Composure was a trait Dominic Thule cultivated in the wake of catastrophe – whether he was responsible for said event or not. But this was assuredly the worst of all calamaties, a disaster, nothing less than a fiasco.
But calmness of mind was not so easily attained. With a trembling hand Thule attempted to comb back the mane of black hair that stuck out to all points of the compass. His face was soot stained. The smoking jacket hung in tatters from his shoulders. Finally, with a vexed hiss towards his dishevelled reflection in the mirror, he flung aside the comb and limped to the shower.
“Revenge, Magister Necros! I will have my revenge upon you!”
The bedroom was furnished in the finest fin de siecle debauchery. An oval dome soared above and was suitable illuminated by phosphorescent symbols. The boiseries upon the walls were suitably intricate. A large bed was the centerpiece; a monstrosity of dark cherry, the soaring bedposts crowned with sneering dragon heads. Against the far wall by the door was a long table upon which was placed an ancient phonogram with a silver horn. Near the table was an eyesore of an ottoman, a grey and wattled stump of a thing.
There were seven maids in Dominic Thule’s service, but technically Ms. Friday had no maidly duties or responsibilities of the tedious sort for Thule held to regular business hours. The work week was complete, time for the parasegnostic to indulge in his pleasures.
(Though as a dilettante of the occult in the most frivolous sense, one could hardly call what the paraxegnostic did as employment of any kind. Nevertheless, Thule took his pleasures as he so desired. )
Thule rested upon the mattress of his bed and cast an approving eye towards Ms. Friday.
As the black slits in the yellow eyes revealed to the knowledgeable onlooker, Ms. Friday technically wasn’t even human like the other maids, She was a lamia of the most exotic and refined breeding.
“Bring me the cheese, Ms. Friday,” Thule said languidly.
Ms. Friday’s hips swayed beneath the indigo hued lingerie with a serpentine grace far beyond human capability. She held out the tray of cheese for Thule’s inspection. Her fingernails were scales.
“This is not Caravaccio,” complained Thule with an uplifted eyebrow. “This is mere cheddar. You know I can’t abide such a common curd.”
“This was-ss all I could find,” the lamia said. “Does-ss it matter?”
“Indeed it matters,” said Thule waving away the tray. “Take it away and bring me my wine.”
“As-ss you wish,” the lamia said.
A moment later, Thule’s irritation reached new levels as she approached with a glass of white wine.
“Ms. Friday,” Thule complained. “For how many years have you been in my employ? My habits, my tastes are certain and never variable. When have I ever had a white wine? I only serve the vintage when entertaining the travelling satyr who comes by every other odd year.”
“Wine is wine,” hissed the lamia and let the glass drop. The wine spilled out upon the shag rug. “I am far more intoxicating than any common beverage. Let us begin the coital embracing now.”
She began to slither upon the mattress. Thule evaded her grasp and rolled off, landing upon slippered feet with a thump.
“This is most irregular,” cried Thule with a shake of his unruly mane. “What has gotten into you Ms. Friday? What of my cheese and wine? The full oil aromatic bodyrub before we turn to the performance of our most intimate acrobatics? I simply cannot have a change in my routine.”
“As-ss you wish,” the lamia said with an unusual tone of disdain. There was a certain emphasis on the first word that hinted at another meaning.
Perhaps Thule caught the change, perhaps he did not. He was too busy pacing about the rug now with a perturbed expression.
“I have had a difficult time these last few days, caught between the cusp of the Sea Goat and the Water Carrier,” said Thule. “My most mortal – possibly immortal – rival, Magister Necros has tasked me most severely of late. His loan of an Externophite was given with only malice in mind. My poor butler, the late lamented Mr. Ur was devoured like peanut brittle by the wretched unmentionable. Without the quick wits of the new Ms. Sunday, the clever Clara Clover, I would have also been ingested into the creature in a most particularly messy and disgusting manner. Though she was responsible for destroying the vivisectory by the summoning of a slime of slootches – I must remember to dock her pay…”
Thule stopped in midstride and cupped his chin with one hand in a contemplative pose. The lamia attempted to look interested. She failed.
“Forgive me my dear Ms. Friday,” said Thule. “Do I bore you?”
“Yes-ss,” she said.
“Let us begin again,” said Thule. “Come. I will get myself a glass of wine and prepare some music. Why don’t you take a seat upon the ottoman?”
Thule uncorked a bottle of wine at the table and splashed the ruby liquid into the decanter in preparation to drink. He smiled as the lamia seated her long limbs upon the ottoman.
“Tell me my dear,” he asked. “What is my favorite wine?”
