Granny can’t get the mystery of the glove-wearing-pale-persons out of her head and she has decided to take action while Taïga is in security at home, still bound to bed with Missy watching over her. The little girl is sleeping almost twenty hours a day, most of which Granny sits by her side, reluctant to walk out on her protégé. It still leaves Granny with lots of time to pursue her investigation. After discretely asking around, she has finally found a private detective who she’s meeting with today. She pulls into a free parking slot opposite the Palace of Justice, next to Vulturu Liberation’s offices, and takes out her little folded photo album of her bag.
The place is deserted at this time of the day. The lunch goers are back in their offices and school is not over yet. There’s only a man wearing a fancy suit sitting on a bench probably waiting for his date. She gets out of the car, smooths down her skirt and fluffs up her hair a little. Now, she’s a little early…
Granny turns around and stares at the good looking man from the park bench 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, taking his hand. The man is in his thirties, with a long face, drooping dark eyes and well styled dirty blond curls. A neat, groomed beard slightly darker than his hair is surrounding a perpetually puckering mouth. She is surprised at his choice of outfit. Of course, she hadn’t really expected a fedora and trench coat, but the velvet costume with some kind of funky 70’s psychedelic paisley pattern in black and white really takes her a little aback.
‘Belododia, Petre Belododia.’ The man’s puckering mouth widens in a warm smile. ‘And I’m not exactly a private detective.’ He throws a glance over his shoulder and lowers his voice. ‘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 Iorghu Stanescu,’ he adds, with another 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 whispering 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. ‘There were only a handful when I moved here, now there are tens of them. Look. No children, though…’
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.’ She can’t really tell him she was riding a broom when she took them. ‘What about the meeting tonight? Shall I bring something specific?’
‘No, but I think it would be more appropriate if you wore something less… less…’ he searches for words and an annoyed Granny folds her arms and waits.
‘Is there something wrong with my outfit?’
‘No! Of course not. It just a little too… too…’
‘Ahem. Too… Luminous. Yes, darker will decidedly be better.’
Granny snorts, going over her outfits in her head. Everything she owns is grey. Mostly light grey.
Petre Belododia decides he’s on thin ice. ‘I have to rush back to work, but let us meet here again tonight, at sunset. Or rather at The Anchor. You know The Anchor, right?’
Granny nods. They shake hands again and she returns to her car, eager to get home and prepare for the meeting at the infamous bar later tonight.
Granny parks and meets up with Petre Belododia outside The Anchor. She is relieved she doesn’t have to get inside the boisterous bar, she has never been serene in those kind of places. The journalist is still wearing the psychedelic outfit from earlier this afternoon, but he nods approval at her outfit. Missy’s short black Trenchcoat, dark trousers and the stylish black fedora are probably just right for a secret meeting. They leave the car parked outside the Anchor and walk together through the dark narrow streets of old Vulturu. They keep a quick pace, eager to arrive on time. The alleys are dimly lit and wind their way following the medieval original plan of the city.
They turn around yet another corner and they have arrived. There are already three men waiting, talking in hushed tones.
Startled, she recognizes the apothecary, old Apostol Alexandrescu, and an employee at the City Hall, Jan Dimir, who she has met outside of school a couple of times. She is surprised he has brought his son, Iulian. He is sitting on one of the crates with his football next to him, probably bored out of his mind. The boy is Taïga’s age and shouldn’t be here at this ungodly hour, Granny thinks. She looks severely at him but he avoids her stern gaze. Her attention turns towards a tall blond man wearing a biker style leather jacket with gleaming rivets and a skull grinning on the back. His outfit seems rather intimidating and rough. Just the kind of man she had expected to meet up with tonight.
Petre takes her elbow and introduces her to the three men. Jan Dimir doesn’t show that they know each other. Instead he clearly lets his mistrust of her shine through. He is wearing a light summer suit and Granny looks pointedly at Petre, hoping he gets the hint. He doesn’t.
The blond man’s name is too complicated to remember. They all look suspiciously at her and acknowledge her a little reluctantly with a nod. Granny realizes she’s the only woman, and wonders if that could be the cause of the hostile looks. Vulturu is rather old fashioned, after all.
‘Ah, there he is!’ Petre Belododia breaks the uneasy silence and points at a muscular bald man getting out of a taxi a bit further down the street.
‘Come on over Iorghu! Let me introduce you to Mrs. Grey.’
Granny watches the man approach. The long strides, rigid back and the held back shoulders makes her wonder if he is a retired soldier. She knows many private detectives in the States are retired policemen or military, their small pensions not being enough to make a living.
