- Note: This is a sequel to Doorway to Darkness
Ch. 1--New Journal Entry
Excerpt from Kes Allyntahl's Diary, former resident of Narrak Island.
For the last twenty-one years, I had lived with my cat in a cabin near a dark forest.
I liked the peace and remoteness of Narrak. This was in great contrast to Orrim, the main island where I grew up. It hardly had any peace and quiet. Nosey relatives and irksome acquaintances almost always surrounded me; not only that, Gerdin had to do things one way and according to signs and silly rules in books.
So much was my hatred of my past life that I went as far as to rename myself and give away most of my worldly possessions.
I was happy and contented with my secluded, simple life, until that fateful day in late September.
That was the day my life changed forever. At first, it started out as a perfectly normal day. I was in the kitchen, getting together ingredients for some mussel soup, and then I discovered I was fresh out of seaweed.
Putting on my cloak and hat, and with Miss Tabitha in tow, I went down to the beach. I was hoping to find some seaweed, but instead, I found this house on a headland.
I thought this was really strange, because this island was supposed be uninhabited. Going in, I went straight upstairs. At the top of these stairs was a door. Upon opening it, I found it was built into this large oak tree. Expecting a room, we found an enormous forest instead.
We decided to do a little exploring, but a storm mysteriously blew up, and we had to take shelter in this little house.
I quickly made a fire and soon we were fast asleep. Suddenly, Miss Tabitha throwing a fit jolted me awake. It seemed we had company—really bad company in the form of these vampire-like creatures calling themselves the Lontaqas. They said that they had been expecting my visit for a really long time, and were hoping I would attend this holiday feast of theirs.
Naturally, I was really suspicious. I mean, why would these guys be asking a total stranger over for dinner? Not unless they were planning on making that person the main course. So I said I couldn't, because I wasn't dressed properly.
They told me they had a wide selection of dresses for me to choose from. I then told them no thanks, and I really must be going. That was when started chasing and trying to grab me.
Miss Tabitha and I ran outside to get away. And that was when everything really got weird. Thunder roared, lightning flashed, and then suddenly we were falling straight down a big, gaping hole.
Screaming shrilly, Kes flailed wildly about for something to grab on to. Instead she caught hold of loose earth and roots. She felt small burrowing animals lodge in her hair and clothes.
Suddenly she was hit by a wave of nausea. Some adventurer I turned out to be, she thought grimly. First toss my cookies, and then die at the bottom of some stinking pit in the middle of...
It was then she threw up, and everything became a bright green blur.
Kes and Miss Tabitha tumbled to a halt onto something spongy and soft. Kes lay there for a while, waiting for her head to stop spinning. Where was she? Was she back in her eiderdown bed? It sure didn't feel like eiderdown.
Slowly, she opened here eyes and blinked. Miss Tabitha was leaning over with a worried expression. Above them, loomed huge gnarled trees.
Kes sat up and looked around bewildered. She was in the middle of a vast carpet of moss.
Gingerly, she got to her feet. Aside from a few scrapes and bruises, she was still in one piece.
After retrieving one of her moccasins, Kes started picking her way through the trees, trying to find a way out of these woods, and hopefully a way back home. It was a whole lot better than sitting in wet moss all day.
The trees in these parts seemed different than the ones she saw earlier—much taller and more crowded together.
The idea that there might be something lurking, hidden behind all these tangled branches, made Kes tread more carefully.
It wasn't long before the dreariness of the wood began to get to Kes. She started yearning to see the sun and the sky again, and to feel the wind on her face.
The only way she could have a good look around was to get her head above the forest roof.
Taking off her moccasins to make climbing easier, she started clambering up an enormous maple that overhung the trail. It took her awhile just to push through the tangled branches, but eventually she reached the top.
Looking around, she saw a vast sea of green ruffling like waves in the breeze. Further on, she noticed the forest bordered a broad valley. On the far rim of the valley loomed a weathered mass of rock.
Kes found the view utterly depressing. Ominous rock formations didn't usually bother her, but this particular outcropping aroused within her a sense of dread that she couldn't really explain.
Descending from her perch, Kes considered her situation. Things weren't going well ever since she first entered that strange house on the headland. Now she was lost in some unfamiliar forest, probably full of worse things than those Lontaqas. And she was without supplies or weapons.
A bleak prospect, but at least she wasn't afraid, and she wasn't alone either.
Something then caught her eye. It seemed to be a window in an oak tree--a wood framed six-pane window set in the side of the trunk of a very large oak tree.
"How very odd," she said to herself. "If there's a window there must be a room."
She walked around the tree and on the opposite side was another window and a door covered by vines and lichen. Clearing away this curtain, she soon found a shiny gold doorknob with an image of the sun on it. Slowly, she turned the knob and pushed open the door.
The interior of the tree was dark with a few rays of sun shining through the grungy windows that looked as if they hadn't been cleaned for decades. The floor was covered with gray dust with many animal tracks crossing and tangling in knots. In one corner was a pile of brownish, ivory bones, perhaps from the former tenant. The skull did not look altogether human; the teeth were much too long.
Kes stepped back with a shiver. What on earth was this thing? She wondered, staring at the remains.
Miss Tabitha, however, seemed unperturbed.
After a minute of two of gaping, Kes stepped nervously inside. Crinkling her nose at the stagnant air, she had a closer look at the skeleton.
It was obviously a person of some kind, a goblin maybe, judging by the pointy teeth, claws, and weird ropy hair still attached to its head.
Kes quickly covered it with a grimy sheet she found lying nearby. Just looking at the thing made her skin crawl.
Walking on, Kes discovered numerous wooden and sandy passages leading to dingy storerooms, closets of clothes infested with moths, and drawers of unidentifiable rusty widgets. The previous owner had a fondness for kitchen gadgets like cherry pitters and patent apple peelers.
Perhaps the most peculiar room in the whole house was the art gallery. It was also the largest room in the house.
Kes stood, staring at the pictures, and decided that she wasn't too sure about the previous owner's taste in art. Kind of dark and unpleasant.
Walking further into the room, she noticed a silk drop cloth draped over something. Pulling it aside, Kes found herself looking at a portrait. At first glance she drew back with a curse. However, she soon pulled herself together and examined the painting.
It was of a tall, gentleman in a gray suit. He had rosy skin, snaky red hair, and sharp, leonine features. The eyes gave Kes the most creeps; they were peculiarly bright and terribly alive.
A Gorgon, no doubt, she thought, yanking the sheet back in place. I wonder if he's related to the chap who's cluttering up the front hall?
Turning around she headed for the door. Unbeknownst to her, the drop cloth slithered to the floor.
The man in the portrait watched Kes hurrying away. Then he suddenly winked.
Kes suddenly felt hungry, she gazed at the bones in the corner, "No, I suppose they are too old to make a decent soup."
As she gazed out the window, she caught a glimpse of red. Walking outside, she noticed a small apple orchard nearby. While Kes helped herself to the fruit, Miss Tabitha helped herself to the mice populating the place.
After filling up on apples, Kes got to work disposing of the house's former owner. With a shovel, she dug a deep hole beneath a cedar tree and carefully laid the bones in. She thought about saying a brief prayer but couldn't think of one appropriate to the previous owner of the bones. She was unsure as to what species he or she belonged to.
Being a terribly tidy person, she soon got to work making the house livable again. She swept and dusted all the floors; she scrubbed all the windows, and chased out the various varmints.