“I do not know,” said the lamia. “And I do not care.”
“Aha,” said Thule. “How puzzling, you most assuredly know such a detail. What is my middle name?”
“I do not know,” the forked tongue flickered out. “How is this possible?”
“The last question,” Thule pressed on with his artless interrogation. He busied his hands with the phonogram, trying to place the needle in the right track of the disc. “Ergo, the real Ms. Friday knows my favorite wines and she knows my middle name. I do not believe you are my beloved Ms. Friday. Indeed I think you are some thing else entirely, for all lamias appear the same in the eye of the beholder. Who are you and what are your intentions?”
“I am Xexecia the devourer,” hissed the lamia. “And I am here to kill you as ordered by the Magister, not conjoin with your disgusting, hot blooded mammalian flesh. How has this been done? Why do I speak the truth?”
“Because you sit upon the Elephant’s Knee,” shouted Thule triumpantly. He pointed a finger at the ottoman the lamia was seated upon. “Gurdjieff’s principles made manifest. All must answer with the truth when upon the hide of the pachyderm.”
The lamia considered the situation and the abrupt reveal of her designs. “Does the Elephant’s Knee restrain me in any way?”
The lamia stood up.
“Wait, hold on,” said Thule working quickly at the phonogram.
“Just a moment.”
“There are no more moments-ss,” hissed the lamia. She spread her arms wide and prepared to leap upon Thule.
A wailing music blared forth from the silver horn of the phonogram. With a look of venomous rage, the lamia stopped in her advance and began to spin about in a frenzied dance.
“None of your kind can resist the call of the snake charmer’s pungi,” said Thule. “Dance, dance, but do not expect me to lead!”
He exited hastily and unharmed from the bedroom.
Still Friday Evening
The loud thumps and crashes from the bedroom made Thule petulant. He stood outside the closed door in the dimly lit hallway by a small table. With the song finished, the maddened lamia venting her wrath upon all his belongings.
A jerboa mouse of a most martial visage stood upon the polished tabletop.
“Hop, I need an ear,” said Thule.
Hop, for that was the mouse’s name, sprang to attention.
“Hello, hello?” Thule bawled into the raised ear of the jerboa. “Yes, is this Mystical Removals Incorporated? I have a large and rather lethal lamia in my bedroom. I need it removed as soon as possible. I would advise bringing a goat…. What? No goats? Then bring a small child. I want that damn thing out of my house!”
The jerboa wilted under the verbal onslaught but bravely held rank until the call was completed.
“Here’s a piece of cheese,” said Thule.
“This is not Caravaccio,” Hop squeaked.
If today was Saturday then the sanctum had taken the daily lurch through time and spaced itself into an alley row in Victorian London. Thule pulled back a curtain and peeked through the window pane. He was rewarded with a suitably dim view of the fog hiding the view of St. Paul’s magestic dome.
“Bloody weather,” Thule assumed a cockney accent with a nervous giggle. “’Ere’s hoping the old ‘ag ‘ops on up to the stoop afore the dickory hits ten.”
The attempt at accentual humor was to leaven his sense of discomfort at having to wait upon Ms. Saturday arrival. For Ms. Saturday was the least favorite of his daily maids.
Truth be told, most of the maids were only of use as eye candy. At heart, Dominic Thules was something of an unfocused lech and enjoyed the presence of his scantily dressed assistants for no other reason than the feeling of superiority it imparted his ego. The hopeless looks of confusion as their conceptions of reality were rudely shattered; the squealing when something went wrong and he had to rescue them. Except for the newest maid, Clara Clover, who had become the rescuee.
Thule did not enjoy the company of Ms. Saturday, one Dorothea ‘Dotty” Dore of 16 Ginsoak Street, Whitechapel, London.
Ms. Saturday was a sour faced old battleaxe who actually WAS responsible for all the domestic chores needed to keep the magical sanctum functional. For Dominic Thule was incapable of keeping the place tidy through his own efforts. Dishes tossed into the sink, books tossed upon the bed, toilets unflushed, animated dust bunnies haunting the closets and menacing the unwary guest.
But the woman terrified Thule: the disapproving way she stared at him through papercut slitted eyes, the wrinkled lips pursed in a fixed scowl, the overly starched uniform crackling like popcorn at the slightest move, and worst of all – the overwhelming smell of cleaning fluid that hung about the woman like day old flatulence.
Normally Thule would retreat to the study. The one room deemed off limits to all and nestle himself in the comfort of overly cushioned chair before the fireplace and a chosen book. He would only emerge from his sanctuary when Ms. Saturday was completed with the domesticities and shown the door by Mr. Ur. But the butler was past tense, with not even a smidgeon of remains left to revive as a zombie.
