Granny can’t get the glove-wearing-pale-persons’ mystery out of her head, and she has decided to take action while Taïga is still bound to her bed, sleeping almost twenty hours a day. After discretely asking around, she has finally found a private detective who she’s meeting with tonight.
Granny turns around and stares at the good looking man in his thirties standing behind her with his hand outstretched.
‘Err… Good evening. You must be Mr. Stanescu, the private detective I called this morning?’ she says tentatively. She’s surprised at his choice of outfit. Of course, she hadn’t really expected a fedora and trench coat, but seeing him in a velvet costume with some funky 70’s psychedelic paisley pattern really takes her a little aback.
‘Belododia, Petre Belododia.’ The man smiles warmly. ‘And I’m not exactly a private detective. I’m a journalist and I’ve been doing a lot of research about this ‘phenomenon’ here in Vulturu…’
‘A journalist? I didn’t expect…’ Granny lets her sentence trail, surprised. She waits for him to explain.
‘I’m a friend of of Iorghu Stanescu,’ he adds, with a huge, Ultrabrite smile.
‘Oh… And where is Mr. Stanescu?’
‘He’ll join us a little later, there’s a meeting tonight I think you’ll find interesting.’
Granny listens carefully while Petre Belododia quickly fills her in on the discoveries he’s made since he came to Vulturu. Which isn’t much, by the way.
‘… vanished! But we’re looking into that. So, you said you had photos? Did you bring them?’
Granny fumbles in her purse and brings out the pictures she has taken.
Petre Belododia scrutinizes the photos. ‘How did you manage to take those? Have you been staking out the roofs in town?’
Granny laughs and gestures vaguely, ‘Oh… It’s not important.’ I can’t really tell him I was riding a broom when I took these…
Petre Belododia takes her through the dark streets to the secret meeting. Granny recognizes recognizes Jan Dimir and his son Iulian. They look suspiciously at her and acknowledges her a little reluctantly with a nod. Granny realizes she’s the only female, and wonders if that’s the cause of the hostility…
‘Ah, there he is!’ Petre Belododia points at a bald man getting out of a taxi a bit further down the street. ‘Come on over Iorghu! Let me introduce you to Mrs. Grey.’
Iorghu Stanescu greets her warmly. His attention is drawn to another new person. ‘Who’s brought the child? I’ve already told you: No kids! Get rid of him now – we don’t have much time until we have to take up our positions at the “zone”… Can we talk in private, Mrs. Grey? If you’ll excuse us a moment, gentlemen.’
Hmm… Here’s a man who’s used to be in charge, Granny thinks, letting herself be led out of earshot of the little group by the authoritative detective.
‘So, after what you told me on the phone, you’re onto something important. Could you develop?’
Iorghu Stanescu listens to Granny’s theories without interrupting her. His rapt eyes never leaves her face.
‘Excuse me, Mrs. Grey…’ Iorghu Stanescu makes a sign to Jan Dimir, who is looking at them from a distance. ‘I’m coming, Jan!’ He turns back to Granny. ‘We have a rather risky mission tonight and perfect timing is important. I’ll contact you.’
He leaves without waiting for her answer. Risky? She snorts contemptuously. She knew it would be difficult, but she had hoped for a little information. After all, she’s on their side.
Granny watches them all leave. ‘A meeting I think you’ll find interesting,’ she mimics. Interesting for the others maybe. She didn’t hear a thing, and didn’t get to talk to anyone apart from the detective and Mr. Belododia. ‘I don’t even know if this Iorghu Stanescu will really get in touch again…’ She’s standing alone in the dark alley, when suddenly she can hear footsteps approaching. She quickly hides in the shadows.
One, two, three… four persons pass her hurriedly, staring straight ahead of them as if unseeing. Granny listens carefully after a sign of more people coming. When she’s sure she’s alone, she steps out into the street again. What’s happening? Why are they in such a hurry?
And where are they going? Hey! That’s Miss Hasdeu!
Recognizing Taïga’s English teacher, she decides to follow them.
Staying out of sight, she follows them to the park. She counts to three before walking across the street and entering the dimly lit park herself. She’s welcomed by an eerie silence. It’s as if they have all vanished into thin air…
Brooding Granny decides to walk home. “There’s a meeting tonight I think you’ll find interesting.” Blahblah… this is like an English gentlemen’s club – no women admitted…
In the absence of her nosy sister, Missy has chosen to have some fun. In the light of the full moon, she creates a green, malevolent cloud.
She rubs her hands. ‘Time to get down to business!’
But the residential street she has picked out is deserted and disappointed she starts walking, muttering to herself, ‘I must surely run into someone at least walking their dog or taking out the trash…’
Finally she comes across a poor guy on his way home.
