Mulberry Wine

Of Exotic Cocktails and Mulberry Wine


            I sat in the garden at Prospero's Mansion regarding the cards.  A plague of bogies was ravaging the town; over a hundred people were dead, gnawed out from the inside, and three of them were our men.  Usually, I did not get involved in the legwork myself, but this was getting personal.

            Unfortunately, the cards were not speaking today.  I toyed with them as I sipped my mulberry morath.  No one makes a proper morath anymore, which is a pity.  Of course, no one makes hand painted tarot cards anymore either.  Lately, I have found myself mourning the lost glories of past ages.

             I particularly missed the grace and dignity of the Victorian Age; but then, back in the Victorian Age, I had missed the Renaissance; and during the Renaissance, I had missed old Milan; and even in Milan, I had missed my father’s island, where he and I had dwelt in idyllic calm, with only aerie servants and the horrible Caliban as our company.

            For you see, Shakespeare did not get Father’s story quite right.  Father never drowned his books nor freed his aerie spirits.  Nor did I marry that sap Ferdinand.  At the age of five, my father, the great magician Prospero, consecrated me to the sacred service of Eurynome.  Handmaidens of Eurynome receive many privileges – among them immortality.  Did I mention that Eurynome’s other name is Monocerus, as in Greek for ‘one horn’?  As you may recall, unicorns only come to virgins, so there was to be no marriage for me.

            I have never regretted my choice.  Of late, however, I have found myself longing for fit companionship; someone who could appreciate the fading past and the wonders I have seen.  Mortal men had such short memories and such narrow areas of interest.

            Just as I was about to indulge in another bout of nostalgic reminiscing, Mab, the company’s head gum-shoe, came stomping around the corner, disturbing my revere.  Mab was the granite-faced, hard-boiled type.  He had an intense dislike of all things arcane.  Too many years of chasing supernatural perpetrators had cemented his preference for the human world over the world of fey.  He might have passed for a human himself, had he not looked so exactly like a detective from the movies. 

            However, Mab was not human.  True, he was currently inhabiting a solid body – a recent innovation of Father’s, designed to help Prospero, Inc. move into this new technical age.  Yet, in truth, he was an aerie spirit like Father’s servant Ariel, and, like Ariel, he was bound by the spell my father had cast long ago to bind the Aerie One race to my family's service.

            “More bad news, Ma’am,” Mab drawled in his thick Bronx accent.  He took off his fedora and laid it on the wrought-iron table, “The bogies got Gooseberry.”

            “Got…as in dead?” I asked, startled.

            Mab nodded grimly.

            I was quiet for a time.  The first three of our men who fallen victim to the bogies had been human employees in Prospero, Inc.’s various mundane businesses.  Gooseberry, on the other hand, had been one of our best supernatural agents.  Like Mab, he was an Aerie One living in a fleshy body.  I had never lost an Aerie One before.  I had not even realized they could really be killed.

            Mab jabbed a finger at the tarot cards.  “Miss Miranda, your really shouldn’t dabble in filth like that,” Mab advised dourly, “Mortals trucking with magic are just asking for trouble – even immortal mortals like you.  Believe me, I know.  Before I came to work for  Mr. Prospero, I used to be one of those spirits who gave them trouble.”

            “Yes, yes, Mab, so you so often tell me,” I said, ignoring him.  I closed my eyes, prayed to my White Lady, then lay my cards out one more time.  A sense of warmth and well-being filled me.  I opened my eyes to regard the cards.  Still nothing. Folding them back into a deck, I placed them in their cedar box. 

            “This once, you shall get your way,” I said, “Not because I am unwilling to face a little supernatural danger to revenge Gooseberry, but because the cards are not answering.  Something is blocking divination on the subject of the bogey infestation.”

            Mab rubbed his jaw.  Like every tough guy from Bogart to Han Solo, he showed about a half-a-days growth of beard.  He asked skeptically, “How do you know you just aren’t reading ‘em right?”

            I rewarded his impertinence with a sharp look, “The average diviner doesn't have much faith in her abilities.  When the cards don’t speak to her, she just assumes she’s not seeing clearly, and she makes up answers to cover for it.  I know better.  I trust my abilities.  They come from Eurynome, the White Lady of Spiral Wisdom.  If I can not see, it is because the truth is being hidden.  Someone is deliberately obscuring the source of this plague from diviners, which is why all your two-bit witches and police fortune tellers have not been any help in this matter.”

            “So the cards are blocked,” Mab said dubiously, “Is that bad?”

            “Very bad,” I said, “All supernatural leads are now closed to us.”

            “You mean we’ll have to do our legwork the new fangled way?  On foot?” asked Mab with a grin, adding without the least hint of dismay, “Ah, what a pity.”

            I sighed and stood up, smoothing the satiny cloth of my high-necked, emerald, tea dress with my white gloves,  “Let me get my coat.  We can begin at the morgue.”

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Forty-five minutes later, we stood in the lab in the basement of Prospero’s Mansion, looking down at the remains of our man Gooseberry.  His stiff cold body was stretched out on an examination table under bright surgery lights.  The coroner, who had released Gooseberry under the impression we were bringing him home to be buried, had had given us a copy of the official autopsy, but I didn’t trust those county employees to understand what they were seeing.  So, we were about to take a second look. 

            Most of Gooseberry was in pretty good shape.  Only his stomach was dismembered.  Mab tried to cover the wound with his hat, to spare me the sight.

 “Better you not look, Ma'am.  Pretty obvious what happened here,” Mab said.  “Poor sucker was eaten alive.”

I pushed him aside impatiently, “For Heaven's sake!, I’ve walked across battlefields.  What’s a mere disembowelment?”  I peered closer, “This wound was clearly made by a creature clawing and gnawing its way out from the inside.  However, we still have no idea how the bogies are getting in.  Maybe there will be something in the throat or intestines which will give us a clue.  See what you can find.”

“I’m on it!” Mab said empathically, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. “I want to get to the bottom of this before we lose another man.  I had not realized how vulnerable my people are, once we get into these fleshy bodies Mr. Prospero made for us.  If we don’t find out what’s causing this, the next victim could be me…or even you, Ma’am!”

            Mab got to work immediately, with only a minimum of hindrance from my familiar, Tybolt, Prince of Cats.  Under the pretence of trying to help, Tybolt had leapt onto the corpse’s legs, and now sat batting at Gooseberry’s intestines.  Mab swatted the sleek black cat aside, and Tybolt stalked off – stiff-legged, his velvety black nose high in the air – to sit beneath the filing cabinet and wash his bruised dignity.

 “Best as I can tell,” Mab eventually reported, “The bogey emerged from the upper stomach.  The police report suggests that there was remarkably little bleeding.  In fact, from the evidence, I’d hazard a guess that Gooseberry was already in some kind of coma at the time that the bogey hatched.”

