by John Lowell
[The Facebook prompt was: “Comment and I’ll reply with how I’d introduce you in a novel.” I didn’t tell them they’d all be in the same novel.]
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is almost entirely coincidental. Any resemblance to actual places, events, and corporate-owned entertainment venues is entirely coincidental. Your results may vary. Void where prohibited.
In life, Jason Ling had known that the key to taking over the world was always going to be about the right minions. He needed highly creative people, so he returned to his roots: the Renaissance Faire. To blend in, he chose a leather jerkin. To keep the sun off, he went with a floppy hat and a liberal amount of SPF 90 sunscreen. He had three more tubes of the stuff in his belt pouch. Then he strolled in the opening gates with a comp ticket given him by a friend. He’d walk a bit, take in the scene, and choose his thralls carefully….
Inside the gates, the melange of visitors and participants greeted him: subdued merchants from St. Ives, heady ploughboys, pungent revelers, and tangy whores. A pair of zestful noblemen provided the final garnish, but the first to approach Jason—or rather, to block his path—was a Yeoman of the Guard, standing in the middle of the road like a giant tomato.
Jason didn’t know him. New faces came in and out of Faire all the time, but the yeomen were as arrogant as they come. Not good lackey material.
Except this brute of a yeoman was all smiles. He spread his arms wide and said, “Cousin! How fare thee?”…
Of the many pretexts to attending the Renaissance Faire, chaperoning a gaggle of high schools had it pros and cons. On the con side, teenagers. But Cory’s students were good kids and he didn’t need to roam around the place like a drunken frat boy to have fun. Cory led his group in and steered them off to the side to check the program. And to avoid the cacophony of performers who were—selling things? or just harassing people. It was a lot to take in: some people looking like they stepped out of the sixteenth century, others in Southern California desert casual shorts and tees. Also a Doctor Who, and a guy wearing a suit of cardboard armor, complete with cardboard axe and shield. His helmet was—special? To each their own.
But he couldn’t find Shakespeare on the program. They had about a dozen stages each with a dozen different shows. He recognized Merry Wives of Windsor, but it was listed as a singing—
The man in front of him had stopped walking forward, and Cory bumped into him. The man turned, pale-skinned, and glared through red contacts—that immediately turned back to a more natural blue.
He didn’t have time to marvel before the man sped away. It was a great effect….
A young man stood in Cory’s path with an eager look. He looked genuinely British for a change, a proper ginger in a red—tabard? Is that what they called that? Before the ginger could speak, Cory asked, “Do you know Sir James?”
“Yes. He is—he’s around here somewhere. Probably looking dashing.” At the word dashing, the young man popped his chest out and puts his hands on his hips in a proper Superman pose. It even came with a rakish grin and it worked.
Cory asked, “Where can I find the Felicity Stage?”
A larger man in red tapped the first on the shoulder and gestured off to a cloth fence that marked the edge of the road. Off-stage. The large man whispered something, and the two of them walked away, but not before the ginger gave Cory a smile and a curtsy-type bow and a “Pray Pardon.”…
When Sara—Mistress Christine—arrived at the front road, she found no yeomen. She’d decided, on account of the heat, to take the big bottle and now that she had lugged it halfway across Faire, there were no yeomen to make it any lighter. Typical. It was already turning into one of those mornings. The girls at the Bell would make it better, and maybe she’d find the Captain there. So she pressed through the throng down the road. She only got one weekend at Faire this year and it was going to be fantastic, dammit. Even if she had to grab it by the ear and wrench it into submission….
Jason wiped the blood from his mouth, touched up his sunscreen, and walked back onto the streets of Faire with Westwood and Pierce. He hadn’t intended to turn anyone yet, let along two yeomen. The heat was getting to him, or the sunlight. He’d certainly never needed that much blood in the evening. He resolved to be more discerning. Only the best could be his minions.
His resolve latest all of five seconds.
The noblewoman bopped into his field of vision. She was squat but ravishing in some adorable way he couldn’t put to words. The contrasting velvets suited her, and her dangling pearl necklace and red lips reminded him of lost pleasures. He didn’t know her. But maybe she was the best; she deserved a chance.
She sashayed to the three of them and asked, “Do you want to know a secret?”
Westwood assured him, telepathically, that she was the best. Perfect….
Sara was not given alcohol at the Bell. One, that had never happened at Faire. Two, it had especially never happened after the Big Crackdown. The juice was spectacular and would produce a nice buzz soon enough, though.
No yeomen at the Belle, which was weird. Captain and Not the Captain were usually here around opening, at least one of them. But it gave Sara a place to set her bottle down for a moment to gather reserves. Also, the juice. The juice could not help fast enough to turn the day around.
But the right voice could, and it came from a blond-haired toddler asking, “Where Daddy?”
Sara looked over the railing of the Belle’s porch to see Benjamin with a young woman Sara didn’t know. If Benjamin was here, then Allison was here, and even though it was nice seeing John/Sir James, Allison and Benjamin could actually make things better. And new baby! If she could find Allison.
The woman guiding Benjamin answered him with a dulcet voice, “I don’t know where Daddy is, but we will find him. First we need some sunscreen.”
Benjamin said, “No, I’m good.”…
It wasn’t just a field trip. Cory had given his students work, a small page of questions to ask the actors so he could justify the trip as educational. It seemed like the kind of place that if you went and engaged people, you couldn’t help but learn something. So the questionnaire was more about egging his kids into that engagement. So far, it wasn’t working. They clustered to themselves, poking fun at each other, laughing at the costumes, and oohing and ahhing at the sites.
