‘Why didn’t we come here first?’
Our last stop: a house in Ascot that I didn’t remember seeing before.
He shrugged. ‘Always the last place you look. It’s glamoured.’
He was right – I had to concentrate to see it properly. It got easier, but still the building seemed, well, slippery.
The house was set far back from the road, in the middle of an overgrown garden. Trees led up the driveway, grown so tall and close they formed a canopy overhead. Flying foxes squeaked, dark patches against the lightening sky.
I got out of the cab. ‘You’re not going anywhere, right?’
‘You paid me yet?’
‘I ain’t going nowhere.’
I wanted to go to bed. I’d spent the whole night picking through deserted houses. In West End, I’d nearly been spitted on the umbrella of an especially grumpy old lady whose wings unfurled in shock when she found me in her squat. That was fun.
West End’s filled with Weyrd. Everyone thinks it’s just students, drunks, artists, writers, a few yuppies waiting for an upgrade, junkies and the Saturday markets for cheap fruit and vegies. There’s also a metric butt-load of Weyrd, who do their best to blend in. In suburbs with a pretty strange human population, they generally succeed. The smart ones use glamours to hide what they are.
But this was Ascot; so upmarket that house prices could give you a nosebleed
I pushed hard on the doorbell. If anyone answered I’d ask if they were interested in a pyramid-selling scheme. People invariably backed away then, like you had an eye in your forehead.
No one came.
Through the front windows I couldn’t see too much: dark tidy rooms, some expensive pieces of furniture, a chandelier catching strays streaks of dawn light.
Out the back, steps lead down to a sunken garden. From the vantage of the veranda I could see it was set out as a maze, about five feet high; you might lose track of your path if you were short or a young kid.
Empty house. Why the glamour? I might have given up but that was the kicker. Something was amiss. Where do you hide a whole bunch of kids? Twenty-five kids in four weeks; all from unhappy homes so it looks like they’ve run away.
How do you make them disappear without a trace? A glamour.
Author’s note: this story is dedicated to my friend Julie, her partner Kirk, and their daughter Matilda, because Matilda arrived in the world with a similar entourage. (I doubt anyone who knows Julie was surprised.)
Though we live in the Internet Age, Sofia’s birth was announced in the usual way: a voice was heard crying the news from the sacred cave in Damascus (interrupting the congress of lovers in the condominium above); a woman fell down beside the holy well at Chartres (now a cathedral), saying, “She is come!”; and a spirit stood amid the burning lamps of the Pituk gompa’s altar in Tibet, waiting quietly until the monks understood, but since they know to watch for these signs, that didn’t take long.
Perhaps every mother feels—on a good day, for a brief moment—that her child is the Messiah. Only a few know for sure, and the news does not generally please them. Sofia’s parents, both professors at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza,” just looked confused when the angel Gabriel showed up while they were cooking dinner, alighting on the mushroom basket by the door, which never recovered.
“I’m positive I helped with conception,” pointed out her father Rafaelo. “And since we are—were?—atheists, I’m afraid God wasn’t on our minds at the time.”
“Yes yes yes,” Gabriel replied. “If you’ve glanced at your human race lately, you know the Divine does not to do anything the same way twice.”
Sofia’s mother, Catriona, looked down at her belly, where a bump the size of a small pecorino cheese liked to move about, first high, then low and off to the side: Sofia.
“At least that explains the animals, caro,” she said to her husband.
“Animals?” asked Gabriel sharply.
“They follow me around. Cats, dogs, pigeons, hawks, rats, foxes—any creature in the city. I walk to work and by the time I get there I look like a zoo on the move.”
“The odd thing is,” pointed out Rafaelo, “They never eat each other, not even when they disperse.”
“A sign of Universal Peace,” nodded Gabriel.
“That’s very nice, but someone has to clean up all the poop afterwards,” said Catriona.
“Ah! Not unlike having a baby, then,” said Gabriel. He groomed each wing with the air of one who has done his job. “Well! That wraps it up for now. Expect further communications as events warrant.”
“—But,” Catriona began, suddenly realizing how very many questions she had, yet too late, for Gabriel had ascended in golden state, leaving behind only fragments of wicker and footprints in the fungus.
I was sitting on the front porch of my guesthouse, waiting for the mothership to come, enjoying the hot evening, when out of the grass they rose, one by one, little whirring beings with lanterns in their bottoms: blinking on; blinking off; blinking on. A local alien had told me the day before that this blinking was the way these little lantern-beings spoke of love.
I was still pondering this when the great beam blinked on and pulled me up into my mothership, among all my friends and cousins, “home sweet home” as the aliens say, and a surprise party for the end of the mission besides. Somebody had even hand-programmed a holograph saying “Happy End of Mission!” The cycling on it was wrong so it blinked on, blinked off, blinked on.
The Black Goat of the Woods, Shub-Niggurath, pranced obscenely through the red-litten clearing, its worshippers copulating frenziedly beneath its myriad udders. Soon, they would seize their obsidian knives and begin to slash at one another in an ecstacy of sanguinary lust. Shub-Niggurath would feast, but would take the best bits home for its Thousand Young. Especially its favorite, Shubbie the 422nd.
The Vermilion Gopher of the Plains, Aug’-Durlett, popped menacingly from one of its myriad holes. A nitid effluent of its malevolence poured forth, blotting out the sun. Traffic on I-70 came to a halt, and there was much rending of metal and spilling of entrails. Aug’-Durlett’s 230 Wives and 1973 Young would eat well tonight in yellow-litten Yah-Squireel.
Hamstur the Unspeakable, Tawny Gerbil of Doom, raced disturbingly upon the shrieking Wheel of Abomination. The slumber of sensitive souls was disrupted across the globe by a myriad ear-piercing squeaks, and even the mighty wizard Fak-bel Knaplung vainly pressed its withered hands to its shockingly hairy organs of audition.
The Ebon Cricket of the Sinister Bamboo Palace, Shrikk the Inaudible, played upon its shockingly malformed limbs a paean of charnel desecration and soul-destroying horror. Dogs throughout east Asia howled in anguish, annoying the just and unjust alike. Yabu Dabi-Tzhoo, Lord of Kay-Na’ein, lept through a foul depiction in stained glass of the Vivisection of the Myriad, and vanished from mortal ken, leaving behind an appalling stench.
Myriads flooded the streets as the Sigil of Unpleasantness, alluded to in the Pleistocene Upchuktic Manuscript, fulminated and was not consumed in the sky above Lichtenstein. Interminable was the wailing and many were the unattractive facial expressions manifested on the green-litten visages of the unhappy Lichtensteiners, for they could feel the fat profits from the tourist trade sublimating from their wallets, retail establishments, and entertainment facilities in the abhorrent effulgence discharged by the Lime-Green Sign.
Much was the inadvertent discharge of bodily fluids and other organic substances as the myriad Calamari of Chaos floated to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, broadcasting their unhallowed and vile thoughts to all within line-of-sight and, after nightfall, those reachable by reflection from the Heaviside layer.
As the human race, insignificant pustule on the acne-scarred backside of Planet Dirt, wailed, moaned, and perished, the Great Old Ones, including Retrievotep, He Who Inexorably Returns, and Nemah-Toad, She Who Burrows Within, began to feed.
And short-lived but heartfelt was the lamentation engendered therefrom.