Authors: Nicola Rhodes
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fantasy - Contemporary
The second problem was that he had no idea where he was. After he had climbed out of the window, he found himself in a field. It was dark, but he could just make out, behind him, a large country house. That is to say, it was a large house, and it was in the countryside. Funny really, he thought. He would have expected a crypt in a graveyard; he glanced around nervously, no there were no graves. Thank God, the last thing he needed right now was a horde of zombies. Tamar had once told him that there were no such things as zombies, right around the time she had told him that there were no such things as vampires, ha! Although to be fair, she had not said that there were
no such things, just that she had never seen one, and that the idea was ludicrous, he had just taken it as read that her opinion was more reliable than most people’s facts. She was, after all, over 5000 years old.
So, no graves; still this was not much better. Denny was not at home in fields, or woods, or copses or,
in fact, anywhere without plenty of concrete and streetlights. Denny liked pavements and shop fronts. He was afraid of cows and terrified of horses, and there was a strange sound, which he eventually identified as complete and utter silence. Something, he realised, he had never actually heard before.
Well, he could not stand around here all night; they would realise he was gone soon. As long as it was still dark, no amount of head start would be enough to escape vampires, who could fly after all.
He headed for a fence that he could just make out in the distance, although there was no moon. It was some time later before he realised that there were no stars either, and yet it did not look cloudy; it was just that the world was covered in inky blackness. He was getting that nightmarish feeling again.
He was so sunk in fear and depression that it took him nearly ten minutes to register a dreary streak of light in the sky ahead. He had crossed the field and half of another by now; he felt a fool when he finally noticed it. Dawn; thank God, of course. He had heard it was darker in the countryside, he should have realised. He kept on walking until he burst out into bright sunlight, as if he had walked through a door. That did not seem right; he looked back, and behind him it was still dark, like a large dark cloud, blotting out a large portion of the countryside. Beyond it, he could see light again, like a corona around the sun. “Vampire City”, he thought. Still it was behind him now.
He relaxed and realised that he was hungry, thirsty and tired – not to mention, lost.
As if in response to his unspoken wish, he saw a road not far to his right; and on that road was a café. It looked remarkably familiar, until he realised that this was because it was a “Little Chef”. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, except that it did seem to have appeared out of nowhere, just as he was feeling a yen for a full English Breakfast and maybe a pancake or two, or three … (like many skinny people Denny could eat enough at one sitting to feed a football stadium of sumo wrestlers). He checked his wallet, a difficult manoeuvre with only one free hand; he fumbled and dropped it twice.
Cursing loudly, he scouted around for somewhere to put the Athame. For some reason, he did not really want to put it down. He balanced it on a fence post, being careful not to lay the blade on the wood, and picked up his wallet, keeping an eye on the Athame just in case it vanished or something. He had plenty of money, more, in fact, than he usually had. He picked up the Athame with a strong sense of relief to have it back in his hand, and headed toward the café.
As he reached the door, he was struck with a thought. How was he going to manage to pay for his food, carry it back to the table and eat it without putting the Athame down? Apart from his reluctance to put it down, he had visions of it slicing through the counter top or the table. This was likely to cause comment, and perhaps arrest for criminal damage. Perhaps he could prop it up in a napkin holder, but that would still entail letting go of it, somebody might pinch it. If only he could put it in his pocket, but he would not feel comfortable with even an ordinary knife unsheathed in his pocket. He looked at the Athame, he looked at the door. Torn between mortal hunger and the strange hold the Athame had over his mind. On the one hand, he was starving, and he was not really much of a fighter – more of a runner really. Anyway, he could not go for much longer without food. It was not as if you could wield a knife with any great force when you were faint from hunger. On the other hand, to just abandon it would be wanton ingratitude, it was a gift, it
be very useful; how, exactly, he had not quite worked out. But there, hadn’t it already been useful? Without it, he would still be in a grotty cell waiting to be sliced and diced or, more likely, exsanguinated.
