Thursday, November 5, 2020

Haunted House Challenge: "Evil Ghosts" -- by Shine

Evil Ghosts

by Shine

I know what's like to sleep in a Haunted House. I've dealt with it since 2016, I was a teenager back then, as it first started with the phone answering machine. "Hello. No one here to answer the phone. Please leave a message after the tone." But the phone never rang and neither did the answering machine. 

Then, on a different night, someone or something threw things at me and I BEGGED for it to stop, so it stopped. As years went on, things were getting more and more creepy. The two old organs (one was an old pedal organ that barely works, and the other one was an old electric organ that sort of works) would play by themselves with a creepy, frightening music/sounds coming out of them. 

Many nights I couldn't sleep until 4AM, because if I sleep before 4AM, Evil Ghosts would jump on the bed, they would sing like an angel (these aren't angels), attempting to speak to me, and their shadow presence brings in fear feeling in the room.

 I guess I should be happy about not having those frightening sleep paralysis with the choking feeling. It has gotten to the point where I had the lights on in the basement and nightlights in my room. Just when I was getting over the fear of the dark. 

Other times, I’ve seen ugly grey shadow figures of Evil Ghosts, both day and night, and they’ve used voices that I recognized. But there were other things that I’ve found weird and a little disturbing to me. My body wash went from smelling nice with a smooth texture, to a slimy texture with the smell of death, making me feel nauseous. And the other one weird thing was something hitting the floor, where my feet were, from the basement ceiling.

Plus there are some rooms, inside and outside of the house, I don’t like going there at night, but I had to, the lights must be on and I have to talk to myself. Just to keep myself from being afraid. 

There were times I’ve had a breakdown from these things in a Haunted House, but I’ve kept on going. If I quit now, the Evil Ghosts will win by frightening me away. 

This is my experience of being in a Haunted House, that I didn’t realize it was until years later, since childhood, but I’ve also heard other stories that involved the same house. I no longer have the desire to live in that house anymore like I wanted to when I was a young child.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Haunted House Challenge: "A Certain Beastly Tube" -- by Joseph Leskey

A Certain Beastly Tube

by Joseph Leskey

When I came home from Gordon’s Institute of Law, where it was my intent to become an insignificant lawyer, I was miserable, sleep-deprived, and a chief constituent of my blood was caffeine. I was sixteen or seventeen at the time and was caught up in a very popular movement fixated on despair and righteous wrath. In short, I came home with the intention to do some dread deed like standing on top of the federal courthouse only two blocks away and shouting “Hail to the despot of Bonvka!” It was very fashionable in those days for the youths of the Derkin Confederation to hail the despot of Bonvka. For all the little good it did, it felt like a measurable affront to our stoic and cunning legislators.

I took the train back to my town because young folks used trains in those days. Then I took the bus for a relatively short distance to my house, and the driver let me out with a wide smile, saying, “Good luck, lad,” rather ominously.

Coming back home was mostly a predictable experience. I was exclaimed over, Dad said encouraging things about my scores (looking rather worried as he did so); Mom assured me that my scores were very good. It all made me interested in my scores; oddly enough, I didn’t know them. There was something that did catch me off guard, though. The second day of my homecoming, my sister Catherine told me to go away when I walked into the kitchen to find her and a fellow she called “Nebby dear” staring adoringly at each other and discussing macroeconomics. Both of these activities, it transpired, occurred every day and always just when I wanted to eat breakfast. In fact, Nebby dear seemed to be present almost constantly. Still, he was an interesting sort. When he finally tore his focus away from Catherine long enough to notice me, he said, “Well, color my tweed! It’s not Neitersen Mestre? Good lad!”

I tried to respond intelligently, but his original focus had already been regained and intensely so. Catherine told me to go away.

I didn’t feel so much like hailing the despot of Bonvka when I was away from academia. In fact, I decided I would cut myself loose of law school and join my cousin Marta as a special governmental agent of Base Mango Bromhead. In fact, I reflected sleepily, that was what I should have done all along. I closed my eyes.

Anord of the Celts is under you. Rise, chosen of Anord. Stay here. Come to Anord.

I was walking into the earth, deeper and deeper through wide caverns and through tiny holes. Always I was trying to reach a green glow in the distance. Suddenly, I fell through something and looked upon the glow much more closely. There was something blue within it, and it was evil.

YES!” squealed Catherine from the next room. I squinted at a conveniently placed clock. 5:30, and not in the afternoon either. There was no further noise from Catherine’s end, so I closed my eye to go back to sleep. It didn’t work because Mom and Dad’s respective voices could suddenly be heard, collectively awake and energetic, and they and Catherine were soon having a long discussion about Nebby dear’s obtainment of a decent job in the capital, Catherine’s work as a parliamentary secretary, Nebby dear, and fond memories of Catherine as a baby. I fell back asleep.

That morning I woke up to a very excited household. Apparently, Nebby dear had barged through the front door in a passion at 7:00, knelt down hard on the hallway floor before Catherine, declaring his ardent and everlasting adoration and listing his various prospects. Dad and Mom came separately to tell me the news, adding in a little commentary. They both looked rather alarmed. When they had gone, I got up. It turned out that Catherine and Nebby dear had never left the hallway. They were far too busy to notice me but I took the initiative and slipped into the bathroom where I stayed until I was quite certain they had left. It took a while because they started discussing their life plans for the next sixty years.

I spent most of the rest of that day sitting in a dark living room (the weather was dreary) with Nebby dear (whose name turned out to be Alejandro, not Nebby), listening to him go on and on in comprehensive detail about how great my sister was and blow his nose with feeling. He compulsively drank several glasses of milk as he did so. This really energized him and he began orating on “union by sacred troth” and clergy and expenses and marriage licenses – these he talked about in hushed and reverent tones.

Finally, I was saved by the Mom and Dad coming in. They beckoned me away just as Catherine threw herself past them and into Nebby dear.

“Next month, should it be?” he asked solemnly.

Mom and Dad stopped beckoning, partly because I had successfully escaped and partly, I thought, because they were joining me in inclining an ear toward the conversation.

“Dear me,” said Catherine, “I have next week free.”

“Even better!” declared Nebby dear. “I actually have no pressing engagement on Saturday of this week.”

“Well, actually, tomorrow would work very nicely for me.”

“Ah, yes,” said Nebby dear. “I think that could easily be arranged – and I don’t really want to give my relatives too much of a warning – they might turn up.” He laughed dully.

“Tomorrow it is!” said Catherine.

Mom pushed Dad and me out of the room and closed the door. Having a door for the living room always had seemed unnecessary until that moment.

“They’re moving a bit quickly,” breathed Dad.

“They have known each other a long time,” said Mom.

“Yeah, but… tomorrow?”

Dad clapped my shoulder and Mom petted it, and they walked off toward the kitchen as if in a daze.

Supper was a silent occasion. Nebby dear was present. He ate expertly, with an enviable ability to wield a butter knife. The plans were formalized: the wedding was to be tomorrow and it was to be without much fanfare. Dad and Mom, whose wedding had been a five-day event involving professional entertainers and a town-wide feast, were very much surprised at such an idea.

Nebby dear finally took his leave, informing us that he likely wouldn’t sleep at all that night. Mom then took upon herself the long task of contacting all our several relations by phone while Dad stood over her nervously. I washed the dishes. Mom continued calling. After almost every call she declared, “Not coming!” I started drying the dishes.

Dad came into the kitchen, looking flushed, hot, and contented, almost exactly as if he had just won a particularly tricky marathon. He fetched himself a large apple, and chewed it with relish.