“THE. MAID. IS. AT. THE. DOOR.”
Thule jumped as the voice thundered through the halls and rooms. With an aggrieved sigh he tightened the belt of his smoking jacket and marched to the front entry.
‘Dotty’ Dore stood on the front steps. Though her maid’s outfit was of a violet hue, the grim manner she bore the outfit made it the blackest pitch. The bonnet had a metallic cast that matched the steely glint in the woman’s eyes. She shouldered an enormous bag filled with cleaning tools.
“Good day Ms. Saturday,” Thule stammered. He was out of his depth with this one. “Uh, I’m afraid Mr Ur is permanently disposed, I hope that isn’t a problem. Mortuary issues as they were. But, uhm, the place is quite the mess, especially since you were absent last week, which we really should discuss by…”
“Let me in,” the words fell out of the grate of the mouth.
“Oh, of course,” Thule stepped aside and beckoned her in. “Why don’t you get comfortable and do that voodoo that you do with the mop and stuff.
Ms. Saturday lumbered across the threshold.
“WARNING! WARNING!” bellowed the doorknocker. “AN. ARTIFICE. HAS. ENTERED. THE BUILDING!”
“By the Denizens of Dementia,” cried Thule falling back in alarm. “This is simply unfair. Who would have expected the same stratagem twice? I am unmaid!”
“Magister Necros sends his regard,” said the false Ms. Saturday with a metallic clang. The impostor reached into the bag and began to pull out the full length of a vacuum cleaner. It took several heaves before she was able to wrench the gigeresque looking contraption free and set it down with a thump.
“That won’t work,” said Thule with an uneasy laugh. “Nothing of a mechanical nature works in the sanctum, not to mention it’s something of an anachronism for you to show up here with a vacuum cleaner… what with it being the nineteenth century and all.”
“THE. DOOR. IS. A. JAR.” The doorknocker announced.
“I am a Suckubi 1000,” said the ersatz maid. Her brawny arms were suddenly entwined in the metal cables that writhed up from the vacuum cleaner. The contraption turned on, metal teeth chewed up the parque floor and reduced it to fragments. “There’s not a lot of meat on your bones, it won’t take but a moment to clean you up.”
Dominic Thule turned and fled.
The dining room was reduced to splinters, the fine china ground to dust. Thule sprinted into the kitchen with the Suckubi 1000 in deadly pursuit.
Thule threw a drawer’s worth of kitchen knives towards the contraption and had to duck as they were spit back at him in a deadly hail, thudding into the wall. There was a moment’s respite as he cowered behind the kitchen island, but with a powerful whine the Suckubi 1000 ripped apart the wooden obstacle and lunged at the paraxegnostic with whirling teeth.
He tumbled down the servant’s stairwell. He banged his head against the wall and twisted his ankle. The Suckubi 1000 followed.
“Think Dominic, think!” cried Thule as he fled through the twisting hallways of the sanctum. “No time to get to the study, no time to unleash a countermeasure. All I have are my wits.”
The playroom was reduced to floating fluff. In the library, he tripped and fell. But the contraption came to a stuttering stop inches away – clogged on the remnants of the unspeakable binder of the Necronomicon.
“Damnit! That book’s priceless,” shouted Thule in dismay. The teeth spat out paper shreds, the vacuum cleaner beast lunged forward. What remained of the maid was now completely fused as part of the machine.
The subterranean corridor he retreated into receded to a point. The sides were lined with an unnumbered array of Big Doors.
“Number 26, Number 32,” gasped Thule. The vacuum cleaner was close behind. “Come on down, what’s behind Door number 87?”
He flung the door open and dived in. The vacuum cleaner snapped at his heels and followed. It sailed past him with a howl into the void of subspace.
Thule dangled from the doorknob with one hand. He looked down.
Far, far below in the distance, protoplasmic flesh writhed in a cauldron of dark matter. Patterns of irridescent globes, as multicolored as the lights on a christmas tree rose and fell in arythmic pulses then blinking out in angles unseen, quobbling and quivering in a viscous and nauseating way.
In a moment Thule had swung himself back into the hallway. He slammed the Big Door shut.
In an aeon or two, the greatest of all the Decrepit Deities, would notice the annoyance of the Suckubi 1000 as an elephant notices the bite of a flea. Then there would be hell to pay, at least the destruction and rending of some minor reality or two. All of Essentiality would suffer the utter wrath of no less than the Lurker at the Threshold itself.
