Marriage, Madness and Mayhem
At that moment, Sophie heard a piercing cry. Her mother was hurtling upwards, her bare arms outstretched. She hurled herself at the shadow which suddenly became wreathed in flames. It lashed at Mum with a blazing whip, and she cried as it wrapped itself around her arm.
"Fly away, Sophie! Back to the ground! Now!" screamed Mum.
Sophie's heart was thudding in her chest. "Down!" she urged, and Twiggy sank quickly to the snowy ground. They alighted in the snow. Ulva and Aila were peering up, scanning the skies with intense glares as Mum and the shadow demon grappled high above them.
Then the combatants fell like a meteor, green woman and horned demon wrapped in a bitter embrace. They fell hard in the snow.
The demon roared with laughter. "I have power over the soil!"
Giant, fiery worms and centipedes burst through the icy ground. Ulva and Aila shrieked, and slashed at them with their claws.
Mum was holding punching at the shadow demon's horned head, but its whip had now snared both her arms.
"A minion can deal with your brat, witch!" bellowed the demon.
The hideous head of a fiery millipede of monstrous size burst out of the soil and its long, segmented body wormed towards Sophie as she staggered back.
"Not my daughter…!" screamed Mum.
"You are no match for me, hags!" said the demon. "I am far greater than any four of you."
"Right, but are you greater than any five?" said another voice.
A tall green woman, clearly a night-hag as well, had appeared out of the shadows. She held up a long knife, with an ivory handle. Now she stuck it into the demon's back. Blue flames crackled along the blade and engulfed the fiend which roared and hissed. Mum broke away as the demon's whip ceased to glow. The fiery worms and bugs ceased to move and crumbled into ash and embers.
The strange hag folded her arms and stared down, curling her lip at the demon which burned brightly and then was no more.
"My friend, I don't know your name, but thank you!" said Mum. "What incredible luck that you happened to be in the neighbourhood! How can we repay you?"
"Hold the repayment," said Aila. "It's weird isn't it? She just happens to show up at the same time as the demon? Coincidence? I think not."
The new hag curled her greyish lip. She had brown hair that hung limp around her shoulders. She wore simple black cloth vest and slacks.
"I can sense this kind of thing, same as you. And it just so happens I wanted to visited the lady of this house. The flame headed hag."
"Ha! That's a good new name for Lee. I'm going to use it," said Aila.
"Please don't," said Ulva.
The strange hag approached Mum who held out her hands. The other hag clasped them. "I am Silvaria. Or Silvie, if that's easier. I came because I wanted to join your sisterhood. You're the leader?"
"No… we're sisters. Equals," said Lee. "I am Leevana, and this is my daughter, Sophie."
"How do you do?" said Sophie, curtseying nervously. Silvie's gaze lingered on Sophie. Silvie had brown eyes.
"My sisters are Ulva and Aila," said Mum, pointing at each of them in turn.
"I have a story to tell," said Silvie.
"By all means, come in and tell it," said Mum.
They went into the parlour, Aila still grumbling about trusting strangers. They sat down around the table. "First, I understand you three hags have started a group where you rediscover yourselves, so you're not hated and feared."
"It's an exclusive clique," said Aila.
"You wanna know what I bring to the table?" said Silvie. "Well I know that you're having trouble with ghouls and demons and I just bailed you out."
"You did. Thank you," said Mum. "If you want to join our sisterhood, you have to vow never to hurt any human being."
"I can do that," said Silvie. "But… I wanna know more about the benefits of your sisterhood."
Ulva spoke up. "So, you need to be rewarded before you will do no harm?"
"Argh! Look, I know you've got a life like no other night-hag, Leevana. You've rewired yourself somehow, right? Well I want that. I want a man I can lavish affection on."
"We're not a matchmaking service," said Aila, raising an eyebrow.
"Aila, please…" said Mum, "if Silvie's lonely then I wanna help."
"I don't need a man," said Aila. "What do you think, Ulva? Would you want to share your bed with anyone?"
Silvie was staring at Aila stony faced. Silvie had a long face with a large forehead. Mum and Ulva had elongated faces like that too. Aila looked just like a normal human lady (except with green skin).
"Aila, don't be so self-centred," said Ulva. "Just because we don't get lonely does not mean that other night-hags can't. Leevana really struggled with loneliness and she's happier now that she's a house-wife."
"Loneliness needs a permanent fix," said Silvie. "There is a temporary fix, but it's only a cheap way to experience the feeling of love."
"How can you experience the feeling of love cheaply?" asked Sophie puzzled.
"With one night stands," said Silvie.
"Ah…" said Mum. She closed her eyes and put a hand to her forehead.
"What is a one night stand?" asked Sophie.
"I can answer this one so a child can understand," said Silvie. She leaned forward. "When I said it I meant that it's when I encounter a man, but we don't like each other or respect each other enough to ever see each other again, but we do the most intimate possible thing together."
