What have we here?
Lola quietly crept through the large, old mansion she had called home for the past four months, with her cloth doll, Puck in her arms. The heavy wood floors and thick rugs muffled her footfalls. Small for a seven year old, just a wisp of a girl, really. One might mistaken her for a little ghost.
Because she was well behaved, the owners of the home allowed her free reign, so long as she didn’t go into the three rooms marked with large, black runes on the doors. She never wanted to go in those rooms, anyway. One had a wooden door that always felt hot to the touch, and from which emanated a faint noise, almost like breathing. Another, frosted glass, seemed cold even on the hottest days. Things moved behind the glass, indiscernible to the eye. The last door seemed perfectly ordinary, and that was why Lola was afraid of it the most.
On the ground floor, a party quietly petered out. The grown-ups had started the revelry that early afternoon, eating and drinking and dancing to live violin music. Well-dressed men and women gave Lola treats and pinched her cheeks, telling her what a good little girl she was. She hated all of it.
Away from the noise and the people, Lola looked into rooms on the ground floor. One, a favorite of hers, contained the large library where most of the men who wore the red stone pendants spent the majority of their days. Poring over ancient tomes and texts, translating long dead languages. They thought Lola only read English, so they didn’t mind when she looked in their books. There were so many interesting things to read in the library. No one sat in the room now. The desks stood empty, waiting for some scholar to come along. Lola crept into the room and went to the large, blackened book sitting at the head of the table. She lovingly caressed the strange smelling cover and leafed through the old, dusty pages. The illustrations inside depicted people standing in a circle, animals flayed and split open, and ancient, dark demons or gods.
A bookmark sat about halfway into the book. The lettering on the page there was in some old language that had not seen the light of day for many years. A cursed tongue, it turned out, for if one were to speak the words incorrectly, pronounce something wrong, they would soon find themselves coughing up blood.
Lola leaned over and took a deep whiff of the book. The smell made her think of Christmas morning, and dead rot down by the river, and that tingling feeling she would get up the back of her neck on dark nights.
After spending some time sifting through books, Lola decided to visit the woman down the hall.
The woman, as always, huddled in the corner of the room. The thick, rough rope around her neck trailed behind her.
“Mrs. Stone? Would you like to play with me and Puck?”
She turned to the child. Her milky white eyes found Lola, and her grimace of a mouth turned up into the facsimile of a smile.
“Little child, yes. Come sit with me awhile. Did you go to the party?”
Lola sat next to the woman. A scent like sweetness and dirt drifted from Mrs. Stone’s pale, gaunt skin.
“I did for a little while. I didn’t like it. Everyone was looking at me and saying nice things. They all lie.”
Mrs. Stone nodded. “Oh yes, they do lie. All the time. But the party was for you, dear. You should enjoy it. While you are able.”
“I don’t think Mr. Stone would like you saying that to me.”
The woman’s milky white eyes narrowed, angrily. “That devil. He thinks he holds control over me. He won’t allow me to rest. He will not dictate what I say.”
Lola snuggled against Mrs. Stone. The child didn’t mind the woman’s cold skin, nor her strange smell. The elder tenderly pet the younger’s hair, almost like a mother would.
For a half hour or so, the two played with Puck, making him talk and acting out adventures. When Mrs. Stone seemed to become weary, Lola kissed her on her cold cheek and quietly left.
Next, Lola made her way to the kitchens. The household allowed her anything she wanted, day or night. The kitchen always held a chef who cooked up any dish imaginable. Tonight, the chef was Mr. McDonald. An Irish man, with curly brown hair and a different symbol tattooed on each knuckle of his fingers. Also in the kitchen stood the man with one eye, Mavrilla. The socket where the eye should have been looked black, although if one paid enough attention one would see a tiny bit of movement. Totlich, Mavrilla’s pet scorpion, curled up in the socket. Sometimes the tail dangled out, like a bit of black dripping down the man’s skin.
