Chapter 8 : The Nightmare Market
Carlotta, Mindy and Nisha stood in the shadows beneath the rail overpass on Southwark Street. A light, misty rain had begun to fall over the slumbering city. Every now and then a train would rattle past overhead, the sound echoing into the night then just as quickly gone, settling back into the gentle, humming quiet of a dark Central London backstreet.
Mindy was pacing back and forth, her sneakers crunching on the pavement each time she pivoted sharply and retraced her steps. Finally, her voice broke the hush.
“I thought you said the Nightmare Market was held in the same place as Borough Market but just at nighttime?”
Carlotta nodded, “It is.”
Mindy frowned and craned her head to peer down the nearest gloomy passageway towards the market site.
“But there’s nothing there. It’s completely empty.”
Carlotta smiled, “Oh it’s there, Min. It’s just hidden to us right now.”
Mindy digested this, “So…how do we get in there then?”
Carlotta shrugged, “We just walk in. The market itself is a semi-autonomous pocket in space-time. It decides who comes and who goes. But being supernatural beings, it’s unlikely we’d have any trouble entering.”
Pushing off the wall where she had been leaning, lost in her own thoughts, Nisha ambled closer to join the conversation.
“So, if we can just walk in, why do we need Chet?”
Carlotta took a deep breath, “The market is complex. Nothing is ever what it seems or straightforward. Having a guide minimises the risk of a misstep. A mistake in the market can be…problematic.”
Nisha nodded thoughtfully, “Ok I get that but then how is it that a human who has barely passed puberty somehow managed to get himself so much arcane knowledge? I mean, who is Chet? Really?”
Carlotta grinned, “Well the answer to that question, girls, is the same answer to a lot of things about Chet – his father. Chet’s grandfather was an old college buddy of Alistair Crowley’s from Cambridge. They were both members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn back in its heyday. Anyway, his son emigrated out to New York and was heavily involved in the study and practice of the occult and metaphysics out there. He’s also neck deep in dodgy real estate dealings and other questionable money-making activities. But he’s the leading expert on all things magic. I heard once that he has the Arc of the Covenant in a vault at the family manor in upstate New York.”
Mindy’s face screwed up, “Arch of the what?”
Nisha turned to her, “Indiana Jones, Nazis, people’s faces melting off. That thing.”
Mindy’s eyes widened in delight, “Oh, fun!”
Carlotta continued, “So our boy Chet was raised to carry on his father’s trade. He told me once that he had tutors in magic and witchcraft his whole life. All appearances to the contrary, he’s actually incredibly knowledgeable. An arrogant prat but the real deal when it comes to all this kind of thing.”
Nisha nodded as this all sunk in, “I guess nepotism is universal, huh?”
Carlotta laughed dryly, “Sorry if you’re only just realising that now, hon!”
Suddenly a voice from the darkness interrupted their chat.
“Did someone say ‘nepotism’?”
As if summoned by the very mention of privilege, there was Chet in all his preppy glory. He’d changed into a Barbour jacket teamed with camel-coloured slacks and brown leather boots. The tweed tie and cardigan completed the ‘tomorrow I’m playing Polo on a team that really puts the ‘title’ in entitled’ ensemble.
“I thought you said midnight, Chet.” scowled Carlotta, looking at her watch. It was almost forty minutes past.
“I believe I said ‘around midnight’, actually” grinned Chet, his attempt at humour laced with more than a bit of patronising flippancy.
“Ok, well…..whatever.” Nisha tried not to sound as annoyed as she already was by the fact their very existence depended on this absolute nob-end. “Shall we get going then?”
“Woah….hold your unicorns there, sweet cheeks.”
Oh yay, thought Nisha….the wink and finger guns again.
Chet’s Smith & Pinkie was re-holstered for a moment in an inner jacket pocket, emerging again holding what looked like a cigar. Quickly lighting it with something gold and elaborately engraved, he lavishly exhaled a cloud of pungent smoke, engulfing the three vampires.
“Ooh, is that a blunt?” Mindy’s eyes had lit up as she sniffed the fumes. “I could go for a few tokes right now, calm the old nerves, innit.”
“I mean, it’s got some weed in it,” coughed Chet, sending another lungful over the sisters like a net trapping unsuspecting forest creatures. “But it’s kind of a special blend of….stuff.” The whites of his eyes had already started to take on a slightly purple tinge.
“Well, I’m sure I can handle it,” said Mindy, reaching defiantly out and waiting for the blunt, or whatever it was, to be passed.
“Absolfuckinglutely not, Min.” Carlotta’s scowl was now directed towards her nest mate, firmly pushing her hand away from the smoking tube of potential disaster.