Iorghu Stanescu greets her warmly. Then he glances at the boy. ‘Who has brought the child? I’ve already told you: No kids! Too dangerous. Get rid of him now – we don’t have much time until we have to take up our positions at the “zone”,’ he says in Romanian, adding in English to Granny, ‘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. She wonders if the baldness is real, or if he shaves his head. The result is a hard looking individual. Not one you would even think of messing with. They stop in view of a parking, shadowed by large pine trees.
‘So, after what you told me on the phone, you’re onto something important. Could you develop?’
Iorghu Stanescu listens to Granny’s theories about a ghost virus without interrupting her. His rapt eyes only leave her face to scan the parking lot behind her back.
Suddenly he interrupts her mid-sentence. ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Grey…’
She follows his gaze to a big black SUV with tinted windows that silently makes its way into the parking lot. The driver jumps out, signing the detective to hurry up.
Iorghu nods back. ‘I’m coming, Claudiu!’ He turns back to Granny. ‘We have a rather risky mission tonight and perfect timing is important. I’ll be in touch.’
He walks away without waiting for her answer. Granny looks at his straight back, opening and closing her mouth. Risky? He said risky? Apostol Alexandru walks with a cane for God’s sake! 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 in the armored SUV. “A meeting I think you’ll find interesting,” she mimics. Interesting for the others maybe. Nobody even talked to her and she didn’t get to talk to anyone apart from the detective and Mr. Belododia.
A light rain starts falling on her way back towards The Anchor and her car. She walks fast, grumbling to herself, ‘I don’t even know if this Iorghu Stanescu character will really get in touch again…’
She’s walking alone through a dark alley when suddenly she can hear footsteps approaching. Running footsteps. A whole lot of them. She thinks running is never good so she quickly hides in the shadows.
One, two, three, four…She counts the pale people hurrying past. They are all staring straight ahead with insipid, unblinking eyes as if unseeing. Hey! That’s Miss Hasdeu! She recognizes Taïga’s English teacher and surprised, she takes a step forward.
Miss Hasdeu is followed by the geography teacher, his distinct red hair impeccably smooth on his shoulders, his beautiful face an emotionless mask.
Granny is lucky they did not see her. With her heart beating fast, she leans her back against the wall in the shadows, closing her eyes for a brief moment. She listens carefully after a sign of more people coming but the night is silent, the only sound the echo of vanishing footsteps.
What’s happening? Why are they in such a hurry? And where are they going?
When she’s sure nobody is heading her way, she steps out into the street again. The pale people are already far, disappearing into the night where the dim streetlights don’t reach.
She doesn’t think twice. She has to know where they are heading.
Staying out of sight, she trails them to the park. She counts to ten before walking across the street and entering the dimly lit park herself. She’s welcomed by an eerie silence. It seems like they have all vanished into thin air…
Brooding Granny tries to get her bearings. This is a part of town she doesn’t know. The dark doesn’t help but she is pretty certain she has never been here before. And the car is parked somewhere on the other side of town, probably farther from where she is now than Missy’s house. Ruminating she decides to walk home.
“There’s a meeting tonight I think you’ll find interesting.” Blah blah blah… This is like an English gentlemen’s club – no women admitted…
Meanwhile, in the absence of her nosy sister, Missy has chosen to have some fun. Taïga is sleeping all the time and will probably not wake up anyway. No one will ever know.
‘Can’t waste the full moon, now can we? And what’s the meaning with babysitting a sleeping child anyway?’ she reasons. Dressed up in her ceremonial dress, she puts her hat firmly on her head and grabs two bottles filled to the rim with a black potion from their hiding place under her bed. ‘Time to get down to business. You will stay here and guard Taïga,’ she admonishes Tramp who is whining in front of the door, believing it’s time for a walk.
But she hasn’t walked very far before she stumbles on a loose cobblestone. To her dismay one of the bottles escapes her hold and breaks against the pavement, the precious liquid quickly seeping down through the gap between the stones. A faint hissing precedes a dark cloud rising from the ground. Missy looks over her shoulder, but there is no one in sight.
‘Shit shit shit!’ She grips her long skirt with her hands, waving the cloth to try to ward off the poisonous cloud, but to no avail. It continues rising, growing bigger and more menacing with the altitude.
It starts raining. A light springtime drizzle, but it doesn’t resolve the malevolent cloud which continues mounting slowly. Soon it is out of sight.
‘What the eye can’t see etc. etc.,’ she mutters and rubs her hands. ‘Let’s do this.’
