Time: Friday 13 August
Place: Outskirts of Toronto, Toronto center-city area, The Fiendish Glow
Follows: A Glow Worm in the Night...
Pen is real and is used with permission.
The Vampbear is real and belongs to Brenda Bell.
[Friday, 13 August, Evening]
I stepped out of the shamrock-logoed courtesy car that was waiting downstairs from the helishuttle that took me to Center City from the private airstrip where the Beechcraft landed the hour before. The fixed-wing craft had seemed to have a protocol of its own as it received immediate clearance to depart without any questioning of ID or customs, and landed the same way somewhere in the outskirts of Toronto. The helicopter was similarly well-appointed and similarly mysterious in its dealings with air traffic control and the local constabulary, silently alighting atop one of the tallest office buildings in town. (A helicopter? Silent? Hmm... something here is fishier than it appears...) A private elevator carried me and my usual work gear down to the waiting ground car...
Like the aircraft I'd just flown in, Toronto seemed strangely quiet for a Friday night... as if someone had managed to turn off the sound and the life of the city. The neon signs were lit as always, but the crowds around the usual watering holes were somewhat sparser and plainer than usual. The hum of street lights, the honking of cars caught in a pile-up, the splashing of the winds over the lake... all of it was silent, as if I had suddenly gone deaf. A sheen of static was in the air, as if a storm had broken, or was about to break, effectively masking my usual Glow Worm senses. I was still lost in my own anxieties when the Ford Taurus pulled up at the corner of Luminescent Lane and Cactus Court.
I stepped out of the air-conditioned sedan into the oppressive humidity of a northeastern summer night. I had barely unloaded my Targus Notepac, APCUG briefcase, and Coach handbag before the driver sped off like a demon from Hell. Presumably my third wardrobe would be enough to get me through the War; if not, either something would follow up from my wardrobes in New York and New Jersey, or I'd break out my Bank of Glowwing card and purchase... something. Preferrably something less conspicuous than the quick-and-tacky "Jalapeño Pepper" outfit I'd purchsed last year... though given my track record with the Glow and the Faer Ones, I'd probably need to stick to lots of greens... Hefting my 20kg of personal and electronic survival gear, I waddled up to the side entrance of The Fiendish Glow and maneuvered my mostly-untanned arm to the Celtic knot face plate that served as security identifier for the Celtic Glow Worms.
As usual, the lock clicked open, and I elbowed my way into the small foyer and up the stairs to my usual bed. It was piled high with tartan samples, boxes of shortbread cakes, wedding favors, and various Celtic-looking tchatchkes ranging from the cheap and kitschy to the... cheap and kitschy. Well, except for the half-dozen chased-pewter quaiches peeking out from the tissue paper filling a rather large shopping bag -- they were about the only thing on the bed that looked reasonably classy. It looked as if whatever was happening with MacHeather and Chris was definitely happening on a budget.
I carefully moved aside the kitsch and wedding stuff and set my few things down on the bed. Picking up a remote, I activated the closed-circuit TV before rummaging in the closet for my Aboyne-styled costume. An anomalous, loud, "Ay! Carrumbaaa!" from the direction of the cantina sent me scurrying down in my chinos and knit silk shell, ready for anything but being recognized as one of the Management.
"Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh, me-kol ha-lay-lot?"
On all other nights, the vampires would sit quietly drinking their "Ulsterman's Specials", or perhaps sing and dance along with the band. Tonight, they... they...
Come to think of it, tonight, I couldn't sense a single one of Toronto's many Undead anywhere in The Fiendish Glow -- and after dark, on the nights there was live entertainment, there were usually at least a couple of them there. That was another thing that made tonight different from all other nights of the year. In place of the live band, cantina cook Patrick "Miguel" O'Malley and "the Sombrero" were trying their damndest to break up an altercation in the cantina. Please don't tell me Liam's back in town, I prayed to whatever deities might be listening...
"Hey, babe," I felt a tap upon my shoulder, restraining me from moving further into the room. Remembering that we had security staff to handle the scene, I turned around to see Pen, dressed in her usual... non-costume, revelling in the energy of the fight. I could never see what Pen got out of watching bar fights.
"Hey, Pen, 'sup?" I asked. "And by the by, what happened to the band?" I asked her.
"Last-minute cancellation due to illness. Come to think of it, there's been a lot of that going around today... from the strangest quarters!"