They’d listened to the Merry Wives of Windsor sing colorful songs that pushed the limits of PG—they promised a more ruckus show at the Over 18 stage that afternoon. They’d dressed in loud striped bodices and sang handsomely. And funny. They seemed like the perfect group to get his students to engage with, so when the finished their set and gathered off to the side with their instruments and friends, he picked one at random to approach.
The dark-haired woman gave him a death stare. He froze and wondered if his ancestors had harmed her ancestors.
But it looked like she registered his horror. In an instant, her death mask transformed into a Betty Crocker smile. She asked, “Well?”…
Months later, when Cory read his account to his writing group, the line “Betty Crocker smile” got him some great kudos. They were speechless about all the blood and death, and few of the group believed he’d actually been there and survived it all—except it had been in the news and they all knew what happened to John.
Dav hadn’t been that close to John, but Cory’s account still brought him to tears. And the Betty Crocker smile, especially when it came up again later, haunted his nightmares for weeks….
Lady Anne Vavasour had been a fantastic addition to Jason’s coterie. Her mind didn’t fight the transition the way Westwood and Pierce had. Within seconds of being turned, she had a prioritized list of targets and the best route through the Faire to get there. Conquer the world? Yes, but make sure you have a plan for both security and the sheriffs wandering around Faire first. The road leading into Faire could be closed by radio. Jason hadn’t considered that. Also, she carried her own sunscreen.
First, she told them telepathically, we are going to the Italians. They’re practically vampires already and they have their own backstage.
It occurred to Jason that he was supposed to be in charge, but she was doing what he wanted and she was doing a good job of it. They walked to Little Italy.
Isn’t she the best? sent Westwood.
The Italians had done up Little Italy like a proper stage, complete with painted columns and curtains. Vines crept up the façade and a lustrous wooden throne stood center-stage. It was empty, but a noblewoman stood nearby. She had a quiet demeanor and poured herself a goblet of wine. She wore rich velvets and had a white veil that would be perfect for blocking out the sun.
She said, “Buongiorno.”
Jason responded by kissing her hand. He said, “Piacere di conoscerti, bella signora.”…
Sara found some peanuts for Benjamin at the Green Man Inn, and asked the mistress if she had seen any yeomen this morning.
The matronly woman thought for a moment, then said, “Only one. The big, friendly one.”
Westwood. That was something. They’d left on time for opening gate; they’d be somewhere. And now she knew where—Clan—which meant she’d need to haul her bottle all the way down the road. She’d taken the path along Little Italy instead of going the long way around because they usually left Clan as soon as they dropped the chair off. Ugh. She picked up her bottle again.
The woman at the bar asked if something was wrong. “Is it the vampire?”….
“Oh, they come in from time to time. We keep an eye on them, but they usually don’t cause any trouble.” The woman reached under the bar for something. “Why don’t you take this—“
Sara saw the new baby.
Allison walked down the road with a dark-haired babe in her arm, scanning the opening crowds. Maybe for John/Sir James, maybe just for people she knew. Didn’t matter. Sara rushed over, because new baby. Also Allison, but it’s hard to compete with new baby. Sara left her bottle behind and the pointy wooden stick the barmaid was offering….
When Cory turned back to the road, he discovered that his students had been accosted by more med in red. Accosted probably wasn’t the right word. Four men in red stood before his students. A match man in red knelt, holding the hand of one of Cory’s students, and spouted corny lines at her. “Your eyes sparkle as the stars in heaven. Your hair reminds me of fields of wheat, swaying in the breeze.” Her friends laughed and she blushed.
Then the other men in red tried to coax the male students to do the same with the other girls. Which just would not do.There were some crushes here that would people put on the spot. Hearts could get stomped on if the wrong person wooed the wrong person. Also, if he could help it, Cory didn’t want to be responsible for inflicting traditional gender roles. Although it was exactly what John had warned him would happen.
Cory looked for John, didn’t see him, then went to the most in charge-looking person there, who happened to be another ginger, tall and ravishing, standing off to the side. The man wore a fancier red jacket and sipped from a metal tankard.
Cory didn’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, but this could be dangerous. “How do I get you to stop pestering my students?”
This drew a smirk….
Jason stepped out of Little Italy with his two bodyguards and his lady-in-waiting. The Italians had their assignment and Vavasour was insisting that they should go to court next. He knew she wasn’t wrong, but it still irked him. They started for Court Glade when a foolie as small around as his thigh bounded up to Yeoman Pierce and twirled around him.
Yeoman Pierce sent the mental request, Her!, while Vavasour sent, Not her.
Jason sent back, Take her, to Pierce, but the girl had already backed away. Her eyes went wide and she uttered a curse in Hebrew at them, then spit on the ground, and sprinted off.
Somehow, she’d spotted them for what they were. She’d need to be put down.
Pierce stood frozen, so Jason sent back, What are you waiting for? Take her….
The Yeomen seemed to have an unending supply of gingers. This one with a scraggily beard was on his knees, holding Cory’s hand in a compromise worked out by Yeoman Forbes, spouting off about potatoes. Really.
“My love for you is like this potato. For you see a rose will wilt and die, but a potato lives on. It will nourish you. If you plant it, it will grow.” He looked past Cory and waved around a small red potato on a stick. Cory’s students hooted and hollered, while Cory went between fuming, trying not to laugh, and blushing. Finally, he was given the potato as a “token” of their love; then the next yeoman came forward….
