2. A WEEK-END AT CASTLE W
I unexpectedly found myself in a castle in Scotland. Two weeks had passed since the incident with Nadia and life quickly settled back into the vaguely cognac-coloured groove which usually precedes Spring. I had been toying with the idea of travelling to Paris for Fashion week, but some vague impulse kept me from confirming any of the invitations. I was skrying in my crystal ball (I love my crystal ball!) when a call came in on The Candy-Bar. The Candy-Bar is a very loud, fuschia coloured Blackberry which I purchased exlusively for my sugary alter ego; Miss Glass. It was Etienne.
“Hello Dolly,” he chirped in a well-modulated Russian accent.
Etienne had a bizarre, bird-like interest in mimicry and often spoke for weeks on end in strange accents. I found this quirk particularly entertaining, and often the two of us would pretend various nationalities to strangers (It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye).
“Hello Dolly,” I parroted.
“So how’s your constitution this week?”
I could hear traffic behind him. He must have been on the move.
“My kitten is fine, thanks for asking, what’s up?”
“I have a pigeon up in Scotland asked for you by name, offered ten grand for a week-end trip, what do you say?”
I could practically hear him salivating.
“Oh I don’t know,” I grinned through a fake moan. “I planned to go to NUKE EM ALL with Mona.”
“You coy fucking blonde bitch,” he muttered. “This is motherlode of the month.”
“Yeah for you maybe Fagin baby,” I cackled. “But didn’t you hear my rich aunt Haversham died, leaving me an island in the South Pacific?”
“Oh whoop-di-fucking doo. You’ll be fending off Octogenraian Japanese deserters who think the war isn’t over, battling cholera and getting raped regularly by illiterate Pygmies; just say yes please.”
I umm-ed and ah-ed a bit just to piss him off but eventually agreed.
“Now why do you think he wants me?” I asked.
“Christ, I don’t know,” he smirked. “You’d think for that kind of wad he’d demand quality.”
I hung up instantly. He just kept on smirking I know. I could practically see him cackling up the High Street, winking at stupid chicks. Fucking life man.
Mona (my best friend since I was nineteen) was in town for two weeks. I had planned to see her on saturday, but had enough time to postpone till next week. So I took a rain-check and flew to Edinburgh on friday morning. All the way in I was watching clouds with a funny feeling in my tummy. Something odd was up and I couldn’t place a finger on it. I decided to play Candy Glass safe on this expedition and had myself got up in a nice white suit with my faithful Burberry coat for company. Big sunglasses and a scowl seemed to follow this ensemble wherever it went (like errant pets). Christ was there trouble brewing; of that much I was certain. I was met at the airport by a sour type by the name of Lucas. The signpost he held up read ‘MISS GLASS’ in an ornamental font. He also appeared to be haunted by sunglasses and a scowl and ushered me and my matching luggage into a black sedan. We started to drive, bypassing Edinburgh and turning onto the A68. The day was turning grey and bright. A stainless steel sky cleaved in places, flashing blinding blue; like the plumage of some unearthly bird.
“Where are we going?” I asked Lucas.
“Castle W,” he answered quietly. “It’s just over an hour by car.”
His accent was noticeably un-Scottish, though I decided not to comment on it.
“I’ve never stayed in a castle before,” I mentioned conversationally.
“Mister Psalmanazer has hired the castle for the week-end,” The man replied. “It’s not much more than a glorified hotel, used mostly for marriages and the like.”
“A hotel for one is still a castle,” I quipped merrily.
I saw him scowl distastefully at me via the rearview and lasped back into mischevious silence. We passed quaint stone haunted towns and rainy moorland, leaving the highway near Duns and entering into the wooded regions of the Eastern Scottish borderlands. A long drive soon furled out of the moist greenery, terminating in a large masonry arch. Beyond the walls of this portico, the castle itself loomed; an enormous, pinkish/grey chess piece of a place. The facade was twelve to thirteen windows across and flanked by twin turrets. I had been expecting a gloomy, Dracula-like atmosphere, but was almost disappointed by the sense of transient luxury which the estate evoked. I could now understand Lucas’s hotel comments. We pulled into a circular drive and parked in front of the covered entrance. He unloaded my bags as another man emerged from around the edge of the far turret. This suited figure approached and began to gather up my luggage with a faceless efficiency. Lucas addressed him curtly:
“Take Miss Glass up to Bedroom Three,”
The suited figure nodded and began to trudge up toward the main entrance.
“You must be tired and hungry,” Lucas said. “I’ll arrange for some lunch to be sent up to your room.”
“And then what?” I asked innocently enough.
“You will meet Mister Psalmanazer at dinner, I’ll send word up to your room.” he said. “But for the moment, rest.”
He strode off with a ‘go-to-your-room’ sort of gesture, heading toward the far turret. The suited figure was waiting stonily by the door, so I complied like a good little luxury item and followed him in. The doors led into a quiet, stone flagged hall. Afternoon light entered from the windows above, falling solemnly upon twin white staircases. These swooping structures encircled a pot-planted reception table, converging overhead at an imposing Ionic portico. There was an air of sudden abandonment about the place, a fire-alarm kind of feeling; as though the building had been left abruptly deserted. The figure mounted the right stair and ascended like some sort of gloomy pack animal. I let out a theatrical vampire chuckle which echoed dismally and elicited very little in the way of a response from my bag bearer. So I followed him up, tocking my needle heels as loudly as I could against the stonework in the hope of attracting the attention of any others contained within the walls. But a sense of emptiness prevailed and I soon stopped. The Ionic pillars gave way to an long gallery which seemed to run from turret to turret. This Georgian avenue was quiet with mahogany and ebony. Furniture lurked all down it’s length; long, low tables haunted by pale busts, child-sized vases in niches and long windows overlooking the antiquated courtyard area. My porter drifted ahead of me, passing portal after portal in slow succession. One or two of the heavy doors were ajar and I caught glimpses in passing. An enormous, utterly vacant ballroom held my attention for several moments before I was forced onward. We ascended another flight of steps, navigated a passage or two and eventually arrived at the door of Bedroom Number Three.
