The Monster on Mandrake Street
(A Pestworld Story)
by Colin P. Davies
section 2 of 2
“So...” Parvo told Anyar as he led her by the arm into the grand dining room. “That’s the whole story so far. It appears we’re in danger of being visited by the broadheads’ tooth fairy.”
“You’re not serious?”
“I’m one guard and two cooks serious. Apparently it’s trying to find a way around my security.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
Parvo pulled back the chair for her. “What is also hard to believe is that the monster didn’t take the tooth from the old woman when they were cooped up together on the spaceship.”
“You don’t trust the girl’s story?”
He snapped his fingers at a servant who hurried off to the kitchen. “Of course not. The broadheads are said to be a disciplined warrior race. Incompetence is not their style and is hardly going to be the style of their mythological creatures. I imagine their Easter Bunny has fangs and their Santa eschews the chimney in favor of kicking the door from its hinges.”
“Yet something is killing your staff.”
Parvo chewed his lip. “Maybe we do have a monster, but it’s not looking for a tooth.”
“I don’t know, but I know someone who might.”
Servants in white suits brought in the main course of triple-turkey, temporary-trump, and tree-turnip — an evening meal known colloquially as Afternoon T — and, between mouthfuls of wonderful food, Anyar continued to ask questions to which Parvo had no answers. By the end of the meal, he no longer heard her words, but the sound of her voice played over him like the caress of a fragrant breeze. He was enjoying her company in a way completely new to him. He kept silent for fear of breaking the spell.
The servants broke it for him.
As they cleared the table, Parvo went to the grand window that looked down on the training ground, now dark and deserted save for poor Sergeant Samson obsessively bayoneting the target dummy. If he was still there in the morning, Parvo would have him chained to his infirmary bed.
Anyar moved in beside Parvo. Her eyes were wide and deep, communicating in the unspoken language which had served humans for millennia. Unfortunately, Parvo did not speak the language.
He belched, quietly, in deference to his pretty guest. “I need to... set a trap,” he said.
“How will you do that?”
He grimaced, fighting with the fermenting food in his belly. “What do all fairies have.”
“A fairy godmother!”
Anyar stared at him. “Of course... Why didn’t I think of that? Perhaps because I’m sane!”
“That’s where the real power lies.” He rested his hands on his stomach. “Tomorrow we’ll return to the forest and invite the old spacer to be my house guest.”
“And what if she declines?”
“Then I will insist.”
* * *
The twin-rotor helicopter came down from the high city of Plateau to settle on a clearing at the edge of the Forest of Colorful Curses — so-named by Benedict Benoletti as a result of his two day ordeal chasing a wild goose amongst the peripatetic pines.
A cyclone of snow blew up from the meadow as ranks of warmongering weevils threw themselves prone and trained their field glasses on the molehills below the helicopter runners. The creatures honed their claws and waited for the mass evacuation from the underground bunkers.
Parvo moved away from the window and fastened the belt on his trench coat. “Let’s go!
The copter’s door slid to the side, a ramp folded out, and Parvo, his bodyguard, and three guardsmen wearing side-arms cycled out.
Everywhere, snow glared bright as burning magnesium in the morning sunlight. The brinkman bodyguard squealed and pressed a bony-knuckled paw over its eyes. Its sensitive vision made the creature invaluable in the dark confines of a night club, or the blind violence of a street brawl, but on a day like today it caused only needles of pain. Parvo took a pair of mirror-shades from inside his trench coat and put them onto the creature’s face, securing them behind its cauliflower ears. With a grunt, the brinkman gave a drawn-lips smile that confirmed its partial primate parentage.
“Into the forest!” Parvo threw a dramatic arm gesture towards the closely-packed trees and pedaled off at the head of the short column.
Soon they reached the river.
“Dismount!” Parvo dropped his bike and walked to the riverbank. Water bubbled over rounded stones. Where the sun penetrated, the rocks of the riverbed shone white and gold.
The spacer was not in sight.
The day felt unlike the last time he was here — somehow more sinister. Perhaps it was simply because of the things he’d learned. He was glad he’d refused Anyar’s request to come along. He was not the most empathic of individuals, but the thought of Anyar getting hurt brought on a discomfort in his chest that he could not name. The sensation was both welcome and not welcome, and if that made no sense, then it adequately described the confusion he felt.
“Spread out away from the main pathway,” he told his men. “Find another path... little used...well hidden. And try not to spike yourself on a thornberry or throw yourself into the river. Now move!”
Parvo waited on the main path with his bodyguard beside him. Up in the trees, copycat cockatoos swapped trivee jingles: Neutralize napoleon gnawing nits with Waterloo Shampoo; and Oil of grass and cream of fern, sooth cyclist’s ass and saddle burn; and Get the sleep of the dead on a Bugmaster Bed, amongst others. It was all very familiar. Parvo had cycled this route so many times.
Yet on all his trips into the forest he’d never before met anyone as strange as the spacer. An odd coincidence that he should meet her just now, with the murders happening. He was convinced that taking her into custody was the right move.