‘Salut! Eşti singur?’ (Hi! Are you alone?)
‘Err… da.’ The young man frowns, wondering if the old lady is coming on to him. ‘What the-?’
Did she just throw this stinking potion on him on purpose? He dabs at his jacket, grimacing from the smell.
He can’t believe his eyes! The old lady is drawing a wand and starting to sing an incantation…
‘Crazy people in this town. I’m outta here! Darn it… I can’t move!’
Too late. Missy snickers and watches the young man turn a sickly green, his members dislocating.
‘It worked! 35 years of hard work… So am I now a Zombie Master?’
The figure focuses on her and growls.
‘Oups! Better get out of here before he decides he’ll eat his maker! I don’t think an apple will do the trick this time…’
She fumbles in the plastic bag she has brought with her for a piece of raw meat and throws it at him. ‘Cheerio!’
She dances away down the street, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder to check that the creature is not following her.
Missy is on a high. She was only supposed to try out her mixture, but there’s still some of it left and besides, she’s having so much fun. On her way back home she transforms another poor guy, then another…
‘I’m the Zombie master! Or soon I will be the Zombie master, anyway,’ she singsongs.
But as usual when you’re having fun…
‘Uh-oh! My sister… Darn, judgmental Tara!’
Granny sets the newly created zombie on fire without breaking her stride.
‘We need to talk, Missy. I’ll wait for you in the study.’
Frustrated, Missy watches Granny vanish, her long skirt billowing around her feet as she quickly walks up the street. She glances at “her” zombie on fire.
‘My snotty sister is always interfering, spoiling the fun and making me look like an idiot! But not this time! This time I’ll tell her what I think, and if she doesn’t like it she can take her grandchild and leave. And the disgusting dog!’
The zombie doesn’t answer, just growls pathetically a last time before crumpling to a heap of ash on the sidewalk. A man walking his dog turns into the street.
‘Good evening,’ the man says, politely tilting his hat and pulling at the leash to his dog who is smelling what’s left of the unfortunate creature.
Missy just snorts. ‘Especially the dog.’
The man looks puzzled after her as she haughtily walks off into the foggy night.
Granny is furious with Missy.
Why has she started this nonsense again? Didn’t she learn her lesson last time? I will have to do something really drastic to make her stop before she becomes like our late grandmother… And I definitely have to take Taïga out of school before it is too late.
Missy watches the zombie burn and slowly die… for good this time.
‘AAAaaaargh! Why does she always have to interfere?’ She turns her back on the agonizing zombie and follows Granny up the street, forgetting all about the cloud she created less than an hour ago…
No need for Missy to transform real, living people anymore. The maleficent cloud is slowly drifting away and the earth opens, vomiting zombies in its wake…
Granny is pacing to and fro in the study, waiting for Missy. She is more than angry, but she doesn’t know if it is because she is worried about where her sister is heading with her experiments or because she is frustrated after her own misgivings. She was convinced her sister had abandoned her lifelong wish to become a Zombie Master. After all, she hasn’t done anything suspicious since their arrival in Vulturu… But then she remembers Missy talking about a scientific project with Dr. Franke at Fascinating Facts Observatory, and about access to the hospital morgue…
Why does it take so long? I can’t wait to- The creaking of a floor board on the landing just outside the door stops her pacing.
It is Missy tiptoeing up to her room, making as little noise as possible. She has changed her mind about speaking her opinion and would rather avoid a confrontation with her sister. Thanks to the old wooden flooring there’s no such luck.
‘Missy? Is that you?’ Granny shouts from inside the study, making her sister stop with one foot in the air.
‘Better get this over with…’ Missy mutters, straightening her hat. ‘Yeeees. Of course it’s me!’ With a sigh she pushes the door open, adding under her breath, ‘Who else could it be? A zombie?’
Granny is standing in the middle of the room, a grave expression on her face. She seems utterly calm which must be a good sign. Or not. Missy closes the door behind her, waiting for her sister to say something.
‘I want an explanation about what you were doing, and it better be a good one.’
Missy rolls her eyes. Always nagging, worse than our Mother… Not that I know if she was the nagging kind, as she died when I was born, but anyway. Hmm. Tara seems calm enough. I might just be able to pull it off this time. Here goes…
She puts on a suitably remorseful expression and starts explaining, ‘I just wanted to have some fun, and these young people hanging around looking for trouble really begged for it!’
Granny raises an eyebrow. ‘So there were more than one? How many are we talking about here?’
‘Err… Two? … Maybe three.’ She counts on her fingers. ‘But as you “finished” one, I suppose there are still two out there.’