“Charming name,” I muttered. “Are all the rooms numbered?”
He looked up at me with hangdog eyes and set down my bags in order to open the door.
“The Army numbered the rooms in World War One,” he murmured quietly. “This place was used as a sort of convalesence hospital.”
“I’m George,” he said awkwardly, glancing around like an animal before opening the door.
A long room strewn with sofas and headed by three enormous leafy windows emerged encouragingly. A rather spooky four poster bed brooded in the center, surrounded by vintage furnishings. Despite the ample sunlight, the two bedside lamps had been switched on. This subtle illumination did much to falsify the luxury of the chamber, creating a vaguely unpleasant feeling of entrapment which reminded me of the true purpose of my visit. Large, soft carpets covered the wooden floors. A floor-length mirror waited ominously for tonight’s performance. George set down my bags and waited as I switched off the lamps.
“I’ll bring you up some lunch,” he said and closed the heavy door behind him. I waited a moment before slinking over to the windows, collapsing onto the thick carpet in a welcome release of tension. I stretched like a cat, purred and rolled over onto my back, staring up at the underneath of a polished boudoir table. The sky glinted beyond, passing like luminous porcelain behind a never-ending succession of disturbing clouds. I levered off my soul destroying heels and flexed my toes into the pile. A nervous tension had gotten hold of me somewhere, and despite my many magical advantages, I still felt as though I had wandered into a trap of some sort. I felt around inside for Tiffany and took comfort in her warm, white fur. If I was cast into a chess game, what piece was I now being forced to play?
A light knocking awoke me from the doze I had slipped into. I got up off the carpet in a second, momentarily disoreintated. The flight and drive had tired me a little more than I had anticipated and I felt suddenly foolish for letting myself be lured to this strange, vacant place. I opened the door to find George bearing a tray and avoiding my eyes. He came in, crossed the vast room and deposited the tray on the table by the windows.
“Dinner will be at eight,” he said. “If you could be ready at seven, someone will be along to fetch you.”
“And how am I expected to be dressed?” I smirked.
He blushed rather re-assuringly and fled.
“Someone will be along at seven,” he repeated nervily, closing the door behind him.
I sat down and lifted the lid on Tweed river salmon and a dark, leafy salad. A small bottle of pale Chablis nestled alongside a decanter of Swedish sparlking water. Some tablets of dark chocolate lay scattered about impersonally, almost like a careless afterthought. I eyed the meal suspiciously before deciding to make tea. There was a kettle in a discreet corner, on a small metal service. I withdrew my special ceramic mug (the one I made in Pottery class!) and a bundle of herbs. I boiled some tap water, eyeing the food and weighing the delicious aspect of it against the grumbling in my tummy. By the time I poured the water I decided to be done with it and just devour the luncheon. But as I sat down to dine, the surface of my tea caught my attention. I inspected it closely to find a mercurial meniscus shifting along like the faint slick of a soap bubble. The usually clear tea was also vaguely milky. I emptied the kettle in the en suite and carried it into the day light. There, in and amongst the dirty stainglass of limescale beside the element I could detect several tiny slivers of some pale root or bone. These fragments had been twined in dark wire and attached surreptitiously to the element. I went numb, sat and flipped the salmon upside down. The tender pink fillets had been poached lightly and it was initially quite difficult to detect the slits which ran their length. I flapped one delicately open and traced the residue of faint white granules. I abruptly decided to leave. The heavy door was predictably locked and the windows too high to escape through. I also realised that I was probably being observed via closed circuit cameras. I had no choice really but to play along at this point. Rather than curse my foolishness and ponder my imminent rape and dismemberment, I decided to take a bubblebath. Luckily I had my own sparkling water and a stash of pink and white candy coated almonds to sustain me. I played Marie Lafóret on my Ipod and zoned out while the afternoon lingered beyond the pretty tableau of my poisoned meal.
Relaxing under such stressful circumstances is hardly easy, and even the best of witches is prone to fits of panic. So, despite my best intentions, I suffered all manner of manic guilt trips and escape plans whilst soaking in that spacious old bath. This was the karma kick-back for Nadia I told myself. No wicked deed goes unpunished. I got downright biblical at one point and had to force myself to do breathing exercises just to keep from bursting into tears. I popped candy almonds in gloomy successions of alternating pink and white till they were all finished. If only that poisoned salmon didn’t look so tasty. In a fit of rage I hacked it into pulp and flushed it down the lavatory, along with the beautiful salad. I emptied the bottles into the sink and threw the chocolates into the bin. Despair descended along with the sun. By nightfall I was frantic. Somehow, witches had learned of my clandestine Candy routine and kidnapped me for all manner of vile esoteric torture! My only concern was whether they were Scalpel Valentines or sorcerers of another sect entirely. Whatever the case, none of the alternatives boded well. I had been so careful to keep Candy a secret, yet now, I realised that I had probably been observed all along. I half expected Madre Sanguina to waltz in at any second, laughing her head off. As Seven O’Clock approached I decided to dress for dinner. Resistance would only be met with hostile force, of that I was certain. Besides, there was a certain steely glint in Lucas’s eyes which I did not have any wish to explore. I decided to make getting ready an act of power and accentuate every ounce of my Daemon attractiveness to it’s fullest potential. I streamlined my hair, executed my make-up with a microscopic intensity, ensured the utter hairlessness of my body and slid Tiffany on with a pressurized hiss. I opted for a small black Italian ensemble which seemed to scream ‘Mafioso Bitch!’ in block capitals. By seven I was pacing the room in panther black and needle heels. A trail of Missoni fragrance blossomed amberishly over my fear, coating it in the cold chocolate of false security. I felt like a fragmenting comet, burning up in the Outer Darkness. And so I drifted through this icy fugue, waiting, becoming more and more aware of Death; as one often does in situations of incarceration. Tiffany was whispering in between my breasts, creating a faint tickling sensation. I slowed my breathing to hear her, and under her persuasive tactile suggestion, began to suddenly imagine the feeling of Death as a violent lover. The idea seemed to catalyze a series of physical reactions within me, locking out my reason in a sudden trapgrate of imaginative fancy. My new Death hovered beyond these whispers, a burning angel of smouldering sensation and white hot ferocity. It’s proximity began to melt the ice-cage of fear and I felt an involuntary shiver; produced in part by Tiffany’s mastubatory movements. The dangerous pleasure which Tiffany had introduced ignited an unexpected bout of laughter. She was squirming slowly around in my tummy, making me vaguely slippery. I was shocked at my transformation in mood. It was as though a switch had been thrown inside me. Strength was building like a wall of boiling water. I heard a key rattling in the lock and watched as the door creaked open. Lucas and George entered in black chauffeur uniforms. They eyed me warily, as though expecting some form of attack. I noticed that they were carrying truncheons. Adrenalin was pumping like holy water. And Tiffany squeezed internally, transmuting the lead of my fear with this unholy stimulant. I was shaking inside, but outside I was all ice-cubes and diamonds; just like Sanguina showed me.