"Would that have anything to do with there being no vampires in the 'Glow' this evening?"
Pen looked at me askance, dragging me back to the 'Glow's' office. "Vampires? Why would you think vampires would come to the 'Glow'? Why would you think there are vampires, any way?"
Yes, indeed -- there was something very strange going on around here, and I was beginning to get a bit worried.
[The Fiendish Glow Office, 2300 Eastern Daylight Time]
Of anything I expected to see in The Fiendish Glow's office,
he was the least likely. A two-foot tall, sandy-brown bear-like
creature with open mouth and visible fangs, dressed in something that
looked like it came from a Nick Knight flashback. Actually, the costume
was from a video depiction of a Nick Knight flashback, since I had
designed it that way two years ago.
How the vampbear made it up to Toronto (ahead of me, no less!) was only the second of my questions -- why he was there was the first. Sensing my annoyance at the presence of two kilograms of fake-fur and polyester stuffing, Pen broke the ice for us:
"He was packed in with the box of clothes that came up for you from New York... something about, umm, Forever Knight and teddy bears and he needed to be here during the War and..." she rubbed absently at her forehead and blinked hard, trying to remember something.
From the looks of this, getting information wasn't going to be easy -- and I had a sneaking suspicion why. I roughly pulled the vampbear off the desk and looked him straight in the eye. "You didn't try to whammy her, did you?"
The bear looked back innocently, but silently.
"Or feed on her?" I asked, not believing his innocence in the matter for a nanosecond.
A pinkish tinge on the tip of his fang could have been anything from lint to someone accidentally scratching against the erstwhile artificial fingernail. Knowing the vampbear's penchant for attacking anyone and anything he thought he could feed from, I tucked him under my arm, fangs safely away from anyone, and looked carefully at Pen's neck for tell-tale scratch marks. They were, thankfully, absent.
During this examination, Pen had switched from massaging her forehead to massaging her left wrist. "You've got some dangerous toys," she said, eyeing me as if I'd grown another head in the interrim.
I looked at the wrist she was massaging. At first, it looked like she
had managed to sprain it -- but when I turned it over, I saw the telltale
welts of someone trying to fend off a pair of fangs with the palm of her
Still holding onto the vampbear, I dropped Pen's hand and searched for the bottle of isopropynol in the desk drawer. One-handedly opening it, I poured the solution liberally over the angry red peaks as Pen tried to refrain from reacting to its sting. Once the wounds were disinfected, I wetted several tissues with the rubbing alcohol and took them to the vampbear's fangs.
"I thought we had an agreement," I told the vampbear. "You do NOT attack people and animals, and you continue to exist. Otherwise, you will be reduced back to fabric and fiberfill. Got it?"
"I was hungry," he whined, raising his empty bottles of "special stock".
"Did you ever think of asking first? You know, we do keep some of that stuff around here..."
"I was hungry," he repeated, as if it were all my fault in the first place. In point of fact, it was really all my fault in the first place -- after all, I made him -- but I wasn't going to klew the vampbear in to that fact.
"So what's new about that?" I mumbled. "You're always hungry. And I'm not the only one who will reduce you to fluff and fur if you get out of hand. Got it?"
The vampbear shrugged imperceptibly. Unfortunately, that was the most acknowledgement I'd ever get out of him, and as likely to mean "Yeah, yeah, yeah... and I'll do as I please, anyway 'cos you can't stop me" as anything else. I put him down roughly, with a stern stare, and turned back to Pen.
"Think you can remember, now?" I asked her.
The younger woman collapsed into a chair. "It's been a long day," she started...
quaiche: a shallow drinking cup with frequently-decorated ears on each side.
"Mah nishtanah ha-lailah ha-zeh, me-kol
ha-lay-lot?" "Why is this night different from all
other nights of the year?"
This is the first line of the "Four Questions" asked by the youngest child at a Passover seder. In the context of the seder, it enumerates the traditions that separate the seder, and the Passover holiday, from the rest of the year. In the context of my War 10 experience, things have been going so different from their normal course that it's as drastic a change to Brenda, who was brought up Jewish, as Passover was to her as a child.
Aboyne: a city in Scotland, and (in this case) the name given to a traditional women's costume used in Highland Dancing Competition. It consists of a dress or a peasant-styled blouse and full skirt, optional vest, and arisaid (women's plaide) draped according to the woman's station in life.
NEXT STORY: ONE WOMAN'S TRASH...
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