‘Suppose?’ Now it’s Granny’s turn to roll her eyes. ‘Thank the goddess we only must eliminate two.’
Missy turns to leave. ‘Can we get this over with? I’d like to watch East Ender’s before-’
Faced with Missy’s total lack of repentance, Granny finally loses her temper. ‘Don’t you think about the consequences at all? What about the innocent people getting attacked? What about the children?’
Granny’s outburst destabilizes Missy. ‘But they’re away at Easter camp as usual this time of the year! Almost all of them… Apart from Taïga, of course. Who’s in her bed, next doors.’
‘I know perfectly well where she is, thank you.’ Granny calms down a little. She knows she’ll get nowhere by screaming at her sister so she tries again. ‘Are you serious? The children are back in a couple of days and we’ll have an invasion by then!’
‘Well… Young people shouldn’t be out late anyway. Doing mischief…’ Missy answers petulantly.
‘I can’t believe you just said that! I won’t repeat myself. You promised Grandmother Ailey you’d stay clear of black magic.’
‘OK, OK… I promise I won’t do it again.’ But Missy is crossing her fingers behind her back.
‘Good. I take your word for it. I’ll tell you what you have to do to make everything all right again… Look at me when I talk to you!’
Missy looks perfunctorily up, concentrating hard on not rolling her eyes, but when her pompous sister starts pacing the room, ranting about the boring cleansing and protective rituals they will have to perform, she just tunes the droning voice out.
She has more important things on her mind anyway than just getting rid of a couple of wandering zombies. She has just come to think about something embarrassing that might be of significance – the green cloud she haphazardly created. If it works like it is supposed to, they will have more than an invasion on their hands…
Missy gulps, feeling her brow go damp with cold sweat. Invasion? No, they might be talking nationwide zombie apocalypse here. Maybe even worldwide… She throws a furtive glance at her sister, but Granny is busy droning on about whatever boring stuff she has set her perfectionist mind on. Geez. She needs to pee…
After what seems like an eternity, Granny stops ranting.
Missy blinks. ‘Are you done? Err… I’m tired and I need to pee.’ She squirms, illustrating her immediate need to use the bathroom. ‘Can we continue this conversation tomorrow? See how things are working out… Maybe they will just… disappear,’ she adds hopefully.
‘You know perfectly well they won’t.’ Granny grabs her hat and walks over to the palantìr. ‘I need you to help me localize the zombies. Before they bite anyone,’ she adds between clenched teeth.
‘Uh-oh.’ Missy glances at the feared object on the table. She knows exactly what will happen next. The dang crystal ball will show her uptight sister everything, including the green cloud. She’ll throw a fit and it’ll all be her fault – as usual. Upset, she turns to leave. ‘No! No way am I letting you use that thing to get me doing your biddings!’
Granny’s dark and powerful voice reverberates around the walls of the study, which suddenly seems tinier and darker than before.
Missy almost throws herself down onto the chair opposite her sister against her will. ‘Please…’
With a sign of her hand Granny silences her sister. She concentrates, staring into the crystal ball, but the palantìr is strangely silent…
‘Ahem…’ Missy coughs. ‘Maybe you could ask something else, as you’re at it, I mean?’ Her sister doesn’t answer, just continues staring into the emptiness of the sphere. Missy blunders on, encouraged by her sister’s silence. ‘Maybe you can seize the opportunity to check if there’s a man for me? Not right around the corner, but in the future sometime… Maybe?’
Granny just looks sternly back at he over the vibrating crystal ball.
‘But then again, it might not be the moment…’ Missy’s voice trails off.
Granny tries to concentrate again but it’s impossible to localize the zombies with Missy talking all the time.
‘Wait… I can see something…’ She stops, widening her eyes. Was that really a glimpse of Hecate? She shakes her head, abruptly putting the palantír to rest. ‘No. It was nothing.’
Granny pushes back her chair with a forced smile. She can’t tell her sister what she saw before she herself knows exactly what it meant to glimpse a demon from Hell. Killing off two zombies can surely not be important enough to call on the demons from the Underground? No… She clears her throat. ‘We’ll have to do it ourselves. Just like the last time.’
‘I get it…’ Missy sulks. Her sister never tells her anything about her future. At this pace, she’ll end up a spinster…
Granny squeezes her arm lightly. ‘Now go out and make things right again. And make sure you’re not waving any weapons around in the sight of people.’
Suddenly Missy throws herself into Granny’s arms. ‘Goodbye,’ she hiccups melodramatically.
‘Goodbye?’ Granny pats her younger sister awkwardly on her back, trying to get out of the forced embrace.