“Get that dress off,” Lucas muttered irritably.
I hesitated for a moment, caught off guard.
“I said off with it,” he repeated.
I smiled accomodatingly, reached behind and unclipped myself. I tossed the garment onto the bed, standing hands on hips in my black silk and satin. George was staring at the floor, his face as red as a plate of soup.
“The underwear and stockings as well,” Lucas nodded. “You can keep the shoes and jewellry on for now.”
I turned around, sat on a chair and began to slide off my stockings.
“You don’t have to make a show of it,” Lucas said. “Just get it all off as quickly as possible.”
He glanced at his watch and I made haste so as not to aggravate him further. Within minutes we were crossing the long Gallery below. Very few lights had been lit in this part of the Castle, and the gaping chambers were hollow with shadows. Lucas walked ahead of me while George took up the rear. Draughts skirled about from distant, open windows. These icy breezes caused me to goose-pimple rather severely, and I had to wrap my arms around my chest to keep from shivering.
“Sorry about the chill,” Lucas said over his shoulder. “It will be warm where we are going.”
This remark did little to soothe me, although Tiffany was still at work, fluttering about like a moth on fire, keeping me somehow safe. We ended up in the ballroom, as I somehow knew we would. A large fire was blazing in the hearth and a dining table had been placed a comfortable distance before it. Crystal chandeliers hung dim and ghostly, swathed and clotted with shadows. A pudgy man in a chef’s uniform hovered at the table, fussing over an over-laden trolley. Flat, obsidian coloured rocks had been piled enigmatically on the surface of the stout mahogany table. These formed a calculated cairn-like clutter, creating a rather surreal rock-garden effect. A middle-aged woman in a polo neck detached unexpectedly from the shadows and met us by the door.
“I’ll take it from here,” she murmured to Lucas, who nodded and left the room, taking George with him. The departure of the men instantly dissipated my fear. The spectacled woman took my arm and led me to the table. The large slabs of black, glassy rock had been laid across the surface of the table in a naturalistic fashion, creating lounge-like hollows, seemingly sculpted to support a reclining body. They piled against one another, covering the table-top entirely.
“Feel stone,” The woman said in her strange accent, guiding my hand toward the nearest slab.
The rocks were warm, resonating with a mysterious inner heat.
“Volcanic,” she smiled. “Retain heat all night no problem.”
I noticed that the chef was co-ordinating a vast array of sushi. He seemed not to notice my presence at all.
“Shoes please,” the woman signalled.
I removed my heels and she took them, placing them in the large leather satchel which she carried around her waist. I realised that it was a hunting satchel; the kind in which riflemen would carry fallen grouse or pheasants.
“If you please,” she smiled, indicating that I should climb up onto the table.
I began to understand what was expected of me and shimmied onto the deliciously warm rocks.
“It is of vital importance that you are comfortable,” she frowned. “For you must try not to move during meal.”
I lay down on the comfortable arrangement of volcanic shale and the woman positioned my limbs in what I assumed was an aesthetic fashion. In the end, my back was supported snugly, throwing my breasts, stomach and hips up while my limbs inclined vaguely downward, palms up and feet folded against each other like lilies, knees slightly apart. The radiant glow of the rocks had a very calming effect and I soon realised that I was very comfortable indeed. The woman confirmed this before brushing out my hair and re-touching my make-up. A chair had been placed at the area of the table just before my stomach and hips. My head had also been tilted to face whoever took the table’s single seat, and I stared at this chair, wondering what manner of person would soon occupy it. The comfort of my position quickly reminded me of other biological functions (the smell of the fish was making my stomach grumble!). The woman heard this and frowned at me.
“You have eaten?” she asked.
“I haven’t eaten all day,” I answered pitifully.
She shook her head at the chef, who shot me a glance. He whipped out a sheet of Nori and quickly created a large impromptu American-style roll with random ingredients. He handed it to the woman and then returned to his work without a word. She passed this creation to me with an aunt-like smile.
“Eat fast so that there is time to touch up,” she nodded, leaving me to devour the succulent morsel.
I ate one-handed, with a sort of ‘I-cheated-Death’ relish, trying not to move too much and watching as the hunched woman crossed to the far end of the enormous ballroom. Large windows looked out upon illuminated trees. Empty chairs waited like trained dogs. I noticed the chef standing over me, studying my raised hips with clinical detachment.
“Try not to move dear,” he said in a surprisingly gruff voice.
I watched as he began to lay pieces of finely sculpted Nigiri and Maki around my pelvic region. I watched with vague amusement as these colourful items began to gradually frame my navel and genitalia in almost psychedelic patterns. They felt clammy against my skin; a little like enormous slugs. The chef worked with precision, apologising occasionally for the coldness of the fish. He placed twin abalone over my nipples and one in my belly-button. He lined my ribs with red clam and Anago. A jewellry of gold and crimson roe travelled in swirls around my breasts and along my collarbones. Sashimi of various description ornamented my tummy, frilled with quail eggs, oyster and crispy tofu pods. The woman returned to fix my face and soon I resembled a refugee from a Bosch painting. Bowls of tamari, wasabi and other less recognisable condiments were placed on tiny laquered platforms along the rock before the seat. These, I noticed, were cooled with ice to counter the effects of the warm rock.