“I hope that means he was spared the pain of feeling his stomach ripped open from within,” I said, “Poor soul.”

“Gooseberry was an Aerie One, Ma’am,” Mab said dryly, “Chances are pretty good against him have having had any kind of soul at all, rich or poor.” 

“Any clue as to how the bogey got in?” I asked.

Mab replied, “Remains show victim to have eaten bread, tuna, cola, and what was probably once ice cream.  Bogies in their larval stage are fragile and could be crushed by teeth.  Bread and tuna are chewed.  Ice cream tends to melt in the mouth first.  A larval sac would be noticed.”

            “Cross reference cola with previous victims reports,” I asked my familiar.

            “Who are you talking to? Me?” Tybolt asked, eyeing me with bright yellow eyes. “I'm a familiar, not a errand kitten,”

            “Just check the references,” I growled.

            Tybolt bestirred himself enough to leap onto the table and push the button to turn on the computer, but then he returned to the painstaking task of washing.  He was saved from any further indignities by Mab, who, snorting with exasperation, pulled off his gloves and stomped over to search the database himself.

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            An examination of previous cases available on record showed one cola, Pixie Cola to be specific, to have been present in all cases.  Mab and I reckoned that the bogey larvae could be made soft enough to slide down a throat during a large gulp.  If the bogies were in the Pixie Cola, a lot more lives might soon be taken.  On the other hand, a lot of folk drink Pixie.  Could be a coincidence.

            “Pixie's a big company, Ma'am.  If we break a story like this and can't prove it, they'll slam us for libel.” Mab growled.

            “Let them slam.  I am a Handmaiden of the White Lady!  I will not cower before the likes of the Pixie Corporation!” I exclaimed vehemently.

“Right, Ma’am,” Mab drawled, pulling his hat low over his eyes to hide his expression.

I continued more calmly, “However, let's be sure, all the same.  Mab, you check the paper and find out whether this spat of bogey deaths is a local or national phenomena.  I'll locate the nearest Pixie warehouse.”

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            We reached the Pixie warehouse down by the docks just after midnight.  Creeping up to a pile of old boxes and barrels, we hid and observed the security.  Two guards passed our position, talking among themselves.  Mab and I remained motionless for the twenty minutes it took them to make their rounds and return to walk by us again.  As soon as they passed the second time, we sneaked out the other way and slipped in a side door, which Mab quickly opened with a lock pick he carried in his shoe.

            Within, all was silent.  Next to a pile of crates, a lone guard slept within a tiny circle of light from an overhead lamp; an empty bottle of Pixie Cola resting on the floor beside his chair.  Mab and I crept silently by and examined the boxes and bottles.

            “Pss.  Miss Miranda, look here,” Mab called softly, his voice hardly audible in the great cavernous warehouse.  He stood pointing at the guard's neck.  I crept forward.  Just above the collar bone were two identical puncture marks.  His face was pale as chalk.  I reached out and felt his wrist.  He was dead.

            Mab raised an eyebrow.

            “Curiouser and curiouser,” I whispered back.

            After a once around, we determined that the place was empty and pulled out our lights.  Mab, who distained magic, was carrying a Mag Light the size of a bobby’s billy club.  I, on the other hand, made a point of avoiding technology any time old-fashioned reliable magic would serve.  I wore a coronet set with a small sun sprite imprisoned in a crystal gem.  Tybolt had caught the sprite last Mid-Summer’s Night.  My brother Erasmus had trapped it in a gem for me and mounted it onto a silver coronet.  It served as a passable headlamp.       

My sun sprite leapt about in the gem, casting dancing lights upon the rows and rows of stacked cartons.  Mab ripped open a carton at random, pulled the cap off a bottle with his pen knife, and poured the contents onto the floor.  Sure enough, a thin gelatinous sack was visible amidst the dark pool of spilt liquid.  Mab went to squash it with his shoe, but I stopped him.

            “Let's take it back and examine it,” I whispered, “We might learn something.”

            Across the warehouse, the door creaked.  We could hear the voices of the guards, wondering aloud why this door was not locked.  Mab doused his flashlight.  I stuck my coronet back in its black velvet bag.

            “Quick, we got to get out of here!  If they find us, they’re going to blame us for the guard’s death!” hissed Mab.

            “Where can we go?” I whispered back.

“There was another door at the back,” Mab whispered back. “If the guards are here, they can’t be there.  Let’s go.”

Slowly, Mab and I crept along the extraordinarily long row of boxes heading for the back door.  At first, we could see the faint illumination from the dead guard’s light and the flicker of flashlights reflecting against the shiny soda boxes.  We moved quickly, stepping between the isles, with our backs pressed against the soda to avoid being detected by the guards. 

As we retreated deeper into the warehouse, however, even those faint lights fell away.  Soon, it was black as pitch.  While I was grateful because this meant that I was out of the current range of the guards’ flashlights, it also meant that I had to creep forward, my fingers trailing along the stacked boxes.

Ahead of us, Mab and I both distinctly heard the sound of someone moving.

“The vampire who killed the guard,” I hissed softly, “he may still be here!”

Mab never did get a chance to answer me.  Instead, I heard a sudden strangled noise from just in front of me, and the sounds of a scuffle.

 The next few moments were horrible.  I stood still, petrified with indecision.  I knew Mab was in trouble – I could hear him thrashing around – but I could see nothing.  I moved so that my back was pressed against the shelves and put my hands out in front of me, hoping to stave off any attack. Should I move forward and try to help him?  Should I flee and see to my own safety.  If only I had even the tiniest bit of light.

And then it struck me.  Vampire.  Sun sprite.  The idea was intriguing.  On the one hand, the sprite was a tiny weak thing.  On the other, we were in total darkness with nothing to dilute its effect.  Could work…worth a try.

Grabbing the black velvet bag, which I wore around my shoulder like a purse, I cracked it open very carefully, hoping that the light would shine towards Mab and his attacker and without alerting the human guards up front.

I saw a momentary glimpse of a tall figure with his large muscular hands encircling Mab’s neck, and then there was just a pile of clothes and dust.  I quickly closed the bag.  Phantom images hovered about me, as my eyes swam from the onslaught of brightness.

“Worked like a charm,” I laughed.

“Thanks, Ma’am,” said Mab.  I could not see him, but I somehow knew he was rubbing his neck, “Too bad we could not apprehend him.  Might have been useful to question him.”

I shrugged.  “Oh well, he’s dust now.  Besides, his presence here is irrelevant to the case.  Let’s get out of here while we still can.”

When we finally escaped the warehouse, it was a tremendous relief to breathe the open air and see the starlight.

