Good morning campers, wakey wakey out of bed, and celebrate glorious Monday! Aww, come on, don’t use that kind of language, there are children present (Really tall children. With whiskers and chest hair. And driver’s licenses. Okay, they act childish at times, is that good enough?)!
I’ve been dragging my heels on the last short story. Life gets in the way sometimes. But I can’t just leave you hanging forever, right? That would just be cruel. So guess what: I’m giving you another installment of the adventures of April Tyree in the Wooden Pyramid; in fact, it’s the last installment. When last we left our plucky girl detective, she had found Charity and was getting ready to make their escape when Patty the Possessed turned up. Will April defeat Patty? Will she rescue Charity and save the day? Will she ever stop snarking in the face of almost certain doom? What is the thrilling conclusion?
When the Cat’s Away
An April Tyree short story
Patty dangled my pistol from her fingertips. If we were unlucky, she’d turn the gun around and point it at us. If we were very very unlucky, she wouldn’t; that would mean she had something even worse than hot lead to throw at us. Not good. Not good at all.
“I guess we’re past the point where you’ll let me and the kid walk out the door and all is forgiven and forgotten, huh?” I said.
“Pretty much,” said Patty.
“You’re really gonna kill me in a horrific blood sacrifice-y way, and then evict the Teeny Bopper out of her own body so Hemet Nesu Weret can move in,” I said.
“You know I can’t let you do that.”
“Yeah, I kinda was hoping you’d say that,” said Patricia. That’s when she brought her other hand out where I could see it. Caught tight in her clenched fish was the squirrel that had saved my butt half an hour ago. The little creature was panicking, struggling and curling around her fist in its efforts to escape; as I watched, it bit Patricia’s forefinger hard enough to draw blood. Patricia didn’t flinch. She lifted the ginger creature level with her eyes and said, “That’s enough.”
The little squirrel squealed in pain and terror as Patricia started to squeeze. I could hear its little bones crunch as Patricia crushed it in her fingers with no more effort than it would take me to crush an empty beer can. This is what will happen to you, Patty’s smug little smile said. When the squirrel stopped struggling, she held it out to me, opening her hand so I could see: some of the rib bones had poked through the flesh, so blood was slowly staining the ginger fur of the crushed torso. Its head lolled over against Patty’s thumb, the eyes lifeless, like black beads.
“No, thanks, I got some Chinese takeout before I stormed the castle. Pyramid. Whatever,” I said. That quip sounded better in my head. “But please, don’t stand on ceremony with me. Enjoy your lunch and be careful of bones. The teeny bopper and I can find our own way out.”
Patricia turned her hand over, letting the crushed squirrel fall to the floor with a wet splut! that made my stomach clench. “Forever flippant. We’ll be sure and put that on the grave marker when you die,” said Patty. She sighed heavily. “Don’t you understand? Your fate has already been determined. You will die tonight. All you can decide is the manner of your demise. If you surrender to my will, I can make your death swift and relatively painless. If you continue to resist, well, I’m don’t think your puny mind can grasp just how long I can prolong the agony preceding death.”
It was my turn to sigh. “Well, I don’t think you can imagine just how unimpressed I am by your little monologue. It’s so last year,” I said. “But I do like the forever flippant thing. I may get a tattoo of that.”
“Stubborn, foolish child!” Patricia hissed. As I watched, her eyes went from gray to black again and her posture changed. She seemed to be swelling up as I watched, growing taller, more imposing, filling the small room with her presence. The air began to crackle with an all-too-familiar energy as she started to mutter an incantation.
Crap, crap, crap! I didn’t have the time to crank up another spell — not that I had a good attack spell at my fingertips to defeat possessed crazies about to blast me into the afterlife. Magic is all about preparation; I always sucked at doing the extra credit on homework. I didn’t have my gun. What I had was a half-asleep teenager, a ratty mattress on the floor and… well, that’s about it. Crap!
Patricia’s hair started to move and stand up as the energy caused a static charge to build up around her body. It made her look like that Eraserhead character from the movies Her black-with-no-whites eyes glowed and her mouth twisted into a grim smile. And still that incantation continued. I didn’t understand the words she was saying, but they only had one possible resolution: with me being killed to death.
Suddenly I ran up to Patricia and punched her right in the nose.
What? It was all I could think of. Okay, I didn’t think, I just reacted; that nasty little smile reminded me of this chick in elementary school who used to take great delight in shoving me into mud puddles or poking me in the back with a pencil until I screamed, getting me in trouble for disrupting class. I hate bullies.
Patricia/Hemet Nesu Weret’s head snapped back and blood started gushing from her nose. She continued to chant, but now there was a nasty liquid sound to her words and her teeth were stained red. More important, I’d wiped that nasty smile off her face, replaced by an expression of real alarm.
I’m such an idiot! The incantation! That’s what had put that look of alarm on her face. Once you start an incantation, you have to finish it. Stopping halfway through, regardless of the reason for stopping, has nasty consequences, usually for the caster. All that energy wants to go somewhere and if you don’t give it a path, by finishing the spell, the energy could do something like, oh, say, backing up like a blocked toilet and burning the caster from the inside out. Yeah, not pretty.