But the residential street she has picked out is deserted and disappointed she continues 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 young man on his way home. He’s deeply engrossed in texting on his cell.
‘Salut! Eşti singur?’ (Hi! Are you alone?)
‘Err… da.’ The young man looks up with a frown. ‘What the-?’
He can’t believe his eyes! An old woman is standing in front of him dressed like something out of a fairy tale. A scary fairytale, with witches. Her crazy smile is perfectly assorted to the outfit. He wonders if it is someone escaped from the Asylum, or if there’s a fancy dress party in the neighborhood. Or worse – is she coming on to him? She smiles again and starts pulling the cork out of a black bottle muttering to herself. As far as he is concerned it is probably some devilish incantation.
‘Crazy people in this town. I’m outta here!’ He takes a step forward to get past her when she grabs his arm.
‘Please, please, taste my homebrewed lemonade,’ she pleads.
The young man scrutinizes the bottle. It doesn’t look like lemonade to him.
‘It is blackberry and err… lime. I need an advice on err… the taste. Maybe I should add more sugar to it…’
There’s not a chance in Hell he will taste something coming from the bizarre old lady. But to his surprise, he smiles and takes a hearty swig from the bottle. Foul. He gags and clutches at his throat.
‘Maybe too much snake spit,’ the old lady mutters, scrutinizing his face.
His mouth burns. His throat is on fire. There’s a volcano erupting lava in his stomach. He turns his head towards the rain and desperately sticks out his tongue. It soothes him somewhat, but not enough.
‘… not enough, probably. I’ll have to try something else.’ Resolutely she shakes the bottle and sprinkles some of the liquid on him, Champagne style.
‘What the fuck, lady? These are my best shoes!’ Did she just throw this stinking potion on him on purpose? He dabs at his jacket, grimacing from the smell. He decides enough is enough. The old lady is decidedly crazy. ‘Darn it… I can’t move!’ His cell falls from his stiff fingers and shatters on the ground.
‘Such a pity,’ Missy says, poking at the broken device with her toe. ‘It is just the model I’ve always wanted. Or at least wanted since it was released…’
He tries to say something but it’s too late. The only sound succeeding to escape his burning throat is a gurgling growl. Missy snickers and watches the young man turn a sickly greenish shade, his members dislocating, his fingers bending at impossible angles.
‘It finally worked. Thirty-five years of hard work… Oh. Silly me. I should have asked who you were. It is kind of important, as you are the first, you see. How proud you must be. Maybe you have ID in your pocket?’
The figure focuses on her and growls, scratching the air with claw-like fingers.
‘Oups! Better get out of here before you decide you’ll eat your 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. It is on its knees, stuffing its face with the meat.
‘So am I now a Zombie Master?’
Missy is on a high. Decidedly, she can’t just go home now, can she? Not without knowing for sure.
‘Did it happen because of the ingestion or the sprinkling? Sheesh. I have to find someone else and try again. Just to confirm my theories…’
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. She takes a detour by the park home, there are always someone risking their life jogging after dark. She is lucky…
The jogger stops in front of her, looking curiously at the bottle in her hand.
‘It’s a replacement for Powerade – will keep you going for hours.’ She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively and looks intently at him. Hesitatingly he takes the bottle and takes a swig.
‘That’s right. Chug, chug, chug!’
It doesn’t take long before he’s on his knees, choking. He tears at his throat, gaping to let the rain fall into his mouth. Missy waits patiently. Poor guy. She can almost imagine the smoke rising from his body on fire. Maybe she should reduce the amount of chili pepper, too…
A few moments later, he starts convulsing and wobbling rises to his feet.
‘Gaah. I forgot to ask your name, too. Never mind. Here’s a treat for you. And don’t look at me like that. I promised you hours and you got forever.’ She throws him a bloody steak and scampers off. So drinking it works. But what if sprinkling also works? She has to try. And so far she has only tried on men. Maybe it doesn’t work on women. She has to try that, too.
‘I’m the Zombie master! Or soon I will be the Zombie master, anyway,’ she singsongs, sidestepping the puddles.
She doesn’t find her third human guinea-pig until she is back on her own street. It is not a neighbor, though, but judging from the disco suit it is apparently someone coming from a fancy dress party somewhere. He sways drunkenly and stops.
‘I didn’t see you at the party? Nice costume for a fat lady as yourself.’
