. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone, including supernatural beings, loves a juicy bad date story.
Carlotta heaved a sigh, her eyes fixed on the mug of blood spinning in the microwave.
“In short, Regina was a pretentious twat with a head full of WB40 and an incurable case of the me-me-mes. I didn’t ask, obviously, but I got the distinct impression she’s young. Like months or a couple of years at most. I don’t know what sadistic monster had the bright idea to inflict someone with the personality of a cheese grater upon the rest of the world for all eternity, but I hope they have her on a short leash, or she’s going to out us all. Oh also, Nisha, have you heard of some new kind of EDM called, ‘Utility’?”
Nisha snorted a bloody spit-take into her mug, choking with laughter. Mindy leaned over and thumped her solidly on the back. Finally, tears of mirth in her eyes, Nisha recovered enough to speak, “Oh no, really? Yeah, I’ve heard of Utility. Basically a joyless blend of Big Room House, Garage, and Gabba. All the crap bits, none of the fun, played at a crazy BPM. Ear bleeding trash that could only ever be tolerated by tone deaf posers with brains that are 93% WB40. Let’s just say it’s a…niche genre.”
Carlotta took a sip from her mug and nodded, unsurprised.
Mindy’s face brightened, “Well, you know what they say, plenty of dead fish in the underworld! Who else have you been chatting with on Sinder, Car? Do you need us to swipe through some profiles for you?”
Carlotta looked at her eager face, “No, I think I’m going to take a little break from Sinder. I’m not ready to meet more of the Reginas of the world. One was enough for a lifetime. Even an eternal one.”
Mindy frowned, “Come on, Car. You can’t let one bad date scare you off entirely. There’re loads of perfectly normal creatures of the night out there searching for love!”
Carlotta shook her head firmly, “It’s just not for me, Min.”
Mindy and Nisha exchanged a sidelong glance. Trying to sound casual, Nisha spoke, “Well, I mean, there’s always Alex…”
Carlotta shot her an exasperated look. This again.
Nisha wasn’t having it. “What?? She’s cute, she’s funny, she’s still bartending at The Dusty Trail—“
“Urgh, Carlotta, come on!”
“No, Nisha, I just can’t do it again. It’s too much.”
Nisha sighed but held her tongue. There was a moment of awkward silence before Mindy changed the subject, holding up the copy of People Magazine in her hands.
“Want to play ‘Bite, Bang, Turn’ with us?”
Carlotta frowned in bemusement, “Bite, Bang…what?”
“It’s like ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’ but we modified it to be more vampire appropriate,” explained Nisha.
Carlotta shook her head, “Still got no idea what you’re on about, sorry.”
Mindy’s face registered complete shock, “Didn’t you ever play that when you were a teenager, Car? The game where your friends name guys and you have to choose whether you would sleep with them, marry them or kill them?”
Carlotta let out a wry bark of laughter, “No, Min. Teenaged girls in eighteenth century France did not speculate on which men they would kill or sleep with. At best we played, ‘Marry – yes or no’ and really that was all fantasy anyway because our fathers would decide who we married and our husbands would decide if and when we had sex.”
Nisha and Mindy just stared at her in silence for a moment then Mindy spoke in a wondering tone.
“Wow, Car, that’s grim. Sometimes I forget that you’re super old.”
Carlotta rolled her eyes, “Yes, Min. I really am rather old.”
Nisha grabbed the magazine from Mindy, “Look, let us show you how it works.”
She flicked through the few pages with a frown of concentration then stopped on one, “Okay, Min, here we go. Nigella Lawson, Gillian Anderson, and Emily Hampshire – bite, bang or turn?”
Mindy threw her hands up with a groan, “Awww c’mon Nish, that’s way too hard!”
Nisha shook her head, “Life is tough, Min. Decisions have to be made..”
Mindy bit her lip with a frown, “Well…I think Nigella might be a bit of a handful as an immortal being, I mean, if she didn’t have to sleep it would just be coke and puddings 24/7, innit?”