“Not many are coming,” he said. “Ha! Not many at all.”

Mom came in and she and Dad carefully went over the list of attending relatives, spreading out a notebook and a map on the table as if they were drawing up a battle plan.

My grandparents on both sides were to be present, along with my dad’s oldest brother (Uncle Alabaster), his daughter Marta, and six of my mom’s aunts.

With this knowledge in mind, I decided to go to bed. Dad heartily encouraged this and declared that he would be making cake. Mom told him that he would not, but concurred that cake was appropriate for such situations. Both of them seemed positively unsure about the speed at which things were happening. Catherine traipsed about the house and outside, texting with abandon.

I fell asleep surprisingly well. Wondering why on earth Catherine was getting married the next day boggled the mind enough to shut it off, apparently. I woke up a few times to hear dishes clinking, small appliances whirling, and Dad exclaiming how late it was. Then I slept for a while until five-thirty when I woke up to hear Catherine chattering animatedly in the next room. Probably to Nebby dear. I huffed. No sleep for me with a conversation that loud going on. I pulled out my own phone and committed myself to mindlessly interacting with it.

I answered a few texts (largely with “lol no”), glanced without comprehension at my emails and accidentally deleted a few, and then started to read about squirrels. Thirty minutes later, I was reading about internal combustion engines (Catherine and Nebby dear were still going strong in their chat). Then my phone screen became brighter and brighter and then much brighter. I stared as one transfixed as my eyes watered and I experienced something very similar to acute pain. My entire room was radiantly illuminated, and then it was all suddenly dark. My pulse was pounding, and my vision had become a thick green haze. For no good reason, I took the opportunity to throw my phone. I did not hear it crash to the ground, and this caused me grave consternation. Catherine laughed quietly in the background, but I wasn’t paying much attention to her. Indeed, my attention was now turning to more remote parts of the house. I thought I heard footsteps.

The footsteps were quiet, but they were numerous and unrelenting. I muttered briefly to myself and got out of bed. Maybe something was dripping. They definitely didn’t sound like Mom or Dad. I sneaked out of my room, past Catherine’s room (“…and there is always retirement,” she was saying. “Yeah, yes. Exactly…”), and into the dining room that we never used. I heard a distinct sound like a pot being put on a stove-top. I gulped and tried to steady myself. Burglars, maybe? All fell silent. Maybe, I conjectured, this was just natural physics. I felt a cold wind behind me and I turned in shock to see the basement door ajar. The endless depths of darkness behind it were too much for me. I blinked in an anguish of fear and thought I saw ghoulish shapes hovering just beyond my sight.

“Ridiculous, Neitersen,” I muttered. I wished that I hadn’t spoken. Somewhere deep under my feet something splashed and gurgled. The room briefly glowed with the slightest hint of green. Did it come from the basement door? I took a deep breath and fairly dashed past it, zipping into my room and flipping on my light. Everything looked normal enough. My bed was tousled, my possessions were in order – but my phone was lying on my pillow. And how did it get there?

I located a nightlight in my closet and stuck it into an outlet. Only reluctantly did I deactivate its far more vibrant superior. Then I dived into bed and tried not to think too much.

I woke up to Nebby dear bargaining into my room in a nervous frenzy and a suit. “Wrong – where’s the basement – never mind.” He dashed out again, swallowing noisily. I shook my head. Poor my sister. He dashed back in.

“Hey, um, Neitersen,” he said, “things are getting started.” He put a disturbing amount of emphasis on these last two words. He dashed out again.

Dashing into a fellow’s room when he was trying to get forty winks. Who did he think he was? I groaned and resigned myself to preparing for the day.

I was just about to enter the kitchen when I heard Uncle Alabaster ask loudly, “Where on all the foul earth is everybody? Want some toast, Marta? Looks like there’s plenty here.”

“No, thanks,” said Marta in the tone one uses when declining toast. “They must be out in the hole.”

Our property was on the main a narrow, spindly thing, but it went into a bit of woods and in that woods was a wide, circular clearing. Nobody knew why it existed, but it did. We called it “the hole.”

“If I have to destroy me femurs just to see a niece get married, I’m a jolly decent chap, aren’t I? Well, let’s see if I can heave an old body off this chair.”

I stayed very still, wondering if they were coming this way. They weren’t. I heard the front door slam. Immediately afterwards, Nebby stumbled out of the dining room, with two folding chairs in either arm.

“You’d better hurry,” he said, shocked. “It’s going to start any minute.”

“Not without you,” I pointed out.

“You know, that’s actually a good point,” he said.. “Can you get the door for me?”

Once outside, I offered to take a chair (to gain a better estimation of his character), and as I suspected he would, he gave me two with a “thanks.”

The chairs were rather clean. This surprised me because the last time I had been in the basement (almost two years ago), it hadn’t seemed like the cleanest place in the world. Of course, I paid more attention to the pipes than to anything else. Those pipes were terrifying.

It was quite a task to get those folding chairs through the woods. I wondered very pointedly why we were having a wedding in the hole.

“Why are we doing it back here?” I asked.

“Doing what?”

“The wedding.”

Nebby dear paused for a moment. “Don’t know.” Then he crashed on.

When we finally burst through the branches into the clearing, I made full use of my perspective. Uncle Alabaster was sitting in a camping chair with a small cheese sandwich, looking like he had been sitting there for a few hours. He and Marta must have moved fast. The latter was nowhere to be seen.

As soon as we put the chairs down, they were claimed by four of the several aunts. They all expressed their thanks.

“And where’s your family?” asked one of them, pointing a not insignificant finger at Nebby dear.

“Um, some of them might be along,” he said uncertainly.

“Hm. Not wishy-washy, are you?” muttered the aunt. “What’s your name?”

“Neb – Alejandro,” he replied.

NEB ALEJANDRO? Alabaster, did you ever hear of such a thing?”

“Who are you?” demanded Uncle Alabaster.

“Who am I?” she shrieked. “Well, that’s nice, and no mistake about it.” She fell silent and glared.

I was on Uncle Alabaster’s side. I had no idea who she was. I recognized the other five aunts, and they all smiled placidly. Mom’s father was keeping a diminishing platter of cookies company. He declared loudly that he shouldn’t eat too much cake because of very sound advice from his medical doctor. My grandmother on that side was standing beside him, shaking her head.

My other grandparents had Catherine squished between them on some kind of stone bench, and they were dealing out plenteous advice on marriage with more than adequate volume.

“If he’s in a furious temper,” Dad’s mother was saying, “feed him something with lots of protein and fiber or healthy fats. Nothing too sugary, now.”

“Postprandial hypoglycemia,” her husband stated wisely. “Absolute bear. Absolute bear.”

Mom had made three cakes and she was arranging them and various other foodstuffs on a wide table. People must have really been moving things about while I slept. Dad stood by the table making threatening advances toward any flies that dared come too close.

“Here,” said the aunt whose name I didn’t know, “Alexander—that is the proper form of the name…”

A few of the other aunts looked horrified at this sentiment.

“Well, it is. What decent person, speaking English, has the time of day to say Alejandro? Clearly—” She squinted at Alejandro. “Clearly, you are not Portuguese.”

“True, I’m not very,” said Alejandro.

“Do you plan to chop firewood when you are something like a man?” she demanded.


“None of your wells; give me a straight answer. I can’t admire a man who won’t chop firewood.”

“I do not share this view,” stated another aunt mildly.

“Oh, look,” growled Uncle Alabaster. “It’s the collar come.”

By “collar,” he meant a clerical type who glided through the woods.

The certainly not mild aunt monitored his approach for a brief moment and then said, “Good, we can get on with it. I don’t know why I came! Look at those tables. I don’t see a single option for drinking.”