They’d run out of gingers, but not produce. After the onion woo, the next yeoman took to a knee and gave Cory an avocado. He was young and cute, and like the others, more amused than embarrassed to be wooing a man.
Cory’s students were in stitches. This was going to be a long day….
On the way to court, Jason, Westwood, and Vavasour discovered a batch of Gentlemen Adventurers leaving the May Pole. Like Court, these were well-read actors with decent improv skills. They’d work well in the field, so Jason—and Vavasour—decided to follow them. They weaved through the crowd on a mission, when someone said that stopped Jason cold.
He turned to see a family of four walking thought the faire in normal street attired. Two kids, and mom and dad. The dad was pointing past Jason at someone else entirely. It turned out to be a spot-on cosplayer in Gary Oldman’s Victorian attire from the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie, including black sunglasses and blood-red contact lenses. Jason relaxed.
Then the dad waved Westwood over and asked, “Is G around?”
Westwood smiled his big smile and showed his teeth….
The father’s faced dropped, then he pulled his family away. Behind him, there was a straggling Gentleman Adventurer. The white-haired, bearded man narrowed his eyes on Westwood. “What happened to you, Yeoman?”
Westwood opened his arms. “I’m fine, cousin. I’m a vampire now. You should try it.”
The man shook his head, then drew a massive sword—a hand-and-a-half—and raised it to his shoulder, aiming the blade directly at Westwood’s heart. “No, I think not.”…
The crowds parted as the Adventurer fought Westwood. He was good, way better than Westwood and his flimsy rapier. But Jason had a few tricks at his disposal. With a little mental effort, Jason duplicated Westwood—at least in the Adventurer’s mind. He quickly went from offensive to defensive as he tried to fight off one real and two imaginary Westwoods.
Westwood said, “You’re doing great. I hate to do this.” Then he ran the Adventurer through while his attention was elsewhere. The Adventurer swung a few more times at the wrong Westwood, then collapsed to his knees. Blood seeped from his chest.
The crowd watched with rapt attention. It wouldn’t do. For now, they might think it was staged, but not if the man died.
Jason would have to animate him. But he couldn’t do that until he actually died. Westwood, he sent, comfort him.
As Westwood went to the dying man, Vavasour pinged Jason: I tried to turn this one, but it didn’t take.
She was standing on hay bale behind another yeoman, this one with a frazzled blond beard and large eyes. He was bleeding from the neck and fuming. He should be relaxing right now. The only way it wouldn’t work if he was some kind of werewolf or something.
Then the yeoman fell forward onto his hands—hooves—and a massive white goat brayed and knocked Jason over….
The screams interrupted Sara’s get-together with Allison, Benjamin, Alex, and the girl Benjamin called “Cabbage.” It was hard to tell exactly where they came from, but Faire is a winding place. For as long a walk as it was to Food Court, it wasn’t that far away if you could walk through the backstage areas.
Sara and Cabbage stared at each other.
Benjamin asked, “What that?”
Alex’s eyes opened wide and he looked around for brigands. Brigands could be anywhere.
Allison stiffened; she held Alex tightly, then ushered all of them back to the Bell.
“Miranda, get in here.” One of the whores waved them in. “There’s some sort of attack.”
Sara, Allison, and the others slipped into the backstage just as a throng of street-clothed patrons rushed for the exit. They slowed, stopped, and some turned around as screaming came from another direction as well: the front gate. Whatever it was had them surrounded.
The blonde-haired whore asked, “Are you all right?”
Allison seemed to grow in place. She didn’t seem angry, but determined. “My husband is waiting by the front gate.”…
[Lily Vedett Ariella]
Cory could feel the money burning holes in his student’s pockets as they walked down Gamer’s Row. Axe throwing, knife throwing, star throwing. Dart throwing. And basketball, for some reason, though the balls were disguised as dragon eggs—which also did not exist in the Renaissance, if Cory knew his history. So a lot of throwing, basically.
They settled on turtle racing because the chance of injury was much smaller, and it was cheap, and they got to see adorable turtles and make them race for their enjoyment. Okay. Maybe it was a bad idea.
But the young woman running the races was nice and smiley, and got the students involved before he could object and direct them to another game. At least they could stop arguing for a moment. They really weren’t doing a great job of asking Renaissance questions. Maybe he’d offer the turtles some of his produce?
He heard vague screams off in the distance, so he pulled out his schedule. He asked the attendant, “Is that the joust?”
She looked worried as she shook her head….
Sara grabbed a sword off the back wall of the Bell as she ran after Allison. The screaming had intensified, and the patrons had ran back into the Faire now, so it was clear most of the way to the front gate. The only people in their path were bleeding and hobbling in, bleeding and crawling in, or bleeding and not moving. There was more moaning than screaming now, and their seemed to be something going on just outside.
Allison didn’t stop for an instance. She had handed New Baby to Cabbage, grabbed a giant wooden club—that just happened to be there—and rushed off. Sara almost expected Allison to stop for the injured, but she didn’t. She glanced at each of them. Probably checking to make sure they weren’t Sir James/John. But he’d be in red and hard to miss. Just checking gave Sara enough time to catch up, and they crossed the gates to outside together.