‘If I perish to the bite of a zombie, I just wanted you to know that-’
Granny slowly pushes her away. ‘Ahem. Just go and spread the protection elixirs, and I’ll take care of the creatures. OK?’
Missy stops sniveling. ‘OK.’ Smiling to herself, she exits the study. Zombies can get really nasty, and they’re not really known for being grateful to their creators. There’s a high risk of them attacking her as if she were just a common passersby. She will definitely be better off taking care of spreading the protection stuff around the Vulturu homes…
Missy spends the rest of the night riding around town in their vintage car, spreading the elixirs Granny has made around each and every sleeping household in Vulturu. After a while it gets boring, so she reverts to the newspaper boy technique – throwing the precious bottles directly from the car she sends them crashing as close as possible to the doorsteps…
Meanwhile, Granny is discreetly riding around town on her broom, searching for signs of the missing zombies but they seem to have vanished. Maybe they are stuck someplace, or have fallen into a hunter’s trap? Anyway, they are nowhere to be seen. Maybe they could just wait it out as her sister said. Maybe the zombies have just disappeared. Maybe her magic has worn off, she’s only a second born after all. Her magic isn’t reliable, so the transformation was perhaps not definitive? Too many maybes…
The thoughts race through Granny’s head, as she flies low, widening her area of research to the outskirts of town.
At dawn, she has to give up as she can’t risk anyone seeing her riding around on a broom. After the exhausting hours spent searching for the zombies, she occupies the whole next day researching the grimoires for information.
‘Hmm… I thought it would be enough to kill them off… but to do that we have to find them! There must be another way than to summon Hecate… Hmmm… I’ll better make some healing potions, too. Just in case…’
They’re still at the same point at nightfall, Granny didn’t find any mention of healing potions in case of a zombie bite, and after having breakfast she spent some time with Taïga, reading aloud from her schoolbooks in the hope that she might learn in her sleep. Missy has slept since she came back after breakfast, and Granny is starting to feel the exhaustion catching up on her too. She brings her late lunch into the den and turns on the television.
She zaps to the news channel and watches an image of a deserted street in Vulturu. She squints at the clock, it shows almost three, so it must be a live transmission. She blows on the hot mushroom soup, taking a careful sip. ‘Mmm… Maybe I should have added some salt…’
The news anchor is featuring a serious expression, talking while arranging her notes on her desk. The image changes to a helicopter view of the Fascinating Facts Observatory, and a green cloud slowly sifting past.
‘What the Heck!?!’ Granny spills hot soup all over her dress, making her howling jump up from the armchair. She turns up the sound even though she doesn’t understand what’s being said. ‘MISSYYY!’
Missy comes running, clutching her robe with her hair on end. ‘OhMyGod! I thought you were being attacked by a zombie!’ Hmm… That’s a good idea. Getting bitten will scare my uppity sister and take her down from her high horses…
Granny is gesticulating with the remote, unaware of Missy’s thoughts. ‘What are they saying!?!’
‘Err…’ Missy rubs sleep from her eyes, ‘There’s a curfew imposed by the mayor, and the habitants are advised against going out even during daytime. Apparently there’s been some kind of accident at the Fascinating Facts Observatory, and dangerous chemicals are spreading over the town. Maybe we should board up the windows? What do you think?’
‘An accident? There’s been an accident, but not chemical. At least not the kind of chemical they think,’ Granny hurries to the window and looks outside. ‘What about the cloud?’
Missy answers without thinking, ‘Witnesses have seen a green cloud… Uh-oh…’
‘Exactly! I saw it drift past on the screen – a sickly green cloud! Could it be a Voodoo shimmer? Have you got anything to do with this, Missy?’
‘Err… I might have forgotten about it. I didn’t think it was important.’ Missy shrugs.
Granny closes her eyes and draws a deep breath. ‘I’ll go upstairs and change, then we’ll have to pay the graveyard a visit!’
‘I suppose it means I can’t go back to sleep?’
‘Absolutely not! I said “we”, didn’t I?’
Granny hurries upstairs but Missy calls after her, ‘Are we going to see Maman Brigitte*?’
‘Err… No. We’re summoning Hecate.’ She can hear Missy draw her breath behind her, and smiles grimly. This will be tougher than she thought. Decidedly she’ll have to tell her sister about what she saw in the palantìr. Granny touches the chain around her neck. The pendant was her mother’s and her mother’s before that – a big yellow topaz. But the pendant also once belonged to Hecate, and the witches “won” it by tricking her. Hecate shall want it back. Badly… Maybe it would be better if Granny left it in a safe place…
*Voodoo: Maman Brigitte, as she is often called, is the female Guardian of Graves, a powerful magical deity of cemeteries.
Part I – End of Chapter 24