So Far Untitled - Chapter 11: Donnabel's Tail
Lord Scanlon twirled his tea with small spoon. "I hope I don't have to wait long." He was dressed in a fine black silk Italian suit, wore sunglasses, and had a large gold necklace around his neck of two snakes intertwined.
"What is time?" asked the old woman in front of him.
"Lady Tabitha, you wished to show me something, and now we have to wait for someone? My time is valuable."
The old woman merely shrugged in reply, and petted one of her many cats.
Lord Scanlon thought there was something very odd about this woman. She was human, but knew of the Gate Keepers. She acted as an agent of some kind, but it was not certain which. She had contacted him while he sat in his Toronto home by sending a Gate Keeper by the name of Macie to his door. He claimed to work for Lady Tabitha, but Lord Scanlon did not know of a Lady Tabitha. When he asked about her, Macie simply blinked very slowly, and then vanished into his holly bushes.
The message had said to meet her at once in Frederick, Maryland, a city near enough to Washington DC to inherit the headaches of an urban setting, like traffic and crime, without the benefits, like culture. It was a depressing place that couldn't make up its mind whether it was rural or suburban. Typical of US expansion, Lord Scanlon thought.
He looked at his watch again. He had been here for several hours already, without so much of an explanation as to why he was here, or whom he was waiting for.
"There is no Lady Tabitha Gate Keeper," he said for the third time.
"There are many things you do not know," said Lady Tabitha, in reply for the third time.
Lord Scanlon was losing his patience. "Are you like Lady Damantha of Salem? You know, mur--"
"Usurped by her own assistant, and then nobody noticed for 50 years? No. I assure you that simply not hearing from me is part of my protection."
There was a timid knock at the door.
Several cats meowed. Lord Scanlon thought this woman had an awful lot of cats as the woman who claimed to be Lady Tabitha went to answer the door.
As the door opened, the morning sunlight poured in, and framed a rather scared looking girl in a dark gray frock.
"Agatha!" said Lady Tabitha. "Come in, come in... it's been AGES!"
"I-I am not sure I am in the right house."
"Oh, but of course you are. I'd recognize my own anywhere. Well come in, don't just stand there and let the cats out."
The girl stepped into the hallway, and looked at all the golden wood that accented everything. The place had a strange herbal smell, mixed with the perfume of several flowers she could not identify, but somehow recognized.
"M-my name is... Donnabel--"
"Oh, Agatha... you don't have to use that name here. You're among friends. Come sit by the fire, we have a guest."
Donnabel... or Agatha, walked cautiously into the sitting area, while several cats entwined around her legs. The place looked so foreign, and yet rather familiar. She looked at her pale complexion and dark clothing in a mirror and felt she looked out of place, like a smudge of soot on a white marble mantelpiece. A strange and intoxicating herbal smell made her salivate and as she sat on the couch, she instinctively curled her legs under her and looked around. She felt so... dirty. Unclean. If only she could have bathed herself before she came here.
Donnabel didn't know how she arrived. She only knew she ran all night, sometimes doubling back on her tracks before moving forward again. It seemed she ran along some old path she did as a small child, but she feared to go to that most dangerous of places: her far memory. She tried to think of what Marideath had said, and why she blinked like that. It was that blink. The blink of some... distant familiar bliss. Soft. Warm. Sunny.
Donnabel grabbed her head, and tried to find comfort in her self-imposed darkness before she caught a glance of another Gate Keeper. She didn't know who he was, but felt his presence enough to know he was a Lord.
He returned her stare by saying, in a commanding tone, "I am Lord Scanlon."
Donnabel threw herself to floor and kneeled. "I am D--"
"Agatha, get up!" said Lady Tabitha. "You don't bow to him in my house."
Donnabel was confused, but got up, then bowed, then got back on the couch and tried to wedge herself into the cushions. While sunlight was not really dangerous to Gate Keepers, they preferred the darkness, and so the bright light was making her very agitated and nervous. The cool spots behind the pillows gave her some comfort.
"Lord Scanlon, does Agatha look familiar to you?"
"No," Lord Scanlon said, a bit irritated, fingering his gold necklace. "I believe, however, she is one of Lady Sarcastia's assistants. Donnabel is a familiar name. Agatha is not."