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Back at the laboratory, we examined the larva, which turned out to be a type two bogey, its terrible incisors still nothing but gelatinous goo.  When we were done, I let Mab kill it.  Tybolt wanted to play with it first, but I thought that path led towards nothing but disaster.

            “What next?” asked Mab grimly.

            “You find out where that Pixie is bottled,” I said, “I'm going down to the library.”

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            The restricted area of the library contained a complete set of Encyclopaedia Arcanium.  Bright and early the next morning, I was down there to look up ‘bogey, type 2.’  According to the Arcanium, Type-2 Bogies were bigger than your run-of-the-mill Type-1 Bogies (usually found on farms), but not as big as your Type-3 Bogeys, also called nightmare bogies or ‘boogey men’, (which were found mainly in ghettoes and have been known to grow to over seven feet tall.) 

Type-2 Bogies, the encyclopedia reported, were known for stealing eggs, garbage, and babies.  They ranged from about a foot and a half to two feet in height and could grow from larva to full size in a matter of minutes, once the developmental process began.

            Believe it or not, the effects of swallowing bogey larva on the human body was documented.  The encyclopedia article reported that Type-2 Bogey larva was normally inert within humans, i.e. swallowing a larva did not cause the bogey to hatch; however, the larvae did release a chemical which produced a mild euphoric sensation in humans.  Certain cults in the Midwest were reported to swallow bogey larvae to induce mystical experiences.  No cases of larvae hatching in living bodies had been reported by these cults. 

            Something was going terribly wrong.

            Further into the article, I located a list of substances known to trigger development in bogey larvae.  The substances were all written in chemical codes, only about a third of which I recognized.  I had to look up the rest of them in a medical reference before I had any idea what we were dealing with.  It took me more than an hour, but eventually, I determined that all the substances were associated with decay or decomposing corpses.  None would be found in healthy living bodies, or even in Pixie Cola. 

So, what was causing the bogies to hatch in the living?

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Up on the library roof lived one of my best informants, Balthasar the Gargoyle.  When I arrived, he was expounding to a group of pigeons, reminiscing about his days as a coal demon in the pits of Hell.  His duties had included heating the hot coals on the beaches around the pools of much and mire where the Wrathful and Sullen were condemned to swim.  Balthasar describing with blissfully glee how the Wrathful and Sullen would howl and jump, flapping their bony arms, whenever they tried to escape; their water-soaked feet sizzling on the glowing coals of the shore. 

            “Those were the days, Lady Miranda.  Before I got conjured into the stone of this library,” he said gloomily as the pigeons departed in a flurry of beating wings. 

            My heart went out to him.  He had the nostalgia bug even worse than I did.  At least I could order to an aerie servant to go find me an original Chippendale chair or whip me up an batch of authentic mulberry morath.  Balthasar could do nothing but sit and remember.  He could not even clean the pigeon droppings from his stone head.

            I washed his head with a bucket and towel I had brought along for that purpose and told him the story he always liked to hear about the time some overeager vampire tried to take a bite out of me.  Virgin blood is considered a delicacy by vampires, and this particular one had been tripping over himself to sample this particular delicacy.  Unfortunately for him, the White Lady of Spiral Wisdom frowns upon creatures of the night mistreating her handmaidens.  The moment my blood touched his lips, he writhed, as if aflame, and promptly turned to dust. 

Balthasar loved that story.  He hated vampires.

            “They leave droppings on my stomach when they roost up here in their bat forms,” he complained.  “Bad enough having a pot belly of stone, without having a bunch of defecating vampires to decorate it for you.”

            I gave his stone belly a pat and figured it was time to get down to business.  “I’m working on a new case, Balthasar,” I said, “Have you heard anything about where this rash of bogies are coming from?”

            “Heard, no, but I’ve seen.  Look down there,” said Balthasar, “To the right, next to the doughnut shop.”

            Below, a large white and green 'Friendly Poltergeist Removal, Inc.' truck was making its way down the street.  The truck stopped, and the drivers got out and placed large flat traps laden with sticky sweet foods and silver trinkets in an alley between the Police Precinct and the court house.  A group of bogies, hungry and skinny creatures with spindly arms and legs about the size of large rabbits, ran out almost immediately and were quickly captured by the traps.        

“How bizarre!” I exclaimed, quickly scribbling down the license plate.  “Either those are some extremely enterprising humans who have decided to make a living impersonating a popular movie, or there is another supernatural organization in town beside Prospero, Inc.”

            Balthasar watched them drive away with a melancholy sigh. 

“Wonder where they bring those things?  Sure wouldn't mind having a few of them to eat.  Pretty hungry these days.  This generation of pigeons is already getting wise about sitting on my head.  Who would have guessed that pigeons could learn,” he grumbled.

            I fed him the crackers in my pocket and promised to bring something more tasty next time I visited.  Rough life, the metropolitan gargoyle's.

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Back in the car, we discussed what we knew.  Mab went first.

            “Here’s what my research turned up:  the bogies are coming in the Pixie Cola, being drunk up by decent people, hatching, eating their way out through the stomach, and moving into the walls of the nearest buildings.  From there, they steal food and shiny objects.  They've also carried off two babies,” Mab reported, gesturing with his lit cigarette.

            “My guess,” I said, “is that Pixie Corp is adding bogey larvae to their product for its narcotic value.  Trying to compete with that secret Haitian ingredient in Coke, most likely.”

            “A dangerous thing to do,” muttered Mab, “especially considering the outcome.”

“Did you find out if the spat of deaths was local?” I asked.

            Mab blew a ring of smoke into the air.  I coughed and fanned the smoke away from me with my silver fighting fan, an elegant and razor-sharp implement made by the Japanese god of the forge himself.

            “Hey, careful with that thing!” Mab squawked, “I get the message.  As to your question: not local, but not country-wide either.  Seems there are a number of areas were the larvae are hatching.  As you might imagine, they are the areas to which new Pixie Cola ships first.”

            “Could it be something in the water Pixie is using?  Perhaps it runs through the graveyard and carries traces of rotting corpses?” I suggested, recalling the list of chemicals that triggered bogey development.

            Mab shrugged.  “Couldn't tell you, Ma'am.

            “What about 'Friendly Poltergeist Removal, Inc.'” I asked, “Ever hear of them?”

            “No, Ma’am, but they bear looking into.  I’ll have some of my men check it out as soon as we get home.”

            *                                                          *                                              *

            We entered the Pixie plant as part of a public tour, slipped away from the group, and hid under some machinery until closing time.  Mab checked the rooms one by one, while I slipped into the office and rifled through the desk.  I hacked into their system with very little effort and began copying their records.  Then, I pulled out my mini-scanner and began scanning all pertinent papers.