So Patty had to keep chanting, no matter what. She couldn’t stop long enough to even wipe the blood from her chin. And all I had to do was make her stop. I turned my back to her, looking for something, anything I could use as a weapon. Mattress — nope, doubt she was up for a nap. Pillow, nope. Ratty blanket wadded up in the corner, nope. Naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling, could be useful if it were a little longer. No pictures or crosses hanging on the wall, nothing but a big wooden ankh mounted on the center of the door.
Wait. The ankh — a cross with a circle on top, an old Egyptian symbol for life — looked pretty heavy. Maybe, if I could get it off the door, I could bap her upside the head with it. I ran to the door and started trying to pry it off.
“This old lady, is she singing?” said Charity behind me, still sounding pretty stoned.
I didn’t bother looking back at her. “Yeah, something like that. And if she gets to the end of the song, I’m toast. Then you’re toast. We’re all toast. It’ll be bad,” I said.
“What are you doing?” said Charity.
“Trying to get this — “ I grunted with effort, and managed to get the bottom arm of the ankh pulled free of the door. I started swinging ti back and forth, trying to lever out the other nails holding it in place. “– this stupid thing free from the door, to use the weapon.”
“So we can get out of here before she finishes that chant and the toasting party starts,” I said.
“She’s not stopping you –”
“She can’t do anything right now.” I pulled the ankh free with a shout of triumph. I hefted it in my hands; not perfect, but it would get the job done.
“So…. why don’t we just go out the door?” said Charity.
“Ummm….” It’s all right, you can say it: April, you’re an idiot. I resisted the urge to facepalm. “You have a point. Come on,” I said. I circled around Patty and grabbed Charity’s arm to steady her. As we darted around Patricia, I glanced up at her face. She looked pissed enough to spit nails, but there was nothing she could do. Until she finished the incantation, she was stuck. Tough noogies on her.
We got to the door and I opened it. Running down the narrow corridor was a phalanx of red hooded minions.
Crap. I slammed the door. “Plan B!” I said.
“What’s Plan B?” said Charity.
“Still working on that,” I said. I ran to the back of the room, dragging Charity with me. We got to the back wall just as the door slammed open and the red robed figures, four in all, burst into the room. I shoved the teenager behind me and hefted the ankh like a samurai sword. The minions were unimpressed with my weapon, and launched themselves at me. I slammed the ankh down on the first man’s head, and he fell back with a yell. The second one came at me and I swung the ankh like a baseball bat, catching him on the cheek. I kicked the third one; the fourth one hung back, waiting to see how the others would make out, I guess. Chicken; I threw myself at him and swung for his head. He dodged — damn it! — and the ankh smacked into the wall behind me. The big hoop at the top snapped off, leaving a jagged splinter. A sharp jagged splinter. This I could work with. I stabbed at the fourth guy with my shankh — a sharp ankh, get it? Aww, man, nobody appreciates my sense of humor — and he danced back out of the way before I could connect. I kept him at bay by waving the shankh back and forth. Standoff.
Well, for a couple minutes, at least. But more red-robed figures were coming in, filling the front half of the room, and effectively blocking the door. No way could I get past all of them, certainly not while dragging Stoner Barbie with me. No where to go behind us, and no way to go forward, I was out of options.
Patricia’s chant had become a scream. Energy was arcing off her like an electrical storm now, as she gathered in vast amounts of power, much more than I ever have or ever could. Tiny black lightning bolts, surrounded by a nimbus of purple light, leaped between her outspread fingers, arced like Jacob’s ladders between the strands of her hair, and sizzled across the bloodied surface of her face. She was shouting the words of the incantation now; there were only seconds until it went off. She pointed at me, and little lightning bolts jumped off her fingers, trying to reach me.
I was out of time, I was out of options, and I had to get out of there. I grabbed Charity and said, “No matter what, Barbie, when I say do this, you run. Don’t look back, don’t stop, just keep running, okay?”
“Wait, what are you gonna do?” said Charity. She was finally awake enough to realize what a jam we were in, because the muzziness in her speech had been replaced with fear.
“Something stupid,” I said. I squared off in front of Patricia. Her blood-smeared mouth twisted into a nasty smile as the words of the incantation spilled out of her lips. All the lightning that had been dancing around her now shot down her arm, making her hand glow black and purple. The tip of her index finger began to glow brighter and brighter, like a electrical wire about to burn through. A bolt of that crazy black lightning started to grow from her finger, a lightning bolt moving in extreme slow motion, coming directly at me. I had maybe three seconds before I was royally screwed.
I admit, I didn’t think this through entirely. I just acted. I started shrieking at the top of my lungs; no words, just incoherent rage and frustration coming out in incoherent sound. I ran forward and slammed the sharpened end of the ankh into Patricia’s gut. It sank in with and ease that surprised me so much, I let go. It surprised Patricia, too. She stopped chanting, looked down at the length of wood sticking out of her gut, the blood that was starting to spill out around it. She looked up at me, bewildered. I was as bewildered as she was, and stepped back.