There were more bodies outside, and some police officers and Italians hunched over downed patrons, feeding on their necks. More than one scorched skeleton lay on the ground, complete with ashes and a ring of brunt grass. Definitely more than one vampire out here, but they seemed more concerned with blood than tactics because there was another fight going on. Off to one side of the gate, four police officers had surrounded a small family and two yeomen in red Beefeaters.
It didn’t look like Sir James and Sir Tristan, because Sir James and Sir Tristan were human and carried swords. These were bipedal, but covered in fur, and instead of faces they had giant maws: one in black, one in gray. Werewolves.
Allison ran into the fray, and smacked one of the vampire cops in the back of the head with her club. Sara followed and stabbed another with her sword, but he batted it away. She fell down, but drew out her Yeoman-be-good spoon.
It was enough of a distraction for Werejames and Weretristan to pounce on the other two and ripped their throats out. The next two fell quickly after. The family of four—a mom, two sons, and a daughter—cowered.
Allison called out, “Carrie, run for the gate.”…
Jason and Vavasour slipped away from the fight and went back to the May Pole. Westwood might survive it; he might not. Either way, they were made. If the weregoat hadn’t attacked, he could have given the Italians better instructions. Front gate was a bloodbath, but at least he had enough law enforcement to keep the Faire from being locked down immediately. Cell phones would be a problem, and the 9-1-1 boards were probably lighting up. He’d need to leave or vanish as soon as possible.
Luckily, a zombie swinging a giant sword at anyone with a brain provided a wonderful distraction for escaping the first entanglement. If he could vanish into a crowd, he could simply walk out with the other survivors. Shouldn’t be too difficult.
As they rushed, Vavasour stopped and started pulling his hand. We have to turn her, she thought to him.
The girl she was looking at was dressed in bright peasants and sardonicness. She was waifish, pretty, and looked the two of them over with extra sardonicness.
Vavasour bounced over to her. “Oh, come to the dark side, Angela. We have cookies.”…
As the screams increased and patrons started running down the road, Lily pulled Cory and his students further into the booth. “That’s not normal.”
It almost looked like a panic, except for a large white goat, weaving through the crowds, alternating between herding people on and slowing down anyone threatening to trample his neighbors. The goat brayed and butted as needed, and bumped a costumed woman into the booth with them. She fell, shaking, into Cory’s arms.
He helped her into the booth and Lily quickly found a blanket to wrap her up.
She was covered in blood. She had a stuffed fox wrapped around her neck and couldn’t get a word in. They’d all surrounded her, and the boys kept staring at her large boobs.
“Stop it.” Cory smacked the boys. Then he asked the woman, “What happened?”
She pointed back at the road and said, “Za-za-za-zombie.”…
Now the streets were empty. There were bodies behind them, but not the way into Faire. Sir James took the lead, Sir Tristan took the rear; they’d finally returned to human form and now carried their rapiers out. Between them were all the whores in the Bell, Allison and her boys, Carrie and her kids, Cabbage, Sara, and a few others from St. Ives.
They were headed for the Washing Well, which should be the safest place at Faire. According to Allison, Cabbage, and Coxgoode. Sara wasn’t so sure, but they’d pass Court Glade on the way and she could get more yeomen and yeobabes there.
As soon as they cleared the first corner, a yeobabe came running up to them, calling out for “Yeoman Lowell,” which was another one of Sir James’ names. Mistress Chastity was only here for one weekend, like Sara, and picked a doozie….
The axe-throwing booth was across the road and down, maybe thirty feet away, but the sword-wielding zombie was in the way. None of the students wanted to go. Cory didn’t blame them, but he didn’t want to go either. It was a zombie and apparently zombies could wield gigantic-honking swords. That violated every zombie rule he knew about. If there were some kind of horror writer’s guild, God would have been driven out of it. Obey conventions, dammit!
Right now, the bearded zombie was feasting on the actual brains of some poor man he’d beheaded. Definitely a zombie. But he wasn’t ambling and he had about six feet of reach with the sword.
“Who’s the fastest?” Cory asked.
Lily looked away. She was the smallest, and yes, probably the fastest. Certainly the most agile.
“If you distract it, Season and I can go for the axes, and you all,” he motioned to the students, “can run for it.”
They agreed, then Lily took off to circle and evade the zombie. Cory and Season made it to the axe booth without incident. He motioned for his students to run and they did. Then he grabbed an axe and hurled it at the zombie.
The axe fell about ten feet short of the zombie, who turned to look at Cory.
“You have to extend your arm!” called a woman’s voice from a nearby braiding booth. “Throw through it.”…
Cory’s sixth axe finally connected with the zombie’s head. It was the flat end of the axe, but it was improvement.
The zombie charged him.
Cory grabbed another axe and bolted. Season threw hers, but it didn’t connect. She ran, too. But she didn’t get far before she hit a root and fell down.
As the zombie reached her, Lily and the hair-braider began pelting it with throwing stars. Half of them stuck into his clothes and skin.
Even so, it ignored them and ran after the scrambling Season.
Before he reached her, a voice called out from down the road. “Killingsworth!”
And there was another swordsman. This one hand long blond hair and a wry smile. He saluted the zombie, went en guarde, and said, “Shall we?”…
Jason slipped into the crowd at the May Pole. It was off the main road, and big enough to accommodate people fleeing from the entrance and further in. He needed to rethink his plan. His original plan, scrap. If he was lucky, he’d escape with a few thralls. If not, this place might be the end of him. Maybe he could build a big enough army to get out. Angela thought she could turn some Boggards and Country Garden Dancers. He sent her off to try.