Most of the stuff she found she had to throw out. It was all chewed up by the local wildlife.
Days passed. Then weeks. Kes was so busy with day-to-day survival that she didn't have time to mope and pine for her old place.
Ch. 2--New People
September finally drew to a close. A steady rain was falling on the forest, and a cold fog was drifting in from the ocean.
Kes was in the laundry room, washing the linen. Suddenly, she paused and listened hard to the silence. Something about the room didn't seem right. She got the nagging impression that eyes watched her from behind. Yet, whenever she turned to look, she saw only bare walls. Worse of all, she thought she heard rustling and shuffling near the entrance. But when she strode to the doorway and looked out, there was nothing there. Everything was quiet.
"Rats," she said irritably. "I thought I ran them all out."
"No, not rats," someone said in a faint, windy whisper. Kes felt a chill as though the temperature has suddenly dropped.
"Who's there?" she said tremulously. Kes heard nothing more.
Finally she shrugged dismissively. Perhaps it was only the sound of the rain and wind rippling through the trees.
She had discovered many things in the house, including some very nice clothes preserved in cedar chests. She was trying on some of her favorite clothes from her discoveries. As she was admiring a bright pink shawl she heard voices again. The tall mirror she was using had a label saying "The Mirror of the Ancestors." As she glanced over her shoulder she saw the mirror was full of phantom faces—thin and sharp with hair like writhing eels.
Disoriented, Kes shook her head. As soon as she looked again, the faces had disappeared.
Kes stared at the mirror, frowning. Perhaps I'm working too hard, she finally decided. Not enough relaxation can affect the imagination. Maybe I'll start by having a nice cup of hot tea.
She had a teapot without matching cups. The cups were smaller than she liked, but better than no cups at all. She had discovered a good supply of tea stored in airtight cans. There was nothing like a good hot cup of tea to make one feel better.
Along with the tea, Kes also discovered a book about fortune telling by tea leaves. Kes had always thought of herself as a very rational person, one who didn't believe in superstitions. But eventually curiosity overcame skepticism and she peered into her nearly empty teacup.
Her heart gave a horrific leap. The tea leaves had formed the image of a smiling face with snakelike hair.
For a moment Kes sat stiff with terror. Then she got up out of her chair and back slowly toward the door, keeping her eyes fixed on the teacup. She had an appalling vision of something scrabbling out of the cup and coming after her. Nothing happened however, but Kes wasn't waiting around to find out.
She put on a leather cloak with a fur hood and a pair of galoshes. Then she got an oilpaper umbrella.
"I'm going out for a walk," she said to the cat. "I don't know when I'll be back."
Miss Tabitha mewed plaintively and marched around Kes, rubbing against her legs.
"You want to come to," Kes exclaimed, genuinely surprised. "Funny, you always stay in when it's rainy."
As she spoke, she suddenly got the impression that many people were close by listening and watching. Shiver after shiver went down her back.
"Okay, let's go," she said quickly.
The rain was really bucketing down now, but at least she was no longer haunted. Trudging grimly through the trees, Kes wondered what she was going to do. Things cannot go on like this with all these idiot spirits crawling out of the woodwork every time she turned her back.
If things get any worse, she thought, I could always move.
But she did not want to move. Not again. She had gotten so used to living here, and she had every intention of remaining here.
I could always do an exorcism, she thought, and considered this as she walked. Although she didn't know enough about exorcisms, she could always learn.
The previous owner had left behind many dog-eared magical tomes. Perhaps she could find something helpful in one of those—something that didn't require a lot of ritual and recitation.
Kes suddenly stopped walking and listened. She heard an odd scratching sound and something seemed to be pressing down on the umbrella from above.
A dozen explanations quickly came to mind. Was it a gust of wind? The brushing and tapping of low branches? The heavy pattering rain?
Then it dawned upon Kes quite suddenly: an animal must have fallen from its treetop nest and had landed onto her umbrella. It was probably injured and in shock.
Kes quickly lowered the umbrella, and found herself staring into a ghastly face. It looked something like a goblin, and yet it was larger and more ferocious-looking. Its yellow-green eyes fastened on her own. Kes wanted to scream, but only managed a small croak.
After a few minutes of gawking, the thing suddenly leaped into high branches.
For a moment Kes stood glazed-eyed and gaping, then she turned to flee.
Kes careened through the trees, heedless of the whipping branches or to the yowling cat trying to keep up. Suddenly she crashed into an orange-haired girl, sending umbrella and groceries in all directions. One of the bags split open, spilling out a strawberry cheesecake, several persimmons, and packages of herbs and spices.
Before Kes could offer an apology, the girl started scolding her in totally unfamiliar language. It sounded to Kes like birds chittering. The girl looked a bit like a bird herself, tall and slenderly built, dressed in a robe and headdress of greenish-gold feathers. Her face wasn't bird-like though; it was more like a fox with brown slanting eyes and a pointed nose.
“Look, I'm really sorry I ran into you," said Kes, raising her hands placatively, "but I don't understand you. I'm not from around here."
The girl just waved her finger in Kes's face and chattered more shrilly. Then she stooped down to gather up her scattered groceries.
“Here let me help," said Kes, bending down. But the girl gave her hand a stinging whack with some salami.
"Ow!" Kes yelled, backing quickly away. "Cheez, lady! I was only trying to help!"
"What seems to be the problem here?" said a voice behind her.
It was the same monster she saw earlier. Only this time, he looked less like a menacing beast, and more like a scrawny punk elf.
Before Kes could reply, the bird girl stormed forward, carrying the smashed cake. The monster nodded several times as the girl began yelling and waving her hands wildly. Cake soon flew about like confetti, some of it splattering on Kes's cloak. Kes was too bewildered to notice.
Whoa, she thought. This girl's totally nuts; all this fuss over a stupid cake.
Finally the girl threw the remaining cake fragments on the ground and held out a hand in Kes's direction.
"What does that mean?" Kes asked, looking a little terrified. "Did she just hurl a hex?"
"No," the monster calmly replied. "She just said that you've ruined her mother's birthday cake, and she wants you to immediately pay up for the damages."
"What?" Kes spluttered. "Now? Look here, I'm sorry I ran into her and all that, but I have no money! I'm just some penniless foreigner recently arrived from the Orrim Islands!"
The monster quickly delivered this bit of news to the girl who soon let forth a volley of shrill squeaks and squawks. The monster then looked quizzically at Kes and said, "If you claimed to be penniless, then why are you wearing such high-quality clothes? Did you steal them?"
"Of course not," Kes replied, getting irritated. "I found these when I moved into this abandoned house." She omitted the part about the bones, not wanting them to get more funny ideas about her.
The girl gave a derisive snort, followed by some reedy chirps.
"She doesn't believe you," came the translation. "She still thinks you're a thief, perhaps even a mugger."
"Mugger, my arse!" snapped Kes in disgust. "If she doesn't believe me then I'll show her the sodding house! If she just wants to stand out in the rain criticizing, while her groceries are getting soaked, well, that's fine with me too! I'm going home!"
And with that, she snatched up an umbrella and promptly stormed off.
"Miss, wait!" the chickcharnie shouted after Kes. "You got my umbrella instead! Miss!"
Kes didn't even turn around. She and her cat soon disappeared between the trees.
“Oh, that's just great," said the chickcharnie in disgust. Her name happened to be Reema Zollife, and she was a perfectionist as well as a snob. "We'll never find her now, not in this wretched weather!"