Nisha raised an eyebrow, “And that’s a bad thing?”
Mindy laughed, “Fair point but..um..ok let’s say bite for Nigella. I bet she tastes awesome.”
Nisha nodded sagely, “Excellent choice, young one. And what about Gillian and Emily.”
Mindy scowled in concentration, “They’d both make amazing vampires…and they’re both eminently bangable. Uh…oh man…this is tough.”
Nisha drummed her fingers on the table, “Tick tock, Mindo-Face.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…um…ok…Emily is bang and Gillian is turn. How could I deprive the world of an immortal Scully? I can’t. I’m not a monster. Well, I am, but you know what I mean.”
She looked at Carlotta expectantly, “Fancy a go?”
Carlotta chuckled, “Maybe next time, ladies.”
Moving towards the hallway, Carlotta turned when Nisha spoke.
“Oh by the way Car, Morgana got a delivery earlier and Dracula ate the UPS guy. I put him out back.”
Carlotta groaned and looked down at her demon pug. He looked back, head tilting with an expression so deeply innocent her heart melted.
“Oh Drac, what am I going to do with you, huh?”
Cassandra surveyed her desk with a critical gaze. Lamp, notepad and pen, fresh pot of steaming apple tea, several reference books and dictionaries, and finally, of course, the book itself. At last.
Almost reverentially, she eased into her chair, laying her hands to either side of the ancient tome. She took a moment to let her eyes run over its cover, drinking in every tiny detail. Bound in human skin, it was a deep, rich golden colour. Time had taken its toll in patches, where dark discolouration and a few tiny cracks marred the glossy finish. One corner looked like it had been the victim of a hungry rat and there was a splodge of what appeared to be blood smeared across the bottom edge. It wasn’t especially big, no larger than a modern hardback novel, and if it were placed on a shelf with a selection of other antique books, one might be forgiven for overlooking it entirely. No gold embossing or silver clasp declared its importance. No precious jewels adorned its cover. But it was precious, and Cassandra had waited several human lifetimes for this moment.
Still transfixed by the cover, she reached up and tied back her tangle of dark curls, noting with surprise that her hands were trembling slightly. Upon entering her study that evening, she had found the book quietly waiting for her within the summoning circle Morgana had carefully formed several weeks ago. After waiting so long, she almost hadn’t believed her eyes. She had stood frozen in the doorway, for almost a full minute, before tentatively creeping towards it, as if it might be startled by any sudden movement.
The circle itself had been a laborious task to create. Morgana had worked for days layering on the spells and enchantments needed to dislodge the book from wherever it was hiding in time and/or space. Summoning any object was never a sure bet. Depending on the object in question it simply might not exist anymore. And even if it did, things of value, at least in the supernatural sphere, tended to be protected against such spells. Getting hold of such carefully protected treasures became a contest of skill between the current holder and the sorceress doing the summoning. It looked in this instance like Morgana had proved the more skilled spell caster.
Gazing at the book, Cassandra couldn’t help but pause briefly to appreciate the irony of this moment. Here she was, a woman famously cursed with prophetic powers by an ancient god, hunched with palpable anticipation over a book of prophecy. Thankfully, she and Apollo had reached an accord many, many years ago, so her mind was no longer on fire with knowledge of the future. The loss of her foresight had been a sweet release in many ways. No longer hounded by madness-inducing visions, she was able to move through the world again without the crushing knowledge of what was to befall those around her, yet the inability to pass it on to anyone, let alone those she wanted to save or help. However, despite the relief of having such a burden removed, she had never been able to quite shake off the feeling of anxiety that came with losing what had become a vital sense to her. She felt blindfolded, moving through the world with her arms thrust out just hoping she wasn’t about to step off a cliff. It was this nagging feeling that had led to her almost obsessive interest in the works of other prophets.
Gently easing open the front cover with a creak, Cassandra let her eyes run over the symbols etched in blood on the yellowing parchment. Akkadian Cuneiform had never been her strongest suit, but she could decipher the main heading without the need to consult her dictionary:
‘The Codex of Eternal Damnation.’
