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Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Originally published in
Cyber-Pulp's Halloween Anthology 3.0
in October 2004

Of the three Goddesses, the Crone is ascendant.  The Maiden and Mother are weak, useless bitches.  Gone are the days when life-givers and virgins have power.

Gone are the days of virgins, for that matter.

For years, I tried to deny these truths.  I clung to the warmth of goodness, light, and life.  Now there is only darkness ...  cold ... and death.  I refused to allow it to take hold, but in this place it is my only friend.  All I can trust is the darkness.  It’s all any of us have. The shadow of night will descend, no matter how long the day.

Thus ends the lecture

Let us begin the lesson.

It was a beautiful yacht.  One hundred feet long, with three decks of the finest construction.  It had been custom built three years earlier and still was hardly matched by other craft on Lake St. Claire for flamboyance or functionality.

Cornelius Wilson Tierney stood at the bow, back against the railing, sipping the martini in his left hand.  He was going to enjoy this night.  He’d earned it.  Lips curled up as he watched the line on the pier.

Tonight he would assume his destined mantle.  His guests arrived as peers, but would leave as slaves.  If they left at all.  He chuckled.  A hollow sound, but it pleased him.

“It is a glorious night for your ascension, my lord,” Berry said, halting next to him.  Though short already, he was bowed low; his stringy, limp bangs dangling down in front of his eyes, almost touching the ground.  He held a tray with another martini on it aloft with his right arm.

Cornelius switched the empty glass for the full one.  “Don’t be such a toad, Berry, or I’ll turn you into one.  Again.”  He brought the glass to his lips, but didn’t drink from it.  “Can you feel it?  The power is rich tonight.  Death is in the air.”

Berry rose from the bow to give a quick, nervous nod.  “Yes, my lord.  There is much power at work.”

With a wave of his hand, Cornelius dismissed Berry.  As the short creature shuffled across the deck, Cornelius muttered, “It was a rhetorical question, you half-wit, half-breed, halfling.”

He made the decision not to let the incompetence of his servants distress him this evening.  By the dawn, he’d have a better class of minion.

Tonight, the heart of Princess Melanie would be his.

He smiled, imagining it in a jar next to his bed.

Melanie shifted nervously in the tight black dress.  Her fangs, coated red with blood, pressed against her lower lips.  She desperately wanted to take the stupid plastic things out, but how could she be a vampire princess for Halloween if she didn’t have fangs?

Her boyfriend, Phil, was dressed as the elf from The Lord of the Rings.  He squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead as he whispered, “Nervous, Mel?”

“That obvious?”  She smiled, the fake blood and black lipstick contrasting sharply with her normal look.  The disguise helped to mask some of the nervousness, though she couldn’t blame herself for being a little shaky.

A year earlier, her brother Cameron had fallen overboard, drowning in the lake.  That party had also been hosted by their half brother, Cornelius.

She didn't want to come this year, but Cornelius had begged repeatedly.  He explained the safety precautions: watchmen on deck, to be sure that no party-goers stumbled over the railing.

Finally, she had relented.  Cornelius was, after all, the only family she had left.  Father had died months ago from colon cancer.  She still pictured the once-strong man, his body pale, ravaged and bloated.

Cameron, she hoped, had died more peacefully.

Phil Conklin, also known as Lord Phileus Konguin, Duke of Cass, knew he was walking into a trap.  He considered turning away.  He could grab Melanie by the arm and drag her back to the St. Claire Yacht Club, hop in his Mustang, and be in Detroit for a Halloween rave within a half hour.

He stepped onto the boat anyway.

Last year’s Halloween party had resulted in the disappearance--subtle assassination--of Prince Chamberlain.  The court soothsayers had all come to the same conclusion, though no body was found. 

Chamberlain was dead.

Then the mortal body of King Gergin had betrayed him, sacrificing itself to the banal, mundane disease.  It had taken his changeling soul along with it.

It was a bad year for the Kingdom of Lakes.