Till then, Dominic Thule didn’t care.
“Suck on that you fiendish thing! Curse you, Magister Necros!”
The place was an utter shambles. Thule grabbed a blanket and slept huddled on the welcome mat in the anteroom. When he woke up at eight, (noon) the paraxegnostic found himself nursing a headache and a vengeful mindset. Among the scattered piles of debris he found a somewhat reputable suit of clothing. He dressed slowly.
If today was Sunday then the sanctum was a brownstone on 95 ½ Street in metropolitan New York of the 21st century. And if today was Sunday then right across the street was a similar brownstone, the dwelling of Magister Necros – his arch nemesis.
“THE. MAID. IS. BEING. REMOVED.”
“What?” Thule said and sprang to look out the peephole. To his dismay, Ms. Saturday (the aforementioned Clara Clover) was being dragged across the street despite her protestations and struggling by two beings of a shadowy and unfocused visage.
“Do something,” shouted Thule. He was overcome with a feeling of helplessness.
“I. AM. A. DOOR. KNOCKER.”
The abductors pulled Clara out of sight into Magister Necros’s abode. Almost immediately another figure marched out and headed towards Dominic’s sanctum. Yet another artifice, a mirror image of the abducted Clara was coming to wreak havoc on the paraxegnostic.
Thule stuffed the length of the cravat he hadn’t put around his neck yet into his mouth and chewed spastically.
“Oh, shut up!”
Dominic turned away. Let the artifice stand there at the door all day, he wasn’t going to fall for the same ploy a third time.
He’d had enough of this meaningless vendetta, this silly feud to which he had been subjected to and of which he had taken the worst of the brunt of it.
No magical duel, no thaumaturgical confrontation with his rival would satisfy the fury burning within Thule’s breast. Only physical violence, pure and simple would suffice.
“Raise an ear, I need to place a call,” Thule told Hop who looked equally out of sorts after the vacuum cleaner’s rampage. “Inform Magister Necros that I will be paying him a visit.”
“Here we are again,” lisped Magister Necros intent on his game. He was missing his two front teeth. “What’s the deal with déjà vu?”
To all appearances Magister Necros was a chubby little boy with an uncombed mop of hair. Both his sausage like thumbs were curled around the straps of his denim jumper. His socks hung about his ankles.
“I demand satisfaction,” gritted Thule. “Otherwise I will lodge a complaint with Doctor Destiny and the Mystery Club. I have been seriously inconvenienced, my sole copy of the Necronomicon was shredded. I throw down my gauntlet.”
Necros ducked as the white glove sailed past his head.
“Oh, Thule,” said the magister hitching his shorts up. “There’s a thing on the web called Amazon. The Necronomicon has been in print since 1971 for a piddling eighty dollars or so. Anyway, what’s it to be? Hippogriffs at high noon? Shall we take our stand in pentagrams at twenty paces with duelling demons straight from the Infernal City? Don’t be silly.”
“The formalities must be observed,” Thule said stiffly
You are at a disadvantage and totally at my mercy,” said Necros. “You have nothing to bargain with while I do.”
He waved a pudgy hand and a large curtain opened up to reveal three large birdcages dangling from the ceiling of Magister Necros’ study. Stuffed awkwardly inside the cages were the three missing maids.
“My love has come to save me,” hissed the lamia pressing against the bars of her cage. She spit out a feather.
Dorothea Dore squatted like a stone. Whether she was inconvenienced couldn’t be discerned, her expression was the same at all times.
“What the hell is going on?” asked a pale faced Clara clutching her bars. “You bunch of freaks.”
“Silence!” shrilled Magister Necros. “Not a step closer or I’ll turn them inside out!”
“If they’ve been harmed in the slightest,” said Thule anxiously. “I’ll…”
“You’ll do nothing and like it, you big idiot,” said Magister Necros. “Calm yourself. I can’t satisfy the sexual proclivities of your pet lamia, but I fed her some birds. I’m only a prodigy in the intellectual sense, puberty is still five years in my future. As of yet, these maids are unharmed.”
“What do you want?” said Thule.
“I want your sanctum,” said Necros shrilly. “And everything within. I find it absurd, even ridiculous, that you’ve inherited artifacts such as the Hall of Big Doors through the accident of birth while I’ve had to work myself to the bone to create a bunch of malfunctioning Wardrobes. It’s unfair! You’re a feckless fool standing upon the shoulders of giants. So I’m taking the place off your unworthy hands.”
“I once knew a child who was small and homely,” said Thule clasping his hands behind has back. “Then he grew some.”
There was a moment of silence. Clara shook her head.