Missy cringes. He’s so rude he deserves what is coming. She sprinkles some Zombie potion over him and he frowns, trying to wipe off the black stains from his seventies disco suit. ‘What was that for? I-’
He is cut off by convulsions. Missy grins. Sprinkle some onto their face is faster than to drink it. It opens so many possibilities she almost swoons only thinking about them. Dr. Franke will be delighted… Or maybe it is the combination alcohol/potion? She frowns. So many things to test…
But as usual when you’re having fun… A dark silhouette materializes out of the shimmering rain and advances briskly on the sidewalk.
‘Uh-oh… Let me introduce you to darn, judgmental Tara. My sister,’ she mutters to the zombie.
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.’
‘Isn’t that my trench?’ Missy asks but Granny doesn’t answer.
Upset, Missy watches her sister vanish into the dark between lampposts. The sound of her heels purposefully clattering against the pavement lingers as she quickly walks up the street. She glances at “her” zombie on fire. So frustrating to watch him burn and slowly die… for good this time.
‘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 neighbor walking his dog turns into the street.
‘Good evening,’ he says, politely tilting his cap 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 stalks off into the foggy night in her sisters wake.
‘AAAaaaargh! Why does she always have to interfere?’ She stops and looks thoughtfully at the man who is patiently watching his dog pee at a bush. It’s a real pity there is no potion left… She turns on her heels and heads home, definitely forgetting all about the cloud she created less than an hour ago…
Granny is furious with her sister and with the evening in general. She quickly checks on Taïga before changing into her usual long grey skirt. She laces her corset herself, pulling it too tight because of her bad temper. It’s not only about being abandoned by the other conspirators. No. To make things worse she got lost in the old streets of Vulturu sneaking after the pale people. Leading nowhere. Then there was the car. Realizing it was probably parked on the other side of town, she had set off home in the light rain on foot, reassessing the evening’s fiasco. The only good thing was her clothes. Or Missy’s clothes. She had borrowed the trench coat from Missy’s overstocked dressing along with a hat and pants. The outfit protected her against the rain almost as well as an umbrella so she was equipped for a long hearty, but involuntary, walk. Seeing her sister outdoors -even if it only was in their own street- when she was supposed to keep an eye on Taïga was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Her mood passed from really annoyed to really angry. The fact that Missy apparently had created a monster only made things worse.
Why did I trust her? She promised she would stay by Taïga’s side while I was out. I should have known something would happen… And 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 or her education is compromised. Gaah. I just hope there was only one of the monsters. God forbid she had time to create more than one…
But Granny’s worst fears are realized at the very same moment. 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 coveted, but 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, while 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 her 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 Hekate? 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…
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 Hekate… 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.
The image of the old television flickers and shimmers before stabilizing on a familiar view.
It is the Vulturu city center, totally empty of life. The only thing moving is the fountain in the square in front of the post office.
‘Unusually quiet. Must be the local news,’ she muses. She squints at the clock on the wall of post office, it shows almost half past two, 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…’
Ştiri de ultimă oră – Breaking news
Vulturu sub stare de asediu – Vulturu under curfew
The news anchor is featuring a serious expression, talking while arranging his notes on his desk. The image changes to a helicopter view of the old city center and a massive brown cloud slowly sifting past.
‘What the Heck!?!’ Granny spills hot soup all over her dress, making her jump up from the armchair with a howl. All the while dabbing at the stain she picks up the remote and turns up the sound even though she doesn’t understand what is 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… But that’s a splendid 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 inhabitants are advised against going out even during daytime.’
‘But why? Do they say anything about the cloud? I saw a cloud. Very briefly, but it didn’t seem right.’ She looks worriedly at the helicopter view of the old town.
Missy zaps to the national news channel, where they are talking about exactly the same thing. ‘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? What do they say about the cloud?’
Missy answers without thinking, ‘Witnesses have seen a brownish cloud… Uh-oh…’
Scurgeri chimice în Transilvania – Chemical leak in Transylvania
Orășelul Vulturu sub asediu – Small town of Vulturu under curfew
Granny turns back towards the television. The helicopter is now flying by the observatory, offering a view of the brown cloud laying like a maleficient padded lid over the valley.
‘Look, Missy! There it is again – a sickly brown cloud! It looks like… No, it can’t be… Still… 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*? My Yanvalou, voodoo dance, is quite good, if I could say so myself.’
Decidedly, she will have to tell her sister about what she saw in the palantìr. ‘Err… No. We’re summoning Hekate.’
She can hear Missy draw her breath behind her and smiles grimly. This will be tougher than she thought. 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 the Goddess of witchcraft and magic, Hekate, and the Grey witches “won” it by tricking her. Hekate 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