"Nice going, Sunshine," said the bogie sarcastically. "You certainly gave her an impression of majestic graciousness. One she'll never forget."
His name was Darcy d' Macàbre, a lead singer in a rock 'n' roll band. Or at least he would have, if the band hadn't split up, if his ultra-rich parents hadn't forfeited his allowance, and forced him to go to Frightener School.
"Oh, do shut up!" snapped Reema. "That was such an excellent strawberry cheesecake. And now, thanks to her—"
"So, buy another one," said Darcy placidly. "I really don't see what you're making such a fuss about. It's just cake."
"It was a masterpiece of perfection!" Reema bitterly retorted. "I spent considerable time and money riding about town in search of the right kind of cake. Finally, I found the perfect one; the symmetry was magnificent, and the strawberries were thick and ripe. Now it's all squashed, and I can't buy another one, because that was the bakery's last one! Where am I going to find another perfect cake on such short notice? And look at this mess!" She made a gesture at the rain-soddened groceries. "Just look at it! That's time wasted!"
"No, time wasted is what you're doing right now," Darcy pointed out. "Treating a simple accident like it was a major catastrophe. The obvious thing to do next is for you to collect all your things and get out of this rain."
Reema gave him a defiant glare, and then adjusted her new umbrella.
"Very well," she said with dignity. "You will collect all my things and take them straight to my nest."
"You're not going to help?" exclaimed Darcy, surprised.
"No," said Reema austerely, "because you've been a major pest lately. It sure funny how you showed up shortly after that Gerdin ran into me."
Darcy's eyes narrowed. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're a menace!" Reema said pointedly. "Look at what you did to Gerald with that bucket of wormy fish guts and now me and my groceries! One of these days you'll end up killing someone or destroying the city or something! You bogies are all the same, no consideration for anyone!"
"Oh yeah?" Darcy shot back. "Well, you think I like learning how to hide in closets and scare little kids? It totally sucks eggs! You're the one without any consideration! You!
"Is that so?"
"Well," said Reema, turning and marching away, "you can just find someone else to hang around with, because I'm gone!"
"Fine!" Darcy yelled after her. "I don't need you!"
He watched her out of sight, and then stared down at his boots. "I don't need you at all," he said quietly. Darcy stared hard at his shoes for a moment longer, and then he went to collect the groceries.
While all this was going on, Kes and her cat were just stepping through the front door.
"Well so much for making new friends," she muttered, shaking out the umbrella. It was then she noticed it wasn't hers. "Oh, way to go, genius! First knock down this crazy lady, spilling her groceries. Now you got to return her lousy umbrella to her. She'll probably end up whacking you over the head with it!"
Kes marched down the hall to the living room. She no longer sensed that she was being watched. Perhaps they got tired of waiting and took a lunch break. Kes was too peeved to care.
As she stepped through the living room, she froze.
The first thing she saw was that there was a new pile of wood on the fire. The second thing was that there was a bespectacled gentleman with green, snaky hair seated in her favorite chair.
A chill crept over her. Oh Crud! Kes thought. It's one of those Gorgon ghost creeps from my bedroom mirror! They have finally broken through! I'm probably going to end up like my home's former owner—a pathetic pile of chewed bones!
"Hello there," he said in a smooth, velvety tone.
Kes stared stony-faced, gripping the umbrella like a spear. Cripes, she thought. How do I get myself into these fixes? All I wanted was to live in peace and solitude.
“The name's Timothy," he went on. "Timothy Zelassie. I'm a writer."
“I'm Kes Allyntahl," she said firmly. "I'm a hermit, and I would like to know what you're doing here?"
"Oh, I just came in to dry off," said Timothy, looking slightly embarrassed. "I came to the woods in search of inspiration, and got caught in this sudden rain storm."
"Hmmmmmmm," said Kes, narrowing her eyes. "Is that so?"
“Look, I didn't mean to scare you with this unexpected visit," he said, fidgeting a little, "but your house was the only one close enough…I didn't think there'd be anyone living here, given the history of this place."
Kes perked up her ears. "What do you mean 'given the history of this place?'" she asked.
The Gorgon stared at her for a moment before speaking.
"Well, this place's supposed to be haunted…"
"Haunted?" stammered Kes, astonished. "By what exactly?"
"Not 'what'…whom," Timothy said quietly, "and I don't know if I can tell you, it might not be safe to talk about it."
"Why, do the walls have ears?" asked Kes, feeling her hair starting to rise. Glancing nervously over her shoulder, she moved towards the fire. It wasn't good to be by the doorway; something could approach from behind.
"Not only eyes," Timothy whispered, "but also mouths and teeth."
"I'm not sure that I want to hear this story," Kes stammered, shivering with growing horror. "I must admit that I find your appearance a bit off putting."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear you say that," he said gently. "Actually I'm quite harmless and my snakes are of the nonvenomous variety. However I quite understand your feeling; some of my relatives are rather nasty."
Yeah, I might have seen some of them, Kes thought. Instead she said, "Would you care for some tea and biscuits?"
"Yes," said Timothy, nodding. "Tea and biscuits would be nice."
Kes fetched a small coffee table, and then went into the kitchen. When she came out again, Miss Tabitha was seated in Timothy's lap.
"Miss Tabitha seems to have taken a liking to you," she said, setting down the tray.
Timothy smiled. "Yes, well a lot of cats seemed to like me," he said. "Personally I think they regard me as just a comfortable piece of furniture."
"Do you have any cats?" Kes asked.
"No cats," said Timothy. "I have a couple of miniature poodles named Smoke and Sky. They're a really scrappy lot, not afraid of anything that walks or crawls."
"I like cats better," said Kes, taking a seat. "Less noise and upkeep. In fact, I like cats more than I like people."
Timothy looked startled as he poured his tea.
"People in general?" he asked.
"Yeah," she replied, grimacing, "especially those in my country. The people there were always criticizing me for choosing forest lore as an adult pursuit. They think I should settle down into the business of full-time homemaker. So I just said 'slag this' I'm going to leave this old proscribed life as well as my old name. I'm going to do what I like and go where I like! I shall be a tiger rather than a sheep!"
"So you're from Orrim?" Timothy inquired politely.
Kes nodded, pouring her tea. "Yeah. The main island in the chain."
"I heard Orrim's a dictatorship," said Timothy thoughtfully.
"Uh-huh," said Kes, munching on a biscuit. "Been like that for two-hundred-and-fifty years."
"So I guess that makes you a political refugee then," Timothy remarked as he took some biscuits.
Kes shrugged, sipping her tea. "I guess. Haven't given it much thought. Just wanted a place to call my own, that's all."
"You're not the only one," said Timothy, sampling a biscuit. "Say, these are delicious."
"Thanks," said Kes. "I think I did a pretty good job considering I just used ground nuts and apples, some honey and a bit of lard."
"How long you've lived here?" Timothy asked.
"A month and a half I guess," Kes muttered.
“You live here all by yourself?"
“Miss Tabitha keeps me company." Kes's eyes darted uneasily around the room. "I don't like nosy roommates."
Timothy watched her curiously. "That's a strange-sounding name, Kes Allyntahl," he said finally. "Is it Goidelic? It sounds odd enough to be Goidelic."
Kes shrugged as she took another sip of tea.
"I don't know what language it's from?" she replied, "but I took it from a lady character in the detective works by Pinkle Burns and Ploffinborf."