His Italians already had two dozen new vamps coming online from front gate. They’d make more, but they were running out of sunscreen. With enough chaos, he could hide until dark, except the weregoat had scared him. And there were two werewolves in red, too.
Had he gotten lucky with the first two yeomen or were the other two a fluke. The goat had a chain, he remembered that. He contacted his signorita and asked about the werewolves.
They were fancy, all in gold. Knights.
Maybe it was just the yeomen leadership? Just as he came up with the theory, he spotted another one in red coming toward the May Pole. He had a chain.
Jason didn’t waste any time. Vavasour, he sent, kill him….
Years later, Chris sat with some of his Colorado friends, drinking cold beers. One of them, the literary agent, had picked up a novel from a writer and was having a hard time pitching it to editors. The writer was young and phenomenal—had a few other pieces that might work in the future—but vampire-werewolf mashups weren’t selling. Hadn’t in years.
But this one was loosely based on actual events. The official story was that someone had drugged the water supply, but her writer said vampires and werewolves.
“Wait, at the Renaissance Faire? In California?” Chris asked.
She nodded and sipped her beer.
“That’s where John died. That’s the story.”
She looked puzzled.
Chris added, “You remember John, right? When I was in school?”…
[Rena Simon Galvez]
Cory and the three Faire ladies rounded a corner with two zombies right behind them. The only thing on the streets now were bodies and some of them were still moving. The moans of zombies and the living were hard to tell apart, so they didn’t stop. Not going to make that mistake any more. Up ahead, he saw the Yeoman from earlier in the day, the first ginger. He was chasing a girl around a gigantic stone well. It looked out of place, like he was playing a game of tag or something with her. He must’ve been turned him into a zombie. That sucked.
Liz handed him the end of a braided cord. “Let’s trip him.”
Cory didn’t like the idea of getting that close to another zombie, but this girl looked like she needed help. Although she was jibing outside his reach with the grace of trapeze artist. Still, he had to help.
They stretched the cord out and ran to either side of the yeoman. Liz went inside by the well, and Cory went outside. The rope caught at his knees, but the yeoman didn’t fall.
The cord stopped fast and both Liz and Cory tumbled to the ground.
When Cory looked up, the yeoman towered over him, his eyes burning red and fangs protruding from his mouth. He started to kneel.
Then something exploded out of the well, wet and green and womanly. She opened her mouth and emitted a long note, a musical blast that rang through Cory’s arms and legs and head and the ground and the trees and everything —the whole world vibrated in D minor.
The vampire reached for his ears, but couldn’t stop the woman. She pulled him into the well and what splashed out was thick and syrupy and red….
When Sara and her group turned the next corner, they saw a wall of people marching toward them. They were three or four deep, mostly patrons, and they’d commandeered all the shade umbrellas from Food Court. Vampires. Walking right toward them.
Sir James looked back and said, “I might need a little help.”
There were vampires behind them, too. Sara and Coxgoode stepped up with their wooden stakes. James and Tristan both fell to their haunches and turned into wolves again. They both howled. The numbers did not look good.
“Oh, are we doing this now?” said someone from the side of the road. It was the over-large brewmaster, who went by one name: Hammer. He finished a long mug of not-alcohol, then flexed his shoulders. His doublet tore itself off and the man became a nine-foot tall grizzly bear, complete with a curly mustache. He moseyed next to Werejames and Weretristan, and they charged the vampires….
There were more sirens backstage of the washing well. That’s what they called themselves: sirens. They had a human form, where they looked like normal women, and a swimming death musician form. In fact, Cory’s ears were still ringing. Rena had brought in Cory, Season, Lily, Liz, and Kaya—who was most reluctant at first, except they had dispatched a vampire and two zombies. She led them to a small tent with huddling patrons and costumed participants, then offered them iced tea and cookies.
A soft-hearted woman with white hair wrapped a bandage and Season’s ankle. She introduced herself as Bailey and asked, “Better?”
“Good, we’re going to need you better if we want to take out all these vampires.”…
Jason paced in the Italians’ backstage. His new batch of vampires were sending back more reports of werewolves. And a werebear. He’d lost track of the goat. He’d sent some zombies and thralls off to the joust, though, so soon enough he would have enough minions to overwhelm any resistance.
Vavasour pinged him. I followed the were-rat to the music stage. There’s something going on here. Sending Angela around back to check it out.
What is it, he sent back. No, just let me see.
He entered her mind and saw a patchwork of Boggards, Wives, and Sea Dogs singing on one of the stages. He couldn’t hear anything, but the crowd of patrons wore pasted-on smiles and looked nervously to the outside, where a small wall of zombies reached for them, stopped by some invisible barrier. A lone Sea Dog between the zombie and the crowd. He wore a red-and-white striped shirt and an expression of disinterred confidence. He sipped his not-beer and bobbed his head to the unheard music….
When he arrived, he could feel it in the music. Some kind of magic. Magic so old you had to spell it “olde magick.” The wall of sound prickled against his touch. He couldn’t pass. Nor Vavasour, nor the zombies.
The musicians smiled and kept playing Prickle Holly Bush. Some of them even waved at him and tipped their not-beers in his direction. He stood back, folded his arms, and looked over them. Was it the music? Was it the musicians? Was it all of them together or some in particular. There were Wives, Boggards, Sea Dogs, and a few loose others. Who was concentrating the most?