At a yell from one of the guards, he ran across a small meadow dotted with tussocks of heather-thistle.
“A clue, My Lord.”
Indeed, it was a glitterfish scale, stuck to a low branch, and it revealed a barely distinguishable gap and a narrow, well-trodden pathway through the trees and thick spiky bushes.
“Leave the bikes. Walking will be tough enough.”
Parvo moved the brinkman to the front, as its thick skin was more resistant to thorns and biters. He took six lightweight, razor sharp machetes from inside his trench coat and put one blade in each of its paws, then placed a sugar cube onto its extended tongue. The creature set off along the new path, arms whirling and vegetation flying. If the bodyguard could keep up this pace, and manage not to hack off a limb in its frantic enthusiasm, they should get to their target quickly.
With the astringent odor of sappy wounds assaulting his senses, Parvo ushered his men after the brinkman and took up the rear.
* * *
After a time, the brinkman’s vegetation-hacking eased as the undergrowth thinned out. The group entered a dark woodland of night-trees — an imaginatively named species whose wide and thickly-bundled leaves shut out all but the merest hint of light. Only a faint purple illumination allowed them to see the spongy carpet of organic death that compressed beneath their feet and occasionally gave way to send them tumbling into the damp, moldy body of the fetid forest.
Parvo’s acute sense of smell was assaulted by the odor of decay, but he also discovered another scent.
The unmistakable aroma of coffee.
“Can you smell that?” he asked the guards.
In the twilight, he could see them exchange glances and shrugs.
Parvo rotated slowly, nose twitching, as he tried to attach a direction to the scent. “Okay, I think I’ve got it. This way.”
He struck out into the unrelieved dimness. To his satisfaction, the smell became stronger and soon he spotted a splinter of light, like a cut in a black curtain. He halted his band and stood still, studying the shape that nestled in the trees, giving it time to imprint on his eyes. The only sound was the breathing of his companions.
“It’s a house,” a guard announced.
Suddenly, fear struck at Parvo. The house in the forest; the muted birds that he had only now noticed; the feeling of having stepped out of the world he knew... He was a little boy again and a salivating demon was stalking him from the blackness.
He shrugged the sensation away. He was Parvo... High Lord Pestmeister. He would not let childish fears disturb him! Besides, since when did supernatural monsters drink coffee?
“Spread out. We’ll move in from all sides. If this is the spacer’s house, I don’t want her to slip away.”
When the guards had melted into the darkness, he told his bodyguard, “We’ll take the front. Let’s go!”
Parvo weaved his way through the tree trunks.
When he reached the gate to the front path, he stopped and examined the little cottage. He could make out small-paned windows in a pale wall and a shingled roof punctured by two shuttered dormer windows that projected like blind eyes. The light was escaping from the window to the right of the front door.
He whispered, “I suppose the direct approach is best. You go and knock on the door.”
The brinkman did not reply.
Parvo turned and gazed into the blackness. He could see the barest outline of the nearest trees, but no bodyguard. The creature — his security — had vanished!
Cold sweat prickled all over his body. He was alone in the woods at the house of... a witch? He laughed and shook his head. His men must be nearby, though he could not hear them. They must be nearby.
Parvo doubted many things — the existence of the broadheads for one, and the author’s signature on his first edition of Pests and Pestilence for another — but he did not doubt his own courage. He opened the rickety wooden gate and crunched up the gravel path.
At the door he hesitated and tried to calm his breathing, then knocked.
He heard a shuffling and saw light appear around the edge of the door. Then the lock clicked and the door opened.
An old woman in uniform — the spacer — stood facing him. Yellow light from a luminescent ceiling globe at her back put her ugly face in shadow — a blessing for which Parvo was grateful.
“You again!” she said. “What do you want?”
“This is an odd place to live... in permanent darkness.”
“It reminds me of being out there... in space. Anyway... do I comment on your home?”
“You’re comparing a highly sought-after residence with a hovel in the forest.”
The woman scowled. “I’m just a simple transport worker, a nobody — a retired nobody. I asked what you wanted.”
“Your importance has been elevated from persona non grata to essential companion. From non-entity to celebrity.”
“You have a way with words. What’s your point?”
“You’re under arrest.”
She tugged at her thin hair. “On what charge?”
“On the charge of not realizing I don’t need a charge on account of me being in charge!” Parvo drew himself up to his tallest. “You have to come with me.”
“Maybe I don’t want to come with you.”
“Maybe I’m not giving you a choice.”
“Oh... is that so?”
Parvo heard the shuffle of feet behind him and snapped around with fingers clawed and ready to strike.
His brinkman bodyguard stood there, dejected and humbled, the lenses of its mirror-shades shattered.
“What happened?” Parvo asked. “Did you get jumped?”
The creature shook its head — an awkward movement due to the lack of neck. It gestured towards a tree and mimicked a smack in the face.
“You walked into a tree?”
A miserable nod.
Parvo tore the glasses from the creatures face and waved them in front of its eyes. “Any idea why?”