Now Melanie was the last remaining legitimate heir to the throne, though she had no clue of it.  Though born of a Fey bloodline, she was not herself imbued with a changeling soul.  Still, at midnight, the power of the Kingdom of Lakes’ glamour would flow into her, awakening in her the bond with the land.

That is, if the king’s bastard son didn’t steal the throne out from under her.

He wished Melanie hadn’t come.  Her snake of a half-brother had convinced her, so now Phil would have to split his time between guarding her and watching out for Cornelius to make whatever move he had planned tonight.

“Ah, my dearest sister and soon-to-be brother in-law.”  Cornelius spoke with the voice of a successful insurance salesman as he approached, sending a shiver through Phil’s body.  The tall man was dressed as Abraham Lincoln, the effect marred only by the dark complexion he inherited from King Gergin’s heritage.

Melanie smiled.  “Hello.  Thanks for inviting us.”

Phil gave a brief nod, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.  To those without the gift of Faerie sight, it appeared only a plastic costume adornment.  Those who saw its true nature recognized it for the deadly blade it was.

Cornelius bowed gallantly, paying no visible attention to Phil.  “It is I who am thankful, sister.  This last year has been hard for you.  I hope tonight’s festivities give a respite from your suffering.”

“Me, too,” she said.

It took all of Phil’s energy to keep from drawing the blade. In a fair fight, the arrogant prick’s head would fly.  But Cornelius was already on the move, greeting his other guests.

As they entered the boat’s main deck, Melanie said, “He reminds me so much of you and Cameron.”

“He’s nothing like us.”

Blinking up at him, she said, “I just meant the way you talk.  Always so dramatic.”  In a short step, she was pressed against his body.  “Not that I mind a bit of drama.”

Phil looked around the expansive room, lavishly decorated for the holiday.  His eyes rested on an altar in the middle of the room.  On the altar sat a pumpkin, a large athame protruding from it.  The ceremonial dagger’s black hilt was covered in symbols and runes. 

“I’m guessing,” Phil said quietly, “there will be enough drama tonight for us all.”

The stage is set.  The bastard prince, set to usurp the throne.  The princess, clueless of her role.  A knight, who thinks he does know.  A henchmen thrown in.

The Crone laughs, looking down on the virgin.  This one holds power.  The Maiden shivers in fear.  The Mother frowns with worry.
The magic will flow tonight.

By dawn, even the dying gods will bow before me.

The ship was well under way when Berry brought the mugs of coffee out to the men on the deck.  It was a token gesture of Cornelius to have them stationed here, to appease Melanie.  No one would be going overboard tonight. 

It was warmer than it should be in late October, thanks to Berry. He’d learned some simple cantrips over the years, as well as a handful of more elaborate spell-workings.  It was his weather-working which had summoned the warm winds.  No thanks from Cornelius for this, of course.

The guards offered grunted thanks to Berry.  He spoke no word to them, for that was not his place, and he’d learned that well over the years.  His role was one of service, even if there was no gratitude in it.

He turned and walked with stunted legs back toward the interior of the yacht.  A splash caused him to turn and look over the side.  Perhaps just a fish, or the splash of the wake.

The festivities of tonight were making him jumpy.  That was the problem with being a coward.  It made one so nervous all the time.  There was hardly a place for fear in the life of a servant.

But then, Berry never claimed to be a good servant, or he might have noticed the figure pressed close against the side of the yacht, glistening dark green in the moonlight.

After three hours, Phil was beginning to become truly nervous. 

Cornelius had been mingling with his guests, giving away no signs of any planned betrayal.  Rather, he was the epitome of gentility.

Something was horribly wrong.

The short, warty servant came in from outside, carrying a tray.  Phil offered a brief nod, but the man kept his eyes downcast.  He’d always felt sorry for the servant.  It could not be easy working for such a man.

Melanie was, of course, not more than a step away from him.  She was speaking with a fat man dressed in a brightly colored robe. 

“Name’s Joseph, you see!” he exclaimed.  “The technicolor dreamcoat.  Get it?”  He laughed deeply.

Though not looking in her direction, Phil sensed her turn toward him, ignoring the fat man.  He felt her touch before the hand made contact with his shoulder.  “Enjoying yourself, hon?” she asked.