One of the Wives, playing a bass twice as big as she was, wasn’t making eye contact with anyone. Her brows furrowed together as she plucked out notes. Heavy notes that pressed outward. He could almost see them. It was her.
Kill her first, he told Angela….
Sara pressed and slammed the zombie across the head with the morning star. Bone cracked and blood fell across the ground as the creature, once a suburban mom, slumped on the ground. She buried the weapon into the woman’s head for good measure. She’d seen the movie and knew the rules. Number two: double tap.
There was no time to celebrate her kill because the teenage son of the zombie was already upon her. Mistress Chastity stunned it with a rock, though, and Sara gave its noggin the old one-two.
Sara wiped sweat—and blood—from her brow and returned to her project: rescuing the nobles on the swing. The three of them looked exhausted from kicking down their pursuers. One of them grabbed at the hoop skirt of one of the Queen’s maids of honor. As it tore the skirt off, the woman screamed, “Help, please!”
Chastity started toward her, but Sara saw something that would make it easier. She called out, “Just hold them off a little while.”
Sara tossed Chastity her Morningstar, then ran to the next booth over and tried to rationalize her decision. It would be easier without the skirt, and the woman’s striped socks were adorable. Then she grabbed the bow from the Archery booth and took a handful of arrows….
Cory marched through food court with a warhammer in his hand. Beside him was Liz, carrying a sharpened wooden staff. Lily and Season had teamed up next to them; Kaya was playing mop-up with an actual Samurai sword they’d picked up from a sword-shop. First they’d advance enough for the zombies to see them, then they’d brace for their attack. As soon as enough of them got close, one of the Washer Women would scream and the teams would go to work.
Cory bowled over the first stunned zombie, then held him down while Liz smashed his face in with the blunt end of her staff. He’d wipe off the blood, then they’d tackle another. Sometimes Kaya would help them by tripping a zombie or chopping off one of their legs. She’d become a dancing angel of death. He’d become some kind of wasteland warrior. Each zombie blended into the next. Knock down, smash, move on. Wait for the scream. Repeat.
He was a writer. How had this happened? What had he become?
He was about to rush another set of zombies when Liz stopped him. “No! They’re just people. They’re people.”
A woman in Faire garb stood before him, wielding a staff and shielding her son. There were more children behind her and a small army of Faire-goers with knives, swords, and sticks at the ready. Cory and his team had reached them. The path through Food Court, to Kid’s Kingdom, was clear. Except for the blood and corpses, but he’d done it. Wasteland warrior….
[Robert Lee Andruszko]
Jason sent two more vamps at the Sea Dog, who had either been one of the Yeoman’s officers or was separately a were dog. Either way, he’d take him down. The stage was disarray, the zombies were munching on the patrons, the musicians had bolted or turned. One of the Wives was actually incanting at him, and occasionally one of his zombies or vampires would burst into flame. A wall of Boggards kept her safe.
Focus on her, he told his minions. Vavasour, be creative.
He focused on one of the Boggards. He just needed to make eye contact.
Something tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around. He hadn’t heard anyone coming.
It was an Italian, holding up a cane, someone he’d known for years. Andruszko. Not one of his thralls.
Andruszko settled onto his cane and snarled with long, vampire fangs. “You should not have come here, neophyte.”…
[Elizabeth Tibbit Wentworth]
On the way to Food Court, a wall of pikemen emerged. They ambled, moaning, with their pikes in uneven tilts. Sara didn’t hesitate. She started plugging them with arrows. Werejames and Weretristan quickly came to the front of the pack, snarling and pawing at the ground. Werehammer roared and charged the pikemen. The rest of the group formed a defensive perimeter around the children, toddlers, and Baby Alex.
The arrows weren’t hurting them much. While these zombies defied normal rules for using tools, they fit into the destroy-the-brain; destroy-the-zombie mold. But Sara was good at putting out eyes.
It was a losing proposition. James and Tristan were tiring and most of the others had sore muscles, twisted ankles, and a few wounds that needed watching. She didn’t want to put anyone down.
Then another group came at them from their rear. Gentelmen Adventurers, all their swords at the ready. If they were zombies, the whole group was dead. But they shouted, “Protect the children!” Then they, too, charged the pikemen.
Tibbet, playing the daughter of a knight, ran for Sara and Allison. She asked, “Where are you headed?”
They answered in unison. “The Well.”…
When Celt camp came in with their pikes, it looked like the tide might turn for Sara and her friends. It felt like a medieval battle now, with spears crashing into shields, metal ringing against metal, men screaming in triumph and pain, blood painting the ground like rain, and only lonely bag piper playing a score of death for them all.
Sara and her group kept sidling toward Foot Court. It looked like someone had already cleared the zombies there. She dropped another arrow into military and looked for a clear path. The people of Saint Cuthies were waving them in.
Young Benjamin broke loose of his mother’s arms. He started running toward the battle, for his father. One of the zombie Company of Shot took aim.
Then a woman Sara had never met before, some caretaker at Saint Ives dressed in blue, scurried out of their crowd and ran for Benjamin.
The shot went off and Sara froze. The world went quiet.
The woman fell lifeless in front of Benjamin….
Full-blown war was breaking out in the Food Court. Cory had never seen anything like it. There were two small armies clashing at the top and another group pushing toward them. Between the two, there were two freaking werewolves. Because of course there were werewolves. What was next, a unicorn?
The Faire people who worked at Kid’s Kingdom were shouting and waving in the third group. It was mostly women and some children.