“Bottle o’ water under the table,” yelled Uncle Alabaster.

“I’m not interested in water, and what little good water under a table does I hope I shan’t have to explain. If this was a decent wedding, which—” She made several doubtful expressions on her face. “—guests would be served a small glass of wine, and they wouldn’t have to ask for it.”

“I don’t touch vintage,” retorted Uncle Alabaster, glaring at the cleric as he came near.

“Ah,” said the cleric, and he looked around bemusedly.

WE NEED ANOTHER CHAIR!” yelled the grandfather I first mentioned, possibly through some cookie.

“I do not need to sit,” responded the cleric. “My thanks.”

“Ha!” The Aunt exclaimed. “Ask him what he does instead!” She said this like it was something really incriminating.

“We need another chair anyway,” asserted Uncle Alabaster. “We’re one short if my daughter comes back. She’d give up her chair to one of you, wouldn’t she?” He lifted what was presumably her chair with his index finger and shook it. “Someone might as well take it.”

“Well, don’t just stand there,” The Aunt coldly commanded Alejandro. “You’re about to be a man now. Do a day’s work. Fetch another chair.”

“I’ll get it,” I said, turning to go.

“Ha!” she shrieked. “There! There is a promising young fellow. Initiative. Something which you have in limited quantity, I think. Bring your chair over here, Alex; I have things to say to you.”

I took off at a smart pace. It was an easy task to get through the bit of forest without two chairs on one’s person, so I quickly got back to the house. As I opened the door, I felt very strongly a presence beside me. I turned and saw porch railing.

I narrowed my eyes and marched into the house, into the dining room, and to the basement door. I stopped there, suddenly realizing where I was going. My heart rate accelerated and my skin pricked.

The basement.

Why had I volunteered to go down into the basement?

Pipes, pipes, pipes. Insulated, naked, copper, and plastic – and a certain hideous and bloated tube. I felt a dread chill and reflected that I might as well get it over with.

My history professor at law school had informed his class that the way to conquer fear was to hold your smartphone just so with the camera app open and a finger ready at the capture button. I thought there were probably better ways to do it, but as a temporary measure, I gave it a go. I grasped the doorknob and opened. The door blew open, forcing me backwards and banged against the wall.

I gasped. That was not a good start.

I stepped onto the first, creaky step. It had been creaky, that is, but this time it didn’t creak. My legs wobbled, and I felt rather woozy. Marta needs a chair, I told myself, modeling its resolution as some heroic deed. The next step did creak. I hadn’t expected it too. There was a little sound in the basement. Maybe it was the cat.

We didn’t have a cat.

The brilliant person who built the house had placed the light switch for the basement halfway down the staircase and complemented this arrangement by painstakingly structuring the basement in whatever way limited the presence of natural light. I finally reached the switch, just as I was starting to imagine faces staring at me out of the darkness. Click. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The light turned on.

But now the pipes began. The first ones were copper and they ran around the staircase in wide and improbably contorted loops. They went from these to the farthest reaches of the basement. I wasn’t quite sure what they were for. I finally reached the floor. The view as one dismounted the stairs was very limited, as the stairs ended just two feet away from a wall. It was not a pleasant prospect to turn. It seemed I could feel eyes on me, and I thought I heard a long breath. Eventually I turned to where I hoped the chairs were. It was the only pipe-free part of the basement, but the light-bulb had apparently gone out over there and it was deeply shadowed. I did not find much comfort there. I restrained a huge sigh and turned the opposite direction and looked upon that beastly tube.

It was a great, curved pipe that bulged from the floor and into the wall, filthy and overlarge, wide as six or more of my arms. There was no sensible reason for its existence, yet I was certain that I could hear it gurgle softly.

Before I could reach it, I had to duck under several long stretches of insulated pipe, the black material mocking me in every possible way. Right after these was a further insult, three pipes of white plastic embedded in the ceiling. But then I was past them, and my courage was mounting. But it was a hopeless sort of courage, a last stand. My hand was becoming unbearably hot and I looked down to see my phone smoking slightly. It’s screen had gone black, and suddenly it burst into flame. I threw it and it cracked against the floor, smoldering. An echo from its impact sprang throughout the room, and the pipes warped it into a horrible and unnatural sound.


I gasped and whirled around. The tube stood there, looking less dreadful than before. My imagination, certainly. The chairs were beside the pipe. Of course they were. At least they weren’t leaning against it. I didn’t want to feel that thing holding the chairs up. I seized a chair.

You are the claw.”

I whipped around. “Who’s there? Who—?”

My vision was swimming. I heard a noise deep in the basement. Footsteps. Somebody was coming. I focused my terror into a single, piercing note.

A potential brute stepped out of the shadows, striding over to me in too few steps. He looked like a man, albeit one that towered over me and had an unnecessarily large rifle in his hands. I stopped shrieking.

“Not very manly, now was that?” he asked.

“A human,” I said. Overwhelming relief coursed through me. “A human. Who are you?”

“What do you mean, who am I? I’m an intruder is what.”

“An intruder?”

“Yeah, duh,” said the man. “Look at me. I ain’t no posy. I’m on the side of power and evil intent, and proud I am of it.”

“Well, you’d – you’d. Hang on. What are you doing in – aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” I exclaimed.

A foul glove wrapped around my mouth.

“Shut your gob! Not manly at all. You should be more like me. I’m down here to make sure all’s in order, aren’t I? So you’d better stay put and stay quiet. How’d you know I was down here, anyways?”

“Didn’t you say—”

“I haven’t said a word all day, blast it with ice.”

I realized I had an opportunity to do something stupid. Without further delay, I yanked down on his arm, and he overbalanced. With a vicious maneuver, I threw my weight into knocking him down. Unfortunately, compared the force his muscles were capable of, my weight was as nothing. He threw me back and pinned me with his gun against a bunch of shelves attached to the wall.

“What was that for, eh? Can’t ’bide with threats to my safety.” His free hand came wriggling toward my neck.

“Um, be careful,” I said uneasily. “You don’t want to hurt me.”

“Don’t I, then? I’ll tell you summat, little boy, I’d love to hurt you bad. Ain’t no one, grown or baby, who pulls over a move on me.”

The hand came closer. I was amazed that somebody could have such a slow strangling action.

The fingers nearly reached my throat. What an absurd way to die, I thought. If he touched, I’d have to react with one final and devastating effort. It was coming. The fingers just missed. And then, the unexpected happened.

“Stop that.” It was Marta’s voice. Enormous relief. Marta suddenly became my favorite cousin. Special agents of Mango Bromhead were trained to deal with things far beyond rescuing their relatives.

“And who’s that?” asked the burly man, letting go of me and gripping his firearm with a grimace.

“Agent of the republic. Kindly drop that monstrosity you’re holding.”

“What, just drop it? I don’t think so. I’d like some credentials.”

Marta stepped up to him. “Okay. Well, turn around, then.”

He turned around slowly. Immediately, his weapon clattered to the floor and he uttered unintelligible noises. “The Lieutenant,” he finally managed, taking in short, shallow breaths, and he crashed to the floor like a felled tree.

Marta smiled at me. “All right?”

“I suppose. What was he doing here?” I thought maybe she would know things like that.

“I don’t know. I don’t think he is alone.” She fiddled with the barrel of her handgun. If I was correct in my estimation, it would be a remarkable and futuristic handgun, the like of which agents of Mango Bromhead somehow possessed.

Marta cautiously approached a wall; I zipped along behind her. “The door down here was unlocked. Do you suppose it was left that way?”