Timothy raised his eyebrows. "Pinkle Burns and Ploffinborf? You mean to say you named yourself after a notorious criminal mastermind?"
Kes heaved a deep sigh.
"My original name was a disaster," she said gloomily. "In fact, it was so horrible that I cringed each time it was mentioned."
She took some more biscuits.
"Anyway, my old life was something best left buried and unmentioned," she went on, "much like a dead mole in one's dustbin. So let's not speak of it again."
Then she looked at him straight on. "Let's talk about something else," she said, "such as who or what exactly is haunting my house?"
Timothy gazed around the living room. "This was where Miss Yarbro used to live," he said quietly, "and where she finally—died."
Kes looked startled. "Who? What?"
"Miss Gwendoline Yarbro," Timothy explained, "the elf lady whose house this was. According to what I heard, she was this famous writer and artist back in the early 50s. Started off doing macabre stuff for the pulp magazines, then she went out on her own, publishing her own stories and doing art for galleries and collectors." He waved an arm around the room.
"Eventually, she had enough money to convert this old hollow tree into a vacation house. Well, she liked the place so much that she decided to move out here."
"Where'd she come from originally?" asked Kes.
"From the same town I'm from," he replied. "Port Bognar. She only came back for her grocery shopping, weekly visits with her family, and to attend business with her publishers. She was a very familiar sight, dressed always in a red shawl with a black dress and beret. So when she failed to show up, many people went to check on her."
"What did this lady look like?" asked Kes, finishing her biscuits. She didn't picture the woman as being beautiful. In her mind, Miss Yarbro was a squinty-eyed crone with scraggly hair and long filthy nails.
"I've seen some old photographs of her, and she was quite a looker," said Timothy. "You wouldn't think of her as a rough-and ready type—pale and delicate-looking with golden silky hair."
"So she wasn't really a hermit then?" Kes asked.
Timothy shook his head. "No, definitely not a hermit," he said. "Just liked living by herself."
"Well, what happened to her?" Kes asked.
"Uh…you sure you want you hear this?" said Timothy hesitatingly. "You might have trouble sleeping."
"Please," said Kes, waving her hand dismissively, "you're talking to someone who has hunted bear and wild boar with only a bow and arrow, who had been in a forest where there was lightning striking all around, who once met a poisonous snake while picking blackberries. Why should I get scared over a simple spook story?"
Because this story's for real, she suddenly reminded herself, and you might end up sharing the same fate as poor Miss Yarbro.
"Okay, then," said Timothy, leaning forward. "I'll start from the very beginning. But I must warn you; this is really creepy stuff. Something really horrible happened in this very house."
Kes just rolled her eyes and groaned, "Just tell the story."
Timothy cleared his throat a couple times, and then began telling everything in very hushed tones:
"Anyway, it was the autumn of '55, a week before Halloween. The last person to see Gwendolyn Yarbro alive was a man by the name of Mortimer Winkleman. He was riding his fastopede along the Lower River Road that ran past Hell's Navel…"
"Hell's Navel?" Kes abruptly asked. "What's that?"
"It's a huge rock formation," Timothy replied, "a caldera, smack-dab in the middle of Frog Song Valley." He thought for a moment. "If you want my honest opinion, it should be renamed the Valley of Lost Souls."
"Why is that?" asked Kes, grimly recalling her first sight of that vast looming rock.
"Because a lot of people have disappeared, trying to explore that beastly rock," said Timothy solemnly. "According to local folklore, there's supposed to be a gate to Hell inside."
"Oh," said Kes dazedly. "What do you think? Is it true or what?"
"I think it is," said Timothy. "Well, going back to my story, Mortimer Winkleman was riding along when he happened to notice Gwendolyn walking with a man he did not know. She seemed to be enjoying herself, which struck Winkleman as a little odd."
"Odd?" said Kes. "What struck him as odd?"
"Gwendolyn wasn't a very outgoing sort of person. She had never been interested in making friends or going to noisy social gatherings, unless dragged there by her parents.
"Later, in his interview with police, Winkleman would describe her as being 'colder than a dead fish.' That was why he couldn't forget Miss Yarbro's strange behavior on Lower River Road."
Timothy paused long enough to sample his tea. He continued on, "A week passed, but Gwendolyn failed to show up for her weekly appointments. Concerned, her family called in the police. When officers arrived at the house, they found the front door locked. After knocking several times, they finally forced open the door. They found the lock had been melted from the inside, as if by a welding torch."
Kes suddenly felt all goose-pimply. Nervously, she gazed around the room. She could have sworn there was someone else in the room with them.
"Is something wrong, Kes?" Timothy suddenly asked.
She looked back at him, startled.
"Uh, no," she said, somewhat sheepishly. "Everything's fine. I just thought I heard rats."
Timothy looked concerned. "You sure you're okay?" he persisted. "You're as pale as a toad's belly."
"I'm all right," said Kes reassuringly. "Please continue."
Timothy still looked doubtful, but picked up where he left off. "The whole house was icy cold, and there was a strange smell in the air. Acrid, not unlike the odor of lions, yet softer and sweet smelling like burnt molasses. When the police came into the living room, they made a gruesome discovery. Lying stretched out on the couch was a mummified body. From the clothes and other personal items, they concluded that it was Gwendolyn Yarbro. No one, not even the crime lab guys, could figure a cause of death or why the body became so desiccated."
Kes's mouth dropped open. "And they never found who did it and why?"
"Nope," said Timothy soberly, "and they never did find that bloke who was seen walking with her earlier."
“Cheez," said Kes, shaking her head.
"Months following Miss Yarbro's death," Timothy went on, "her possessions were sold or divided up among her family, and the house was put up for sale. It was soon bought and converted into a rental. But this wasn't the end of the story. The new tenants who moved in stayed no more than a few days, and some didn't even bother packing all their stuff. Eventually, the house was taken off the market, and it's been deserted ever since."
"Until now," muttered Kes. "And none of these former tenants gave a reason for their hasty departure?"
"Ah, well," murmured Timothy, narrowing his eyes reflectively, "there was the last tenant. A young lady biologist who lived here about three weeks; she claimed evil spirits were trying get at her through the walls and mirrors."
Kes stared at him agape. "Evil spirits—trying to get in?" she said, incredulously. "These wouldn't happen to have tentacles for hair, by any chance?"
Timothy stared at her for a moment. "Yes," he said finally. "That was one of the descriptions given in this witness's rather garbled account." He looked carefully at her face. "You've seen them too, haven't you?"
"Can I show you some things?" quavered Kes.
She led Timothy to the large table and pointed out the ill-omened teacup.
As he peered down at the weirdly shaped tealeaves, his eyes narrowed.
“Ah, yes," he said conversationally. "The grinning face with tentacles. Very bad omen…"
Kes looked at him in alarmed surprise. "It is?" she squeaked.
"Even worse than the Jester's Head," Timothy informed her, "or even the single shoe with the frayed laces and tongue hanging out."
"Does this mean that Death's drawing near?" whispered Kes hoarsely.
Kes gave him a baffled look. She had never heard of that name before. "And who pray tell is Jarna?" she asked. "One of Death's underlings?"
"No, He's older than Death."
"Oh," she said, "one of Death's grandpas then."
"It is not wise to make light of Jarna, Lord of Chaos," said Timothy, looking hard at Kes. "He's the son of Nyx, the night goddess, and nephew to Hecate, the ancient moon goddess. He's far older than even the jinn and other Fire People who were around before there was even life on this planet."