“Yes, dear.  Just great.”  By the way, I think our host is going to sacrifice you tonight, he thought.

“Want some fresh air?”

Phil turned, startled.  “Really?  I would think, with what happened to Cameron ...”

“I’m surprised, too.  But the last time I saw him was on the boat last year.  Outside.  Just before it happened.”  She shook her head.  “I don’t know, I just would like to recapture that memory.  Honor him, I guess.  But that’s probably silly.”

“No,” Phil said, touching her cheek.  “I would love to help you honor your brother.”  He took her hand in his and led her out the door

Berry had just come through.

Over the water, her scream probably carried for miles.  It certainly carried far enough for the guests to rush onto the deck.

The corpses of the two watchmen were sprawled out, their bodies desiccated, lips cleft and red where the dry flesh ripped apart.  The thick coats they wore against the expected chill of the October evening hung loosely from the bodies.  One of the bodies had a line of blue rope around its neck, running to a cleat on the deck.

The scream died out just as Cornelius pushed his way through the throng of guests.  “What the hell is going on?”  His question faltered at the end, as his eyes set upon the bodies.  His face went pale, now almost light enough to look like Abraham Lincoln.  “Dear God.”

Melanie forced her body to stop shaking.  “We came outside.  They were just--”  She motioned at the bodies.  “--lying there.”  She moved closer to Phil.  He slipped one arm around her waist.

Cornelius knelt by the body, tilting his head.  “Berry!”  The servant shoved himself forward.  “Yes, m’lord?”  Cornelius leaned close to him and whispered.  Berry began guiding the guests back into the boat.

“We need to turn around immediately, Cornelius,” Phil said, his tone business-like.  Melanie looked uncomfortably at him.  When she returned her gaze to Cornelius, he was checking his watch. 

Reflexively, she looked at hers.  It was 11:40.

“Yes, of course.”  Cornelius waved his hands at the few remaining guests.  “Please, go in and have a drink.  The servants are opening our finest port.”  Bewildered, they left the deck.

“Unless you don’t want to head back yet, of course,” Phil said, an edge of anger in his voice.

Melanie looked between the two men, then down to the corpses. 

She turned to Phil.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

Phil shook his head.  “Nothing.  Right, Cornelius?”

Cornelius frowned.  “Of course.  We’ll turn around immediately.”

“What do you think happened to them?” Melanie asked.

“That,” Cornelius said, “is the question, isn’t it?”

Behind Cornelius, a figure rose up from behind a storage chest mounted at the bow.  Green and slimy flesh hung in loose strands from its body, dripping water.  Each step sounded like a wet towel slammed against the deck.

The creature darted across the deck, toward the door into the main cabin.  Phil pulled the bow from his shoulder and fluidly nocked the arrow.  His fingers released the string, and the arrow soared.  With supernatural force, the creature leaped.  The arrow passed under it, as the green form smashed through the window on the second level.

Melanie watched, amazed, as the creature stood for a moment in the window, staring down at the three of them.  Just for a moment before it turned swiftly and vanished from view.

There is a burst of heat, fueled by cold.  There is excitement at the power that will be gained tonight.

I have never felt so alive.  So much time spent in the depths, hibernating.  Now I am active, once again part of the world.  It feels nice.

The Crone can remember such attachment, of course.  She was once the Mother, once the Maiden.  She too has been transformed.  The power of the world is constantly in flux.

I move now, waiting for when the moment is right.

Cornelius swore as the lights flickered out.  “Berry, get candles!”  Melanie followed the small man, trying, as always, to be helpful.  “That thing must have gotten to the fuse box.”

“What the hell have you done, Cornelius?” Phil hissed in his ear. “What damnable creature have you summoned up?”

“Oh, get over yourself, Phileus.  I didn’t do this.  Don’t you have a duty?  There are innocents in danger here, sir knight.”  Cornelius smiled at the conflict on Phil’s face.  Which threat is greater?  Cornelius or the creature?  Can he afford to take his eyes off Cornelius?