“Oh, no,” I said with conviction. “Certainly not.” Suddenly, my body stopped walking with a jolt as if I had been in someway constrained. My mind, which had been prepared for the next step, was baffled and disoriented.

Anord,” whispered some voice, “you are the Claw.

Marta turned and looked at my. “You’re a bit off color.”

The best thing I could come up with was, “I don’t like pipes.”

Marta looked up at some of them. “Same. Once I had to go down this manhole and I was just standing in this huge tube with water running by in a little channel on the side. Not fun. Okay, but I need to…” Her voice faded away, a fact that did not contribute to my inner tranquility. She stopped speaking and looked at me strangely. The whole room looked at me strangely. I would have looked at me strangely if I had the power.

Power. This word stuck in my mind as I turned to face that great tube. It called me with a greater compulsion than I had ever felt before, even greater than when my Aunt Nelly offered me three hundred dollars if I could rescue her cat from a tree. On that occasion, I had striven to do the task and despite my lack of tree-climbing ability, I had achieved my goal. I had declined the payment grandly, but Aunt Nelly gave me a thick wad of hundred dollar bills and told me not to give it back because she didn’t accept charity. Now the nebulous payment seemed still more valuable, and the task was easier. I knew that I had to call upon Anord, just as that great lobster – for a lobster I of a sudden deemed him – had summoned me.

I started forward, and in that moment my reservations about doing the bidding of a possibly imaginary lobster were repressed to the fullest extent possible. I surged toward that beastly tube as the other pipes wavered in my vision. As I approached, I heard voices and sounds, an echo of some great reality that was about to be revealed. I could reveal it.

I reached the tube. It’s filth was diminished as it moved as though insubstantial, weaving through space and into my mind. I extended my hand and seized it and pulled. It was heavy. The force opposing me was greater than any that had ever opposed me before, but it was not greater than Anord. The tube swiveled away from the wall, rending a great hole. I could almost see a whole new world now, hidden by strange art behind this single entity. The end of the tube had a cap. I seized this, and turned, gritting my teeth in the effort, but not considering it. Of course I could master this opposition.

“What are you doing?” said Marta’s voice, very near.

“You speak to the Claw of Anord,” I stated simply. It perfectly expressed what I was trying to convey; Neitersen, for a moment, could not have agency in this world.

The cap fell off, and I was looking down into the pipe. The darkness was not contained within it, and it spread and expanded. So the will of Anord would again be accomplished. He was down there, blue but glowing green. The evil bound up in him was growing closer. Perhaps he was ascending or perhaps I was falling down to him. We were the only two beings in a great void.

The void shattered. I was back in the basement, breathing heavily. Marta had me pressed against a wall, and she was staring at my eyes.

“Right,” she said. “Say ‘ahhh.’”

I obliged.

“Right,” she said. “How do you feel?”

“A bit confused, actually.”

“A history of hallucinations or whatnot?”


“Extreme mental strain right now?”

“Not really.”

“Been getting your vitamins and minerals? A balanced intake of amino acids? Omega-3?”

“I think so.”

“Taking any medications?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Been bit by anything? Been in any unusual places? Tall grass? Swampland?”

“Um… I don’t think… not recently.”

“Eaten anything strange? Potentially compromised tap water?”

“Nope, shouldn’t think so.”

“Okay, well then.” She let go of me. “Can you explain this?” She gestured widely.

I looked around disbelievingly. A large section of wall and shelves were ripped away, letting in a certain amount of sunlight and a curious squirrel, garden tools were strewn over the area, and on this mess lay the pipe, cracked and buried under a pile of building material. The wide hole in the floor where it had once been connected was partly obscured and wholly terrifying.

“Now,” said Marta. “What I saw was you go kind of funny and exercise phenomenal strength and destructive power. What did you see?”

I explained in detail.

“Yeah?” said Marta. “That’s interesting. That really is interesting. Mind writing it out as I look around?”

She pulled out a notepad and pencil and gave them to me, and then she smartly pulled out a small elliptical device from her hair. She knelt by the pipe, and the device beeped.

I turned to press the notepad against the wall, sticking my tongue between my teeth to aid my concentration, but as soon as I touched the wall, it briefly dissolved into a brilliant green outline. This effect shot quickly through the basement. It faded away in moments, but it left something behind.

A ghost was coming down the stairs. It was a stereotypical ghost, a translucent woman in trailing robes and 1880s hairstyle. As I expected, she payed no heed to us; she went straight for where pipe had been and now was again. The wall seemed farther away from the pipe, and the pipe stuck into an old-fashioned stove, which made limited sense. But this was no ordinary stove. There were inscriptions on it in an angular script, and I thought that they glowed. There was a large pot boiling on the stove, and as I crept a little closer, I was disturbed to see an ordinary clawed lobster inside it.

Marta scooted away from the pipe (and the ghost), stood up, and whispered, “Are you seeing this?”

I nodded mutely.

The ghost reached the pot, picked up a paddle, and prodded the lobster. Her mouth was moving, and streams of light moved around her and through the paddle. The lobster shimmered. The inscriptions flared.

Marta shushed me for no apparent reason. I tried to regulate my breathing.

Suddenly, there was a rush of light and energy that I realized too late was fully capable of interacting with us. I was knocked off my feet, landing painfully on my face; Marta did some sort of sophisticate twirl beside me and maintained her position. I looked up dazedly to see four black boots with artistic blue trimming. I jumped to my feet and nearly blacked out. The boots belonged to extremely good-looking persons, a young man and a young woman who were standing there in their dark clothing and dark hair, faint blue shimmers in the air about them. They clearly belonged to my generation, so I knew there was no reasoning with them about whatever criminal activity they had planned.

“Denver Polaco is my name, and this is F. Swan,” said the young man, extending his hand. He pronounced F. Swan very grandly.

“Filly Swan,” said the same. “Not very pleasant to meet you again, Lieutenant.”

“No offense meant,” said Denver with a friendly grin. I wished I had teeth half as healthy-looking as his.

“I didn’t meet you last time,” said Marta severely, “you got away. At least now I know your names. I don’t mind saying you’ve been very troublesome to Mango Bromhead. But that is background information. At the moment, I wonder if you can think of a reasonable excuse for entering a private residence uninvited and perhaps with armed assistance.” She indicated the slumbering brutish fellow.

“We have things to do,” explained Filly with an air of patience. “Don’t worry. We’ll work fast, and then you can get on with your wedding.” She smiled nicely.

“And what are you doing?” I wondered.

“Messing around with Anord,” said Denver in a falsely casual voice. “And we’re on a tight schedule.”

He walked past us. Marta didn’t look too happy about it. “So there is indeed that woman involved,” Denver mused.

“Let’s see,” said Filly, “permission to just watch these proceedings?”

“You mean the ghost?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, still smiling nicely. “The ghost.”

Marta return the smile. “Why do you want to watch hert?”

Filly shrugged. “Why don’t you watch too? This is an academic exercise.”

“I’m suspicious of your academic exercises,” returned Marta. “And not for poor reasons, either.”

“Filly,” said Denver. “This is it.”

“How’d you know to come here to see a ghost, anyway?” I asked.

“We know when Anord awakes. It looks like you brought him back this time. Good show.”

“Thanks,” I said as we all walked over to the pipe. We were far too close to the ghost for comfort.

“See?” asked Denver. “She’s not cooking Anord. Makes sense – because who could? I think she’s working with him in some way. This could be the very key.”

“I don’t like to think of you two getting the very key to something.” Marta crossed her arms.

“There’s someone coming.” Filly turned toward the stairs.