“Fifteen minutes I think,” the woman mentioned to the chef.
He nodded, completed his edible adornment of my body and arranged a side-table with flame heated tea and saki. There was a knock at the door. I looked sideways to see Lucas signalling the woman in the polo-neck.
“He’ll be down soon,” I heard him mention to her.
The chef was soon done, wheeling his little magic trolley out into the hall. The woman paused to double-check my appearance before gathering any unwanted items into her satchel.
“Remember to stay comfortable and relax,” the woman announced crisply. “Try not to move too much.”
She departed abruptly and I was left alone with the roaring fire and the enormous, empty ballroom. The absurdity of my situation began to occur to me as the minutes passed and I had to suppress one or two chuckles. The passage of my fear had left me feeling vaguely euphoric and I was afraid that I might get the giggles and simply not be able to stop. The creak of the opening door silenced me immediately. I looked up to see a pair of woman in traditional Geisha dress entering the ballroom like large, exotic birds. They glanced absently at me before tottering to the center of the room on their clogs. One unfolded a small tatami mat and knelt, producing a Shamisen from the folds of her Kimono. The other assumed a statue-like poise, seeming to await a surreptitious signal to begin dancing. A long fan hung loosely in her fingers as she balanced on the balls of her feet. Their white faces glowed at me out of the dimness, like disturbing dolls. The seated figure began to play her instrument and subtle cat-like sounds invented alien emotions which simmered and tousled like fog within the sullen chamber. I lay listening to their evocation, feeling the strange mineral warmth of the rocks permeate to me to my bones. Outside a rain began to fall. I did not notice him enter. In fact I only became aware of his presence when he quietly moved the chair back to sit. I watched as his face as he moved. He seemed old, yet possesed a remarkably unlined skin. His features were swarthy and very definitely of Japanese origin. His hair was oiled and brushed into an antiquated side-parting. He wore a simple black suit and spectacles. There was something vaguely nineteen-fifties about him, an unearthly timelessness which got under your skin and lingered, like a fungal growth. I observed as he poured out a thimble of saki. His movements were measured and insectile and I could smell the aromatic aftershave and hair oil which he had doused himself in. The dancer had begun some sort of cormorant-like activity in my far peripheral vision, flashing in the near-dark like a large-finned fish. The man unclipped porcelain chopsticks and selected a small sliver of fatty yellowtail from my pubic region. He still had not looked at my face, and I began to feel sculpture-like in my inactivity, almost as though I weren’t really there. He chewed and swallowed the fish fragment, selecting another with slow, reptilian movements. I felt the chopsticks slip over the exposed fissure of my genitals like the pincers of a highly polished China crab. Outside, the rain had intensified, dappling the foliage with a sleepy tattoo.
“You seem quite lucid my dear,” he announced in a quiet, highly aticulated voice. “I take it you discovered the mahou I had placed in your salmon?”
“Yup,” I replied. “The one in the kettle as well.”
He gave me a strange look when I said this, staring into my eyes for the first time. His pupils were like tiny, dark glass slits which seemed to vibrate with an almost inorganic intensity. I quickly glanced away, nerve-racked by their inhumanity. He continued to stare for some moments, scanning my body like a robot before returning to his meal.
“What do you want with me?” I whispered quietly.
He nibbled one or two more tidbits and drank his saki before speaking.
“Do you not think Psalmanazar an unusual name?” he asked unexpectedly.
“I suppose,” I answered. “It certainly isn’t very Japanese.”
“Exactly what I thought,” the man answered vaguely.
His chopsticks lifted an Awabi clam from my left nipple.
“At some time in the Seventeen Hundreds a character with pale skin and distinctly European features arrived in London,” he said. “This man claimed, rather absurdly, to be Japanese and went by the name of Psalmanazar. He told people that he hailed from the island of Formosa – a then unexplored place – And that the natives hunted serpents for food, wore only gold plates for clothing and ate their unfaithful wives. He claimed that the priests sacrificed eighteen thousand young boys annually and then devoured their roasted hearts. He consumed great quantities of raw meat in public, published several books on the subject of his imaginary country and was held in such high acclaim by the English that even the Bishop of London and many members of the Royal Society believed him to be a perfect specimen of a Japanese gentleman. I often take his name when I travel to West, as a reminder of the perpetual, unflinching stupidity of the British.”
“Hay that’s pretty funny!” I cackled. “Are you going to rape and kill me?”
He gave me an unfathomable look and returned to his gastronomic exploration of my tits.
“I mean this is all very fucking hip hop for a Japanese Warlock, or whatever you’re supposed to be…”
“When I eat off a woman, I remind myself of the beauty of the Earth, and that whatever sustenance she offers is derived from her celestial body.”
“Oh, right, I see,” I nodded. “And is that how you justify the sushi-porn routine to the other Warlocks in the sect?”
He ignored my teasing and chewed up another clam.
“Look what do you want from me?” I demanded. “And how do you know so much about my secret life?”
“I know a great many things,” he explained. “And what I want is for you to assist me in the murder of Etienne Juniper.”
I blinked a few times.
“Surely someone as powerful as you doesn’t need someone as insignificant as me for that…sort of..thing?” I mumbled with an all of a sudden dry mouth.
“On the contrary,” he replied. “As a Sister of the Scalpel Valentines, and based on your personal relationship with the person in question, you are perfectly placed.”
“But why?” I whined. “What did Etienne do!”
He paused to stare contemptuously at me.
“What hasn’t he done?” came the blank response.
“I suppose there are always reasons with that boy,” I sighed. “but what am I expected to do? Knife him in his sleep! I’ve never killed anyone before you know…I just can’t do that sort of shit!”