            The documents and electronic files confirmed what I had expected.  'Mildly pleasing gelatinous sacs' had been added to the product to increase its competitiveness against Coke.  The sacs were being purchased through a company called Widow, Roderick and Company.  From email correspondence, it was clear that Pixie had not originally been aware of the true nature of these 'sacs.' The test samples their labs had been given had not included bogey parts.

Recently, however, someone had alerted the upper management to the presence of Pixie Cola in the corpses, and they now knew about the bogey larvae in the sacs.  They had immediately stopped production of the new ‘more pleasing’ variety; however, thousands of contaminated bottles were already on the market.  (Records indicated that at least a hundred thousand such bottles had been produced, thirty thousand of which had already been shipped.)  According to their internal communications, the executives at Pixie Corporation were frantic to discover what was causing the hatching before anyone else did. 

In the meantime, the response to the new variety – from those customers who had not died because their innards were eaten out by bogies – had been phenomenal.  Sales had tripled in two weeks.

            Mab came stomping back into the office.  “Found the supply room,” he  said, “Bags of bogey larval sacs from floor to ceiling.”

            I shared with him what I had found.  He nodded grimly.

            “They should notify the public,” Mab grunted.

            “Mab! Look at this!” I exclaimed, holding up a newspaper clipping that had been laying in the top drawer of the desk.  Splashed across the front was a picture of the guard we had found dead in the warehouse the night before.  According to the article, he had been found in the morning with his stomach eaten out.  The emerging bogey was said to have rifled through the unopened Pixie cartons and spilled a bottle onto the floor.

            “Huh.  Son of a dog,” said Mab, scratching his head.

            “I could have swore that guy was a vampire victim,” I asked, “…do Bogey’s leave double incisor marks like that?”

            Mab shook his head.  “That guy was definitely vampire chow.  Bogies are messier, and they don’t drain their victims.  You saw Gooseberry’s body, the poor sucker.  The bogey must have hatched later, after we left.  But as to whether there is a connection between the neck bites and the bogey, that I don’t know.” 

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Back at the mansion, I sent Mab away with some excuse about making tea, then headed down to the lab, where I dragged Gooseberry's body out of the walk-in refrigerator.  Usually, I did not examine corpses myself, but in this case I did not feel comfortable voicing my suspicions to Mab.  Luckily the same Water of Life, a gift from Eurynome, that extends my natural lifespan also makes me stronger and faster than would normally be, so I had no trouble carrying the corpse to one of the examination tables.

            Donning rubber gloves, I checked the one place Mab had previously not thought to look.  Sure enough, amidst the wrinkled skin of Gooseberry's withered male organ were two dark bruise marks.  A favorite trick of vampiric succubi that, takes advantage of a large supply of pooled blood.  I shuttered.  Oh, but I hated those blood suckers!

            I cleaned up the lab and removed Tybolt from the examination table.  He was batting at Gooseberry's manly parts.

            “You get to do it, why can't I?” Tybolt sniffed, as he stalked away.

            “I wasn't doing it for fun.” I said.

            Tybolt’s bright golden eyes regarded me steadily, “Oh, then why did you chase Mab away first?”

            Sometimes, it is just not worth it to talk to cats. 

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Next morning, I stepped out on the balcony for a breath of cool morning air and stood a while, looking out over the gardens, the enclosed forest beyond and the purple-capped mountains which rose in the far distance.  Until recently, this vista had been unmarred, and I could imagine that I was the only person around for miles in any direction.  Now, however, I could not glance far without my eye falling upon a telephone pole, a paved road, or some other sign of man’s encroachment.  On many mornings, these symbols of Mankind’s triumph over the adversities of nature filled me with a fierce possessive joy, but not today.  Today, as I thought of Gooseberry and of other fine things that had passed away, they merely seemed like reminders of all the glories I had known once and lost.

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            Over breakfast that morning, I told Mab my conclusions.

            “I may have discovered what's activating the bogey larvae,” I said. 

He raised an eyebrow.  His mouth was occupied with a jelly doughnut.

            “Vampire spittle,” I said.  “Gooseberry had been a vampire victim.  That's why he was already in shock when the bogey emerged.  The man in the warehouse was also a vampire victim.  When I looked over the other autopsy reports available to us, I found mention of twin puncture marks in more than half of them.”

            “At least, that means you were right that Gooseberry didn't suffer too much, the poor shmuck,” Mab said, after swallowing. 

I coughed discretely, and decided against sharing the details regarding the location of Gooseberry’s puncture.

            “So,” Mab continued, “Pixie introduces a new ingredient to compete with Coke.  That ingredient reacts badly with vampire spittle.  What we really have, then, is a vampire problem, not a bogey problem.  Pixie Corp can just tell its customers to wear crosses or carry garlic, and all will be well.  Case closed.”

            “Not exactly,” I said frowning, “We still haven’t cleared up the matter of who is stopping divination into this matter.”

            “Pixie cola, of course,” Mab said,. “They don't want the deaths blamed on them.”

            I shook my head.  “I don’t think so.  A ward strong enough to stop my gifts would require a substantial supernatural talent.  It's not Pixie Corporation’s style.  Besides, there was no evidence of such a thing among their records.  What about 'Friendly Poltergeist Removal, Inc.'?  They could be involved in all this.  Did you find anything on them?”

            Mab shook his head. “They’re not registered with any mundane business registry  and their license number is recorded as belonging to a set of destroyed plates.

            “Why is that hardly surprising?”  I murmured.

            “So, where do we go next?” Mab asked.

            “Where else?” I asked, “Widow, Roderick, and Co.  We can leave first thing after the funeral.”

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            We buried Gooseberry in the enclosed woods behind the house.  Father officiated, and all the Aerie Ones came to mourn his passing.  Their weeping was an eerie sound, chilling to the bone, and a storm rose, the likes of which had not seen in many a year.  Trees came crashing down, and cars were carried through the air.  Gooseberry’s passing would be remembered by mortals for decades to come.

As soon as the funeral was over, Mab and I headed down south towards the offices of Widow, Roderick and Company.  This mission, I feared, would not be as easy as breaking into Pixie Corp.  Any company that dealt with bogey larvae and massive obscuration spells was likely to pack a pretty impressive supernatural arsenal.  So, before I left, I asked Father for the keys to the Great Hall, where our family kept our greatest magic. 

Now, as Mab drove, I held in my hands the warm wood of the Staff of Wind and Weather, a four-foot flute made from the same pine in which the witch Sycorax originally imprisoned Ariel.  Into its length, Father has woven all the magic from one of his great tomes.  Whomever played the flute could command the winds, the weather, lightning, whirlwinds, and all the members of Mab’s race.