The Athame won; he turned away from the café with considerable reluctance. ‘Damn the thing,’
‘I wish I had a proper sheath for this thing,’ he said aloud.
Then the strangest thing happened. Black smoke began to swirl around the blade, thick and oily it formed into a solid shape, but dense and shimmering with intricate patterns that moved constantly like a living thing. He touched it, yes, it was solid enough. He pulled the blade out and slid it back in, out, in, out, in again quite easily.
‘Wow!’ He glanced around. ‘
he thought; first the café (he was now pretty sure that it had not been there before) and now this. What was causing it? He was pretty sure he had not opened any bottles or rubbed any lamps. He would have remembered. Anyway, a Djinn was something you could not miss, and the same went for fairy godmothers he was sure. But still – two wishes granted; the mere idea made him nervous. On the other hand, it was too late now; he might as well take advantage of it.
After he had eaten, he decided, he would set off to find Tamar. He was back on track. He jammed the Athame into his belt loop (his belt now abandoned in slices back in the field) and went into the café.
* * *
The camp vampire, who had reminded Denny of Julian Clary, and whom all the others were afraid of for some reason. – Perhaps they suspected him of harbouring a fetish for whips and chains. Although he dressed immaculately at all times in a cream linen suit (an odd choice in itself given his eating habits – surely it must cost him a small fortune in dry cleaning bills) it was not hard to imagine him in a basque and spiky high heels.
Anyway, he was listening courteously to the stammering explanations of the beefy guard and his smaller cohort. He did not lose his temper or interrupt them at all. It was nerve racking, as if he was actually
to them. They both trailed off eventually and stared uncomfortably at the floor.
The “Master” as the others called him, steepled his hands, always a bad sign. ‘I see,’ he said.
They quavered inwardly; this was going to worse than they had anticipated.
Both vampires shook.
‘Explain something to me,’ he said. Then his voice rose, although he still did not shout. ‘Where in the name of Hell did you get an Athame?’
‘It belongs – belonged to the cook,’ said the smaller one. ‘He uses – used it to prepare the vegetables – for the prisoners.’
‘And where did
get it from? Vampires do not carry ceremonial weapons.
‘Oh, he’s not a vampire, he’s a demon. I think it belonged to his father.’
‘I see, well he will no doubt be anxious to retrieve it. Send for him.’
‘Yes my Lord.’
When the master had them, all three in a row – the demon chef was perhaps the most human looking of the three – he waved a hand over them all, and they all combusted into a pillar of flames and disappeared.
He minced over to a mirror to check his fangs; he was smiling. ‘They were a predictable lot,’
he thought. It was all working out exactly as he had planned. He glanced at the pile of ash where the demon had stood. Well he could not have him going after Denny to get the Athame back, now could he? He had never bothered to find out why a demon would chose to work for a bunch of vampires. It was certainly an unusual choice. Demons were an inordinately prideful race as a rule. Well, he thought ruefully, it was too late to ask him now.
He sent for one of his lackeys. ‘Send me a prisoner,’ he ordered. ‘I’m getting peckish. And when you have done that, send out a patrol for the girl, no excuses this time – find Tamar Black.’
* * *
‘The problem is she could be anywhere,’ Denny thought. ‘The
problem is, I could be anywhere.’
Feeling full and satisfied, he had asked the bored looking woman in a pinny at the cash register where he was. She gave him a blank look, which he interpreted as her thinking he was insane. So he explained – the edited version, omitting the vampires and,
in fact, most of what had actually happened. Eventually he realized that the blank expression meant that she did not understand the question. Convincing him, once and for all, that the café was not real and neither was she. Well, thank heaven for small mercies. She reminded him forcibly of Mrs Payne, known as Mrs. Payne in the neck. A school dinner lady who had terrorised several generations of kids at Hall Lane Primary, with an uncanny ability to be in numerous places at once whenever kids tried to sneak back into the classrooms, and who had had a face like a bottle of vinegar.