“It’s nothing so complex,” he replied, and went on to explain:
“I want you to put him in contact with an aquaintance of mine in London. You will introduce this person as a narcotics shipper – the person who supposedly invited you here this week-end trip. You will then broker a deal between this person and your friend Mister Juniper. It will involve convincing Juniper to deliver a shipment of narcotics to a buyer in Cairo; for an enormous fee. This shipment will of course be tampered with, placing Mister Juniper in a very uncomfortable position with the buyers in Egypt. They will deal with him there, and you will be free of any further responsibility. You will also be compensated for this trouble. So as you can see, there will be very little blood on you.”
The chopsticks slid like spider’s legs across my stomach, nipping up fish roe with a nimble flickering. The man sucked up these minute eggs without any sound, moving his jaws like a mantis, watching me think.
“What if I refuse?” I murmured dangerously.
The man slowly set down his chopsticks and raised a napkin to his mouth.
“Allow me to demonstrate,” he replied quietly.
He reached into his blazer and withdrew, rather surprisingly, a somewhat out of place pudding spoon. It was one of those old Victorian porridge spoons you could imagine a rosy cheeked child weilding on a box of oats or an old syrup advert. He touched it against my nipple and I flinched from the caress of the cold metal. I realised that my body was oversensitized, charged to the brim with nervous energy. I watched as the man lifted his long, heavy implement into the air between our faces, swaying it gently back and forth, as one does a pendulum. I became vaguely mesmerized by this display, eyeing the spoon as a child observes a poised snake. A vaguely magnetic layer of static began to charge the skin of my chest, throat and face, creating a very palpable sensation of electricity. I watched in horror as the heavy substance of the spoon began to undulate in very vague, almost imperceptible syncopations. ALmost without warning, the entire utensil wilted, like a flower under immense heat. A ragged sound burst involuntarily from me, and sushi dripped from the parts of my body which had jerked up in fright. The man touched the fluid spoon to my navel and I flinched, expecting it to somehow feel unbearably hot. But the metal was still cold, and as inexplicably hard as before. I watched dizzily, tense with shock as he drew the spoon down toward my pubis. The implement had coiled in on itself, doubled around like a broken spine. Without warning, the man forcefully slid the metal object into my vaginal opening. The inner flesh of my passage was dry with fear and this entry was savage on my fragile tissues. I could hear my false nails scraping across the volcanic shale as my hands seized. A simmering sweat erupted across my tensed back and abdominal muscles. The man locked eyes with mine, half-risen from his chair.
“This is what will happen,” he hissed.
I started to shriek as I felt the spoon begin to uncoil within my delicate tracts. It flexed like a living thing; inorganic matter made flesh. The discordant clatter of the shamisen falling to the ballroom floor distracted the attention of my captor, disrupting the unnatural furling of the metal within me. The geishas were hovering like stricken birds. My screams had knocked them quite out of character. The fearsome man abruptly plucked his mangled spoon out of me and exited the room. I was left shaking in a mess of fallen food while the geishas fled the chamber. I felt my genitalia tenderly and saw my fingers come away, smeared with a thin smattering of blood. I was crying and swiping raw fish off me when the doors crashed open. Within moments the two chandeliers were glaring, flooding the entire chamber with yellow and white light. The bright wash of electric light lent a starkness to my nudity and vulnerability; a sensation which I was totally unprepared for. Imagine my surprise when a fully grown white tiger smacked it’s forepaws down onto the volcanic plates and began to lick the sushi from my feet with a sandpapery tongue. I staggered off the warm stones in shock, watching as the gleaming tiger mounted the table, devouring the fallen array of raw flesh with gusto. I became aware of laughter and looked up to see Lucas, George and three other uniformed men standing around by the door.
“If you could see your face!” George spluttered.
Their laughter sounded dead and tinny in the vast space, made all the more implausible by the gobbling sounds of the tiger. I stumbled backward, trying to cover myself and wipe away my tears and blood; all in one motion.
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly old Simba,” George giggled, almost apolagetically.
“Get her out of here and hose her down,” Lucas muttered. The other three men moved quickly. I tried to run to a window, but they had me in seconds. They dragged me kicking and screaming and biting down long halls and through limestone vestibules and enormous shadowy rooms lined with musty bookcases and mounted stag heads. We passed through several stone passages and emerged into clear, cold moonlight. I heard the whinny of horses from somewhere nearby and felt my feet slide around in chilly, black mud. I fell several times and had to be dragged at one point, shrieking all the while. The men pulled me into the blackness of a barn which smelled of sackcloth, manure and hay. The lights came on abruptly, illuminating ragged bales, cobweb and broken barrels. Rough stone walls reached up to a raftered ceiling medallioned with bird excrement. I was pulled to an open space, forced to my knees and lashed to a post. A sort of chemical reaction occurred within me as my wrists were bound. It melted my fury into a hysterical fear. I began shaking and weeping uncontrollably, gibbering half-formed sentences as one of the men removed his jacket beneath a naked bulb. Another lit a cigarette and uncoiled a dusty hose. Some chickens fluttered in the shadows of the loft, disturbed by the commotion below. I looked up involuntarily, but was struck unexpectedly by a jet of freezing water. It melted everything away in a starburst of nullity, twisting me down with the force of it’s gush. But then, without warning, it was all over. The water ebbed away and I could hear voices arguing. I rubbed my face against my shoulder to clear my eyes and made out the blurred image of the woman in the poloneck. She was engaged in some sort of disagreement with the men. Within moments she had intied me.
“Get up now,” she whispered in my ear.
I struggled to comply, even though my limbs had gone numb and rubbery. The men were chuckling and sharing cigarettes as the woman led me back out into the darkness of the yard. We passed over the muddy stretch as though in a dream and re-entered the house. All feeling had left my legs and feet and I stumbled naked through a gloomy succession of shadow drowned halls and chambers. I realised at some point that we had reached the long Gallery, and this was where the woman stopped me.
“You can find your way back to Bedroom Number Three from here?” she asked in a clipped voice.
“Yes,” I rasped.