In the interest of personal safety, I wore my emerald tea dress.  Father had woven many spells into the garment.  It could turn aside both supernatural dangers, such as ghosts, wraiths, and angry djin, and man-made dangers, such as knives, swords, and even small caliber gunfire.  In addition, it was a lovely garment, which complemented my green eyes.  Unfortunately, it was a bit out of style lately.  To make myself less conspicuous, I had covered it with a white trench coat.

Mab, whose hands burned if he touched cold iron, had brought with him his trusty lead pipe, half-a-dozen wooden skewers,  and his fists.  He also brought a pair of ear plugs that allowed him to be present while I played the flute without having to dance to its tune.  It would do no good to have Mab, in his heavy material body, trying to obey a command to fly or brew up a storm.

            The offices of Widow, Roderick and Co. were located in the foot hills of the mountains, just south of the river.  It was a large estate with a nicely manicured lawn punctuated by old oaks.  A ten-foot-tall barbed-wire fence surrounded the premises.

            Mab handed me several wooden skewers, which I stuck in the pocket of my trench coat.

“In case you find yourself in the mood for vamp-kabab,” he said, adding, “Did you think to bring that sun sprite coronet thing?  That came in handy last time.”

I shook my head, “It’s no use during the day.  Even a simple incandescent bulb would overwhelm it.  It was only in pitch darkness that it could exert enough concentrated sunness to dust a vampire.”

Mab glanced up at the barbed wire.  “Any ideas on crossing the fence?” 

            “Certainly,” I said, smiling my favorite superior smile.  I raised my flute to my lips and waited.  Scowling, Mab put the plugs in his ears, and I began to play.

            The wind picked up in time to the music.  As gently as thistledown wafting on a summer breeze, Mab and I were lifted up, wafted over the fence, and set gently down on the far side.  When our feet were firmly on the ground, I lowered the flute, and Mab removed his earplugs.

“Boy, I hate that oversized piccolo!” He growled softly,  “Some day, that infernal instrument is going to meet an unpleasant fate!  I just pray, I’ll be there to see it!”

            “Shh!   You’ll alert the guards,” I said surveying the establishment.

            What I saw was sloping lawns dotted with massive trees leading to a honest-to-god castle, which rose like an out-of-place ghost amidst the otherwise New World surroundings.  It was a great heavy structure with gargoyles set upon the parapets. 

            “Looks like a real castle,” whispered Mab.

            “It is a real castle,” I replied.  “I recognize it.  Whomever is living here must have transported it stone by stone from its original resting place in Northern Scotland.  The gargoyles are new, though.”

            “You’ve been in there before?” asked Mab hopefully.

            Ruefully, I shook my head. “No, I’ve only seen the outside.  Back in the Seventeen Hundreds, my brother Theophrastus and his friend Josiah Barrington cleaned out a nest of vampires that had been roosting in this castle.”

            “I remember those two,” said Mab, shuddering, “We used to call them the Demon Slayers.  They were a force to be feared by supernatural folk.  No spirit with any sense misbehaved during their heyday.”

            “I wonder if one of the original nest escaped to return and move the castle,” I mused.

            “Could be,” Mab agreed, “But then, this heap of rocks is so gloomy it practically  screams ‘haven for angst-ridden creatures of the night.’  Damn vampires,” he spat, “They wouldn’t be half so irritating if they weren’t so consumed with self-pity.”

            “What do you see, as far as defenses?” I asked.

            Mab looked, “Well, the gargoyles of course.  We won’t be sneaking up to this heap unseen.  And those statues lower down among the trees, the ones that look like great lion-dogs?  They probably come to life and attack, ditto for those statues over there, the soldiers with their swords drawn.  Other than that?  That vibration in the air, over by the far corner, suggests ethereal guardians.  Maybe efreets or djin.  Also there are some human guards by the main doors.  Probably there is more out there, but that’s all I can see.”

            “So, no chance of us sneaking in?” I asked.

            Mab shook his head, “None at all.”

            “Ah well.  When stealth fails, there is always the direct approach,”  I said.

Sliding my left hand into the pocket of my white trench coat, I grasped the handle of the forge god’s fan, my flute clenched tightly in my other hand.  Straightening, I strolled brazenly towards the wide tree-lined walkway that led across the lawns to the misplaced Scottish castle.

I moved forward, a graceful smile on my lips, no doubt making quite a lovely picture; a young maiden with hair the color of moonlight on snow, garbed in an attractive emerald gown and a billowing white trench coat.  Even from here, I could see the spark of interest in the eyes of the human guards.

The sight of the old Scottish castle reminded me of happier days, when I and my siblings, my father’s children from later marriages, had still lived with him.  We had been one large happy magical family back then.  I remembered the ‘Demonslaying Twins’, Theo and his friend Josiah, how fierce and fine they had been.  Back then Brother Theo had been one of my greatest admirers, and his friend Josiah had been a fine man, scholarly yet agile, able to discourse with ease on nearly any topic.  He would have enjoyed sipping mulberry morath and debating the virtues of Descartes, or the evils of Kant, or the pleasures of a horse-drawn carriage over those of the automobile.  Why were there no men such as he today?

As we came over the rise of the lawn and headed down the slope towards the castle, we could see the door guards more clearly; two burly men dressed in Highland uniform, complete with kilts of red and blue tartan.  They stood alertly at their post, watching us curiously as we approached.  When we were within easy earshot, one of them called out in one of the most atrocious Scottish accent to which I have ever heard tongue give utterance, “Halt!  Who goes there?  State your business!”

“Upstart Yanks!” I murmured under my breath.  Mab, who liked to consider himself an American, frowned at me disapprovingly.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” I said, lowering my lashes and smiling at them sideways. “I seem to be lost.  I wonder if one of you could help direct me?”

I had learned this particular look from my sister Logistillia, during one of her few moments of sisterly affection.  I seldom used it, and frankly suspected that I did it very badly; but that never seemed to dim the enthusiasm with which it was received.  The fake Scotsmen were no exceptions.  The two kilted blockheads practically tripped over themselves to hurry to my side.

And kept on tripping, as Mab kicked one in the head and knocked the other one across the temple with his trusty pipe.  They both fell with a thud.

            As we stood over them, congratulating ourselves, the eyes of both guards glazed over.  They jerked directly to their feet, without stopping to bend at the hip or knee, and lumbered forward, arms outstretched, groping like blind men.

            “Damn Zombie spell!” groaned Mab.  He kicked one of them in the face again.  It jerked its head but continued forward.  Mab backed away, crying, “Quick, stab them with something silver.”

            I drew my fan and struck.  His flesh parted like butter before the enchanted fan.  Continuing my spin, I sliced open the second one's neck.  His head rolled way from his collarbone.  The two guards collapsed into heaps. 