The red robed followers stood there, just as confused as Patty and I were. That was their mistake. Patricia had stopped the incantation, mere syllables from the end, but still too soon. The glow on her fingertip died as the lightning began to roll back up her arm. It started dancing around her, wrapping her in lacy arcs of light and color. Her hair burst into flame, then her clothes. Her eyes flickered gray to black to gray again, over and over again. She opened her mouth to scream, but two voices came out: a shrill soprano and a roaring like a voice from the deepest pits of hell.
Suddenly, Patricia threw her head back and black light shot from her opened mouth, splashing against the ceiling. Yes, I meant the word “splashing;” that was the only way to explain how that light moved when it hit the raw wood. Wherever the light touched, the wood blackened and smouldered. From Patricia’s hands, lightning shot out in thick bolts, striking the nearest red-robed figures. These two shouted in agony, before going stiff and jerking like they’d grabbed a live wire. Two more bolts of light shot from these poor souls, striking the people to the side and behind them. It spread, jumping from one man to the next quicker than I could track.
It didn’t take long for the light to come back at me. You know how I said it looked like the minions had grabbed a live wire? Yeah, well, it felt worse than that. It was a cold burning that shot down all my nerve pathways at once. i thought I was being frozen to death and burned up at the same instant. I think I shouted something, probably a swear, but I don’t know. I lost consciousness about two seconds in, and trust me, two seconds conscious during that was an eternity.
The next thing I know, I can taste the flavor of ozone on my tongue, and I can smell something burning, a combination of woodsmoke and burned meat. Somebody was patting my face. It was annoying, so I slapped the hand away.
“Come on, wake up, you stupid bitch!” shouted a voice above me. I opened my eyes, and saw lots of blurry color. I blinked, twice, three times, and Charity’s voice slowly came into focus. She was crying. “Are you awake? We gotta go!” she said. Her breath smelled of vomit.
“Don’t call me bitch,” I groaned. I hurt everywhere; I felt like I had pulled every muscle in my body, and I could feel myself trembling.
“You can ground me later,” Charity shouted. She grabbed my arm and started jerking on it, trying to get me onto my feet. “First you gotta get up. We have to get out of here or we’re gonna burn to death!”
“Burn?” That would explain the smoke. I forced myself to sit up. The room was rapidly filling with smoke from a flame that was licking along the ceiling and working down the walls. In front of the door, half the red robed figures were smoldering or burning. The others, the ones that survived, I guess, were stirring, crawling, or otherwise trying as hard as me to pull it together and get the hell out. Patricia., what was left of her, was a smoldering black blob that nevertheless pulsated and twitched; every time she moved, puffs of smoke belched out of the blob, smelling of a pork roast left too long on the fire.
Charity climbed to her feet, pulling me with her. I pulled free of her hand so I could lean forward, my own hands on my knees, trying to keep from heaving. there was already a puddle of vomit on the ground; I guess Charity lost her battle, and who could blame her? I managed to keep my lunch, however, and straightened after a couple seconds. “Come on,” I said, and grabbed her hand. We couldn’t run, because we had to climb over the red-robed minions.
“Are they all dead?” said Charity.
“Dead or dying,” I said. “You don’t take a magical hit like that and live.”
“So far, so good. I only caught the tail end of it,” I said. “Conversation later, okay?” By now we had reached the door. Thank goodness they had left the door open; we could never have gotten it open past the bodies blocking it, not in time. We got out into the hallway, and started running.
It took us a few minutes to find our way out, and by then, most of the pyramid was on fire. We ran out into the night, getting back at a safe distance before stopping to turn and look. Some of the red-robed minions had gotten out as well, and milled around in the high grass, bewildered or sick with smoke inhalation or both. They never gave us a second look, and that was just as well; I couldn’t have defended us from a bad-tempered kitten, much less a cultist who’d just had their cult jerked — or burned — out from under us.
“What the hell happened?” said Charity. I noticed that she didn’t have shoes on, and her legs and feet were scratched up and covered with dew, though I don’t think she noticed.
“How much do you remember?”
“Passing out at a party. A long nightmare with those guys in it — “and she pointed at the cultists. “Then you shouting at me. What did I miss? How did that woman make lightning everywhere? What was she doing?”
“That’s a long story,” I said. “Come on, my car’s this way. Let’s get you home. You need your mom, and I need a shot of vodka.”
To Part Three
And that’s it for April this time. I know it ran a little long, but I wanted to wrap things up. On the ankh/shankh line, send your groans and thrown tomatoes to lilywhite, who came up with it late last night. smartassery should never go unpunished. Tell me in the comments if you liked the story and want to hear more from April. She’s a new kind of character for me, so a little encouragement would not go amiss. Sometime today all the installments should be listed on the Fiction Index page, so latecomers can catch up without having to run the entire gauntlet of my blog.
And, like April, that’s it for me today. You know the routine: share, tweet, comment, write. I posted on Friday about my new email addy. I’ve also put it on the “About Me” page for when you want to contact me, with questions/comments, with suggestions for Fun Friday (or anything else, really), or if you just want to shoot the breeze. I’ll be back on Wednesday, though I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about. Meh, I’ll figure it out. Until then, y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!