Phil ran into the boat.  Cornelius smiled.  He’d been wondering how to get Phileus out of his hair.  Now, it seemed, things were falling right into place.

He strode through the door, closing and latching it behind him.  His guests, drugged by the most recent bottles of wine Berry provided, were drifting off to sleep around the room, or in the sleeping quarters.

In the center of the room was the altar.  He walked up to it, reaching his long fingers out for the hilt of the athame.

Duke Phileus got to the stairwell.  One set of stairs led upward, the other down.  Both were covered in water, tainted black pools to his Fae sight.  He went down.

He’d heard of sea creatures, of course, but never one in Lake St. Claire.  Cornelius had to be behind this.  How then could he explain the look of pure shock on the man’s face upon seeing the corpses?  Was he that good an actor?

Phileus drew his sword as he reached the lower hallway.  The only light was from a candle he had grabbed from Berry on his way through the main ballroom.  Doors branched off on each side of the hall, presumably into guest rooms.

The carpeting was damp.  He saw a trace of green and knelt to examine it.  It was not flesh, but the flora of the deep, long strands of grass covered in slimy algae.

A sound, like the last sips through a straw, came down the hallway.  Phileus was in motion.  He kicked in the door it came from.

On the bunk lay a corpse, all fluids drained from it.  He recognized the body.  Joseph.  The fat man was now deflated, a skeleton covered in flesh as loose as a tent, flapping around him like his multicolored coat.

He barely saw the movement from the ceiling before the figure dropped toward him.  The sword fell from his hand as he fell backward into the hallway, his back slamming against the wall.

The figure moved toward him.  “Fool,” it said in a bubbling voice.  “You cling to the light.  That will change.”  Through the hanging foliage on its body, Phileus made out a mouth of flesh.  Bloated and full, the lips opened into a wide smile, showing jagged, uneven teeth.

Phileus ducked to the side, but the creature was faster.  It grabbed him by the hair and whipped him around.  With a shove, Phileus’ stumbled into the wall.  Blackness overtook his mind as his head collided with the solid surface.

Melanie’s arms were wrapped tight around her body.  Around her, everyone was drifting off to sleep.  She wondered how they could sleep after two deaths.

Berry shuffled about, cleaning up the discarded wine glasses.  He approached the altar, reaching for the massive pumpkin.  She stepped forward to help him, unable to help feeling sorry for the little guy.  She lifted the pumpkin.

He looked up at her and smiled.  “Thank you, m’lady.”  He looked just a bit past her.  “I’m sorry,” he said, voice softer this time.
Before she could ask why, the hand reached around, clamping over her mouth.  Long, cold fingers pulled her back.   The pumpkin fell from her hands, cracking as it hit the ground.

“Now, now, sister,” Cornelius whispered, lips and breath stroking her ear.  “Making a mess, are you?  What a poor way to reward my hospitality.  Cameron didn’t know anything about hospitality, either.”  The metal that touched her throat was warm.  “I don’t know if it helps, but I didn’t want to have to kill you.  I wanted it to be our beloved father.  I wouldn’t have let him die easily.  I’d have disemboweled him, while he watched.  It would have been fun.  You, I actually like.  You’ll die quickly.  I promise.”

She wanted to scream for Phil, but the words didn’t come.  Instead, some primal instinct took over.  She opened her mouth and clamped down on the hand that covered her mouth.  The hard, plastic fangs dug into the web of flesh between the thumb and index finger.

Cornelius cursed as he moved in shock.  The blade slid along her throat, but not deep, not at the right angle to split the artery.  He shoved her forward, bent over so that her torso pressed flat against the altar.  “Suddenly getting feisty, eh?  I knew you had it in you.  You’d actually have made a good queen.  Alas, I need the power.  I need the bloodline, if I’m to rule.  First Chamberlain, then Gergin, now Melanie.  That leaves me.”

Melanie’s fingers pressed flat against the stone.  She tried to push away, but Cornelius shoved her head down.  Her cheek smacked into the stone.  She felt a tooth give, blood--real, not fake this time--filling her mouth.  The slick substance flowed over her teeth.