Cory sighed. He hadn’t seen the students he actually was responsible for, but there were kids coming toward him. He grabbed Lily and ran out. One of the Washer Women went with them and a white-haired man from Kid’s Kingdom. He wore a red and black, circular hoop around his waist, with a horse head jutting out from it. Not a unicorn, but close enough.
Cory reminded himself he was a warrior now, and they all rushed in….
Sara rushed to Benjamin. He was screaming and sobbing and there were more Military zombies breaking off toward them now. She put an arrow into one of their eyes, but it kept coming. Not working. Instead, she picked him up to start back to the group.
More reinforcements were coming from Kid’s Kingdom. She had Benjamin and Allison was safe with Baby Alex and Tibbet. Once again, things were looking up. Sara gritted her teeth and waited for the next disaster. It happened before she finished gritting her teeth.
One of the nobles she’d saved minutes ago, Terry, had latched onto the neck of one of Mistress Chastity. Another one had someone else from Ives pinned on the ground, and bared fangs at everyone else.
Everyone screamed. Everyone scattered.
Sara fumbled for a wooden stake in her belt, but Benjamin had kicked it out or misplaced it. The vampiress’ eyes started glowing red.
Then a woman dressed as a zebra stepped out from behind a tree that wasn’t wide enough to hide her—she wasn’t there a second ago. She reached for Sara’s hand and said, “Come with me.”…
Cory caught his breath, then pulled his stake out from the vampire. Her top had been beautiful before he’d put a hole in it and she’d bled all over everything. Vampires blood didn’t trickle. It came out like a burst sewage line. He wiped the goopy stuff from his forehead and took stock. Most of the group that had come running for Kid’s Kingdom had stopped running and regrouped. The vampires were gone, but now the zombies were back. Old sword man was leading the pack, along with the blonde haired man who’d fought him earlier—though he was missing a right arm.
Cory grabbed his hammer from the ground beside him and started to pull himself up. Someone helped him up.
“Stay with the kids. These are ours. We’ll take them out.” The man wasn’t tall, but had a noble presence. Blue wool, feathered cap, fierce determination in his eyes. “Godspeed.”
Then the man and a few of his fellows through off their hats, pointed their swords at the zombies, and stood their ground….
Cory slumped to his knees when he reached Kid’s Kingdom again. Most of the group he’d gone to save was here, safe. He wasn’t hurt, but he could feel the adrenaline coursing through his body. Soon, everything started shaking. Someone came and wrapped a blanket around him. He didn’t see who. He could hear fighting in the distance, but this felt safe. There were Washer Women around him, and some of them were still green.
One of them, the redhead who had returned to a more human appearance, hugged someone nearby and asked, “Where’s Benjamin?”
The response, from one of the women he’d just saved, was, “Sara has him.”
“Who’s Sara?” asked the redhead.
“She’s right over—” the voice cut off. After a moment, it continued in worried tone, “Where’s Sara?”
Cory stood up and grabbed his hammer. He had at least two more people to save. The redhead and the new woman were green again and he didn’t need to ask to know they were going with him. More likely, he was going with them….
[Collin Christopher Spencer]
Jason threw another wave of zombies at the vampire—just to buy a few more seconds. Andruszko could un-animate a zombie with a wave of his hand. But Jason just needed another one of the wizards on his side. He leapt across the stage and pinned one of the Wives. He sent Carol the message to start playing her bass again, but she shrugged, bit another Boggard in the neck, and sent back that it was smashed.
Plan K was out the window, but this Wife was a spellcaster, too and he was on Plan L anyway. He sank his teeth into her neck. She’d take a few minutes to turn. He pulled out his sunscreen while the Boggard Carol had dined on withered in the sun, then burst into flame. Stupid. Sunscreen was a cardinal rule at Faire.
Andruszko had taken out the zombies, and Jason was almost out of options. He sent Carol and Angela to delay him until he could get the other Wife up.
Andruszko tapped his cane into the ground and Angela stopped cold. Carol began reaching for her own neck. What was Plan M?
Hey boss, sent one of his thralls. It was a bearded Italian dressed in blue silk, standing an arm’s throw behind Andruszko. I found some garlic backstage. Need it?
Walking through Fairyland was like walking through a dream. The regular world existed in washed out grays, the people walking and running by like ghosts. Sounds came through as echoes and the only things Sara could smell were the plants—they smelled a thousand times stronger. She could taste the pine needles on distant trees and the lillies from the nearby lake. And the people in Fairyland shone as bright as the sun. Zebra was hard to look out, her black and white stripes glared so much against the washed out normal world.
There were two others at the top of food court, glaring in bright red and bright green. Zebra pulled them one way, but Sara wanted to know who they were. It would only be a moment.
As they got closer, could see who it was. Benjamin even recognized one of them, and called out, “Westwood!”
Westwood smiled and held up his hands. “Careful. I’m a vampire now.”
The woman with him, much smaller than he, was the umbrella girl who sometimes came dressed as Poison Ivy. She looked even more like Snow White here: pale face, dark hair, and red, red lips. She tilted her head and smiled at Benjamin.
Sara reached for the wooden stake that was still not tucked into her belt, but Westwood just waved his hands. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just wanted you to know. He can’t control me when I’m in here.”…
Cory helped up a woman covered, like the rest of them, in blood. She had a wreath of flowers around her hair and a battered wooden stake. Cory asked, “Have you seen a little boy and a blonde girl. In blue.”