“Yeah, best not actually.” Chet sounded alarmingly like the voice of reason. It was very disconcerting.
“I like to have a few puffs of this before heading into the Market, kinda complicated to explain why but probably not for the uninitiated. And besides, gorgeous young vampires don’t need the kind of protection this shit offers.”
Mindy looked moderately placated by this overly saccharine bit of flattery. The other two just rolled their eyes.
“Right then, Chet and/or Chong, do you think we could get going now? We’ve got to be back indoors before daybreak, remember?” Carlotta had already turned to walk down a side alley leading to a line of the closed up market stalls as she finished speaking.
As the group made their way into the glasshouse-like space where the regular Borough Market took place, Nisha began to look around nervously. What if they just didn’t get in? Or only one of them did? And what if that was…. Mindy?
Before her anxiety had time to become a full blown panic attack, Mindy nudged her arm.
“Look at the pillars, babe!” Mindy was squeak-hissing like she was trying to gossip at the back of class.
Nisha’s attention focussed back onto her immediate surroundings. The usual dark green and gold metal of the posts and arches supporting the glass roof were now a hauntingly beautiful iridescent black. The whole space around them was no longer lit with the orange glow of London’s street lights. Instead, a gentle yet sinister purplish hue bathed the walls, with almost a heat shimmer quality to it.
As the four walked on, the quiet, empty space of what had been a deserted market just moments before filled with first the noise of a bustling crowd, then with the sights of said crowd. These weren’t the usual confused tourists and local epicureans searching for the perfect organic sausage or most outrageously priced sourdough. These were unmistakably creatures of the night.
The two younger vampires tried to stroll casually whilst taking in the strange passersby and horrifying wares on the stalls that had burst into existence on either side of them. Definitely a few other vampires in the throng as well as some extremely wayward looking humans, along with demonic beings of all shapes, sizes and colours. A chiselled, tanned centaur clip-clopped past them from behind, clutching the end of a metal chain. A strange, uncomfortable breeze whisked through as the other end of the chain passed, a collar seemingly hovering in mid air. Mindy hurriedly linked arms with Nisha, no longer looking at all casual.
“Er, what the fuck was that?” she hissed, loudly.
Chet’s voice came from just ahead. “No troubles bubbles, probably some kind of jinn or skin-walker up to no good. Those centaurs with the mohawks are security, dark law enforcement-type deal. Iron chains are basically like handcuffs, the scoundrels can’t take on any form in them, or escape.”
Carlotta, who was walking ahead next to Chet, shot him another scowl. She paused, bringing the rest of the party to a halt too.
“That’s racist, Chet, and you know it. What he meant to say was it was a shapeshifter. Could have originated from anywhere. Every time and place has shapeshifters, both good and bad. The market tends to attract more than a few of the latter. Magical pickpockets and con artists, essentially. The centaur bit was accurate, at least.”
Chet laughed, his face sporting a kind of ‘oh silly you’ expression. “See, there’s that political correctness again,” he smirked.
Mindy’s attention wandered to the stall just behind Chet. The counter was covered with a slightly shabby-looking sackcloth material, as were the canopy and walls surrounding it. A gruesome display of shrunken heads piled up like tangerines sat in the middle, with single withered fingers on sticks pushed into some kind of rib cage on either side. The vendor, a rather stout and surly-looking woman, two hundred if she was a day, eyed Mindy with suspicion from under her floppy velvet headgear. She was crunching on one of the fingerpops, cracking a knuckle between her three remaining teeth.
“Surely you must have seen a few shapeshifters over the years, Mindy?” Chet’s voice brought her attention away from the snacky crone and back to the group.
“Yeah course,” Mindy bristled, “Used to go raving in the woods with a few werewolves. Nice bunch actually, no beef with us vampires at all. I’ve just never, er….seen? Felt? Witnessed one, you know….naked, as it were.”
“Oh that’s a specific type that can return to totally ether form.” Chet replied, haughtily, looking at Carlotta as he tried to justify his earlier supernatural xenophobia.
“A type that is found in all earthly locations and ethereal dimensions.” Carlotta’s retort had a ‘don’t fucking start’ tone.
Before Chet could reply, one of the security centaurs trotted up.
“Everything alright here?” His stern tone was softened by a touch of East end accent around the edges. Not full Cockney, just a lingering on the ‘i’ of ‘alright’, picking him out as a definite London original.
“Yeah, we’re fine thank you.” Carlotta’s face softened as she directed her words up at the statuesque being. “Just getting our bearings, we’re looking for–”
“The restroom.” Chet interjected suddenly, beaming at the centuar like a twatish lighthouse. “Just need to freshen up after a long journey here.”