She tried to swing a leg back, to kick at her half-brother, but she couldn’t get up enough strength or speed for the kicks to matter.   When she tried, he pushed her harder against the stone.

Blood thudded through her ears.  Her heart was about to explode.  She felt the warm metal touch her shoulder blades.  It began to dig into her flesh.  She couldn’t summon the strength to scream.  She could do nothing but listen to the thundering of her own blood.
Then she heard the sound of a wet towel slamming against the floor.

Cornelius smiled in triumph as the blood bubbled up from the wound.  He’d been planning to do this quickly, but maybe he could take some measure of pleasure from it.  Phileus would surely take some time to dispatch that sea creature, whatever it was.

No.  No, he had to do this quickly.  Too much was at stake, with the witching hour at hand.  He could not allow the royal power to slip from his grasp.

Then he heard it behind him, a voice like a waterfall.  “Stand back, Lord Unseelie!

Cornelius spun around, slashing with the athame.  He connected with the creature.  The victorious smile on his face vanished as he looked at the blade, realizing that he had slashed through some sort of plant the creature was covered in.

The creature lashed out with a fist.  Pain flamed through his chest as bones cracked.  His fingers released their grip on the athame and it clattered to the ground.

The creature shoved Melanie aside as it dragged Cornelius to the altar.  It leaned in toward him, the long green strands dangling down, giving Cornelius the chance to look upon its face.  Its flesh was pale and cracked.  A fragment of cheek was peeled back.  One eye was milky white.  Sharp teeth protruded from its pale blue lips.

Berry stood nearby, holding the pumpkin.  He held it up to the creature, who accepted it.  As its lips touched the crack, the pumpkin began to collapse in upon itself.  It then dropped the dry shell to the ground.

“How?” Cornelius asked weakly.

The creature laughed.  “Ask the half-gnome.

Berry smiled up at his former master.  “I never said I was a good servant.”

Cornelius felt the creature’s lips touch his.  As he felt the cold seeping through his body, he had time to wonder how he could possibly have failed.

The betrayer is dead.  From his death comes the strength of a kingdoms bloodline.  It mixes with the other blood, cast deep into the ocean, transformed but not dead.

The servant will live, to follow a new master.  His betrayal was well earned, serving the greater line of power.  The Crone would approve.

The knight will also learn to serve, and to serve well.  Light in service of darkness can be a powerful thing.

One last death must be served, of course.  I must destroy the last that is left of my old soul.

Berry watched as the creature stood from the corpse of his former master.  It turned now, kneeling next to Melanie.  Her eyes went wide as she saw the face in the candlelight.  The creature sucked her dry before she could speak.  No ceremony or violence, just release.  He rested her corpse gently on the ground.

Phileus stumbled up into the room, head bleeding.  His sword was in his hand.  He screamed at the sight of his love dead on the ground.

Oh, do shut up, Phileus,” the creature said.

He lowered the sword.  “Chamberlain,” he whispered.  “Did I see your face correctly, before?  My Prince?”  Even as he asked the question, he knew the answer.  The clock struck twelve and he felt the glamour of the kingdom choose its path, all roads flowing to this room.  The most powerful night for their kind.

Chamberlain flung his half-brother’s body to the ground as the power surged into him.  The dried out corpse of Cornelius cracked as it hit the floor.  Chamberlain hopped up on the altar in its place, cracked lips smiling beneath milky white eyes as he said, “King Chamberlain now, old friend.

Author's Commentary:

This story was originally written for an anthology of zombie stories, but got a rejection. For months, I didn't send it out again because I wasn't pleased with it. I realized that the core of the story was the intermingling of the two worlds that exist. Every character is keeping a secret, has a dual existence. Ultimately, only one of them can truly embrace both sides of their identity.

I rewrote the story with this in mind, alternating between the characters to add a feel of tension and speed to what is, ultimately, a pretty short work without a lot of physical action. I feel the story unfolds better now, and that the contrast between the worlds is more obvious.

I also decided, while revising the story, that the setting was definitely rich enough to have further stories there and began to get a further vision of what will take place after "Ascension."