Sorry I’m late on this, guys! I started writing and lost track of time. I love it when that happens, don’t you? My Granny Tyree used to say to my mom, “One day you’re going to fall into one of those books and never find your way back out!” Doesn’t sound that scary to me; I can think of worse ways to spend the rest of my life!
Anyway, here’s the next installment of Ellie and Paul’s adventures under the streets of London….
A second growl, low and threatening and decidedly inhuman echoed out of the darkness surrounding Ellie and Paul. A chill crawled up Ellie’s back, and she involuntarily took a step back in retreat. But the staircase was all that was behind her, and there was no safe retreat that direction.
“What the hell was that?” she gasped.
“I think ‘Hell’ is the operative word in that sentence,” Paul answered, also soto voce. “Get ready.”
“Ready for what?” Ellie hissed.
Paul didn’t answer. She could only just see his silhouette in the darkness. As she watched, he raised his hands and began to move them in a complex dance. Streaks of blue and purple lights followed his fingertips, tracing a sigil of shooting stars that vanished as quickly as they appeared. Paul began whispering. Ellie couldn’t understand the soft sibilants. But she could feel the words press against her eardrums, pushing to get inside her skull. She pressed her hands against her ears to shut out the sound, but that only made it louder.
In answer, whatever was in the darkness growled. It was closer this time, and louder, heard even through Ellie’s hands and Paul’s whispered spell. Ellie scanned the darkness, trying to see the source of the sound. Nothing was visible in the thick gloom beyond – wait! There, the blackness was different, a darker shadow in a shadowed place. It was big, like a dog or predator cat, four legged, and taller at the shoulders than Ellie. It crept forward, like a tiger creeping up on its prey, the soft growl constant now. It raised its head up to look into Paul’s face. Ellie could see Paul’s hair stirring with the creature’s breath.
If that thing got hold of Paul, they were both dead. She had to protect Paul. Instinct took over. Ellie stepped between the creature and herself; a nasty knife had found its way from its hiding place in her jacket to her hand, almost without her aware of reaching for it. She held the knife up above her head, the point merely inches from the where the creature’s eyes would be, if it had any. It didn’t. It had no facial features that she could make out, even from this close. Just a blank black face with lots of gleaming triangular teeth. The mouth opened, too large for the head that it lived on, big enough to engulf Ellie’s head in one snap. Its breath smelled like a charnal house. Ellie swallowed hard, and waited for it to attack.
But it didn’t. It leaned forward, snuffling, only to be stopped as a gauzy blue light sprang up between them and the creature. The creature backed off, puzzled, then nudged forward again. Again the blue reappeared, looking for all the world like a lacy gauze curtain made of colored light. It billowed as the creature breathed out, but didn’t dissipate until the creature backed off. The creature took several steps backward, and hesitated, cocking its head as it tried to puzzle out what was going on.
“Don’t move,” Paul whispered, addressing Ellie for the first time. “Don’t even breathe too hard. Don’t do anything to antagonize it.”
“I wasn’t planning to,” Ellie answered in the same whisper. “What is it?”
“Not a clue,” said Paul. “A magical construct of some sort. Miss Perdue is a gifted mage.”
“With appalling taste in housepets,” Ellie said. “Could you do something about getting us out of here, and admire the handiwork later?”
“It’s the monster under the bed,” said a disembodied voice from somewhere in the gloom. The voice was big, booming; Ellie couldn’t tell if it was male or female, or where exactly the speaker was.
“What?” said Ellie.
“It’s the monster under the bed,” the voice repeated. “A creature born of the nightmares of the innocent. Did you ever have nightmares as a child, Miss Waite?”
“Who are you?” said Ellie. “How did you know my name?”
“You didn’t my question,” said the voice. It sounded amused.
Ellie glanced over at the creature, now waiting patienty, then back out into the gloom. She still couldn’t spot the speaker. “Yeah. I had nightmares when I was little.”
“So did I,” said the speaker. “But then I discovered that the monsters that came out in daylight were much much worse. Politicians. Soldiers. Men who were only doing ‘what they thought was best for me.’ It was never the best for me; only for them.”
Ellie thought of Matewan, West Virginia. For an instant, she saw her brother lying, bloody and weeping in pain, as the hired guns brought in by the mine stepped over him, as though he were a piece of trash, to be swept aside. She felt a surge of rage and pushed it down ruthlessly. That was a long time ago, and now’s not the time to be dwelling on it. She pushed down the thoughts and said nothing, waiting for the voice to speak again.
But it was Paul who spoke first. “You are Miss Perdue?”
“You are Paul Richmond,” said the voice. “Golden child of the Special Operations Executive. Gentleman. Spy. Mage. Killer.”
Paul didn’t answer.
“You have nothing to say, Mr. Richmond?” said the voice. “Very well.”
There was a pop! Sound, and the air filled with the odor of ozone. Paul started, and raised his hands, reaching over Ellie’s shoulder to brush his fingers through the air in front of them. The gauzy blue light appeared, but, even as Paul touched it, it sparked and sizzled away in little sparks of gold, like a spiderweb burning.
“Damn!” said Paul. “My shield is down, Ellie.”
“Then put it back up!”
Paul began to gesture, whispering. But the sound didn’t press into Ellie’s ears again, like it had before. “Damn, damn!” Paul spat. “I can’t.”
The creature realized at the same time that the barrier between them was gone. It stalked forward again, moving slowly, its head lowered to the level of Ellie’s breast. Paul put his hands on Ellie’s shoulders, trying to pull her back and out of the way. Ellie raised the dagger again, waiting. She might die tonight, but she wasn’t going alone….
How are Paul and Ellie gonna get out of this one? Tune in next Monday to find out! In the meantime, don’t forget to share, comment, tweet. And if you have a recommendation for Fun Friday, send it to my email (listed on the About page) . I’ll see y’all again on Wednesday!