"I do know about, you know, how love making works," said Sophie. "I read about it in a book about biology."
"Getting a base need met can be done by approaching a man in his bed chamber in the small hours," said Silvie. "It's a really low filtration system. The man doesn't have to be funny, or smart, or kind, or giving, or loyal. He doesn't even have to be attractive. He just has to be willing to make love to a strange green woman who appears in the small hours. I use the word 'love-making' but that's not real love. But I have so much I can offer to a man who will really love me. But I need help sorting myself out. Only you can guide me, Leevana."
"Leevana's a house wife, but maybe she's an anomaly," said Aila. "Being an anomaly can't be taught."
Sylvie pulled a weird face at Aila and waved a long green hand at her in a gesture of dismissal. "Mmmmmmmm, anomaly? Perhaps you're an anomaly? Perhaps we're all anomalies?" She turned to Mum again. "I need help finding true love. To connect with the right man. That's my condition. If you want to know what I bring to the table, then here it is – you need me to defeat an army of spooks. If you want to know what I can offer the right man, then I have all the love in the world to give. I'll always make him feel appreciated. I can meet all his needs. I can show him how to develop his hobbies and interests. We can go on a world tour together. I've got plans. I just need to find a husband first."
"You think you can put up with living with a man full time and then still have the energy to do all that?" said Aila. "Are you stronger than you look?"
Silvie narrowed her eyes at Aila. "What are you harping about? So many men are kind and nurturing as well as stoic. I just need to work on myself. So I can make a meaningful connection."
Sophie felt sorry for Silvie, but she couldn't really offer advice herself. She had to leave to her Mum, because he Mum had already become a wife and would be the one to know about stuff like this.
"You are exactly right, Silvie" said Mum. "It's great that you can see this. The first step to making connections is to know yourself. The second is to represent yourself to the best of your ability."
"OK, one thing I need to know," said Silvie, "when does a night-hag hit the wall?"
"Do you mean 'how long can a night-hag bear children?'" said Ulva.
"Obviously," said Silvie. "I want to be a wife and a mother."
"I used to think we couldn't even become pregnant," said Mum. "But I've given birth to six kids, and now I've got a seventh on the way." She put a hand to her belly. "We can find the key to this. I guess a night-hag can have a lot of babies. I want to help you find a good man who To attract a worthy man, you have to see yourself as worthy. Let go of emotional baggage that drags you down, hey? You deserve better than one night stands."
"You can reform and become a virtuous housewife. Then you cease to be a night-hag anymore," said Aila. "What's the inverse of a 'fallen woman?'"
Silvie grimaced and looked at the table. "If I am to reform, I have something to get off my chest. It's important to share this story. I can't quite tell you why. Maybe we'll work it out together."
"Don't keep us on tenterhooks," said Aila.
"You can tell us anything," said Mum.
"It was a lonely, snowy night, seventeen years ago," said Silvie. "I heard the raucous sound of humans making having a great time and saw the twinkling lights of a hall where some kind of revelry was taking place. I made for it and found the doors locked, so I punched them open." Silvie kissed her green fists. "They all went a bit quiet when they saw me and I found that a bit annoying. 'Just carry on!' I told them. I did two laps around the hall to find the man I thought the most handsome. And I found him. He was with six friends, sitting against a wall. So I scooped him up in my arms and ran out of the hall. He protested, but I put my mouth on his. Then I took him back to my cave. 'I lost my teddybear,' I told him, 'can I sleep with you?' He looked at me with wide eyes, but then he agreed and we did it. Afterwards he looked sad and I stroked his face and asked what was wrong. He said he was already engaged. Duh! Of course he would be. I've told that story to men before, and they've all said that it would be really hot to have that happen to them. But years later, I heard of an ogre who had carried off a girl to his cave and had his way with her. When I heard that, I was appalled. Then I remembered. Yeah, you carried off a human to your cave and had your way with him."
"A wicked double standard," said Aila with a smirk.
Mum had put her hand to her mouth and was gazing at Silvie wide-eyed.
"There are hags who would condemn an ogre, but not another hag for the same kind of things," said Ulva. "Double standards are very common. This one is a gender double standard."
"I would like to know if it really was different," said Silvie. "What if he submitted because he was afraid of me?"
"Afraid of a woman who could handle him like a teddybear? Why would he be?" Said Aila.
"You're not helping, Aila," said Mum.
"I want to ask him to forgive me, but we lost touch. Years ago," said Silvie.
"It's never too late to mend and reform," said Mum, touching Silvie's arm. "Acknowledge your past mistake and think what good you can do now. You can tell other night-hags about proper boundaries."
"That is an idea," said Ulva.
"And if you want to connect with a guy, then being open and honest about your past mistakes is important," said Mum. "I appreciate that you do make yourself vulnerable when you open your heart to someone."
Silvie nodded. "You know my terms. If you can help me share my heart, then I will help against the spooks. I have an invaluable strategy for dealing with the three prime spooks."