“End of this row, two thoughts to the North.” The centaur narrowed his eyes, indicating he didn’t quite believe Chet but moved off anyway, leaving the four in the middle of the bustle again.
“Things have tightened up a bit since you were last here, I think,” said Chet, shifting slightly on his feet and leaning in, conspiratorially. “Obviously every one, including the long hooves of the law, knows you can still get pretty much whatever here. But these days there’s a kind of unspoken rule that the rarer black market-type stuff is kept more on the DL.”
“Hang on, there’s a black market…..within the darkest, scariest fucking market ever?” Nisha looked incredulous.
“Well, yeah,” replied Carlotta, “half the stuff here shouldn’t really exist. And the other half….well, it doesn’t exist in a lot of dimensions outside of this one, plus a few very specific realms. And Wiltshire.”
“Ok…..” said Mindy, looking more than a bit baffled. “So how do we find the…thing, then?”
“Well, if the restrooms are two thoughts to the North, then we probably need to go a few thoughts beyond that. It will be downwind of the latrines as a bit of olfactory camo.” Chet clearly did know his stuff and for the first time since meeting at the student bar, Nisha was relieved he was with them.
“So we have to… think ourselves there? Why are we walking about like muppets then?” Mindy’s face was now the very definition of totally baffled.
“It requires both walking and thinking,” said Carlotta, immediately raising her hand in a stop gesture as Chet’s mouth opened to make some hilarious quip.
“I’ll lead,” she continued, “you two file behind, Chet at the back please. Once we get round that corner up ahead, put your hands on my waist and just try to relax your brains a bit. Chet and I will do the mind’s eye mapping, if you close your eyes you will get a glimpse of it.”
Without further questioning, Mindy and Nisha fell, slightly dumbfoundedly, into single file, walking quickly to match Carlotta’s pace. They began to turn the corner at the end of the row, passing a stall with vats of steaming green liquid that smelled like a mixture of cough sweets and soiled cat litter. Mindy wrinkled her nose as she placed her hands on Carlotta’s waist, closing her eyes as she felt Nisha do the same on hers.
In what felt like both a year and a second, a vast, detailed picture of something between a tube map and a garden centre brochure flashed across the space behind her eyelids. Mindy’s skin prickled slightly and just like that, opening her eyes, she found they were in what looked like a completely different bit of the market.
The first thing Nisha thought when she opened her eyes was that she no longer felt even remotely like she was in the cheery confines of London’s best known food market. The space she found herself in now felt older, ancient even. Glancing down she noticed that the ground was no longer paved, instead she was standing on packed earth. The air was cloying, smelling like stagnant water and a heady, unfamiliar cocktail of other questionable odours.
They all stood together in a tight bunch while they peered around. The crowds here were noticeably absent. The stalls, if they could be called such, looked like a shanty town with cloth or corrugated iron covering them completely, concealing the activities within from passersby. Mindy thought she saw a loping figure slip between two tents a bit further ahead but it was gone so quickly she wasn’t completely sure.
The group’s arrival had definitely not gone unnoticed. They all felt immediately uneasy, aware of several pairs of hidden eyes upon them.
Somewhere, a bird screeched loudly, startling both Mindy and Nisha. Chet looked completely at ease.
“Right then,“ Carlotta looked at their guide expectantly, “where’s this Asmodean, Chet? I think we better keep moving before we attract attention.”
As she said this, she spotted something that looked halfway between a crab and a bird-eating spider, scuttling along the edge of a nearby wall. It stopped in the shadows, it’s beady eyes fixed in a glare that seemed to pierce her brain. Definitely time to go.
Chet shoved his hands in his pockets and looked around, appearing for all the world like a country squire picking out the best spot for a summer picnic. Finally he seemed to find whatever it was he was searching for and stepped confidently down a particularly grotty-looking side passage.
“Right you are, Carlotta, this way!”
Skirting around fragrant puddles of rotting liquid, the four made their way between the rows of ramshackle constructions as the gloom seemed to close in around them. At one point, Mindy strayed too close to a fabric curtain and a grey, clammy hand darted out, snagging her sleeve in an iron grip.
Mindy let out a strangled shriek.
Turning to see what the problem is, Chet pulled his lighter from his inner pocket and pressed it swiftly into the slimy flesh still holding on to the now thrashing Mindy.
“No, thank you. Off you fuck.”
The hand released Mindy with a spasm of pain and retreated quickly back behind the curtain. Nisha thought she heard a dry whisper croak something about a 25% off, today only, but she couldn’t be completely sure.
Chet held up his fancy lighter, “Gold.”
Mindy, who was clutching her arm as if to reassure herself she still had it, nodded speechless.