Sure enough, in a few moments, there were footsteps on the stairs, and then Nebby dear was calling, “Hey, Neitersen! Everything okay?”

“You’re named Neitersen?” Denver laughed. “Interesting.”

“Who’s that?” Nebby dear stepped onto the basement floor. He kept compulsively brushing his suit off.

“I’m a hardened criminal in the middle of my activities,” Denver responded swiftly. “Might as well go away.”

“Well,” said Nebby dear. “Lucky that – aren’t you into law enforcement?” He indicated Marta.

“Sort of,” said Marta evasively.

“Is he all right, Nebby dear?” yelled Catherine from the top of the stairs. She began to walk down them.

“Yeah,” bellowed Nebby dear, “but looks like burglars or something.”

“Unfounded accusation,” said Filly. “Really unfounded.”

“Which is not to say we aren’t.” Denver looked rather tense, and he moved closer to Filly.

“Hang on,” said Nebby dear. “What am I seeing? Why…” He shook his head viciously and blinked. “What…?”

Catherine stepped down from the stairs and screamed so, so loud. “AAAAAAAH!! AAAAH!! GHOST! WHY ARE YOU ALL JUST STANDING AROUND? HELP! HELP! SOMEBODY’S BEEN MURDERED IN THE BASEMENT!

“Shush,” said Marta.


“You’re still overreacting,” said Filly, “calm down for once in your life.”

“Sorry, who are you?”

“Filly Swan.”

“Oh.” Catherine seemed surprised.

“I’m sorry,” said a new voice. Padded footsteps struck the stairs. “It’s time for the ceremony to begin. Declare your readiness or forever be silent.” The cleric jumped to the floor.

“That’s not what—” began Catherine.

Blasts with a sound of metal striking metal smashed through the wall. A bunch of people in black Mango Bromhead uniforms and masks burst in and crowded around Marta.

“Did you have to come in like that?” Marta’s hand wrapped more tightly around her gun.

“Oh no,” said Denver, scratching his head.

Filly bumped him with an elbow and rubbed her wrist. “Never mind.” She glared at Marta. “Was this a trap?”

“We were somewhat prepared for such things.” Marta cast a disapproving eye on the people in black uniforms. One of them shrugged. Another whispered the word traffic.

“That is a popular excuse,” said Marta. “But no matter. Denver Polaco, Filly Swan, I place you under arrest as an agent of the republic for repeatedly and directly endangering our citizens and disregarding our statutes.”

“Pleasant sort of person,” said Denver, staring at Marta in a handsome sort of disapproval.

Filly chuckled humorlessly. “It always seems to come to this. Maybe it’s just us somehow.” She raised a hand. Blue lights danced around it. “If you don’t want to get hurt,” she said, “leave. We will finish our task.”

“Will you resist arrest?” asked Marta.

“That’s what she just said,” said the cleric, coming forward.

“Thank you for pointing that out,” said Marta. “Are you a cleric?”

“I am a nebulous sort of cleric, yes.”

“Very good. Do you two consent to being restrained.”

“Unequivocally no,” said Filly. “Everybody leave.”

“I must protest,” said the cleric. “I’ll just hurry up, shall I?”

“We’re not ready yet!” protested Nebby dear.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Catherine. “If we go back there, that ‘aunt,’ as she calls herself might…”

“We purpose,” began the cleric, “in the assemblage of these presently gathered…”

“I said, go away!” said Filly, obviously a bit annoyed. The cleric apparently didn’t hear her and continued on.

“Yes,” said Denver, “do.”

“We’re not ready,” hissed Nebby dear in the cleric’s ear.

Catherine was looking between Denver and Filly. “Wow. You two look really good. How do you do it?”

“…and to unite by sacred troth the selfsame persons also under the laws of the land…” continued the cleric.

Catherine was looking more impressed by Denver and Filly by the second. “I love that style you’ve got going! Wow. You look like eminently cool dark magicians.”

“Last chance to leave,” declared Filly airily.

“Last chance for you to submit to the process of justice, more like,” said Marta.

“Yeah,” said one of the agents behind her. “It gets tiring standing here, still as a statue, not breathing a word. A person can only look dignified for so long.”

I backed up slowly, smiling politely at everybody.

“Five seconds,” said Filly.

“Fine,” said Marta.

They glared at each other.

“…to share a bond of…”

It happened very quickly. A massive surge of bodies, a greater pulse of magic, flashes of lights and horrendous sounds – pipes fractured and tools fell as a great disturbance of dust rose up in great plumes.

“Aaaaaaah!” yelled Catherine.


STAY BEHIND ME, MY DARLING,” said Nebby dear.

I edged toward their voices. It seemed like agents were everywhere, always firing science fiction type blasts from their guns. I didn’t see why so many guns needed to be fired until I reached a gap between two agents that I could peer through. Filly and Denver did not have smiles on their faces now, but their methodological and stalwart approach to combat was just as impressive. Dark blasts and blue ribbons of lights wrapped around them, striking out with vicious effect against their assailants. Most of the agents, I noticed, were starting to edge back; Marta, however, with a very unamused countenance, moved slowly forward while somehow defying the magical attacks with her firearm.

I reached Catherine and Nebby dear. The cleric, displaying not insignificant arm strength, was holding their hands together as they struggled and hollered.


“Ah ha!” said a new voice triumphantly. It was The Aunt. Somehow she did not have to yell to be heard. “Go to see about the boy indeed. I knew this whole thing was so you could elope.”

“We are not eloping,” Catherine told her as soon as The Aunt had elbowed through the mass of agents. “He just won’t stop marrying us.”

“Ah, I see. In the company of a rather rough crowd. The scene of crime is no place to get married. It is distasteful, girl, and vile. No doubt your Alexander is used to this sort of ‘ceremony.’ How will your relatives give their reasonable objections if there are no relatives present? Oh, yes, I think of these things, unlike some. By all means, sir, carry on. You will find the assembly is not wholly deficit.”

The cleric had been carrying on this whole time. His eyes were scrunched up, his face was red, beads of sweat poured down his clerical forehead, but still he persisted. “…LIFE. SIR!

“Yes,” asked Nebby dear testily.


“Well, yes, but…”

“Say ‘I have,’” reprimanded The Aunt. “I’m sure no civilized person would try to respond incorrectly on such a sacred occasion.”


“I mean…” Nebby dear looked desperately at Catherine, who looked desperately back at him.

“Disgusting,” asserted The Aunt.


“I do,” said Nebby dear, as a large purple bolt struck the support beam beside him.


YOU DO WHAT, SIR?” asked the cleric.

“Take Ca—”

“Very good!” He shot off into the “WITH THESE THINGS IN MIND” speech again.

The conflict beside us was getting brighter and brighter and more focused. The agents beside us were growling and groaning. The odd bits of magic that almost struck us seemed more deadly.

ENOUGH!” screeched Filly. The very air seemed to be charged with that screech, and the agents were blasted backwards.


“I do,” said Catherine.

The cleric opened his eyes, spread his arms wide, and smiled. “THEN I PRONOUNCE YOU SO UNITED. YOU MAY NOW PUBLICLY DISPLAY YOUR AFFECTION. JUST LET ME TURN AROUND SO I DON’T GET ALL SENTIMENTAL.” He pulled out his handkerchief and started to turn.

“You didn’t give me a chance to protest,” stammered The Aunt.

“Madame,” said the cleric thickly, sniffing. “If you wished to delay the marriage, you should have closed me in a closet or clobbered me on the head. Would you do such deeds?”

“No,” said The Aunt, shocked.

“Then let the matter rest.”