"Well," said Lady Tabitha, "we won't call her by that name here. It isn't her given name."
"No looking back, no regrets," Donnabel whispered to herself as she started to rock herself deeper into the couch. Several cats jumped on the couch and looked at her.
"Agatha... you must be tired. Go upstairs and draw a bath. You will find some more suitable and..." she looked at the dark clothing with a wrinkled nose, "... more modern, colorful clothing to wear."
Agatha said nothing.
"Go." Lady Tabitha commanded, and Agatha jerked in shock, before bolting up the stairs. She somehow knew the bathroom was the first on the right, and when the sound of water started to run, Lady Tabitha turned back to her guest.
"Now... Lord Scanlon. You claim you have never seen Agatha. And yet... I am not so convinced."
"I am a very busy man, Lady Tabitha. If you do not explain the reason you--"
"NOW is the time, Scanlon. You think you do not know why you are here, and yet, you will soon realize that your hidden fears are about to come true. I have reason to believe that you know a lot about who some call, 'The Soot Man,' is that correct?"
Lord Scanlon relaxed a little. "Yes. He is a very persistent creature--"
"A rogue harvester, Lord Scanlon. One who will kill without mercy. Half Demon, half something else. I don't even want to know what that other half may be..." Lady Tabitha looked like whatever other half the Soot Man might be was beneath her, "... but the half demon means if he's a rogue harvester, he cannot claim souls for himself. But works for someone else, am I right?"
"Yes, but we don't know who."
"Is that so?" Lady Tabitha poured herself some more tea while several cats surrounded Lord Scanlon.
"What are you implying?"
Lady Tabitha swallowed noisily, and licked her lips thoughtfully. "I am curious as to who is before me, someone who is ignorant, or someone who wants me to think he is ignorant?"
"Tell me... who would benefit from rogue harvesting?"
"I suppose... if it's not the Soot Man... then someone else who is controlling him. Someone who gathers souls."
"Soul gathering is a form of power. The demons and the angels harvest souls for their universal consciousness. Heaven and Hell, that sort of thing. I know you know these things, but you are backing into a corner, Scanlon, and I don't want you trying to escape."
"I don't gather souls, nor am I allied with anyone who does."
"Oh... but you see, I think differently."
"Is that so? Well, Lady Tabitha, who would I be working for?"
"Ah... that IS a good question." Lady Tabitha said as she put down her cup of tea. "If I knew that, I would have simply killed you. But the fact is--"
"Scanlon, you were right. I am not a Gate Keeper. But we have similar goals. An enemy of theirs is an enemy of mine."
Lord Scanlon stood up over the old lady, and sneered. "I don't know who you are, but once--"
"Cats, Scanlon. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of cats are killed daily. None of them are given proper burial. None of them are returned to their universal consciousness."
Lord Scanlon said nothing.
"Such beasts become souls ripe for the picking. They turn black. They become more like snakes. It is an unfortunate fate for a feline, Scanlon. A tortured existence from which they cannot be saved. There is a name for those zombie servants. Do you know what that is?"
Lord Scanlon wrinkled his nose while the old woman fingered the large gold pendant around his neck.
"No?" the woman said, gripping the necklace. "The African word for them is Shiante."
Lord Scanlon tried to jerk back, but the woman held onto the necklace with an incredible grip, and Lord Scanlon could not break free. "Yes... Scanlon. Shiante. And recently, there has been a LOT more of them. Cats are killed in pounds every day. A sea of these things are hanging by the ley lines, waiting for me to lead them home, and YOU... YOU have the FUCKING NERVE to deny them their BIRTHRIGHT!"
Lord Scanlon backed away, snapping the chain from around his neck. The room was now filled with hundreds of cats.
"I can tell you one entity that can benefit from soul harvesting, Scanlon. A God."
Lord Scanlon turned white. "Oh no. Y--"
"Yes. I am." and the angered rage of a mother who lost millions of children raised a wrinkled hand.
Lord Scanlon disappeared under a sea of cats that moved over him in a gray liquid blur.
In a bathtub upstairs, a girl curled and screamed.
In a stone arena, a girl putting on buttoned boots curled to the floor and screamed.