She pressed an envelope into my waxy fingers and pushed me down the avenue. I went as quickly as I could, down the carpeted stretch and up the spiral stair. God knows how I located Bedroom Number Three, but when I did I threw myself into it. I turned on every light, barricaded all the loose furniture against the door and fled into the en suite. I turned on the bathtaps full, slammed the bathroom door so hard it broke and collapsed crying into the tub.
I half expected the door to be smashed down at any moment. But after half an hour of soaking in steaming water I started to calm down and get inquisitive again. Out of nowhere, I remembered the envelope which the polo-necked woman had pressed into my hand. I craned my head around and saw it lying on the carpet beside an overturned bedside table. I must have dropped it in my rush to uproot all the furnishings. I splashed out, retrieved it and got back in the bath. The envelope was gilted and opened with a crispy little crackle. Inside was a tiny card with some writing and a telephone number. The writing had been printed in blue ball point and was almost mechanistic in its lack of character. Devoid of any curlicues or personal characteristic, it looked as though the note had been written by a robot. The message it gave was simple:
‘neutralize what is behind the painting of the stag. call me on this number once it is done.’
I blinked a few times before clambering out of the bubbly water. I wrapped a huge white towel around myself and inspected the bedroom. A portrait sized rendition of a stag hung on the wall opposite the four poster bed; just above the spot previously occupied by a single sofa (which was now rammed against the door!). I hefted the oil painting down to reveal a black box affixed to the wall behind it. A green LED flashed faintly on it’s matte surface and several wires spidered out of it’s casing at various trajectories. These wires burrowed beneath the wallpaper, becoming almost invisible in the embossed patterning. I followed one of the these wires with my fingertip, all around the wall to a corner. The tiny glint of a lens flashed out of a miniscule hole in the wooden skirting. Another led to a carefully disguised microphone. Without further ado, I picked up one of my Pompili stilletto heels and hacked at the box until it was spitting sparks and falling to peices. To make doubly sure, I uprooted the ends of all the wires and slashed them with my cuticle scissors. I then picked up my Candy-Bar and dialled the number on the card. I listened to the dial-tone and quickly became aware of a phone ringing somewhere very near to me. I spun around to see the woman in the poloneck balanced precariously outside one of the three windows! How she could have scaled an almost perpendicular wall was quite beyond me, but I rushed to unlatch the window and allow her in. Cold air gusted and billowed as she leapt nimbly from the sill to the floor. The dexterity and recourcefullness of this stocky, middle-aged schoolmarm-type was amazing! I shut the window and turned to witness a startling transformation. What I took for a hunch and a small potbelly, shifted as the woman straightened, realigning her posture to reveal her true form and figure. When I first met her I assumed that she was shorter than I was, but now saw that she saw almost a foot taller, and slenderer. She picked off spectacles and wig to turn, beaming at me with madly flashing eyes.
“Madre Sanguina!” I ejaculated, throwing my arms around her muscular ballerina shoulders and bursting into tears of relief against her familiar breast.
“You are still dripping Babushka,” she muttered in that husky Basque voice which I had missed so much. “Lets get you back in the bubbles before you catch cold.”
I sat swishing bubblebath around, utterly overjoyed, while Sanguina sat barefoot on the floor rolling a joint. In appearance (and without her camoflague), she hadn’t changed one iota. But then again, as we all know, witches age incredibly well. All those potions and magical yoga shit made a hundred and fifty year old lady look not a day over fourty. She sat with her fading tan and leonine cheekbones, grinning mischeviously at my happiness. I had been decieved by her disguises before, but never as acutely as this.
“So they all think that you’re this middle-aged Hungarian stylist?” I giggled.
“Effectivement,” she nodded. “Nobody in the castle knows that I am here except you Bebe.”
“Do the face again!” I implored like a mad child.
She hunched down, screwed up her eyes and somehow sucked in her cheeks and pouted simultaneously, creating an uncanny impression of advanced age. Her nostrils dilated and her forehead receded with a subtle flexing of scalp muscles. Sanguina had developed her facial muscles so expertly that she was able to maintain these characteristics almost indefinitely – even in sleep if necessary. The control she had of her body was nothing short of impeccable. And with the wig, accent and perpetually maintained posture, it would be virtually impossible to identify her in passing – Perhaps even under close scrutiny. She shrugged off the character like a coat while Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the film ‘Teorema’ slotted onto my Pod.
“So you know all about Candy Glass?” I asked, hiding behind a tentacle of foam.
“And you’re not going to excommunicate me?”
She laughed raucously at this.
“Of course not cherie,”
“But doesn’t it go against the whole ethos of the Surgeon Mary!”
“Let me tell you a little something Bebe; the old Druids of this land used to segregate the male and
female neophytes into two magical schools. The men would wear white. They would be stationed up on the isle of Anglesey and tutored in all manner of exterior monastic skills – like tree lore and masonry etcetera. The women on the other hand, took up residence in the low Southern marshlands of Avalon, wore black and emarked on internal avenues of power – sexual gnosis, dream manipulation and all that monkeying about. The course we follow here is similar, as we have to keep in step with the magic of the land.”
“But the girls at the House would totally fuck out if they found out about me being a high class hooker! The Scalpel Superior would have my ass!”
“Laskovaya moya, what you have to understand is that the Physical House is but the entry hall into the true House of Scalpel Valentines – which is more of a state than a physical place; a dream temple which stands outside space and time. The physical Houses are like a sort of magical rehab. We introduce girls with promise, decontaminate them, introduce magical fundamentals and then watch,”
“Like bacteria in a Petrie dish…”
“If you like yes. But it is up to each individual fish to leave the pond and find the ocean nést pas?”
“So it’s not wrong to peddle my kitten to rich weirdos?”
“What is this right and wrong!” she cackled. “Perhaps it would be wrong for another mad little chicken! But you have turned it into an act of power and fed your familiar. You must get out of this right and wrong conditioning of society – we live in a predatory universe Bebe, and a witch must survive any way she can.”
“I can’t get my head around this Sanguina!”
“Il est cinglé!” she cackled. “Your body will learn and your head will follow!”