Then Nebby dear and Catherine displayed their affection in a barbarically public and inordinately prolonged manner. I turned toward the battle, which I considered a much less shocking scene. The battle stopped for a moment as the agents cheered and clapped (most of them from their position’s on the ground). Filly and Denver, looking very tired, looked like they were laughing a bit. And just like that, blasts were going off again, and wildly. The agents that were still able to engage seemed to have a new ardor.

Nebby dear and Catherine were not yet quite finished, and the cleric was sobbing almost as loudly as he talked. The Aunt was looking pointedly at the ceiling.

PLEASE,” said the Cleric finally. “PLEASE, I CAN’T BEAR IT.” He fell to the ground.

At that moment, a pink blast zoomed straight toward Catherine. I started forward in a vain reaction, but The Aunt was there in a moment. It struck and destroyed her handbag, but it too was ended.

“Idiots,” she said. “Get out of here.”

Nebby dear and Catherine finally stopped, and The Aunt shoved them toward the stairs.

“Get out of here,” she said.

“Dear me, yes,” said the cleric. “I too must be gone.” He wiped his eyes and blew his nose excessively. “Good morning, everybody.” He stepped lightly behind Nebby dear and Catherine and followed them as they stepped happily up the stairs.

“What?” asked The Aunt. “Get over here, boy. You’re a fine fellow. Leave this place at once. It’s a wonder you’re not killed. Go on. Be gone and safe.” She petted my shoulder with a bony hand and frowned at the battle.

STOP!” moaned Filly.

SHORT RESPITE?” suggested Marta.

I didn’t hear any reply, but the blasts raged on. I can’t admit to being too impressed by our forces at Mango Bromhead. They were supposed to be special agents. Of course, maybe Filly and Denver were just that powerful. I decided then and there that life was much simpler when I didn’t know about magic.

“You want him,” said The Aunt. “He’s the Claw.”

I turned. The ghost was walking past her, coming straight at me. She seemed to be focused on me. Oh boy.

“Neitersen Mestre?” Her voice seemed to ripple through every particle in the room and make waves in the very stuff of reality.


“You are the Claw.”

“What does that mean?”

“The Claw derives its definition from circumstance and from character. Come.”

I followed her. Nobody but The Aunt seemed to mark our movement. Indeed, the others seemed to fade away.

The ghost took me to the stove.

“What do you see?” she asked.

“Well, it looks like you’re cooking a lobster.”

“Why do you see that?”


“Why would I cook Anord? Who in their right mind would cook Anord?”

“Yeah, I mean, frankly, I don’t even think cooking a lobster—”

“So I am not cooking Anord because to cook him sanely is impossible, and I am sane.”

“That’s – that’s good – but…”

“But what, Neitersen Mestre?”

“He’s cooking now… or then, y’know, because, er, ghost.”

“He is not. You see before you a scene that is not happening in the present moment. It is a representation, but it means nothing to you. Anord is not cooked, Anord is not dead. Anord lives by you.”

“But… why?”

“The nature of Anord is chaotic. There is little order in him, and thus your orderly mind may be slow to understand his intricacies. Cats are far more likely to.”

“They are?”

“That was partially a joke.” She shook her head briefly. “Here you see Anord boiling, but not in water – in magic. My magic? Perhaps, but what does that matter to Anord? On an island some distance away, you might see Anord destroying himself in a fit of stupidity, as his Claw fades away, for his reality has ended. On the sea, you might see a great storm and disturbance, where the mighty defy the strong, both in the name of Anord. The Claw walks in their boats. For a time, his vision is sure. Close at hand, you may see Anord himself, present and attended, while the Claw stands by with no vision at all, save that which his friends created. Maybe the Claw is you.”

“What?” I didn’t quite understand what she was trying to say.

“Honestly,” said The Aunt.

“Anord is chaos. He contests starlight and fire alike. But I am his order. I ground Anord to reality, and now I pass to you this idea of him.”

“So, what does this implicate?” I asked.

“This I cannot answer. Maybe it means nothing. But to your friends, it may mean much.”

“Which friends?”

“Filly Swan – a spirit with a power of sorrow and greater than many of those here, something great apart from Anord; Denver Polaco – her kindred in that nature. Much more will come of them. Their influence lies beyond this world. But beware what they seek. Filly Swan has before put out her hand to Anord. Perhaps you can see it.”

“Are they my friends? I mean, seriously, it looks kind of doubt…”

“Do not worry about doubt.” The woman shook her head and smiled. “If they are your enemies, how much greater an enemy is Anord? Or I?”

“That’s not disturbing at all,” I said with just a touch of sarcasm. “When I looked on Anord in my, er, vision earlier, he was the very definition of evil.”

“Is that how you define him? Beware, Neitersen Mestre. Anord is not good. No more will I say. He is free again. How will you use him, or how will he use you? Or will you work in a different way. Remember Anord does have agency of his own.” She vanished. I was thrown back into reality, and I landed on my backside with a startling thud. The stove and pipe had vanished, but the hole glowed green.

A great arc of green light surged through the agents and right above my head. Many agents fell. There were only a few left standing – Marta was one of them. Filly and Denver were bruised, crackling with energetic lights, and Denver’s hair was quietly burning.

“Give up, Lieutenant,” said Denver, brushing back his hair, extinguishing the fire and leaving it aesthetically damaged.

“I should’ve called in backup,” said Marta. “You guys are good at this.”

“Ha,” said Filly softly. Her right hand was clenched very tightly. It looked like there was a bit of blood on it.

“Look,” said Marta hesitantly. “I don’t think we can defeat you with these guns.”

“Obviously not,” affirmed Denver, taking deep breaths. “The gems in those guns are no match. Might as well leave us to business. Go and lick your wounds. This is an affront, honestly. Haven’t we been punished enough?”

“Maybe,” sighed Marta. “But you have been implicated for rather concerning crimes, such as those involving death.”

“Ah, yes,” said Filly. “Well.” She looked at Denver, who looked a bit nervous. “It’s not exactly like that makes it sound.”

“Very good – if you come with us quietly, you can establish this in court and this can all be sorted out. Otherwise, we must assume you are a threat to Derkin.”

“Oh, we are,” said Filly, a bit angrily, “but so are you. Perhaps the greatest threat in Derkin is him.” She pointed at me with her bloody hand.

“Hmm,” said Marta. “Nevertheless. Will you come with me? This is a chance for you to escape additional punishment, providing we can restore these good men and woman to health.” She gestured at the fallen agents.

“They should be all right,” muttered Filly. “Magic doesn’t like to destroy.”

Marta cleared her throat. “Now, why should Neitersen be such a great threat?”

“He’s the Claw. He wields the power of Anord.”

“Right… so what exactly would you do if I let you go about your business?”

“Not telling,” said Filly.

“You wouldn’t like it,” added Denver.

Just like that, there was a man standing in the room with a red banana about his neck and redder fedora on his head, and he walked right into the middle of the scene. In his arms he held a great bundle of wrenches, and he had several tools in his belt.

“I am the plumber!” he exclaimed helpfully.

The Aunt shoved me toward him.

“Hallo, Mestre!” he said to the room in general. “So, just a routine job on these pipes, eh? Ooo. That’s a great hole there. That’s a hazard, that is. Some kind of monster might live down there. Could give a person the creeps. How do, Polaco and Swan?”

Everybody stared at him like they couldn’t believe what was happening to them.

He knelt down by the great hole.

“Hey,” said Marta.

“Yeah?” He looked back up.

“Are you really a plumber, or are you just another magician trying to get power from Anord?”