At a table sat a young college-age girl, dealing cards for an older woman, and both grabbed their stomachs and screamed.
A Harajuku watched a man who had just been speaking to her about something petty and useless suddenly fall to the floor and scream. A thin smile passed over her lips.
Hundreds of Gate Keepers screamed.
Then tens of thousands.
The girl in the bath gasped for air, trying to quench the burning fire that filled veins and stay above water. Dark blue liquid started to come from her nose. "Oh, God MOTHER HELP ME!!!" She fell under the hot sudsy water, and began to lose consciousness when suddenly, a large hand pulled her up and placed her on the edge of the huge clawed tub, gasping and panting. The figure grabbed a washcloth, and wiped her face clean, and then started to stroke her head and arms.
Donnabel looked at the legs of the old lady in front of her, and thanked her.
"You can't drown, you know," the woman said.
"I just... I didn't..."
"Old habits die hard. But I heard you scream, and forgot how ... close you were. Agatha, dear, let me help you out of the water and into a nice night shirt. Come come... it will be all right... it will be all right..."
The old woman helped her up and got her dressed into a long night shirt that had a child's print of a large teddy bear hugging a heart on it. She led Donnabel into a large bedroom, that looked like a rich girl's room from the 1940s.
"See? I left it just as you had it. Oh, yes, I tidied up a bit, but--"
Donnabel screamed. Her past reached through time and clutched her heart and tugged hard. She would turn to dust. She would die in agony. She collapsed to the floor, screaming as loud as she could, and clutching her head.
"No no no no... you won't die. Agatha, listen to me. Agatha? AGATHA!" and the old lady slapped her across the bridge of her nose.
Donnabel gasped in shock. Then she shook.
"Yes, many Gate Keepers will collapse into dust when confronted with their living past, but you ... you won't."
"WHO ARE YOU???" Donnabel asked. She crawled backwards across the floor and against a cushy bed with pink bedding.
"I am your... aunt. Well, in a manner of speaking. Now calm down, and everything will be all right. All questions will be answered. But you have to calm down first. I am expecting you don't remember a lot of your past, but don't worry. This is a safe place to be right now. And if it makes you feel any better... you'll return to being a Gate Keeper in a little bit. But now you have to forget... just like you forgot your past. Can we do this?"
Donnabel shrieked and cried.
Her aunt sighed, and rolled her eyes. "I guess not. Listen, I am probably making things worst, dearie, so I am going to go downstairs and make some more tea. You come down when you feel better. Okay? Kiss kiss..."
When her aunt had closed the door behind her, a thousand memories came floating back to Agatha like tentacles gripping her senses. Memories of her Gate Keeper past started to fragment and suddenly, she remembered...
A Garden Party.
It was her sister's 16th birthday. Big deal. Her sister was a spoiled brat anyway. Agatha returned to her book in the wicker chair.
"Agatha, dear..." said her nanny. "Why not join the other girls?"
"I don't want to," said Agatha. She took off her huge red velvet bow and threw it on the grass.
"Oh, dearie... you don't mean that," her nanny tried to remove the book from her hands, and Agatha resisted. "Let GO! You witch!"
"Gentlemen don't give second looks to girls who read books..." said her nanny sternly, trying to wrestle the book from Agatha.
"Fine! I don't want gentlemen! Let Ariel have them! It's her party. She can have her legs in the air all day to get those looks!"
Her nanny gasped, and Agatha let go of the book and stuck her tongue out, and then added, "Yeah. I know why SHE is popular with boys!"
Her nanny slapped her face, and Agatha gasped.
"We beat you damn Krauts in the war, you know!" Agatha said, but knew she had gone too far with her German-born nanny. Again. So she picked up her red velvet bow, and stuck it on her head. "Fine!" she added, and stomped off up the hill to her sister's stupid party.
"Look, ladies!" said her sister upon arrival. "It's my dreadful sister, Hagatha. Where's your book, professor? I like you reading your books. It covers that ugly face. A face too ugly for radio!" she exclaimed, and even though this was the thousandth time she used that insult, all her debutante friends giggled like it was the most clever thing they had heard all day.