“Leave the puns to me,” Necros stomped his foot. “Give me the sanctum.”
“Very well,” said Thule. “I will have to sacrifice the maids…”
“No!” Clara protested. “You bastard!”
“I will have to sacrifice the maids,” continued Thule. “Or accept my challenge to a duel. Is that a glass bead game you’re playing with in the in the corner?”
“Why, yes it is,” Necros giggled. “A glass bead challenge? I accept. I am unbeaten in the last six otherworldly challenges, I’m not a magister for nothing.”
“Perhaps,” said Thule drawing himself up. “But I challenge by proxy. Ms. Sunday will be my champion.”
“What?” said Clara.
“I think I’ve seen this before,” said Clara uncertainly. “Isn’t this one of those mall coin spinny things? Actually it looks like a large toilet seat with a really small hole.”
She looked down into the large hyperbolic funnel seated into the opening of the game table. The rim had a lip of white marble, but the interior of the funnel was etched in an incomprehensible spiral of psychedelic seahorse tails. Clara stretched her hand out to touch the surface
“Don’t touch it,” snapped Thule and slapped her hand. “The gravitational fields can pull you right in. This is called a Richter funnel after the man who came up with the conceptual design for the game.”
“Makes perfect sense,” said Clara. “Who are you by the way?”
“I am, of course, Dominic Thule,” said Thule. “Don’t worry, once we get back to the safety of the sanctum you’ll remember everything. The forget-me-not spell has that effect. Sit down. I have only a moment to explain the game.”
Magister Necros was busy at the far end of the room choosing the glass bead sets for the game. The little boy was whistling through the gap in his teeth. He expected an easy challenge.
“The game was originally meant to be a way to deepen human understanding of the themes between the mystical associations,” explained Thule. “But like all such endeavors, someone had to cheapen the whole concept and make it competitive. Can’t leave well enough alone I guess. Think of it as a dynamic game of go, you have to situate along the grooves of those cardioids of the mathematical pattern and then defend and attack as the pieces accumulate.”
“How do I do that?” sputtered Clara.
“Simple,” said Thule and patted her on the back. “Just roll the glass beads down and position them against the pull of gravity. Attune your mind to the correct mystical association inferred by the pattern and the beads will situate themselves in the correct nexal pattern. You’ll do fine.”
Necros ran over to the table with two cloth bags. He handed one over to Clara. The little sack was filled with glass beads.
“Let’s begin,” he said with a flip of his towheaded hair. “I see no reason to be fair at all, so I choose to go first.”
Necros flipped the first bead in and closed his eyes in concentration. The bead spun about the funnel several times and then settled onto one of the spirals halfway down.
“A brilliant opening gambit,” said Thule appreciatively taking a stand in between the two combatants. “You’ve taken a high thematic stance. Your turn Ms. Sunday.”
“Here goes,” Clara tossed her first bead in. Within moments it was circling the drain.
“A sinker,” crowed Necros. “I get two beads in play.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Clara turned to Thule with a frantic look. “Is he going to put me back in that bird cage if I lose?”
“If you lose,” said Thule shifting away from Clara and closer to Necros as if he didn’t want to be too close to the girl. “Only I will lose. Well, you will have to get another job.”
“The fluvium pattern has been raised,” said Necros. The boy leaned back in his chair with a smirk. “Let’s see what your ‘champion’ can accomplish against that.”
Clara’s second bead went straight down the hole with a rattle.
“Another play sunk,” Necros said. “By the rules I can now deploy ‘the massive’ and win the game in a single synthesis of a move. Watch this and weep, you losers!”
Necros jumped to his feet and leaned forward over the Richter funnel. He took a handful of glass beads and prepared to cast them out onto the field of play. But he had forgotten Thule.
Thule pushed him in. The boy only had time for a single squeal before he was sucked down into the funnel.
“Oh my god, you killed him,” shouted Clara. She pushed herself away with a wide eyed look. The glass beads cascaded out of her hands. “Holy crap! He went right down.”
Thule peered over the rim and shook his head.
“It appears Magister Necros is stuck on an epiphany at the lower declension,” he murmured. “Unfortunately he didn’t get flushed all the way down. Perhaps in a month or two he can come to a more intimate understanding of the intricacies of the game and work his way out. He’ll be fine, he’s immortal you know – all the time in the world.”
“Really?” asked Clara.
“Yes,” said Thule.
He picked up Necros’s discarded bag of beads and emptied the contents into the funnel. “But I see no reason why he should have such an easy time of it.”
Copyright ©2011 by John Eric Sweat
Available in all electronic formats on Smashwords.