Sunday, May 17, 2009

Beauty is a Witch

The Beggar’s clientele came to life like a bunch of extras when the director calls action. The curious gathered around to examine the body while the circumspect gravitated towards the way out. This was Rosalynne’s chance to get away in the confusion. She slid out of her alcove, stooping to render her lightly-built frame even less inconspicuous. She kept her head well down and concentrated on covering ground.

Someone stuck something between her legs. Rosalynne tripped and fell headlong, bursting through the crowd and falling face down in the monster’s blood. The top-hatted letch withdrew his stick. He giggled childishly like the third hick in a rural horror movie. All it needed was the sound of banjos.

“Hello, Rosalynne, we were looking for you,” said a male voice.

She looked up to see Jameson, gun in hand, between her and the door.

“Oh, bugger!” Rosalynne said, with deep feeling. “What have I done to attract the Commission’s attention?”

She could here the whine in her voice. She sounded like a small time villain having his collar felt. Not me Guv, she seemed to be saying, I ain’t done nothing.

“What haven’t you done, Rosalynne?” Jameson asked. “Your little forays into The City’s computer systems are causing chaos. You remember the run on the Newcastle Rock?”

Rosalynne considered. She did have some vague memory of people queuing for miles outside some bank branches up in the northern provinces.

“The Chancellor wants someone’s head on a block.” Jameson said, pointing the gun at her head.

Rosalynne reacted with blind panic and took off through the surrounding crowd’s legs. She gambled on Jameson not risking collateral damage by taking a shot through the bystanders. Unfortunately, she ran in the wrong direction, away from the door. She headed for the bar with the vague idea of putting solid wood between her and the gun. She never made it, never even came close.

“Karla!” Jameson yelled, like a man unleashing an attack dog.

Adrenaline surge speeded up Rosalynne’s mind. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion, everyone except Karla; she was still terrifyingly fast. Throwing aside a table, she was on Rosalynne like a terrier after a rat.

Rosalynne ripped the posy from her jacket lapel. In one fluid motion, she turned and threw it at Karla.

The herbs ignited in a cold flash that sent a directional shock wave away from Rosalynne. Karla bore the brunt of the impact but the wave rippled through the room, knocking people, tables and chairs over indiscriminately.

Rosalynne threw herself over the bar. Something went past her ear with a crack. That was no warning shot. Jameson was trying to kill her. The mirror behind the bar shattered in a blizzard of glass shards. She landed heavily on her back behind the bar. Henry looked down at her sightlessly and slowly shook his head.

Something stuck its head out of the broken mirror, something that looked like a gargoyle with stubby wings and a single horn on the end of its nose. Its skin cracked as it moved, releasing puffs of purple vapour that ignited into flickering green flames. It partly hopped, partly flew with a single downward wing beat onto the top of the bar.

Rosalynne rolled over.

The gargoyle waved a stubby arm. “Hello, Henry,” it said in a voice that sounded like a moving tectonic plate.

There was another thump and the bar panel beside Rosalynne splintered. A missile like a crossbow bolt with inlaid iron strips was embedded in the back of the bar. So much for putting solid wood between her and Jameson, the bolt would have gutted her if she had not moved.

Rosalynne screamed. Stupid, because it signalled to Jameson that she was still alive, but she could not help it.

The gargoyle noticed her, cocking its head on one side like a bird of prey. Its beak split in a broad grin, which was a disturbing anatomical feat in itself, and it wolf-whistled like a white-van driver.

“What a beauty,” it said, admiringly.

Rosalynne scrabbled along desperately on her hands and knees behind the bar. Another missile burst through the spot she had just vacated.

The gargoyle admired the rear view as she crawled past and whistled again.

“You’ll do. Yes, you’ll do very nicely.” Its voice was becoming smoother, more baritone.

Rosalynne resisted the urge to stop and pull her skirt down. It wasn’t fair! Everyone had it in for her. All she was trying to do was earn a pound or two. Why wouldn’t they all just leave her alone? She had but a moment to escape before Jameson, or worse still Karla, came over the bar after her.

She jumped up and hurled herself head first through the broken mirror.

“Goodbye, Rosalynne,” Henry said. It sounded like a valediction.

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