Chet chuckled and draped a reassuring arm around her shoulders, “Just try to watch where you walk, sweet cheeks. Anyway, our Asmodean should be just ahead.”
Sure enough, just a few steps further Chet brought them to a halt in front of a nondescript construction made from cloth-covered scrappy wooden pallets. Retrieving his arm from around the still spooked Mindy, he held up a finger for them all to just wait. Then, moving a step closer, he called out to whoever was inside.
“Cooee, old chap?”
There was a long pause in which nothing at all happened. They all stared expectantly at the entrance, such as it was. Carlotta was just about to chide Chet for wasting their time when three long, pale fingers emerged and drew back the cloth.
Carlotta’s first impression of the Asmodean was that it looked like a very tall, extremely elderly old man. The interior of the shop was nowhere near big enough for it to stand upright so it was hunched over. Out of its bald, skull-like face stared a pair of pale purple eyes. The eyes regarded each of them in turn with a kind of baleful impassiveness that gave absolutely no clue whether it was thrilled to have customers or annoyed at being interrupted. Finally the eyes landed on Chet.
Chet beamed, “Yes indeed, old boy!”
Leaning forward conspiratorially, Chet continued in a somewhat lowered tone, “My friends here are looking for something very…particular. I rather thought you might be able to help?”
The Asmodean’s eyes did another circuit of the vampires. This time Carlotta thought she detected a small spark of interest in the gaze as it lingered just a heartbeat on her own face. It looked again at Chet.
Unperturbed by the Asmodean’s somewhat minimalist approach to customer service, Chet ploughed on.
“Well, we thought you might be able to help us out with some Odinthought..?”
The Asmodean blinked and rubbed its hands together, they made a dry, rustling sound like old paper. Carlotta noticed for the first time that all three fingers had four joints and no fingernails.
Finally, the Asmodean spoke, “Yes…for a price.”
Chet clapped his hands together in satisfaction, “Good fellow! Absolutely smashing! Carlotta here will be picking up the tab. What’s the damage?”
The Asmodean switched its gaze again to Carlotta, “Not money. A memory. Loss, pain, remorse.”
Chet froze, hands still held together in front of him, “Ah. I see.”
Nisha piped up, “What does that mean?”
Rubbing his hands together, Chet turned to face the vampires, “Righto, ladies, our friend here will only take payment in kind. Specifically, he wants a memory from one of you that is filled with feelings of loss or regret.”
Mindy craned her neck to look past Chet to the Asmodean who was watching them all calmly, “Wow. Tres emo.”
Chet looked from one to the other with an expectant look, “So. Who’s it going to be?”
There was a moment’s silence then Mindy spoke up again, “Ooh! I once accidentally flushed an entire night’s worth of MDMA down a club toilet! There was definitely some intense remorse that night. It completely ruined the evening. Total bummer. See I was wearing this skirt that had these pockets–”
Chet interrupted, “While that does sound like a disappointing night out, I think the Asmodean might be after something a little bit more…traumatic.”
Mindy scowled, muttering, “Wow harsh much? Sorry my suffering isn’t good enough.”
Nisha screwed her face up as if scouring her memory, “I once had a hamster named Dave who went missing. I left his cage door open by accident. Mum said he went to live with all the other hamsters in a hamster village but I’m pretty sure our cat, Marbles, probably got him. That was pretty sad.”
Suddenly the Asmodean spoke from behind them, interrupting whatever words of ‘comfort’ Chet was about to offer on the tragic death of Dave the hamster.
“You. You will pay.”
Carlotta, who had so far remained silent, felt her heart sink into her toes at the sight of the Asmodean’s spiny finger pointed firmly in her direction.
Chet swivelled to look at it, then turned back to Carlotta with a shrug, “The demon knows what he wants. You’re up, Car.”
For a split second, Carlotta felt the urge to just walk away. Surely there must be another way to resolve this Alina nonsense without Odinthought, right? But then she sighed in resignation. Time had run out for alternative plans. She looked at her sisters who were holding hands tightly and staring, wide-eyed, with a mixture of apprehension and concern. She tried to muster a reassuring smile for them but suspected it was fairly lacklustre.
Moving past Chet, she spoke to the Asmodean directly, “Fine. What do I need to do?”
Stepping aside it revealed the hovel-esque interior of its shop, lit only by a handful of large candles.
Carlotta glanced back at the other three once more then ducked through the entranceway.
Join the Fangily! If you enjoyed this chapter of the Fang Fatales ongoing story, please consider supporting the project by minting an NFT or two over at https://www.fangfatalesnft.com/ at the super low price of only 0.002 ETH + gas! All proceeds go back into the project so that we can create more free stories for you, as well as collaborating with artists in the NFT community.