“I’m a fallen woman!”
“My little Soap Star! You just adore feeling sorry for yourself! Indulging in this whole broken doll routine…Don’t you realise that it is the Reptiles who have done this to you? As they have done this to legions before? The Reptiles and their Grey Men who have invented and then fashioned society for thousands of years; creating all these little collars, like money, guilt and fashionable morality to keep the Goddess in line. Break your chains Babushka…”
“But I totally fucked with Nadia!”
“I don’t get involved with schoolyard squabbles,” she said haughtily. “You can sort out those lunchbox arguments on your own, besides you now have bigger fish to fry…Like your little Etienne.”
I blushed deep scarlet, sinking deeper into the foam.
“So you’ve always known about him?” I whispered in vivid embarresment.
She laughed her head off, lighting up the joint with a flick of her strong wrist.
“This Etienne Juniper is a transformative force in your life, a figure of power for you. He has played mercury to your sulphur for years, provoking you to all sorts of acts of change. And as all good alchemists know, mercury must act on sulphur to transmute lead to gold. Yes, I knew about him from Day One, but I kept quiet so you could summon your own Fate-Gate.”
“What do you mean summon my own Fate-Gate?”
“You must surely realise by now that Fate is a malleable thing? A force-machine which we can activate and utilise? The deeper you go into Wonderland the more co-incidences you accumulate little Alice. And now Fate has acknowledged your power and set up a Co-incidence Gate for you to pass. You must pass through the Gate and enter a higher frequency of energy. Failure will be terrible for you, whichever way the cards fall.”
“But killing Etienne in Cairo!”
“That alley cat has had it coming for years cherie, and you will lap up his demonic power like a saucer of milk.”
“But I don’t understand,” I complained. “What’s going on here Madre Sanguina? And what’s with the spoon bending seafood freak!”
“Oh yes, him,” she muttered. “All your arm waving has attracted some rather large sharks.”
“He spiked my salmon! The kettle too!”
she looked up sharply.
“So you found what was placed in the food? Ma petit chat blanc! You are getting sharp, though it was I who spiked your kettle – to counter the effects of the salmon.”
“Oh shit! I told him about that!”
“Anafora mă-tii!” she muttered. “Then we must assume that he knows another witch is in the Castle. I doubt that he will try stop me from contacting you though…We didn’t interfere with his proposal so I can only assume that he is letting this interaction pass as some sort of professional courtesy. Though it probably means that my stylist routine is blown.”
“Eek,” I muttered unconvincingly. “Sorry babe.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’m quite re-assured that you found both the little hexes, a nice display of plumage little bird- Your familiar must be looking after you.”
“Oh Tiff’s a doll.”
“So back to the seafood freak with the spoon…”
“Yes, well that is a rather long story, and we haven’t much time. So let me trim all the fat; Your little Etienne is, as you know, quite a greedy little boy. He married his way into a very influential family at one point and became involved in the family business; which involved, amongst other things, drug and organ trafficking.”
“Concentrate! The family, which has been based in the Vatican City State for the last four hundred years, is a very powerful organisation. It operates as a subsidiary front for a Grey Man known only to us as The Old Egyptian. This Psalmanazer is, how we say in the old way; an Eye of the Old Egyptian. The Grey Men have many such aides, allies and antiquated organisations, all created for one purpose only; The Gradual Distraction of Mankind by Methods of Persuasion and Saturation via Stimulus. It’s an old project for the Grey Men; going all the way back to the Euphrates. Some of these organizations are the old mining families who helped create the original gold and diamond markets – the people who run the global economy. Others are Media and banking conglomerates – all very, how you say, old hat. Anyway, Etienne, who is by now used to double-crossing and vanishing without a trace decides to sell detailed information about the trade-routes of the family to a narcotics competitor in the Middle East. Unluckily for Etienne though, he has underestimated the family he is working for. And worse; this competitor to which he is selling is another front. They are in fact not drug peddlars at all, but an underground cell of Hashashin Ptero-rists who wish to infiltrate and destroy the Vatican family! These Ptero-shins have set up a fake narcotics deal designed to lure Etienne to Cairo, where they plan to go through his memory-body at their leisure, and utilise him to their fullest advantage. Maybe they plan to send him back as a Sleeper? Who knows with these crazy Hashashin boys. In any case, the family had Etienne under observation since the beginning and soon discovered your double life with the Sisters. They contacted the House discreetly and we agreed to let them use you.”
“But why?! Don’t you hate each other?!”
“Even the worst of enemies can still have tea darling. It’s a quirk you acquire after a hundred years or more of witching about…In any case, it was a simple matter of etiquette for them to contact us. Had they approached you without telling us first, we would have probably annihilated a large number of their minions and small-scale operations.”
“Though, of course, if we had stopped them from propositioning you they would undoubtedly have done the same to us.”
“Don’t vex dear, this sort of nonsense happens all the time. Everyone is always looking for some threadbare excuse to annihilate their enemy and still be able to keep a straight face at the dinner table. It’s really nothing new, so lets get back to the stew you are in; what did Psalmanazer say?”
I quickly related the proposition which had been put to me. She smoked all the while, squinting thoughtfully between puffs. A light and flowery aroma cascaded off the joint; herbs I did not recognise. When she handed it to me the smoke tasted sweet and cleared my head, crystallising my thoughts instantly.
“Well,” she hummed, once I had finished. “It sounds like they are creating some sort of ambuscade; a trap. I don’t believe this tampered shipment story, it all sounds somewhat off-key. I even think that they might even plan for you to accompany Etienne to Cairo.”
“Yike,” I splashed. “Why?”
“My guess is that they will try divert attention from themselves to the Sisters of the Scalpel. If the Ptero-shins suspect that we are somehow in league with the Vatican family, it will spark a skirmish.”
“Sneaky little fuckers.”
“Absolument,” she nodded. “Super sneaky…And there is probably another cake layer I have not yet seen. But we witches are sneakier than the lizard boys.”
“Well isn’t there some way I can sneak out of this?”