The man scratched his head. “I’ve been accused of some things before, but that’s a pretty impressive accusation. Care explaining what it means?” He stood up and gave his bundle of wrenches to a confused Filly. “Could you hold that? Thanks. Hey, there’s a bunch of unconscious people on the floor. Are they okay?”

“Just fine,” said Marta. “I hope.” She was moving her head in a strange pattern as if she was trying to see the plumber from every possible angle.

“That’s good. That’s great! Hey, young man, know anything about plumbing? Give us a hand.”

“Are you talking to me?” asked Denver.

“No, you look exhausted.”

I’m exhausted,” Filly stated indignantly. “I’m exhausted and you gave me a lot of stinking wrenches, which I will gladly throw on the floor.”

“No!” yelped the man. “Don’t!” He wiped his hands on his kerchief. “Okay, go ahead, but give the nice, red one to Neitersen.”

Filly shook her head, grabbed the red one with her left hand and extended it. “Here, take it.”

I saw Marta look very tense in the corner of my vision, but I took the wrench.

“Excellent,” said the plumber as Filly threw the rest of the wrenches to the floor deafeningly. “Now give us a hand.”

I stooped down to the hole.

“Okay,” said Marta, sounding like somebody collecting their scattered thoughts. “Swan, Polaco. Are you finished?”

“No,” said Filly.

“Oh no!” said the plumber. “Now she’s going to draw her bullet-spraying pea-shooter, and how will you block that? Besides that, bullets are uneconomical with modern technology. Kind of dangerous. Kind of loud in the expulsion.”

“What if she does?” asked Denver tightly.

“Yeah,” said Filly.

“I’m trying to think of other options,” Marta assured the collective assembly.

“That’s good,” said the plumber. He held out his hand. “Wrench.”

I handed it too him. He fumbled around dramatically and dropped it straight into the hole. In a moment it had disappeared. I heard no sound below.

“My favorite wrench!” he exclaimed. “Neitersen, what are you going to do? Help! Help! My wrench.”

“And use your brains, boy,” snapped The Aunt. “I know you have them. You’re a good lad.”

“Yeah, listen to your ‘aunt.’” The plumber did air quotes.

I decided then and there that this whole situation was extremely confusing and comprehensively messed up, but suddenly I was having a flood of thoughts – hailing the despot of Bonvka (a ridiculous idea it seemed now), the wedding, the Claw – all independent of Anord and the beastly tube that left behind such a ghastly hole. Anord was evil. I didn’t know what he was, and thinking about what the ghost said, I decided I wouldn’t try to figure it out. I made some decisions: I was not the Claw. This situation was ridiculous. All there was to Anord in this house was that hole, and not even that needed to remain. Did not the pipe disappear?

And even as I thought it, so it was. I was not the claw. The situation, already ridiculous, was defined as such, grounding it and defying Anord. Anord was gone. The hole was gone. All of this nonsense was over.

On this last point, however, I was decidedly wrong. First, Filly fell to the floor, crying out in pain and glowing a radiant green. This passed swiftly, and she was left shivering. Second, I looked up to see my immediate family (and present extended family and new in-law) staring discreetly at the scene from the stairs. I noticed several unusually wide eyes. Thirdly (and this took a few seconds before it took place), there was a massive explosion of some visible green and blue force that ripped so swiftly through the air that I couldn’t comprehend it. I only saw that it struck the plumber who was standing in front of me and was repelled by several magical bubbles of light and that the walls were blasting outwards, and then I was falling into darkness and the basement floor.

“Need a hand?”

I was lying amid timbers and varied rubbish, and I was on a thick layer of dust. The plumber was crouching before me, holding out his hand. His other hand was clamped tightly around a large sea green wrench, exactly the size and shape of the red one. It struck me as curious.

“Where is everybody?” I asked groggily. “Is everybody okay?” I realized that I had on a large industrial mask, which was very nice because I didn’t like to think about all the building materials I would be breathing in.

“Do me a favor and look into it,” said the plumber happily. “I rescued everybody except you and other relevant parties, so rescue the rest: Miss Swan, Master Polaco, that ‘aunt’ of yours. Um, and Marta. That’s all except for Nebby. He’s doing really good. No sweat. Everyone’s safe and in good order. No permanent damage, one can hope. How’s that?” He pulled me through the debris separating us in a rather impossible manner, but I frankly didn’t care at that point.

“Great,” he said. “Had to make sure you were in a good spot.” He winked. “Right?”

“Are you trying to allude to something specific?” I said less groggily.

He looked around and winked again. “You’re in a good spot now. Carry on. Door’s this way.” He slipped out of sight. I crawled after him but only discovered seemingly impassable debris.

Suddenly, the debris to my right was shifted in a sharp movement and there was The Aunt. Her face was wrapped in an enormous kerchief.

“When I was a girl,” she said immediately upon seeing me, “houses were built better. Look at this. Quality sacrificed for convenience; it’s absurd. Give an old lady a hand.”

I gave her a hand, and she pulled me into a little space in which the structure of the fallen house was shaped into a little dome. Marta was there, blinking at her surroundings. She grinned when she saw me.

“What a day, cousin!”


“Did I hear voices?” bellowed Nebby dear close by.

“It’s Nebby dear!” I exclaimed impulsively and rather stupidly. I immediately turned red.

Marta stared and then burst out laughing, laughing far more than the situation warranted, I thought.

The Aunt stared and then ventured, “That’s an odd sort of name for a fellow like you to use for a fellow like him. My sarcastic gratitude I must extend because now I will forevermore think of him as Nebby dear. Which is more offensive than Alejandro.”

“What’s so offensive about Alejandro?” Marta demanded.

“Nothing,” said The Aunt after a beat. “I will make a path out.”

“The plumber said the door’s that way,” I said, pointing.

“I think you need to work on your sense of direction,” said The Aunt. She frowned. “But you’re not a bad fellow. I have to remind myself of that.” She began shifting rubble in the direction I had pointed. It was very slow work. I wondered if we would ever get out.

Getting to Nebby dear – or Alejandro – was a relatively easy task. I pushed on rubble, Marta pulled on rubble, Marta gave rubble a solid kick, and we were through. Nebby dear – Alejandro – was sitting there, snugly situated (though rather stuck) in a mass of wooden beams next to the refrigerator, furrowing his eyebrows and drinking milk. To my surprise, Filly was also there, trapped on her back beneath the bulk of the debris. There was a sort of bubble around her, which glowed an intense white and seemed to hold things up. She sighed wearily as we entered.

Aljenadro called out nonverbally before raising his glass and saying, “Don’t want it to go to waste. Miss Swan doesn’t like milk. Amazing thought to me.” Alejandro poured another glass. A cupboard full of glasses also was next to him. “Want a yogurt?”

“No, thanks,” said Marta. “That’s luck right there, ending up next to a refrigerator.” She looked at Filly. “And that is not so much luck.”

“It isn’t, no,” said Filly. “Thanks very much, Neitersen, for banishing Anord. Look how paltry my powers are now.”

“Oh, come on,” I said, feeling rather bad about whatever I had done, “the ghost said that you were great independently from Anord or something like that.”

“Well, maybe,” said Filly.

“Let’s see,” said Marta, looking at the debris carefully. “This is tricky.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Can you teleport?” I asked on sudden inspiration.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I can. But not while I’m underneath a stinking great house. Concentration can only go so many ways. In fact, less talk, more action. I don’t know where Denver is.” She glared at us.

“Want a yogurt?” asked Alejandro.

“Yes,” said Filly, “I do actually want a yogurt. Unfortunately, I’m underneath a stinking great house.”

“Filly!” called Denver’s voice urgently. “You there?”