Denny sloped out of the café feeling dispirited. The only thing to do he supposed, was to follow the road, in the hopes of getting a lift somewhere. Even though part of him had been expecting it, he had to do a double take. The road was gone. He spun round; the café was also gone, having served its purpose.
‘So now what?’ He glanced at the sun and checked his watch, and then he remembered that he was not a Park Ranger. He had spent two weeks in the Boy Scouts and had hated every minute of it. He hated camping and “joining in”, he had not even earned his needlework badge, and as for the life-saving dummy, he had had nightmares about that thing for weeks.
He patted the Athame to check it was still there. He had been doing this at ever diminishing intervals ever since he had sheathed it.
‘I have to get out of here,’ he thought desperately. ‘If only I knew where I was to begin with, even a road would be nice.’
He was not really terribly astonished when the road (
) reappeared as if – to coin a phrase – by magic. Denny sighed; he was pretty much used to all types of weirdness by now God knew, and he ought to be. But he preferred to know, if possible, exactly what kind of weirdness he was dealing with. He usually relied on Tamar for this information.
‘Okay, I’ll buy it,’ he said to the air. ‘I just wish I knew how I was doing this.’ And suddenly, he did.
It was the Athame of course. (Anyone but Denny would have worked this out sooner.) In some way, its possession conferred demonic powers; this was, he now understood, how demons obtained magic powers. The Athame was designed to steal powers from others. The power it gave him was not the all-encompassing power that Tamar had. Compared to hers, it was quite limited. Limited, in fact, to the powers of the one who had forged it, or rather, whoever he had stolen them from, but still pretty impressive all the same.
‘Well,’ he thought, ‘this wasn’t in any of the books.’ but then, the fact that an Athame could be used to slice through iron bars (and probably battleships too) had never been mentioned either.
‘This is so cool,’
he thought. ‘I wonder what else I can do?’
He was already thinking of the power as his own. He took it out; he could feel its power now; it almost hummed in his hand; he was surprised he had not noticed it before.
‘I wonder if I can teleport like Tamar?’
He concentrated on his flat – on being there. He was enveloped in a whirlwind which set him down gently seconds later in his own living room.
‘Whoa! Whey hey.’ He did a little tap dance and mugged a huge grin at himself in the mirror. ‘
’ he whooped.
‘This is so much cooler than the way Tamar does it,’ he thought.
‘Tamar! Oh God, I have to find her.’
‘Well, so,’ he said aloud, ‘I wish I knew where Tamar is.’ Nothing, no inspiration, no answers.
Well he knew where she had been headed; he just did not know where she was now. Oh to hell with it; back to the original plan, only this time he would not take the train.
But first – he drew out the Athame and grinned. ‘Let’s see what this baby can do.’
He felt a small pang of guilt about Tamar, but he banished it. She could take care of herself.
‘Poor, useless Denny and all-powerful Tamar,’ he thought, with a sudden surge of bitter resentment. ‘Stay at home Denny – stay out of danger, I can handle it. Well, just look at me now!’ He took a deep breath and unclenched his hands and forced himself to calm down.
Where the hell, he wondered, had
Denny was enjoying himself. He had discovered that he could “glamour” – that is a fancy, magic way to disguise yourself, far more effective than anything Sherlock Holmes ever managed. This could be useful although it was temporary; he had to concentrate to keep it up, which would take practice, and his imagination limited him to taking on the appearance of people he had seen and could picture clearly. Well, Denny was not vain, but if you’re going to disguise yourself, it might as well be as a handsome film star.
Your own good sense will tell you why this was not a particularly bright idea in actual fact, at least not in public.
He had also discovered that he was substantially stronger physically than he had been before and that he could manifest certain objects just by thinking of them, mostly weapons it seemed, but he already knew this. His injuries had not healed, but they were bothering him far less. And when he tried to fix the broken front door he found he could not. This caused him a moment’s irritation, but then he realised that he did not really care very much.