“Non. Fate has arranged this tournement for you. And everything you need to survive and conquer is at hand. It is a test of high magic arranged by spiritual agencies. You have no choice but to accept.”
“But I can’t kill Etienne!”
“Don’t think about that now…Let’s just see how events unfold. Perhaps it can all be avoided. Fate is fickle and full of smiles; both wicked and benign. But for now you must humour her wiles and step into her parlour.”
“Remember Cherie, If you are going to do something wrong…You might as well do it right.”
She stayed and joked around for another half an hour until I got out of the bath. She then surprised me with a foil wrapped package of sushi sandwiches, some minute pears and a small thermos of tea which she had secreted in her volumous jacket. I could have hugged her head off, and made a valiant attempt to do so. She prised me off rather indelicately.
“Really Cherie, you are far too exuberant.”
She climbed out onto the ledge and balanced there like some strange bird.
“Psalmanazer will soon discover the falsity of the little Hungarian stylist. In fact I have no doubt that he began investigating as soon as you mentioned the kettle to him; so I shall have to manage a little vanishing act. But never fear Cherie, I shall stay on the Castle Grounds and keep an eye on you.”
“Will I be in any danger do you think?”
“I doubt it, they will want you to perform this service for them…The danger will come later, in Cairo. Psalmanazer will probably speak to you again tomorrow; but just act docile and agree to everything he demands. We’ll sort the details out later.”
“I’m so happy that you are with me now Sanguina,” I said, like a happy child.
She hung there for a moment, a dark vulture of a thing, her eyes flashing in the moonlight. Her inhumanity frightened and thrilled me at the same time.
“Really cupcake, you are too sweet.” she breathed huskily.
She then turned on her heel and swarmed down the sheer wall like some gigantic hunting spider. I saw her flick soundlessly to the courtyard floor and flash across the open gravel like a fish across a pond. There was a minute rustle of foliage as she sucked into the leafy hedges; and then nothing but wind-swept silence, the moon and the enormous, pale flank of the castle.
I devoured the food and fell into a deep sleep. I was awakened some hours later by the strange sound of distant chanting. I awoke instantly to see the room bathed in the faint, flickering light of distant fires. I quickly gathered my wispy nightgown about myself and ghosted to the long windows to see what was up. Out on the rolling lawns before the facade of the castle I could make out the shadowy forms of several hundred black-robed figures. These writhing persons were grouped infront of a ring of bonfires, bowing and scraping in a melodramatically servile fashion. Each one was hooded, and facing the enormous effigy of an owl. This construction roosted in the center of the fiery ring, underlit by the shifting, hellish glare. The owl must have stood a good ten meters or so, and towered above the dancing mob like some monstrous, mythological faux pas. The crowd was chanting in unison; some strange sibilant dialect wich I could not make out. A figure was also standing atop the head of the monstrous owl, directing their worship, waving something above its head. I padded quickly to my vanity case and extracted my Hello Kitty binoculars. Through the jiggling chaos, I could make out the red robed figure of Psalmanazer, towering atop the owl with a vacant expression on his face. He was hoisting a wilting and twisting metal pitchfork above his head with great alacrity. I abandoned the binoculars, squeezed in ear plugs and pulled one of my airplane blindfolds. This secret society nonsense was really starting to annoy me. A girl NEEDS her beauty sleep!
The next day was even less complicated than I could have imagined. I slept like the dead and awoke unmolested. After a little stretch and a shower I decided to extricate the furniture from the door. I found an envelope outside the door on a small push trolley. It was accompanied by a silver service breakfast which I ignored utterly. The note inside the envelope was hand-written. It read:
‘I’ll be waiting to take you to the airport around 1pm. Meet me downstairs. Lucas.’
I checked my Bulgari and saw that I only had half an hour to get ready. Yippee! The sooner I was out of this gingerbread house the better. I was also dying to see Mona and tell her all about the spoon-bending seafood freak. I met Lucas at the appointed time and we drove off down the long drive in an icy and rather melodramatic silence. I gazed out at the rolling lawns for some sign of the satanic shenanigans I had witnessed last night, but everything had predictably vanished. Why are satanists so anal about their stuff! Well anyway WHATEVER, I was so out of there. A few kilometers out of Duns, Lucas handed me a black glossy gift box.
“What’s this? Post date-rape chocolates? Lucas! …You shouldn’t have.”
He shot me a poisonous look.
“It’s from Mister Psalmanazer,” he explained. “It’s a satellite-phone. He told me to tell you that he will call you on it and asks that you check it once a day for messages.”
“Hmmm, presents! ” I purred, tearing the box open. Inside, on a cushion of satin-y material was the most gorgeous black steel cellular device. I mean you just wanted to fuck it. It was small and slender and weighed quite heftily in my palm, like a little pistol.
“It’s bullet-proof and able to be used underwater or even in a vacuum.” Lucas said. “It also has a self-contained plutonium grain power source which never needs recharging.”
I squealed with delight.
“It’s tied into a specialised satellite relay system and calls can be made from anywhere on Earth – even several hundred feet under the ocean. You could probably place calls or use the internet on the surface of the moon since there is so little satellite-transmission interference.”
“Imagine the download rate! Or the bill for that matter…”
“There no charge for any calls you make – Though you cannot recieve calls on it; except from programmed numbers. This item is standard issue amongst members of Mister Psalmanazer’s organisation.”
“Well Psally sure knows how to make a girl feel better after sticking a spoon up her snatch.”
He cleared his throat in distaste and continued.
“Mister Psalmanazer considers it a gift and a useful tool; a down-payment if you like for the favour he has asked of you.”
“Uurgh!” I scowled. “You have to spoil it don’t you Jeeves.”
“Just check it daily.”
“Of course – though now you can GPS my ass wherever and whenever; what’s to stop me throwing it out a window?”
He half-smiled cynically at this.
“A girl like you? Throw an item like that out the window? Hardly.”
I pouted, tossing the phone from hand to hand.
“That handy little plutonium cell is probably rigged to go bang if I annoy anybody right?”
“Probably,” he smiled.