A six armed shrug.
Parvo shook his head and returned his attention to the spacer who, surprisingly, was still there. “You could have run. I would have taken the chance.”
“I am not you.”
“Then pack a few things. You’re coming to stay with me.”
Parvo’s men had arrived and gathered behind the bodyguard.
The old woman sighed. “I see I have little choice. Very well. Just a moment...” She reached behind the door and came up with a suitcase. “Let’s go.”
“I’m a spacer,” she said. “I’m always ready... for anything.”
* * *
“You captured the spacer on your own?” Anyar skipped around the perimeter of the thick chessboard rug that occupied the center of Parvo’s circular reception room. “Weren’t you nervous? You didn’t even have a weapon.”
“Not entirely true,” Parvo admitted. In fact he carried an entire arsenal inside his Pestmeister trench coat. “My hands are my weapons.”
“And then she made a run for it? You had to chase her down?”
“Not exactly...” Parvo stood at the tall, arched window looking down on the courtyard where his guards were bringing the old woman across from the cells to his quarters. He glanced at the large tooth in his hand. “You need to go now. I want to question the fairy godmother.”
“Can’t I stay?”
“Sorry. Health and Safety. You know how it is.”
“But you will tell me everything?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“It is, Sigmund. It is.”
After Anyar had left, Parvo glanced at his trench coat which hung near the door to his bedroom. He considered putting the coat on for added insurance, then cast the thought aside. He was capable of handling an old woman without the need for hidden tricks and tools. Besides, he intended to project an aura of innocuousness with his casual beige sweater and checked trousers. He’d even considered accessorizing with a pipe, but concluded that he’d gain little additional advantage from a cloud of floating bubbles.
Two burly soldiers bundled the handcuffed spacer into the room and dumped her in a high-armed wooden chair. Parvo dismissed the men, closed the door, and turned to his prisoner. “I would offer my apologies for bringing you here, but my insincerity may be apparent.”
“You think I don’t want to be here?”
“You appeared less than keen.”
The woman smiled. “The palace is the one place on this world that the monster couldn’t get to. Your security is too good.”
“Ah, yes, the monster. The girl on Mandrake Street told me about your monster.”
“You sound skeptical.”
“I don’t doubt that monsters do exist — I have a whole world of them — but I’m less certain of your monster. How could you share a ship and not meet...?” His words trailed off and he pointed at her with the tooth. “What do you mean: this is the one place the monster couldn’t get to?”
The woman held up her bound wrists. “Why keep me cuffed? Are you nervous of me, Parvo?”
He took a moment to examine his captive and his own feelings. “Should I be?”
The woman shook her shackles and they fell — still locked — to the polished floor. “Maybe you should.”
Parvo took a step back. “Is that something you learned in the service?”
“Let’s just say I have malleable mitts.”
“You can say that if you like,” Parvo told her. He waved the tooth at the door. “But I’m going to say Guards rather loudly if you move out of that chair.”
“To answer your unfinished question, there’s a very simple reason why I didn’t meet the monster.”
Parvo felt a pulse pounding in his head. This was unexpected, to say the least. “Which is?”
The woman stood. “I am the monster.”
The flesh on her face juddered and flowed and suddenly Parvo was staring at himself!
A parma puppeteer... he’d learned of them at the Academy, but never met one. Able to shift shape, stretch limbs, and grow or lose hair, they were all but impossible to find, let alone catch. For a moment he was stunned.
That moment was sufficient for the creature to swing a huge ham-fist onto the point of Parvo’s chin. He tumbled backwards onto the rug. Blackness and pain descended and would have taken him except for the sharpness of his reactions. He’d rolled with the punch and reduced its formidable power. He lay still and watched through slit eyelids as the puppeteer slipped into his trench coat, fastened it tight to hide its own clothes, and then returned to stoop down next to him. The nails on the creature’s right hand extended into small scimitars. “Sweet dreams,” said the puppeteer as it raised its claws ready to finish him.
Parvo’s fingers were still clamped to the alien tooth and now he rolled and swung the heavy object into the side of the creature’s knee. While his doppelganger screamed and limped backwards, Parvo leapt to his feet, threw the tooth more as a distraction than as a missile, and sprang into his bedroom. He slammed the door and turned the key. He might only have seconds... what was his next move? He could go to the barred window and shout, but the guards would discover two Parvos. How could he trust them to kill the right one?
A commotion in the other room grabbed his attention. The guards had come in and now started beating on his door. He heard a voice exactly like his own shout: “The monster has taken on my appearance, but you can identify me by this tooth I carry. Don’t listen to its lies. They will twist your thinking. Kill it before it tears out your throat...
“Kill it before it rips out your eyes...
“Kill it! Kill it! KILL IT!”
It seemed a reasoned debate was out of the question.
* * *
For more information on the flora, fauna and fools of Pestworld, together with history, map, music and podcasts, visit www.colinpdavies.com/pestworld.htm
Copyright © 2009 by Colin P. Davies