“Well, Lola? Ya come ta get ya a midnight snack?” Mr. McDonald asked, with a wink and a smile.
“Can I have some warm, cinnamon milk, please?”
“Ah, so polite, itn’t it, little miss. Comin’ right up, any ting for you then, love.”
Mavrilla reached behind Lola’s ear and pulled out a cluster of white Asphodels. “For you, little sweet.”
Totlich reached his claws out of Mavrilla’s eye socket, on either side. His tail extended up to the eyebrow, making a strange kind of triangle.
“May I pet Totlich?”
Mavrilla put his hand to his face and the scorpion crawled onto his palm. Holding the creature out to Lola, she gently stroked his smooth back. Totlich seemed to enjoy the sensation, leaning towards the child’s hand, although, who could really say what a scorpion enjoyed?
Mr. McDonald put a mug of milk on the counter for Lola. He’d made himself a cup too, his mixed with blood instead of cinnamon.
“Mr. McDonald, will you tell me the story about when you first came to America again?”
He smiled and she could see his fangs. “Ey, love. Me ma sent me ta the markets, this was in Dundalk, a little town. We didn’ ‘ave too much then, barely scrapin’ by. I taught ta save ‘er a bit a money. So I stole some bread. Got caught, too. They sentenced me ta go ta the colonies. Wasn’t America just then yet. So on da way ova I made friends wit Mr. Matarab. Ain’t never met someone from da Middle East before that. An’ when I come down with the typhus, he gave me the gift.”
“Did you see any whales on the ride over?”
“Oh, ey, love. Loads of ‘em. Big bastards they are. Beautiful.”
“There’s not as many whales now, right?”
“No, we’ve hunted ‘em too much.”
Mavrilla gently patted Lola on the head as she sipped her milk.
“Why do you work for Mr. Stone?”
It was a general question, directed as much to the drink as to either of the men. Mr. McDonald seemed surprised by the inquiry. Mavrilla did not, but then, little surprised a man like him.
“I ‘ave to love. Bound to ‘em, I am. I tink he likes us who don’t sleep. You know, I do lots o jobs for ‘em. All us bound blood drinkers do. One day, maybe, I’ll get these sigils off me, but for now, I toil.” He pulled down his shirt. More symbols, like the ones on his knuckles, adorned his skin. A large burn in the shape of a heart (a real heart, not the cartoon type) was seared into the middle of his chest.
Mavrilla spoke up. “Boss’ll be pissed if he sees you showing that to the kid, McDonald.”
“What’s it matter? She’s not gonna tell anyone after tonight.”
He grunted unhappily. “I am indebted to Mr. Stone. He assisted me with something, quite a while ago. Now I have a contract to him I must fulfill. I hold no loyalty to him.”
“What happens if you don’t fulfill the contract?” Lola asked.
“Oh. Me and Puck are going to go to my room now.”
Mr. McDonald looked sad for a moment. “All right, love. Don’t forget you have to be down in the basement at ‘alf past eleven.”
She nodded as she climbed down from the seat, waved as she left the warm kitchen for the chilly hallway. She made her way to the large bedroom on the second floor that she had been sleeping in since arriving at the mansion. Passing the offices along the way, she quietly peered into rooms with cracked doors, or leaned against door jambs to overhear any secrets she could. Men and women in suits or imposing black robes talked in hushed tones and hurried voices. If they caught any sight of Lola, they waved her away, telling her to go wait in her room.
Frustrated at her inability to glean any new knowledge, Lola did go to her bedroom. Covered in pink and frills and filled with dolls, she couldn’t stand the sight of the place. Puck, with his grays and dark blues and greens, stood out like a beacon in the room. She’d purposely asked for him from Madame Ringo, the witch who lived in the attic. The old woman, obliging her request of No Girly Stuff, even made the doll a little sword that hung at his side on a shoelace.
Lola laid down on the thick carpet with Puck.