"Ariel!" their mother exclaimed, but more out of the fuax pas of an insult rather than defending Agatha. "Please."
"It's my birthday. I can have what I want. And I have decided," she crossed her arms and nodded with a smarmy grin, "that my yam-headed sister will have to be removed. I don't fancy her."
Agatha looked at the boy nearest her. "Ruben," she asked, "do you know what Trichomoniasis is?"
The boy made a mock face of being impressed, and said, "No... is it your middle name?"
"Agatha...?" her mother warned sternly, standing because she knew what must happen next.
"It's a venereal disease. It makes your penis ooze a clear urethral discharge. In my sister, it's a foamy, greenish- yellow, foul-smelling vaginal discharge where she can't stop scratching her privates because of the vaginal itching, and pain. And half the men who fuck her..." Agatha looked around at the party, and saw a few gentlemen cross their legs uncomfortably, "now have it..."
"AGATHA!" her mother screamed.
"It's why she keeps having to 'powder her nose' so frequently. She's just scratching, and then touching the doorknobs and toilet handles..."
"THAT IS ENOUGH!!!" and her mother grabbed her by the ear and dragged her towards their mansion.
"What I want to know is..." Agatha said as she was being dragged away, "is how some of her FEMALE friends got it too?"
Her mother dragged her into the main entrance to the garden, and slammed her against a coat closet door. Agatha didn't mind, because she was still picturing her sister's male friends crossing their legs, and look at her every time she excused herself to go to the bathroom. She laughed even though her mother was boxing her ears, because just before the garden party disappeared from view, she saw little Miss Perfect Ella McFadden look at her fingers and sniff them.
"Doesn't that nanny put ANY sense into you? Huh? Your sister doesn't have ANY of those--"
"She does, mother, she DOES! Oh my God, why do you think the doctor gave her those pills?" She could stop laughing, because she knew it didn't matter anymore.
Her mother beat her left and right, until she finally realized that even with Agatha's mouth bleeding, that she would not stop laughing. She looked at the butler nearest her, and shouted, "Take-- DO something with HER!" and pointed to Agatha's hooting form on the floor.
"I will take care of HER..." said a voice. It was Aunt Tabitha. "Get up, Agatha! And go to your room!"
Agatha got up and tried to stifle her laughs. She curtseyed and dipped her head. "Yes, Aunt Tabitha."
"Where... did YOU come from?" asked her mother. She then noticed another older woman, dressed a little out of fashion. "And who is... THAT person?"
Aunt Tabitha smiled. "I came to celebrate your eldest daughter's birthday. Her gift is in the car." She looked at the butler, who was standing awkwardly in indecision. "Have one of your... assistants here fetch it and deliver it."
"It's not another damn cat, is it?"
Aunt Tabitha's eyes narrowed. She watched Agatha run up the carpeted stairs, and then looked at the older woman behind her. "This is ... Lady Sarcastia."
"Oh..." said the mother with distaste, looking up and down at Lady Sarcastia. "Does she come from a country stuck in 1925?"
"I see you are familiar with our language," said Lady Sarcastia with a wry smile. She tapped the end of the cigarette holder, dropping ashes on the carpet. She noticed the shocked look of the mother, and smiled.
"Tabitha... I don't recall where I sent your invitation to...?"
"You didn't. I came anyway. But I will deal with Agatha today, since you seem to be incapable of doing so without resorting to violence."
"I..." stammered the mother. "Spare the rod, spoil the--"
"You don't even have a rod, Edna. You can't even hire anyone who will put discipline in any of your children. They are unmannered brats, and apparently one of them has a sexually transmitted disease." She looked at Lady Sarcastia and rolled her eyes. "Lovely."
"She most certainly does NOT!"
Tabitha ignored her, and added after looking around, "Edna, I keep bringing 'damn cats' to this place because you seem to keep getting rid of them. Why is that?"
"Those little rats keep--"
"CATS, Edna. CATS! My God, woman, are you so uneducated that my brother has to dress you in the morning?"
"I... I dress myself!" Edna said, clutching her chest, but all her servants suddenly looked elsewhere. "I SAW THAT! I am docking a week's pay from ALL of you if--"
"Edna, while it's so wonderful to see you still abusing your assistants--"
"-- whatever... it seems I will be declined another day to lie in the sun of your lovely garden to deal with your offspring yet again. I wonder why they all listen to me and not you?"