Kes stared at him in dismay. "So this is one really evil guy?" she finally asked.
Timothy shook his head. "Not really evil," he said. "Just dangerous to meet. He makes things fall apart."
"Yeah," said Kes, somewhat acidly, "like Gwendolyn Yarbro, for example."
"No, mummification just isn't Jarna's style," Timothy pointed out. "He's into much tidier rub outs, such as reducing your body down to its individual atomic particles and dispersing them throughout subspace."
"I don't see how you can have an unnatural, supernatural death without having some monstrous, eons-old entity involved," Kes remarked logically.
"Anyway," said Timothy, refusing to be drawn into any argument involving strange, frightening phenomenon. "I think we ought to find out more about this haunting."
“What's there to find out?" said Kes gloomily. "Miss Yarbro was obviously messing around with black magic, and she summoned up Jarna or Somebody, along with a host of hellborn minions. Being demons, they did what comes most naturally to them— bumping off people when they lest expect it!"
"Not all demons," said Timothy matter-of-factly. "I happened to know a few in town who are actually quite nice."
Kes regarded him coolly. "Well, to me, they're like a hungry leopard or crocodile," she said. "You can't trust them one bit." Picking up the umbrella, she started towards the doorway. "I'll go show you something else equally disturbing."
"Kes, wait, can I borrow this cup, please?"
She turned. "What for?" she asked with a puzzled frown.
"I have a friend in town who might be able to help you with this haunting problem." Timothy replied. "I could show him the cup with Janna's image."
There was a moment of silence. Then Kes shrugged. "You can keep the blasted thing," she told him. "I don't want it. Just looking at it gives me the chills."
Carefully, Timothy wrapped the cup in a handkerchief and slipped it into his coat pocket. Then he followed Kes out the room.
As they strode down the hall, Timothy listened patiently to Kes's account of strange events, starting with the discovery of the skeleton near the front door. When she had finished, Timothy asked, "When did this haunting business start?"
"Just this afternoon," she muttered. "Didn't think much about it at first, until I saw…that face…in my tea cup." She gave Timothy a curious look. "I keep wondering about that skeleton I've found. Who did it belong to? It looked very much like a Gorgon, except for the tentacles and pointy teeth." She gripped the umbrella tightly with nervous fingers.
Timothy looked thoughtful. "Sounds like what you might have found were the remains of a fire demon."
Kes was startled. "Fire demon?" she exclaimed. "Well, what's it doing lying around dead then? I thought demons were supposed to be immortal."
"They're not immortal," Timothy informed her. "The only race of Fire People who are truly immortal are the jinn."
Kes frowned. "I wonder what did in the demon I found," she mused. "I don't think it was due to old age. It still had a good set of teeth."
Timothy shrugged, "Hard to say really. You need a forensic anthropologist to answer that question."
Kes suddenly stared at him with bulging eyes. "Oh my gods," she wailed in genuine anguish, "what if those were the demon's relatives I saw earlier! Maybe they think I killed their favorite Auntie or Uncle or Whomever!"
"Look, nothing happened to you so far," said Timothy soothingly, "so they must know you're not the one responsible."
"Then why are they bugging me then?" cried Kes.
"I don't know," sighed Timothy. "Maybe they think you're cute."
Kes gave him an indignant glare, then turned her back with a huff.
At last they stopped near a doorway screened by large curtains.
“What's in here?" asked Timothy curiously.
Kes sighed. "You were telling me earlier how all of Miss Yarbro's possessions were either sold or divided up after her death."
Puzzled, Timothy stared at her. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "Are you telling me some of Gwendolyn's stuff is still here?"
Kes nodded. "I always hate going in here," she said, "especially to sweep and dust. It's always cold inside, and those pictures…Well, you'll see what's I'm talking about."
She walked up to the curtains and shoved them aside. As Kes entered the gallery, she happened to glance at the far wall. What she saw caused her to freeze dead in her tracks.
"What is it?" asked Timothy, going up behind her.
"It moved…" Kes blurted.
"What?" he asked, gazing around in bewilderment. He still couldn't believe what he was seeing. Paintings and sketches of Miss Yarbro hung everywhere, and they all looked to have been done very recently.
"That picture…" Kes stammered.
"Which one?" Timothy stared at the trembling Gerdin. Something really had her spooked, and it was really making him nervous.
Slowly, Kes raised a quivering finger and pointed it straight across the room. Baffled, Timothy followed the direction of the finger. He soon noticed a large portrait with a drop cloth lying in front of it.
"That's Jarna, God of Chaos, alright," Timothy observed. "And He seems to be holding a sign that reads, LOOK IN THE ATTIC, YOU'LL FIND A SURPRISE."
"It wasn't like that when I was here, three days ago!" Kes explained to him. "He wasn't holding any sign, and He had one hand on His hip and the other holding a gold watch!"
"I guess Jarna's not limited to just haunting teacups," said Timothy after a moment. "I think I'll take a closer look at His Frightfulness."
He started to walk forward when Kes suddenly grabbed his coat.
"Hey, I don't think that's such a good idea!" she exclaimed. "He might lunge out of the picture and rip your heart out or suck your soul out through your nose!"
Timothy smiled at her. "Kes, relax," he said, as he disentangled himself from her claws. "If He wanted to kill us, He would have done it already. He wouldn't even bother showing us these special effects."
Kes thought about this. "Well, I guess you're right," she sighed. "It wouldn't make sense for Jarna to attack us when He's got an important message to show."
Cautiously, she followed behind Timothy, her heart pounding wildly as he closely examined the picture.
"Why do you suppose He wants us to look in the attic?" she asked, picking up the drop cloth. It was always sliding to the floor, and she didn't think it was due to just gravity.
"I don't know," said Timothy, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Don't you think it is rather a cliché for the young girl to go up to the attic in search of mystery?"
"Yes I do," said Kes with a snort, "especially if there's a really creepy monster up there. The typical girl in the Gothic thriller would scream and faint, but I shall take my Kukri with me and if any monster gives me grief I will remove its head."
Timothy looked at her, wide-eyed. "You have a Kukri?" he exclaimed.
"Yes," Kes replied, bundling the drop cloth tightly under one arm. "Found it in a bureau, along with some hunting knifes and a blunderbuss. It's really big, this Kukri. I think it might have removed more than one water buffalo head in the past." She noticed Timothy looking at her funny. "What?" she said, getting annoyed. "Is there a law around here stating that I can't own a big knife?"
"Uh…No," said Timothy hastily, "it's just that I have a hard time picturing you wielding a large bladed weapon."
"Yeah, that's what a lot of people back home told me," Kes acknowledged bluntly, "but I soon proved them wrong."
"Hopefully not by any violent means," Timothy muttered.
"Of course not," said Kes crisply, "I'm a Gerdin, not a human. Now let's see what Mr. Jarna has in store for us up in the attic."
But first, they needed weapons. Kes offered to loan Timothy one of her knifes, but he refused, saying that he would much prefer a heavy cane or walking stick if she had one. Eventually, he settled for a fancy teak one carved in the shape of a dragon.
With Kes leading the way, they crept up the attic steps. Timothy preferred it that way; he didn't want to be near Kes when she started swinging at something. One does not argue with a wielder of a Kukri; one leaves quickly with long strides…or else, stands way back.
Timothy wasn't sure if Kes was the Kukri expert she claimed to be.
The Kukri Kes carried possessed a seventeen-inch blade—a fearsome weapon at close quarters.