I stared down at them regretfully; a shame to kill them just because they were possessed, even if they did have atrocious Scottish accents. 

From behind us came the grate of stone on stone.

            “The statues!” I cried, “Mab, get the door open! I'll try to hold them.”

            Mab pulled at the great oak door.  It did not budge.  He raced back to grab the ring of keys from the belt of one of the fallen guards, while I turned to face the huge stone soldier.  He stepped from his granite pedestal and came forward, each step leaving a huge deep gouge in the soft green grass. 

I surveyed the stone bully thoughtfully.  The bulky statue was far too heavy for a light wind.  Holding my flute above my head, I began to swing it around in a circle.  Wind whistled through the open holes making an angry screeching noise.  Within moments, a whirlwind danced atop the spinning flute.  Like a baseball man at bat, I swung my flute and pitched the whirlwind directly at the stone soldier.  The slim tornado picked up the animated statue and carried away across the lawn, smashing it into the great trees as it went.

            “Quick, Ma’am!  I’ve got the door open!” called Mab.  I ran towards him, aware that the two dog-lion statues on the lawn were now rising from their pedestals and preparing to lope towards me.

            Something invisible and fey swept by me, trying to grapple me.  A shower of green sparks erupted from my enchanted tea dress followed by a long mournful moan.  Grinning, I made a mental note to thank Father, yet again, for his handiwork.

            I reached the door, and Mab slammed it shut, barring it with a heavy wood bar that was apparently intended for just that purpose.  Behind us, the heavy oak of the door groaned as stone paws crashed against it, but the door held.

Mab and I looked around.  We were in a long presence hall punctuated by thick marble pillars.  Several tasteful Grecian statues added an air of elegance to the somewhat dark and dour chamber.  By silent agreement, Mab slunk to one side and I to the other, and we began making our way down the hall.

            Too late, I noticed the scratch marks on the base of the statue of Poseidon, marks which should have warned me that the statue could move.  By that time, thick stone arms, like iron vises, had seized me and lifted me from the ground.  I am unusually strong for a member of the fairer sex, but not as strong as solid marble.  I writhed and kicked my feet, to no avail.

            Across the room, Mab was having troubles of his own.  He had noticed the scratch marks in time to dodge the initial lunge of the animated statue of Apollo; however, the statue was now pursuing him.  He managed to break one of the stone god’s arms with his trusty lead pipe, but that only made the statue angrier.  The heavy marble statue leapt atop Mab, pinning him to the ground.

            A moment later, human guards came, more Americans in kilts.  At least, this bunch was not trying to pretend they were Scottish.  One of the guards, a large bearded lout leered at me. 

            “What’s this we’ve got here?  Surely, the boss won’t mind if we keep this one for ourselves.”

            “Careful,” Mab said growled, “The dame's still a maiden.  You know how vampires value virgin blood.”

            Mab was taking a chance, of course.  There might not be any vampires here, or even if there were, the guards might not be in the know.  However, his gamble paid off.

            The leader of the guards, a tall sandy-haired fellow, pushed the bearded one away from me, saying, “Back off now.  You know the price of screwing up.  A bottle of Pixie and a sore neck.”

            The bearded guard scowled, “Very well, but I want to hold her when we pour in the juice.”

            In the end, it took the statue plus four guards to hold me down and open my mouth while they poured the bottle of Pixie Cola down my throat.  Only three held Mab, consequently, he was able to squirm more than I.  Eventually, they left us bound and tied on the floor in a side alcove. 

            The moment the guards left, Mab spit out the gelatinous sack. 

            “Jeepers!  But that was vile!  What about you, Ma’am?  Manage to outsmart them?” Mab asked.

            I signed, “No such luck, I fear.  I’m afraid I’m in for a ‘pleasant titillation’.”

            “Geez, that’s rotten.  Just hope that vampire doesn’t get us before the effect rubs off.  Hate to see you go that way, Ma’am,” said Mab, shaking his head sadly.

            “Thanks, Mab.  How comforting,” I replied dryly.

            He asked,  “Can you scoot over here and get the knife out of my shoe? I keep it right next to the lock pick.”

            “With all those gadgets in your shoes, it’s a wonder you can walk,” I marveled, as I wriggled closer to him and awkwardly fumbled the knife out of the back of his shoe with my bound hands. “Ah ha! Got it!”

            A moment later, we were on our feet.  A quick search turned up my flute, the fan, the pile of skewers, and Mab’s trusty lead pipe, all of which the guards had left lying in an umbrella rack around the corner.

            “Okay, Mab,” I whispered, “We need some kind of a plan.  Something better than my hare-brained frontal assault plan.  What was I thinking?”

            “You were thinking that you and I are both tough customers, and that there are few powers that can take us both out.  Unfortunately, our host here seems to be one of them.  My suggestion:  kiss our arses good-bye.”

            “I bet you there are secret passages here,” I said, ignoring Mab’s pessimism and his inappropriate language.  I examined the stone of the wall. “A lot of moody old castles had them.  Originally, they were meant for escape in time of siege, or even for servants to use, so that they stayed out of sight of the gentry.  What is more, I think I remember Theo and Josiah talking about one.  Josiah found a female vampire, the last of the nest, hidden in secret passage  I remember he mentioned how eloquently she had plead for her life before he staked her.  Given their description, and what I know about secret passageways, I would expect one to be about…here.”

            With a soft groan, the wall swung open.  Mab and I stepped quickly into the darkened interior and shut the stone door behind us.  Inside, it was dim and dusty, but peek holes ever forty feet or so allowed enough light for us to make our way.

            “Which way do we go?” I asked.

            Out of his pockets, Mab pulled a bag of apple blossom petals and a device much like a sextant.  He squatted, dropped the petals, and squinted, taking a reading with his device.  Detecting the supernatural was Mab’s specialty.  With the right gear, he could detect the breath of a passing phoenix or the trace of a fairy’s wing upon the air.

            “Magical energies break down physical laws, so the more magic in the area, the more the natural path of the falling petals is disturbed.  This device allows me to measure the degree of deflection and gauge the direction of the biggest supernatural disturbance.  In this case, it’s that-a-way,” he grunted, pointing to the left, “Might be the vamps.  Might be the spell.  Might be anything.  Sorry, I can’t be more specific, but conditions are not optimal.  If I had more light, I might be able to get a more accurate reading.”

            “It’s the only lead we have,” I said, “We might as well follow it.”

            As we continued, a vague sense of giddy excitement filled me.  We were on a tremendous adventure, sneaking through secret passages to fight a terrible monster.  How handsome Mab seemed in the dim peep hole light.  Why had I never noticed before? 

            “Feeling any effects from the sack?” asked Mab, as we crept along.