“Yes, I am here,” returned Filly, “but I’m underneath a stinking great house.”

“Okay. I think I’ve broken my leg. Every bit of me is squashed. I’m hoping I’m not dead.”

“Oh, forget it,” said Filly. “Stand back. I’m going to yell very loudly.”

We stood back. Filly yelled very loudly, and as she yelled, the debris shifted slowly, moving upward and to the sides, fitting into other bits of fallen house and locking into place. Filly was no longer yelling. Instead, she was went limp and seemingly unconscious. A blue mist of light rose up around her, digging into the rubble. The bubble flickered and died. Marta dived forward and pulled her out just as items began to severally fall down again. Along with these items fell Denver, severally spewing forth strongly worded exclamations and cries of pains.

We all winced. Filly rose from the ground and stumbled over to him. “You’re alive, I hope.”

Denver didn’t move, but swallowed noisily. I noticed that he also had a mask on. “Just. Don’t worry about moving me. My neck is not broken.”

“Great. Shall we all have some yogurt before we go up?”

We all had some yogurt (except Denver, who doubted that he could swallow). The yogurt was surprisingly fortifying. Nebby – Alejandro – looked sadly at the rest of the refrigerator contents, but steeled his face in resolve, and we all went over to extract Denver, waiting briefly as Filly and then Marta both checked to see if his neck or spine were in tact. Filly said that he would live; Marta said that he as in very good shape.

Except for the very trying task of maneuvering Denver, the process of navigating through The Aunt’s industry standard tunnel (somehow even equipped with periodic nightlights) served beautifully to get us straight to the door, which opened to reveal just exactly what it used to open up to, only with a  bit of roof embedded in the yard.

Mom, Dad, Catherine, the six aunts, the grandparents, and Uncle Alabaster were all standing there. The special agents of Base Mango Bromhead and the brutish fellow were sleeping peacefully on the grass. As we emerged, another group of people was coming forward, yelling things like “ALEJANDRO, WHAT HAPPENED?” and “ALEJANDRO, ARE YOU MARRIED YET?” and “SORRY WE MISSED THE WEDDING.” This group, as perhaps was evident, turned out to be his family. They had many questions about the sort of family he had married into, glancing with frequency and doubt at the wreckage in the background.

 Soon general interest turned to Filly (who was standing shakily with traces of blue fluttering around her) and Denver (who was standing on one leg and leaning heavily on Filly).

Several people made vague offers of help, and many from Alejandro’s family offered to check if there was anything broken. Two of them, ignoring Denver’s protestations, inspected him rigorously and declared that he had only sprained his ankle. Denver looked not a little hurt by the insinuation.

Of course, more interest was generated in them once the general topic of discussion turned to their arrest (a topic introduced by Marta).

“Look,” said Filly, “can we just go? Our crimes – if you want to call them that – are not as bad as they sound and sometimes aren’t even exactly connected to us. They have to be taken in context.”

“Furthermore,” said Denver, “we’re leaving. We’re going out of Derkin.”

“Hmm,” said Marta. She didn’t sound impressed.

The relatives began shouting their uninformed verdicts on the case. It was an amazing sound. Fortunately, at that moment, the ghost turned up.

“Ooh, look,” said one of Nebby – Alejandro’s – younger relatives. “It’s a ghost.”

Uncle Alabaster agreed loudly.

The ghost was interested solely in Marta. “Let them go.”

“It’s not my choice,” said Marta. “It’s the law.”

“You’re not law enforcement,” Uncle Alabaster pointed out. “You’re a special agent.” He said this very loudly and with great pride.

“Anyway, don’t forget their diplomatic immunity,” said The Aunt.

“Do we have any?” asked Denver.

“I don’t know. Can you turn into birds?”

I expected Filly would respond yes because it would be so cool and stylish to be able to turn into a great black raven.

“Yes,” Denver said, “ravens.”

“Well,” said The Aunt, “since Brina here—”

“Who?” asked several people.

“The ghost,” said The Aunt. “I am shocked by the lot of you. Briana has given her directions, these two are from a whole other place, and the law specifically says that the state cannot try or convict a bird. So if you two became ravens…”

“Really?” asked Marta. “That needs to be fixed. But I don’t think it would work like that anyway.”

“Agreed,” said Brina the ghost.

The Aunt glared. “It’s a conspiracy, a coup! Oh well, I’ll have to show my rank.” In a swift movement, she pulled off a wig and her outer garments. She then wiped off quite a lot of makeup.

“Um,” said Marta, “you’re the prime minister.”

“I am,” said The Aunt. “Don’t worry about it. Just know that I grant my official pardon; I will write up an order later. The police have concluded that these two have not directly and willingly committed any unduly concerning crime.”

“No one told me,” said Marta.

“Or me,” said Filly.

Denver looked relieved. “I was beginning to wonder if that certain—” He shut his mouth as Filly frowned at him.

The prime minsister cleared her throat. “Call my office if you ever you doubt that I’m actually the minister. And don’t tell anyone that I’m magical.” She vanished.

SHE’S THE PRIME MINISTER?!” shouted just about everybody at once. That one sentence was the beginning and end of the discussion because it was too confusing to get into.

“She had a disturbing personality,” said Catherine.

“Agreed,” said Mom. Everybody else nodded their silent assent.

“Maybe,” suggested Uncle Alabaster as if he was about to say something patently obvious, “just maybe it was all an act.”

“And we are pardoned!” Denver exclaimed. “And, maybe – possibly free from him at last?” He looked at Filly.

She frowned. “Could be. Shall we be off, then?”

Denver gritted his teeth and morphed before our very eyes, clothes and all, into a large black raven. It fluttered weakly at first but was soon steadily climbing into the sky.

“Well,” said Filly, “goodbye. Sorry about – all this. If I had money, I might chip in to help rebuild the house, as I feel marginally responsible.” She stepped backward and changed into a bird much faster than Denver had. With several large flaps she caught up with him and they soared off with haste into the distance.

After that, all went as might be expected. Marta mentioned that Mom and Dad would be entitled to reimbursement as Mango Bromhead was committed to civilian safety from magical entities (Anord, in this case) and they had failed to protect the house. All the relatives demanded to help rebuild the house and most of them offered us temporary houseroom. Uncle Alabaster mentioned lightly that he still considered himself a remarkable carpenter. He also pointed out that half of the house was still standing. Thanks to the relatives was profuse. When it finally slowed down, plans were made for going to Aunt Vienna’s house to get cleaned up and eat a bite of cake.

From that moment forward, I kind of enjoyed life. I summarily ceased my education in law, and I soon joined up with Mango Bromhead, though I stressed it was not to be as an agent but as a researcher. After a few months of processing, I had realized that I was very interested in magic, so I thought it would be an ideal job. It was, and it is. My activities in it are highly classified, so I can’t say more.

The house was rebuilt. It is now ridiculously luxurious. Mom and Dad, the grandparents, and usually one or two of the aunts all live in it. Alejandro – whom I have called Nebby dear often in this narrative to reflect my thought processes at the time – and Catherine are still, as far as I know, rather fond of each other. I don’t really know what they’re doing with themselves. They seem to change jobs and residences every couple of weeks. They’re going to be having their fourth or fifth child soon. Maybe it’s fourth and fifth. I hear a rumor that this means they will be settling down somewhere. I also have heard a rumor that Alejandro’s family chases them everywhere, but I’m not sure what that means in practice.

So I return to my studies. I have discovered a lot, and I’m really eager to learn more – it’s an interesting thought – a thrilling thought, with what I know now – that I was, for at least an hour or two, the Claw of Anord.