"I had you evicted last time you spoke to me in that manner," Edna said with fire in her eyes.
But they were interrupted with Ariel running into the house in tears. "Oh MOTHER! That dreadful girl has made everyone TEASE me..."
"I'll let you give some medicine to your eldest, and I will deal with Agatha--"
"I hope you BEAT that little HORSESHIT BRAT--"
"Ariel!" her mother exclaimed.
"Your colorful language inspires me, Ariel. Yes. How would you like it if... you never had to see Agatha again?"
"I don't care if you cut that little horse's ass into small bits and feed them to your... damn cats!"
"These people really don't seem to appreciate your cats..." Lady Sarcastia said under her breath.
"Sarcastia... not now," replied Tabitha through a grin so fake, it seemed like a dental photo. "Ariel... it IS your birthday. Your gift is being fetched from the car." She paused, and as if to reply to the question that hung in the air, "And it is not a cat. I figure you folks don't... need them anymore."
Ariel bolted out the the car, powered by sheer avarice.
"And now, Sarcastia, if you don't mind... we shall attend to the other one."
"Punish her good. And while you are at it, tell her if I catch her with ONE MORE of those damn books..."
"Edna... after I am through with her... you will have NO need to punish her again."
Maybe it was a mother's instinct, but as she saw the pair carefully descend up the stairs side by side, she felt a sudden sense of foreboding. Then she heard her daughter scream from out front. She ran to see what the present could possibly be.
"While I do not agree with your methods, I have to say you couldn't have picked a more rotten, contemptible target," Lady Sarcastia said quietly outside Agatha's bedroom door.
There was another, deeper scream, of an older woman.
"I need a new base of operations, and these horrid humans are merely ... rats to exterminate." Tabitha took off her white gloves, and flexed her fingers. "But this one I want to save. Never before have I seen someone who has shown more love towards cats, and she's so smart, I thought she'd be a fine addition to my temple."
"How are you going to deal with a girl who has just dealt with her whole family..." asked Lady Sarcastia, and then stopped and both nodded in unison. "That's where I come in. You want me to perform a crossing for her."
"Agatha is a bit precocious, I admit. Slightly spoiled, but not so much that she'll miss the comforts of living in such a ..." she wiped her white glove over the door jam, and looked at the lack of dust on the result. "... well mannered existence."
"Never look back," Lady Sarcastia said. "No regrets."
And with that they both opened the bedroom door.
Agatha now sat, curled knee to chin, against the same wall she did many decades ago. Tabitha. The woman she knew as Aunt Tabitha, who gave her all those books on the Egyptian occult as a kid, had murdered her entire family right from under her. She had just... accepted that. Numb with shock, she watched as dozens of cats coated a 1930's Cadillac Fleetwood, licking off the evidence of blood stains. Would anyone miss her family? She wondered what people would say when Tabitha moved in. Would she be blamed? Lady Sarcastia said she wouldn't, if she would do as she instructed... and now they had to find a black feather and a soda bottle...
Agatha looked at her hands. She did not turn to dust. She also looked a bit more pinkish and normal-toned, although most humans would still call her a classic Irish pale. Pangs of regret at her childhood brattiness stung her heart. She wondered if she wouldn't turn to dust at any moment when she thought of these things, but suddenly her thoughts drunk in her memories as thirstily as she drank the blue liquid from the Cup of Knowledge.
That is what she always craved. Knowledge. She read more books as a child than any girl she knew. She was teased in school for being so brainy. Other girls were cruel and men were just stupid. She hated them all. When she showed a boy she liked how to fix his crystal radio, he got mad and slapped her. Her anger started to boil. And her parents! They never supported her because she had an oddly-shaped head. They always wished, vocally, that she would marry off at a young age, and they could be rid of her like a diseased limb.
No regrets. She smiled. No regrets... at all.
She looked down at her night gown, and saw a bear, coated with glitter, smile up at her. "Except this shirt?! Oh my God, is Tabitha insane?"
All text copyright 2005 Grig Larson, all rights reserved. No reprinting without permission