            “None at all.  Everything is fine!” I said primly.  Giggling, I added. “You know, you didn't have to blab in front of everyone that I was a virgin.”

Wisely, Mab kept quiet.

 Footsteps sounded in the hall beside us.  Through the nearest peep hole, we could see a group of men in white and green make their way across the floor.  They were carrying large rectangular boxes.  I recognized their insignia immediately:  Friendly Poltergeist Removal.  Balthasar had been on to something when he wondered where they were bringing the bogies.

            We walked softly beside them until the secret passage forked.  Following the inner fork, we moved around a wide chamber containing large mesh cages filled with bogies.  On one side of the chamber, males and females bogies copulated in enormous cages containing hundreds of the beasties.  Smaller cages stacked on the other side of the room contained female bogies in various stages of pregnancy.

            “Their larvae factory,” Mab whispered. 

I nodded and continued to stare.  The happenings in that room seemed fascinating to me.  Mab had to drag me along by the arm.

            “Mab,” I whispered, as we continued, “I seem to be losing control of my reason.  You are going to have to make all the important decisions.”

            “That’s too bad, Ma’am,” Mab replied glumly.

            “Why is that?” I asked cheerfully.

            “You don’t listen to me when you’re rational,” he said dourly, “I have little hope of you’re remembering to listen to me now.  My prognostication?  We’re doomed.”

             “Nonsense,” I said airily, “I feel certain we can do anything we set our mind to.  We have only to find the vamp or vamps that are behind this, dust them, and depart.”

            “Riiight,” murmured Mab.

            *                                                          *                                                          *

            We came to a staircase, and Mab did his trick with the blossoms and the sextant again.  This time, his results indicated that we should go up the stairs.  So, we did.  At the top of the short staircase was a door that opened up into a main hall again.  Through the peep hole, we could see a balcony overlooking a ball-room sized chamber.  The chamber walls were decorated with bas-relief of bat-winged succubi and dog-headed gods.  A huge flaming pentacle covered the floor below, surrounded by arcane circles and runes.  Vast bat-winged shapes, chained at the neck, stood in each triangular arm of the star, tending the fires.  At the five corners of the pentacle were five black pillars.  Tied each pillar was a naked young girl, hardly past puberty.  A sixth girl was strapped to a table huge ornate table in the center of the star.

            Mab averted his face and swore. 

            “A beastly thing to do to kids,” he spat.

            “The spell must require virgins.  The only way to be sure is to get them young,” I said.  “This is it, though.  This is the spell that is obscuring divination.”

            “What do we do now?” asked Mab.  “I recognize this set up, but this kind of spell is difficult to undo.  Each step must be undone in the precise order that it was originally cast or a disaster of untold proportions could ensue.  Under ideal circumstances, I am pretty confident you and I could manage it, but it would take four or five hours, and we would have to see to it that we weren't interrupted.”

            “Or you could undo it the short way,” I offered.

            “What's the short way?” Mab asked.

            “You won't like it,” I grinned.  The thought was vaguely pleasing.  If this is what bogey larva can do to people like me, no wonder the sale of Pixie tripled in the last week.

            “Spit it out, already” Mab growled, “It can't be that bad.”

            I blithely pointed out the obvious. “This spell requires virgins.  If you were to go down and deflower one of the girls, the spell would be broken.  Sort of the darker version of 'Love's first kiss'.” 

            Mab just stared at me.  “Ma’am, I sincerely hope you avoid bogey larvae from this day forth!”

            He was still glaring at me when I smelled it.  Clear and sweet came the scent, like an old friend, calling to me.

            “Mulberry morath!” I cried with delight.  Flinging open the door, I stepped boldly out of the alcove and onto the balcony.

            “Ma’am!  No!  Wait,” Mab’s voice was saying somewhere behind me, followed by a muttered, “Knew she wouldn’t listen to me.”  Poor Mab, he sounded so unhappy.  I wondered vaguely what could be bothering him.

            I tripped happily along the plush scarlet carpet of the hallway, oblivious of any danger.  The scent of morath wafted from an open doorway just beyond the secret passage.  Within was a cozy library lit by an oil lantern.  A man dressed in a lace shirt and dark brown britches sat in a large ruby-colored easy chair swirling a glass of familiar liquid.  A buff long coat, of the sort gentlemen wore back when Napoleon was a threat, hung from an oak coat hanger. 

            He looked up, a handsome man despite his pallid face and his long pointy incisors, handsome and hauntingly familiar.

            “Josiah Barrington!” I cried, astonished.

            “God’s teeth!” he laughed, “Miranda Prospero!”

            We stood gazing at each other for a time.  Sitting there, with his boots propped up on an ottoman, I thought Josiah had grown even more handsome that the rather fine figure he cut in my memory.  This could be the effects of the larvae, I realized, but somehow, I did not think so.  He had always been an attractive man, immorality as a blood sucking leech had been good to him.

            “But…but,” I sputtered, regarding his long slender fangs, shining like fresh ivory and as pointy as the incisors of a wolf, “You hated vampires!”

“Certainly, when I was young and hail,” replied Josiah, whose authentic Scottish accent was a pleasure to hear.  “Then, I grew old and weak, while you and Theo and all your family remained as youthful and strong as you had ever been.  And I began to wonder why I had to die, if you and Theo could live.”


            “What other option had I?” asked Josiah, “Theo would not share your wondrous Water of Life with me.  There was no other option for me, except death.”

            “You never did stake that vampiress, did you?” I asked, “The one who begged so piteously?”

            “No,” Josiah admitted, smiling sadly as he reminisced. “My heart softened, and I let her go.  I made up the story that I had slain her to protect her from Theo’s wrath, for he knew one had escaped him.  Years later, when I was old, I crept back to this castle and begged her to return the favor I did when I spared her by adopting me, so to speak, which she did.”

            “This is…amazing,” I said, dazed.

            “Perhaps,” he smiled at me, his blue eyes sparkling like sapphires, “Or maybe it is fate!  How have you been, Miranda?  Still young, I see, and still a maiden?  What a cold lonely existence you must lead.  Perhaps this was meant, so that we might have this second chance together.”  He leaned forward and, taking a second glass from a rack, poured me a glass of his sweet fragrant morath.

            I can not say how this would have sounded if I had not been hopped-up on bogey larvae, but at the moment, it sounded terribly inviting.  Had I not been wishing for a companion?  Someone with whom to reminisce about old days?  Someone with whom to sip mulberry morath?

            I took the glass and sipped its contents.  “Ah!” I said softly, “Now this is the real thing!”

             Our eyes met and locked, my emeralds falling into his deep sapphire pools.

            “I am so pleased to see you,” his voice was as soft as a whisper, “You are even more beautiful than I remember.”