"I have someone in mind already," said Mum. "Great young guy. Awesome positive energy. He shares your dream of starting a family someday. The two of you should talk about it."
Reggie awoke at dawn to Leevana the night-hag, his old tutor, bringing him breakfast in bed.
"Good morning, Reggie." Her green face was wreathed in smiles. "I have a friend I'd like you to meet. You have a lot in common. She's interested in exploring the cloud realm too, and she could take you to all kinds of places. She's a night-hag, like me."
Lee enthusiastically told Reggie more about this friend of hers and his curiosity was piqued. When he had washed and breakfasted, he met Leevana in the conservatory. "So, Lee, this friend of yours, she sounds like an interesting person. I'd like to meet her."
Then before he knew it, another green woman darted right in front of him and put her face close to his. "Hello, handsome! Here I am! Ha ha! I'm Silvie."
Definitely another night-hag. A seven-foot-tall woman with bright green skin, just like Lee, but this hag was simply dressed and had brown hair and eyes.
"Reggie," said Reggie, taking her offered hand. Her hand was cold and clammy. Not like Leevana's which was always hot and sticky.
Silvie smiled down at him. "I hear you're interested in sharing an adventure, in the clouds."
"The cloud people are very interesting," said Reggie. "With how they manufacture storms."
"Yeah, it's astonishing to see. When they manufacture thunder it's ka-boom!" said Silvie, making a clapping motion with her hands. "When they manufacture lightning it's blasssst!" she made an upward motions with her hands. "I'd love to take someone on a tour."
The green woman wanted to take him on a trip to the clouds? Reggie was intrigued.
"I'll let you two discuss it, hey?" said Lee, and she withdrew from the room.
They chatted about the strange cloud people who created storms and imagined them making rainbows.
"As an objective outsider, cos I'm a type of giantess, I really admire mankind more than cloud people," said Silvie. "To flourish without ethereal powers is awesome." The hag leaned closer to him so that he could feel her cold breath on his face. The sunlight shone off her wide, green forehead. "It's just dope how early men hunted for survival and made warm, sexy clothes out of the pelts."
"Sexy?" said Reggie laughing.
"I find men in fur coats are sexy," said Silvie pouting. "But even more awesome – early men organised society into communities with family units as the building blocks so they could weather the storms, wolves, evil ogres, or the type of hags who would hurt them." Silvie grimaced. "I got pretty sick of the sort of hags who talk trash about men. I won't engage with them now, so they hate me too. Guess it's fun to hate me."
"Aw, surely not," said Reggie, touching her clammy green hand.
"Thanks for rooting for me," said the hag with a small smile. "Do tell me if you agree. The family unit as a human invention is the best, isn't it?" said Silvie. Her long face split into a smile as she said this. "Where a woman finds one excellent partner to build one with. Don't you want to start one too?"
"Yes, I think so," said Reggie. "I just need to find the right woman."
"Exactly," said Silvie. Did Reggie notice a fleeting anxious expression on her green face? He thought of something. Lee knew that he didn't have a fiancé yet. Was she trying to help him find one?
True to her word, Silvie led Leevana, Ulva and Aila to the lair of the first of the three Prime Spooks. Those who were amassing an undead army to overrun world. They trudged up the snowy mountain slopes.
"I admit it, Lee. The suspense is too much," said Silvie. "Will Reggie marry me? I must know now!"
"That's what you're angsting about?" grumbled Aila. "We're about to storm the lair of a horrible ghost! That is, if you're telling the truth."
Silvie cupped her hands to her mouth and mimicked an alarm bell sound. "Don't call me a liar. And don't belittle my hopes and dreams. Will I find love? It's a big deal. If I already had, there'd be a man at home to take the war out of me when all this is done. Lee's got that."
"The signs are all good," said Lee, patting Silvie's arm. "Reggie's so sweet. And you guys were talking for hours. Just give it time."
They came to a crack in the mountain side. A muffled voice came from the crack. "Help! Help me!"
Leevana felt a cold sense of dread creep over her. A malign force was nearby…
"Be wary! The evil one is here!" said Silvie.
The hags filed through the crack in the mountainside and into a dark tunnel. Red eyes gleamed in the darkness.
"I think the Heavens must have sent you." The strained voice of a madman…
A ghost reared out of the shadows, his red eyes bulging as he stared at them and his yellowed teeth bared. "So young l-lady, we meet again," he said. "You've brought a whole platoon for dinner. So have I!"
It was the Clay Spook who had once pursued Leevana and Karl when they fled Ostinia!
And then there were six other spooks surrounding the hags. They all resembled the Clay Spook, but with grotesque deformities, distended jaws and fangs. They were munching on human viscera, and one actually had a cracked mug full of liver!
The Clay Spook raised a bunch of rusty knives into the air. "I like rusty knives! Rust on my blades is an exquisite thing. I wonder what you all taste like?"