Ch.4--Going to Town
The cream colored door at the head of the narrow stairs led to the attic. The paint was heavily cracked and the keyhole was full of cobwebs. The tarnished doorknob turned freely. The door was not locked. Kes gingerly pulled the door open a crack. A chill draught of musty air came out to meet them. With it came a very pungent aroma that tickled Timothy's nose, making him sneeze.
"Phew!" he yelled. "What's that awful smell?"
"It's mothballs, of course," Kes replied, matter-of-factly. "I use them to control the vermin around here."
"That stuff's nasty and down-right dangerous," Timothy warned her. "If you're not careful, you might end up poisoning yourself or your cat."
"I'm always careful," Kes answered defensively. "I always wear gloves when I'm handling mothballs, and Miss Tabitha knows enough to leave the stuff well alone." She jerked her thumb at the door. "Now come on…we're going in!"
Timothy's eyes widened. "What?" he asked, aghast. "In there?"
"Of course, in there," said Kes impatiently. "Where else?"
"Huh-uh! Doe way!" Timothy shouted as his nasal passages suddenly closed up. "I' be not goin' en dere!"
"Timothy, don't be such a big chicken!" Kes scolded. "If there's anything hiding up there, it's going to think twice about attacking us."
"It's not that!" Timothy moaned, burying his nose deep in his sleeve. "I just can't stand the smell of mothballs."
“Well, this mystery-solving isn't going to take long," Kes assured him. "This attic hasn't got much clutter in it anyway."
Timothy gave her an irritated glance. "This better not take long, Kes," he warned, "or else, I'm going straight home and forgetting this whole monster mystery!"
"I promise you this won't take long," Kes replied with an exasperated sigh.
Tugging the door wide open, Kes took a step inside, and slipped on a mothball lying near the doorway.
"Careful," said Timothy, catching her in time, "they're all over the place."
As she regained her balance, Kes surveyed the attic with growing disbelief. The whole room was strewn with hundreds of mothballs. It looked as though a blizzard had suddenly taken place. Mothballs covered everything like fallen snow and the acrid smell of camphor filled the air.
"This is the Surprise that Chaos god wanted us to see?" Kes rasped, trembling with rising fury. "Those wormy-haired minions of His got into my whole supply of mothballs!"
"Seems like there's more than a year supply in here," mumbled Timothy indistinctly through his sleeve. "Smells like it too…my nose feels like it's about ready to fall off."
Kes's hair bristled, making her look like a dandelion. "You'd be surprised at the stuff that people leave behind here," she said, glowering around. "This house is like one big antique shop." She gritted her teeth. "A very haunted antique shop."
"With poltergeist activity," Timothy interjected. "It's nothing new. This sort of thing happens a lot where I live."
"More like fiendish activity!" Kes fumed, her face flushing red.
"Poltergeist activity can include demons as well as ghosts," Timothy replied. "I know a lot about this stuff. It's because you have a really old house that has some dubious history to it."
"I don't care which category these spirits fit in!" Kes snapped. "They're all loony to me! Only a loony would like the scent of mothballs! I can't imagine anyone or anything rational enjoying the smell!"
She paused for a moment, staring hard at her galoshes, and then she looked up.
"To tell you the truth," she continued, "even I can't stand the smell of mothballs. It gives me a headache, and in this quantity they make me want to puke. Let's get the heck out of here."
They hurried out of the attic, slamming the door behind them. Outside, the sun was out, and the rain had stopped. All was quiet, except for the distant moaning of the wind and dripping of soaked tree branches.
A minute passed. In a shadowy corner of the attic sat an old dresser with an oval mirror attached to it. Fingers of luminous mist slowly crept across the glass. It swirled and solidified into a man's face with finely chiseled features and swirling black hair. Piercing green eyes stared unblinkingly at the door. Noticing the mothballs, the face drew back with a grimace of annoyance and disgust. A second later, the face dissolved, and the mirror was empty as before.
Kes was so sick from the aroma of all those mothballs that she decided to accompany Timothy back to town. Timothy's friend, who was an expert on the spirit world, lived in an old part of Port Bognar. Perhaps he might be able to provide a solution to this haunting problem of hers.
Kes wanted to bring her Kukri along for protection, but Timothy persuaded her not to, saying that Port Bognar was quite safe. He went on to explain that at one time it had been a whaling port and a long time before that it had been a hangout of smugglers and oyster pirates. Now it was a bustling seaport, the outskirts of which consisted of gray, weather-beaten buildings and small-shingled houses. These houses tended to have garden decorations of whale bones, driftwood and oyster shells. The main center of social life, aside from the university, was the square with its medieval gabled buildings. The inn called "The Admiral Kolchak" was where they were going. Timothy's friend often came there to relax and discuss business.
“What's your friend's name?" Kes asked, replacing her galoshes with hiking shoes.
“Malender," he said. "Malender d' Macàbre."
As a present for Timothy, Kes wrapped up a basket of biscuits in a large cloth. She decided to take the umbrella with her just in case of sudden showers. Also it could be used as a good deterrent against riffraff.
After dousing the fire, they came out. Instead of locking the door, Kes rolled a large stone in front of it.
“Why didn't you use a key?" Timothy asked her curiously.
"I couldn't find one," Kes explained, getting to her feet. "Besides, a big rock's always best when you want to keep out the bears."
Timothy regarded her with astonishment "Wouldn't it be better to lock up all of your food so the bears wouldn't smell it?" he said. "And maybe you could post a sign on your door, saying 'Notice to Bears. No Food Inside.'"
"Are you crazy?" Kes exclaimed. "Bears can't read!"
“It doesn't matter. There aren't any bears around here."
Kes looked startled. "Oh, why is that?" she asked. "They got hunted to extinction?"
"Well, it's a long story," Timothy muttered, looking around nervously. "I'll tell it to you when we get to the main road."
Kes looked at Timothy inquiringly. "Why can't you tell it to me now?" she asked.
"Because it's not safe here," said Timothy under his breath. "Something might overhear us."
"What exactly?" said Kes, looking bewildered.
Timothy just shook his head and started walking rapidly away.
Baffled, Kes shook her head and hurried after him. Things were getting weirder with each passing minute, she thought.
Deep in a hollow stump, Darcy d' Macàbre sat reflecting. He wished he could rewind the entire afternoon. Do things differently, be less of a jerk.
Of course, that wasn't going to happen.
Reema Zolliffe was still mad at him for making that Gerdin run into her. When he went to see Reema and tried to apologize, the chickcharnie just gave him a dirty look. But at least she took back her sodden groceries before slamming the door in his face.
He heard footsteps approaching. It sounded like two people. Darcy scooted further in the shadows and held his breath. The last thing he wanted was company. The footsteps soon faded away, and there was quiet once again.
Darcy soon found himself wondering about the Gerdin—what her name was, what was she doing walking with her cat in the rain-dripping woods. He also wondered if she liked death metal.
A low rustling caused him to turn his head. The sound came from a nearby tunnel. Curious, Darcy got to his feet. He took an uncertain step forward and peered into the narrow, murky hole.
The rustling sound grew louder, although Darcy couldn't pinpoint the source. The space seemed empty except for a patch of damp, loamy earth and moss.
Darcy was mystified; he stood quite still and listened attentively. Then he crinkled his nose and sniffed cautiously. The air smelled strongly of wet earth and rotting vegetation; what you'd expect the interior of a hollow tree to smell like.