Morgana stretched carefully into the void and tugged. She felt a flutter of alarm echo back to her and then it began to struggle. Concentrating harder, she twisted a second tendril of power tight around it as it thrashed and twisted, then a third as she began to drag it closer. Like a trapped bird flapping about to find an open window, it threw itself wildly this way and that. Morgana’s grip tightened as she fought to bring it closer. Finally she was able to yank it, shuddering, through the veil.
Opening her eyes, she became aware of a bead of sweat rolling down her temple and her own clenched teeth. Glancing quickly at the jam jar in her hands, she saw the entity trapped within. Glowing a pretty forest green, the Elemental was battering against its glass prison and emitting a faint, but distinctly angry hum. Smiling in satisfaction, Morgana stood gingerly from her cross-legged position on the cold basement floor and felt the burning rush of blood back to her legs. She cast her eyes to the clock – twelve hours it had taken to bring the wee beastie in. It had felt like only moments but that was often the way in such things. The ebb and flow of interdimensional time was a squirrely thing at best, and downright incomprehensible at worst. She moved towards a nearby set of shelves and slotted the jar neatly between a container of eyeballs pickled in holy water and a large, old-fashioned jar of pear drops. She stepped back and stared at it happily for a moment. It buzzed menacingly. Her smile widened.
This moment of satisfaction was suddenly and rudely interrupted by a sharp rattling sound coming from somewhere nearby. Turning from the latest addition to her magical stores, Morgana tilted her head, her gaze sweeping quickly over the shelves full of arcane objects, trying to pinpoint the source of the sound. Finally, her eyes settled on a small wooden casket perched on a dusty top shelf. Dragging her weaving stool over, she brought herself eye level with the object. The hollow, arrhythmic clattering was most definitely coming from the box. Cautiously, she eased it off the shelf and carried it to her work bench, placing it gently in the centre and twisting a nearby lamp to shine down fully upon it.
The box itself was mahogany and carved with a variety of tribal symbols. It featured a delicate wooden latch which Morgana now eased open gently. She had acquired this item many, many years ago when travelling through the Congo. As she lifted the lid with a slight creak, the rattling ceased. Frowning, she tipped the box on its side and let the collection of objects tumble out onto the bench.
A tangle of bones, some human and others animal, along with several pieces of intricately carved wood spilled across the otherwise clear worktop. Her frown deepening, Morgana let her eyes roam over the placement of the pieces as a small knot of concern began to form in her stomach.
Attracted by the clatter of the bones, her familiar, Huginn, leapt up onto the bench. Whiskers twitching and glowing yellow eyes fixed intently on the bones, he reached out a paw and tapped one persistently off the edge of the bench. Despite being an ageless eternal being of profound magical ability he was still very much a cat. Smiling slightly, she ran a hand over his sleek, black fur as he purred enthusiastically, leaning into her touch.
Her attention returning to the disturbing message in the bones, she moved swiftly to an old chest and began to rummage through the contents. Huginn’s lamp-like eyes followed her every move from where he sat perched on the counter. Pushing aside a shrivelled human foot and several dozen voodoo dolls, she located what she was searching for and snatched it up. Returning briskly to her bench, she untied the top of the small leather bag and dumped out a set of rune stones. With a growing alarm, her eyes darted from one to the next. She scooped them back into the bag, gave it an optimistic shake, then upended it once more. This second message in the stones did nothing but increase her growing concern.
Morgana’s fingers drummed anxiously on the smooth oak of the bench as she stood lost in thought for a moment, body still but mind whirring at a million miles an hour. Finally, she opened a drawer and pulled out her favourite deck of tarot cards. Taking a deep breath to calm her jangling nerves, she shuffled them with intent and began to lay a five-card spread on the counter top. Taking another deep breath, she stepped back in order to fully digest the message before her. It was not reassuring. Something was coming and it was coming for them. Worse still, it was approaching rapidly. They had very little time.
She needed to speak to her sisters. Immediately, if not sooner.
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