“Puck, wanna know a secret? I am to die tonight. I’m not really suppose to know, but everyone here is terrible at keeping secrets. Not like me. I have so many secrets. And I’ll only tell them to you.”
She kissed the doll and hugged him close. Lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling plastered with fake, plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars, she slowly drifted into a fitful sleep. After dozing for a time, she couldn’t tell how long, someone gently roused her from slumber.
“Little Lola, wake up. It’s nearly time for the end of the party. Everyone wants to see you in your pretty new dress.”
Madame Ringo stood over Lola, in a solid, black, velvet dress and thick, ropey metal necklaces. The jewelry clanged and chattered as the old woman moved.
“Oh, I fell asleep. I’m sorry.”
She wasn’t really sorry, but the sweet little girl facade was hard to shake.
“It’s no trouble, dear, just wanted to get you. Everyone is expecting you. Here, put your new dress on, you will look so cute.”
She held up the white dress, edged in lace. It looked more like a shroud than something a living person would wear, but then, that was probably the point.
The little girl slipped off her old clothes and put on the new. Delicate fabric fluttered against her skin, offering no protection against the chilly house. Lola didn’t really care either way, she wouldn’t mind the cold soon.
The trio (Puck came too, of course) made their way down long, twisting, steep, stone steps to the huge basement. Everyone in the house, it seemed, was waiting there. Lola suddenly was gripped by shyness. She hid in Madame Ringo’s long dress, burying her face in the soft fabric.
Mr. Stone stood at the front of the large, intricate drawing on the stone floor. Candles sat in a ring around the room, burning with strange, blue flames. Several chickens, goats, and a bull clucked and bayed from one side of the room. Lola knew exactly how they felt.
The old witch took Lola by the hand and led her to the center of the drawing on the floor. The woman told the child to stay there. Looking around, Lola could see Mrs. Stone was the only person not in attendance. Suddenly, a sadness gripped Lola, a wish that she had gone to say goodbye to one of the kindest persons she’d known in her short life.
“Little Lola. There you are. We were beginning to worry. It is time for the end of the party. Your party. Everyone is so happy you are here, little dear. Aren’t you happy?”
She understood that they all really believed that she didn’t know. They really thought her just a sweet, little child with no inkling of what was to come.
She nodded mutely.
“Not going to say anything to all the guests? They came here just for you.”
It seemed cruel now, what he said. Taunting her, almost. Wasn’t it enough that they planned to kill her? Why draw it out like this?
“Well, lets get started, shall we?”
Several someones, bound blood drinkers and other servants, began taking chickens from cages, leading the goats and the bull over to an altar on one side of the drawing.
Mr. Stone began chanting in a language Lola was not supposed to understand. She did, though. Secretly.
At the correct time, knives were drawn and slashed across the animals throats. The bull put up the most fight, even as his bright, hot blood fled his body. The panicked braying and mooing seemed to take forever to end. Lola wanted to clap her hands over her ears, but she refrained. Perhaps if she pretended she were brave, she would eventually become brave.
The men with the red stone pendants joined hands now, around the edge of the drawing on the floor which had begun to glow white hot. They chanted in unison, over and over, in a language Lola was not supposed to know.
“Curnaubog, Curnaubog, we call you down with these gifts. We call you to us to grant our request. Curnaubog, Curnaubog, we call you down with these gifts. We call you to us to grant our request. Honor us, O Curnaubog the great and terrible.”
Over, and over, and over, again. It seemed to go on, and on, until the words messed together and seemed to lose all meaning. Just when Lola thought she could take no more of the noise, it stopped. A great flash crackled around the room. Several people screamed, unable to contain themselves. Mr. Stone stepped forward eagerly.
The beast, the demon, the god, stood before them, filling the room with a burning smell so often accompanied to portals. Towering, its head almost touched the ceiling of the great hall. Leathery wings sprouted from its back and twinkling eyes observed all.