He tried to think what could possibly be causing that noise. Perhaps it was some kind of small animal, a squirrel or a rabbit, hidden away in a burrow. That would explain why he couldn't see or smell it.
Moving as silently as possible, he clambered into the gap. Peering around, he noticed the floor wasn't all level. There were dips as well as roots sticking up.
Walking around one jutting root, Darcy nearly tumbled into a large pit. He stared in growing dismay.
Protruding up out along one edge of the pit was a writhing mass of black-and-white snakes.
Darcy wasn't at all afraid of snakes. He was just astonished at seeing so many. He wondered what kind they were and what they were doing in a tight clump. Perhaps they were huddling together for warmth.
Creeping closer, he noticed that all the snakes seemed to be missing their heads. A closer look soon revealed that these weren't snakes at all. They were tentacles sprouting from the head of a terrifying figure—a tall, lean figure with a blue face, draped in what looked like a shroud.
As Darcy watched, the creature slowly raised its head, peering up at him with bright yellow eyes. Sharp, snaggly teeth shone in a wide-stretched grin.
Instead of running away in sheer terror, Darcy merely grinned with delight.
"Hey, Cousin Bernie," he said, sitting down besides the fiend. "Haven't seen you in a while. What have you been doing lately?"
“Been stone-cold dead, that's what," Bernie gravely told him.
Actually, Bernie Weinstein was Darcy's adopted cousin. Once a brilliant art student, he quickly became bored of his college classes and left to pursue his one true love…the stealing and forging of masterpieces. Naturally, his family did not take this career move well, and promptly disowned him.
"What…dead?" said Darcy teasingly. "Oh, you're just been drinking too much winkle berry wine again. The last time this happened, you woke up in a chandelier at the Sun Queen's palace."
"Now that last time wasn't my fault," Bernie replied stiffly. "It was either an act by the gods or by a malevolent Faerie. I was alone in one of the great halls, studying a beautiful portrait of Queen Eileen XV, when straight out of the blue this crackling ball of lightening shot out of the fireplace and zapped me from behind."
"Oh, sure, ball lightning," said Darcy, unconvinced. "In August?"
"It was a freak meteorological event!" Bernie insisted. "That's the worst thing about ball lightning. It's got a mind of its own!"
"Well, if I recall the weather forecast of that memorable summer afternoon," Darcy informed him, "it was sweltering-hot and muggy with crystal-clear skies."
Bernie gave him a withering stare. "Are you saying I'm a liar?"
"You are a liar, Bernie," Darcy replied tactfully, "as well as an art thief and forger. That's why my parents didn't want me hanging around with you."
Bernie was silent for a moment. "I really was dead," he said finally, "and that's the honest truth."
“Okay, so you were dead," said Darcy, wondering how far his lunatic cousin was going to take this yarn. "So what happened exactly? You had a run-in with the Vedugo de Lyrre family?"
"Of course not!" Bernie exclaimed, his tentacles writhing indignantly. "How dare you make that suggestion that I associate with scoundrels and cut-throats! Shame on you, Darcy! How utterly vulgar! I'm a perfect gentleman."
You really want me to believe that? Darcy thought, but instead he said, "Okay, so if it wasn't gangsters that whacked you, then who did it?"
"Well, it was more like a what than a who," Bernie thoughtfully recalled. "It all started like this. Four years ago, they busted me in Oozwere City for the attempted theft of a certain Dali painting. " The expression on his face grew quite fearsome. It was enough to have sent a basilisk running away in whimpering terror. "And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for that snoopy, adolescent reporter with that little white cur!"
"So…what happened next?" Darcy muttered, suddenly wishing he were anyplace but here.
Bernie quickly recovered his composure. "I got sent to Aughisky Prison…"
"Isn't that the one on that island way out in Kelpie Bay?" Darcy asked.
Bernie nodded. "That's the one. Bleak, wind-swept, and bloody cold; had to do an assortment of monotonous chores and back-breaking labor." He looked smirkingly at Darcy. "Know how I finally made my escape?"
Darcy hesitated. His cousin's eyes glinted brightly with their own firelight. They looked quite insane. "Well," he said at last, "it couldn't have been by a makeshift raft of discarded crates and inner tubes."
Bernie laughed uproariously. "Heaven help me if I had picked rafting as a means of escape!" he said. "Kelpie Bay's notorious for its murderous undertows and rip tides. And if by some miracle I do escape capsizing, drowning, hypothermia or being eaten by sharks and kelpies, it's a long, hard paddle back to the mainland."
“So how did you?" Darcy wondered.
"It was so simple, so very easy," Bernie went on. "I remember a story I had once read about an Oriental butcher who had not sharpened his knife for years. He said he could cut up the largest cow by using his knife to find the smallest spaces between the bones.
"I decided that I could use my mind to find the small cracks in the wall. The mind controls the body and due to my study of Krackenburg-Suzuki exercises, I was able to slither out through the cracks between the rocks in the wall.
"A thick fog had risen during the night, and I was able to blend my molecules in with it. Eventually, I caught a ride on a passing breeze, and was wafted gently to the mainland."
Darcy looked at him in astonishment. "What? You learned some Oriental mystical powers to escape from prison?"
"Uh-huh," Bernie beamed. "Of course, it helps to be a full-blooded fire demon." He leaned toward Darcy, twitching his fingers menacingly. "You get to have a lot of dark wizardry at your command."
"Cut the theatrics, will ya," said Darcy, getting annoyed, "and tell me how you ended up deader than a dried beetle."
"Patience, sonny. You can't rush a great story."
"Actually, it isn't really that great," Darcy muttered under his breath.
Bernie looked at him curiously. "What was that?"
"Oh…nothing. Nothing," said Darcy hurriedly.
"As soon as I reached shore," Bernie began, "I knew my troubles weren't over. I had to ditch the prison stripes and find a hiding place fast. Winter was just arriving.
"After a week of hiding in warehouses and living on pinched food, I suddenly remembered the last place I was staying at before my arrest."
"What place was that?" Darcy asked.
"The old Yarbro Place," Bernie answered.
Darcy looked dumbfounded. "That place is bad," he said after a moment. "I think everybody around here is afraid of it."
"That was why I used it as a hideout," Bernie admitted. "I figured with its shady history people would understandably stay away, and they did."
"Did anything weird happen while you were staying there last?" Darcy queried.
"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary," Bernie paused for a moment. "But then I was hardly at home most of the time. Too busy traveling, raiding museums, that sort of thing."
"I see," said Darcy, nodding slowly. "What happened next?"
“Well," continued Bernie, "after several dreary days and nights of travel I finally reached my hollow tree hideout. Much to my surprise and relief was just as I had left it. No one had broken in, and there was still food that hadn't spoiled or been fouled by vermin.
“Days passed uneventfully, and then one Friday night something happened."
"What? What?" Darcy asked impatiently.
"I'm just getting to that," said Bernie irritably. "Chez, give me a break, will you! I'm still suffering mentally and physically from being dead for so long!"
"Well, you look pretty lively for someone who's recently been compost," Darcy snidely commented.
"Look, if you don't want me to continue…"
"No, no!" Darcy cried. "Don't stop now. I want to know what happens next."
"Well, okay," said Bernie with a shrug. "But you must promise me to keep you smart-alecky comments to yourself, or else, I'm calling it quits."
"Okay," said Darcy sheepishly. "Sorry, I get carried away sometimes."