            “All right, break it up,” said Mab, stomping into the room.

            “And who is this?” asked Josiah.

            “This is Mab,” I said, “My company gumshoe.  Mab, Josiah Barrington, of the Demonslaying Twins.”

            “Apparently, not anymore,” Mab observed wryly, noting Josiah’s fangs.  To Josiah, he said, “Quite a spell, you got out there.  A real piece of work.”

            “Thank you, I’m rather pleased with it, myself,” Josiah smiled, “Keeps our current business quiet.  Not quite enough, I gather, as the two of you made it through.  Pray, tell me how you found us?”

            “Pure old-fashion gumshoeing,” Mab said gruffly, “No magic.”

            “Really,” Josiah arched a perfect brow, “How quaint!”

            “So…what is this all about?  Why the bogey larvae?  Trying to ruin the good name of  the Pixie Corporation?” asked Mab.

“Bogey larvae are a delicacy to the living, but human blood infused with the larvae's influence is a far greater delicacy to vampires.  It is far greater than any wine, even morath,” he smiled at me.  Time stopped as we gazed at each other, “It is ambrosia.”

            Mab growled “Are you telling me, our man Gooseberry and the others, died to become a vampire cocktail?”

            Josiah leaned back and put his fingers together, forming a steeple, “I suppose you could put it that way, though that makes something sublime sound rather crass.  It is a pity the process wakes the bogey.  I have no particular desire to see the human host die. Given my druthers, I would rather keep the cocktail, as you so bluntly call it, alive and be able to go back for seconds – for you know how humans are about intoxicants, once they have sampled the bogey larvae, they would most certainly go back for more.

“Some vampires,” Josiah continued, “on the other hand, do not feel as I do.  They feel that it is the very fleetingness of the delicacy which makes it so…precious.  A lost thing that will never come again, like the past,” he smiled into my eyes, his blue eyes wise and sad, “Like proper morath, or the smell of saddle wax, or wide unspoiled vistas, and all the fleeting things we used to love that have passed away and will not be seen again.”

            For no particular reason, I began to giggle.  “You’ll have to excuse me,” I said, “Your guards force fed me some of a bottle of Pixie.”

            A hunger came over Josiah’s handsome face as he contemplated the taste of an immortal virgin on pixie.  He looked at me with such longing, I could hardly bear it.  I wished I could do something to sooth him.

            “Join me,” he whispered, “Let us entwine our lives together.  Let our future be one future.  We can live together as companions, or, should we desire more, and you wish to leave the service of your Goddess and cleave to me, I could offer you an immortality of another kind.”

            Mab snorted in disgust and turned to me, “So what now, Ma’am, do we stake him, or what?”

            I hesitated, torn.  Staking an old friend, even one who had become a monster, seemed a horrible thing to do; especially, such a handsome old friend and one who had done so much for our cause in his youth.  Surely, it would not be so bad to let one vampire live?

            I imagined my life if Josiah were to become part of it.  How pleasant it would be to sit and chat with him.  To speak of days gone by, of pleasures we both knew, to sip a wine only we remembered and talk of glories lost and of wonders yet to come.

            On the other hand, even dazed as I was, I could never forget that, when push came to shove, I was with the good guys, and he was not…but was that really reason enough to stake him?

            “No, I said softly, “I have a better idea.”  I stepped towards Josiah, who looked good enough to eat.  My lashes lowering of their own accord…so this was how that look was supposed to be done.  “Drink of me,” I whispered, “Sup of the nectar so sweet it has no compare – not even among the sweetest of wines.”

            “No, Ma’am!  You’re mad!” cried Mab, leaping forward.  Josiah knocked him aside with an impatient arm, hardly even trying.  Mab went flying out of the room and smashed into the banister.  A quick glance his direction assured me that he was all right, then I had eyes only for Josiah. 

            He came toward me, and I swayed toward him.  His strong hands caught my shoulders, and he lowered his polished fangs towards my neck.  The sting of their needle-like bite was with me for only a moment.  Then, I could hear his sigh of contentment as he began to swallow.

            “Sucker!” I laughed aloud.

Josiah lifted his head.  From the horrified expression on his face, it was obvious that he had just remembered the story Balthesar so enjoyed hearing.  Then, his sweet handsome face contorted in horrendous pain.  He writhed, crying out once, and crumbled away, a pile of dust upon the handsome Arabic carpet.

Mab looked so relieved when he arrived back at my side, I thought he would kiss me, “Thank god, Ma’am!  For a moment there I thought you were going soft.”

“Never,” I said dismissed the very idea impatiently, “I live beyond my normal span of years because I have been granted extra life from above; not by robbing it from the helpless.  And while I admit I might wish for a new diversion from time to time, I don’t stoop to murder to get it.”

“So, why didn’t we just stake him?  Rather than risk your life with the vampire spittle and all?”

“I feared we could not take him,” I said dismissively, “He was too strong for you, and I am in no condition for a fight.”

Mab looked at me carefully.  Finally, he nodded, “Riiiight, Ma’am.”

“Hmm?” I asked, arching a brow impatiently.

“Sure you thought we couldn’t take ‘em,” Mab scoffed, “You just didn’t want to stake an old friend.  Rather let him go out with a bang, so to speak.  Not that I blame you…entirely.”

As I turned away to hide my smile, my head swam.  Mab’s words about spittle and bogies suddenly permeated the mist of my thoughts.

“Mab, guard me.  I must pray, and hope that the Lady of Spiral Wisdom, the purifier of all poisons, will cleanse me before Josiah’s spit hatches the larvae in my belly.  While I might survive having my stomach eaten out from within…I’m really in no mood to find out.”

I knelt and prayed until Her warmth came to me, moving through my limbs and clearing my head of all giddiness.  As soon as I felt pure and whole, I pulled out my cell phone and called for backup. 

Within an hour, Father, a few of my more annoying brothers, and some company bully boys had arrived.  We cleaned the rest of the vamps out of the castle, slay the bogies, bottled the guard djin, petrified the gargoyles, and banished the demons that were maintaining the obscuration spell, which allowed us to free the young girls.  By the following morning, the castle was so free of supernatural stench that even Mab could not find anything about which to complain.

The young girls were all returned to their parents.  Pixie Cola Corporation finally admitted their part and issued free crosses and garlic to all their customers.  They were being sued, of course, but they had managed to convince a large part of the public that this whole incident was a smear campaign by Coke; probably the same part of the public who were still giddy from drinking Pixie Cola.

As for me, I had lost a friend who, under other circumstances, could have become the fit companion I so desired, but I was not left entirely bereft.  I took home Josiah’s entire supply of mulberry morath – to remember him by. 

He would have wanted me to have it.