“You who have summoned me. You who have offered many gifts up in my name. You who have performed your role well. What is it you would ask?”
Mr. Stone smiled, quite pleased with himself.
“My great and terrifying Curnaubog. I would bid you these wishes. My coven here and I
would like to become the most powerful on the Earth. We would like the ability to extend our own lives and our loved ones and to vanquish our enemies from this mortal plane.”
“Why do you let this offering speak for you?”
Mr. Stone faltered in his speak. “Um. Ah, I’m sorry? Offering?”
“You lead it to the slaughter none the wise. I admire that.”
“I think there has been some misunderstanding. I called you. I uh..I am the one who…We are making a deal. The offerings I’ve brought you.” Normally in complete control, Mr. Stone felt confusion, fear, and anger in quick succession.
“Do you know me?”
“You...you are a wish granting demon…” Mr. Stone sputtered.
Lola spoke up quietly. “I know you. You are the thing in the corner of my eye. You are the reason sailors ships disappear in the vast ocean. You are the reason children wander off well-trod paths, never to be seen again. You are why parents wake up weeping. You are the scream at the end. I read that you can bring an ending of sorts. The end of people? Is that right?”
“Yes Summoner. I am to bring the end of the reign of Humans, when so asked. As I have seen the end of many other species.”
“What happens to the animals and the plants?”
“Of this realm? Perhaps the dog, so bonded to you, will suffer. The others, they will continue on, unobstructed and largely unaffected. ”
Mr. Stone, who’d been quite tongue tied suddenly found his voice. “No, no, I called you down! I have brought you this child and these animals as an offering! I drew the scripture on the floor and chanted the words, me and my coven! I am entitled to a request! Not some child!”
The monstrous beast seemed for the first time to really acknowledge Mr. Stone. It looked at him, and almost appeared to be smiling. It was not a smile that would instill any good feeling in a person.
“The center of the inscription is where the Summoner stands. The Summoner is standing there now. I will fulfill what her wish is.”
The other people in the room had begun at this point to murmur to each other, looking around nervously . First one person, then several, tried to exit the basement, but found the solid doors tightly locked. A panic slowly crept along the crowd, starting at the walls and working its way in.
“I changed a word in your book, Mr. Stone. Just one word. I hope you don’t mind. It changed the meaning of the whole ceremony. Such a hard language to understand. Well, not for me. My grandmother taught it to me, like her grandmother before her.”
“Your grandmother is dead! You have no family!”
“Dead, yes. But she never left. She follows me, constantly. Recently, she has been staying in Puck’s body. Helping me. Mr. Curnaubog, I think humans are no longer needed here on Earth. I’d like you to bring about the end of us.”
“You would be at an end as well, Summoner.”
“I don’t really care. I’m not afraid to die.”
The great creature seemed to laugh now, a terrifying and horrible noise that drove several in attendance mad on the spot. Their anguished screaming drove others to claw at the locked doors desperately. Lola seemed to be the only human in attendance not panicked.
“But. But, this can not be! I summoned you! I provided all the materials! The offerings! This is my home!” Mr. Stone shouted. The beast ignored him and spoke to Lola.
“I would take you with me, Summoner. You would make a good apprentice yet.”
This was not what Lola had expected, but it did please her. She smiled. The monster gently took her in one great hand. As the sound of his huge wings taking flight filled the chamber, Mr. Stone began to scream commands to his coven.
“A protective ring! Help me, we must get a protective ring down now!”
Several other members of the coven attempted to assist, grabbing chalk and shakily laying down the outline. But it was too little, much much too late.
From outside, sounds of screaming and cries of pain could be heard. Cars crashing, glass and metal and bone crunching. The burning smell of a portal opening grew stronger and stronger, as holes to another dimension opened all over the city, then the world. The members of the coven in the large, old mansion scarcely had time to say a single spell before the demons found their way in and the screaming started.