"It was a Friday night," Bernie resumed. "I was just getting some clean sheets and blankets when suddenly, I hear a knocking at the door. Who could it be? I wonder; could it be the Law finally caught up with me, or just a neighbor just wanting to borrow a saucepan or cup of sugar?
"So I yelled, 'I'll be there in a minute,' and went to the door. I peeked through the spy hole in the door, but all I could see was this swirling column of shimmering black smoke. I also smelled a curious odor, something spicy that reminded me of cinnamon or cloves. Before I could react, a tentacle sprouted from the column. It shot through the spy hole and wrapped itself around my throat. I was smothering with the smell of spice in my nose.
"Somehow I managed to gain enough strength to break free from the tentacle holding me. I turned to run, but only made it a few feet before the thing caught me again. Still more smoky tentacles were streaming out of the keyhole, wrapping themselves around me like some bloody octopuses. I couldn't see, I couldn't scream, I couldn't even free my hands to hurl a fireball.
"Frantically, I tried to use my Krackenburg—Suzuki exercises to escape the grasp of this unknown spirit, but nothing worked. It would seem that my mystical mind magic was no match against this entity of pure evil. As I started to lose consciousness, I heard a voice in my head that wasn't my own. It said, 'Not much of a contest, ehh, Hell spawn?'"
Suddenly, there was a sound of rustling and scraping at Darcy's feet.
"Crud!" he hollered in panic. "It's the Shadow-thing comin' to get us!" Leaping up, he got ready to run.
But Bernie caught him by the back of the shirt. "Hold on, bro," he said with a slight smirk. "It's just a mole popping up for a visit."
Darcy looked down and saw it was indeed a mole. It was poking its head out of a hole, twitching its snout.
"G-g-g-g-geeze," Darcy stammered, "and I thought it was a tentacle comin' to drag me to a grisly doom."
Bernie thrust out a skinny blue arm and grabbed the surprised mole by the scruff of its neck.
"Dude, what are you doing?" said Darcy, eying him curiously.
Bernie tied the squirming ball of fur into a fragment of sheet. "This is one humongous mole," he muttered, "enough for a sufficient snack."
Darcy stared at him. "You're going to eat it?"
Bernie grinned. "Of course. Furry guys like him helped restore my physique."
"Dude, that's so gross," said Darcy, wrinkling his nose.
"Yeah, but not as gross as the next half of my story."
"Go on," Darcy urged.
Bernie resumed without further ado. "When I awoke my mouth was full of cold dirt and worms. It was dark and there was a weight on my chest, so heavy I could hardly move. I moved my hands, with great difficulty, up to my chest. To my alarm my fingers went between my ribs. Something was not right.
“Panicking, I started clawing my way free. Shredding the flimsy material that covered me, I began a laborious struggle toward the open air and freedom. Despite the earth being loosely packed, it took me hours to claw myself out. Although I felt no pain, I felt extremely weak and fragile. Several minutes passed before I had enough strength to stand up.
“The moon was out, and by its silvery light I saw an appalling sight. There was not a shred of flesh left on my arms. They were just bones caked with earth and beribboned with tattered shreds of a winding sheet. Panicked, I looked at the rest of me; there was nothing left—just bare bones and dried ligaments.
'"Ahh, what's happening?' I cried. 'This has to be a dream, a very bad dream! This can't be real!'"
"Um…excuse me," Darcy said hesitantly, "I don't mean to interrupt, but how could you still have a voice if you were just bare bones?'
Bernie sighed exasperatingly. "I don't know," he muttered. "I was a reanimated zombie, let's leave it at that." He ran a hand through his squirmy hair. "Anyway, I was a mess, and not only that, I was really famished. Don't ask me how a walking skeleton could still feel hungry pangs. I'm no expert on the subject of undeadness. The fact was no matter how dead I was, there still remained some life in me. But if I were going to regain more of that life spark, I would have to take it from something living.
"I went into the forest and started eating anything I could catch. First, it was small creeping things—insects, slugs, and worms; then small mammals and birds, once I even caught a large rabbit. With each mouthful of this forest fare, I gradually reconstituted my body mass and became just as you see me now."
Darcy looked at Bernie for a long time. "And you never went back to check up on your old hideout?" he asked finally.
“No, I've never been back," Bernie told him. "I was too busy just trying to recuperate, and besides, I was so shook up by my really harrowing experience at that place. For all I know, that Thing might be still there--waiting." He was silent for a moment. "Maybe someday I'll return," he said eventually, "but right now, I have this nearly insatiable urge to eat things and to tell you the truth, Darcy, there wasn't much to eat in my tree. Now I have to waste my days running around catching mice and moles and skinks and voles to put more flesh on my bones."
"You look fine to me," Darcy remarked.
"I'm still regenerating," Bernie muttered. "I still have some holes in my ribcage. At least I don't have anything living in them."
Darcy arched his eyebrow. "Are you sure?" he inquired. "What about the ones in back you can't see?"
"Oh," said Bernie, looking decidedly uncomfortable. "Well, that hadn't occurred to me. Maybe I should go see a doctor about my condition."
"Well, you had better choose a doctor who is not easily startled," suggested Darcy teasingly. "Maybe one who has worked in an asylum for violent lunatics or one who has been a prisoner on a Peroishten pirate ship. Any normal doctor is going to freak at the glimpse of your imperfectly covered, bony ribs."
Bernie looked at him scornfully. "Ha-ha," he muttered. "Very funny. I'd laugh, but I'm afraid a little hysteria might burst my newly-formed lungs." He leaned back and closed his eyes as if taking a nap. After a while, he opened one eye. "Maybe I should stay here in these woods. I've been doing okay so far. Here, at least I could have some peace and quiet to myself. No one's around to make fun of you because you're undead."
"Okay, okay," said Darcy, "I'm sorry I made the wisecrack about the doctors."
Bernie stared at him coolly. "Apology accepted," he said stiffly.
Darcy smiled. But then he grew serious. "You can't stay here living like a wild animal. You need help. My dad might be able to help."
“Help how?" Bernie asked.
"My dad's a wizard," said Darcy, with conviction. "Got a lot of books on the undead subject. Perhaps he might be able to find a remedy for your problem."
"Uhh, I don't know about this, Darcy," said Bernie doubtfully. "How do we know this supposed remedy isn't going to make my hair fall out or turn me back into a pile of dry bones?"
"Trust me, will ya," Darcy advised. "My dad knows a lot of stuff.”
"Think so?" said Bernie.
"Well, sure," Darcy told him. "There must be something in his library about reversing the whole undead process."
Bernie was silent for a moment, and then he said, "Okay, I'll give your idea a shot."
"Good," said Darcy, rising to his feet. "Well, let's get going then."
"This remedy better work," said Bernie, "'cause if doesn't…"
"Yeah…yeah," said Darcy, offhandedly, "you'll swipe some of my organs. Don't worry. Dad'll think of something."
Taking his cousin by the hand, Darcy led the way into the forest.
What will happen to Bernie once he reaches Darcy's house? Will he ever be restored to fully functioning life again? What will happen to Kes and Timothy after they reach "The Admiral Kolchak" Inn? Will the mystery behind the baffling events at Kes's new house finally be solved? Will she eventually meet an untimely end like the home's previous owner? You will find out in…
Below is a gallery/slideshow of illustrations (drawn by the author, mmpratt99 deviantart) that go along with the story.
Written by Mmpratt99 deviantart
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