The two sirens turned to her with interest.
“Yes,” said Cory. “Benjamin. Did you see him?”
“Zebra took them into Fairyland, I think.”
She wasn’t kidding. Fairyland. Okay. Cory could roll with that. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, sirens. Fairies were okay, too. At least zebras were real. “How do we get into Fairyland?”
Melissa growled, “The Well. We can get in at the Well.”
Allison was already running….
Jason and his lieutenants gathered behind the stage. He had a handful of Italians left, Vavasour, Angela, Carol, and the other Wife, Clara.
Pierce and Westwood were long gone. The battle for Food Court was lost, but they’d taken down one of the were-beasts. Escaping was his only concern. If he could out Vavasour, Clara, and some of his other thralls, it could still be a success.
There would be survivors, of course, and surely some sort of rescue operation was already in the works. They must have overwhelmed the 9-1-1 switchboard. The best he could figure it, there two options: wait for darkness, then slip away or get out with the survivors.
One of his smarter Italians shook his head. “I don’t think so, boss. There are beings here, powerful beings; they won’t let you leave.”
How can we get past them? Jason asked the spectacled man.
“You either have to make some kind of a deal with them or,” the man shrugged, held out his hands, and winced the way only an Italian can, “you’re going to have to kill them.”…
While Vavasour and Angela took the zombies to assault Kid’s Kingdom, the other vampires began the true assault. Jason watched through their eyes. There were a handful of humans hiding in the costume trailer. First, they were put to sleep. Then sunscreened. Then turned. All as quiet as possible. They had to believe the real attack was the children.
That’s when Tom spotted the white rat. And Jason realized that for all the Yeomen he’d seen earlier in the day, there hadn’t been many around since the fighting started. Westwood, Pierce, one weregoat, one wererat, and two werewolves. The presence of the rat confirmed two things. First, he had selected the right target. For the second point, he sent the message directly to his thralls: they know you’re coming.
They went in a different way and found one of the yeomen guarding a passthrough onto the main road. He was tall, and held a quarterstaff with two sharpened ends. It shook in his arms.
He was speaking, but Jason couldn’t hear through the connection. What is he saying?
He says we cannot win, Tom sent back.
We’ll see about that, sent Jason. Then his thralls descended on the poor yeomen….
Misdirection was Jason’s specialty. As soon as the yeomen attacked the vampire pack, he sent in the Contessa. She was nimble, she was quiet, and she knew her way around a rapier. Also, Carol made her invisible, so there really was no spotting her. One of the were-yeomen, still in human-form, turned his nose a few times at her, but he’d run off as soon as Tom’s group engaged.
Now she had a clear path with only one yeoman left behind to stand guard on the door, and she had him by the throat before he noticed her. If he was wearing sunscreen, Jason would have another thrall. If not, one more body wouldn’t make a difference.
The contessa reached for the door and sent, She is mine, my liege.
Then something hit Jason in the chest and the whole world turned gray….
“Think thee that only mortals guard this place?” said a disembodied voice in the void.
Jason recognized the voice from somewhere, but couldn’t place it. He could barely place himself. He was in the same place as before, but everything but him had lost all color. He could not feel his thralls. Not true. There was one thrall here—Westwood—but the others were gone.
No. He was gone. This was a different world, some magical place that overlapped the real world. Now, who belonged to the voice?
What’s going on, Westwood?
You’re in Fairyland, master, came the reply. I’m with some good people. Should I turn them?
Yes, Jason sent, just as something slammed him in the chest again.
He was in the real world again. An old friend stood in a tree a few yards away. He wore brown-and-white faire clothes, and had a brooding look that went well with his forehead and beard. “This place most sacred be. Defiléd now.”
Jason shrugged, “I just wanted to take over the world, Dan. Is that so bad?”
His friend shook his head. “That name is not a fit for thy fork’d tongue.”
Another shake of the head.
His friend blurred, and slammed into Jason again. This time he didn’t let go, but held him by the neck in the waste-gray world.
“An thou wilt face me true, my name is Puck.”…
When Jason snapped back to the real word again, it wasn’t with a thump in the chest. Something had pulled him out.
He was in a circle of of iron flakes backstage. Clara stood over him, and finished her incantation. “This is what happens when you mess with the Fae.”
Jason fumed. How is the plan?
“We have her. The Contessa has an iron dagger to her throat, so we might not have to deal with Puck directly. I’m sure he’s working on something, though, so your plan better work.”
It was plan what? O? He needed to get out, and get out quickly. He called into the air, “Puck! If you want your queen alive, meet me at Court Glade. Come alone.”
Clara said, “Is that where we’re going?”
He didn’t have time to respond. He was being sprinkled with water, and it burned. Holy water.
A red-headed Wife stood before them. She tossed handfuls of water from a wooden bowl. “Really, Clara, you’re a vampire now? I thought you wanted to be a mermaid.”…
Cecilia opened the plain brown paper. The package had no sender listed. Inside was a trade paperback, one of those fancy prints in between hardback and paperback. Renaissance Terror, by Cory Ras-something or other. She’d never heard of him. Some white paper stuck out from inside the book. She was hoping it was a note or a receipt or a packing slip. It was two pieces of paper. The first was a print-out from the web version of the Los Angeles Times from two years: Hundreds Slain at Renaissance Faire. The article continued, but the second page was something else entirely. Another print-out from the internet, with a banner taking up a third of the page: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was a calendar on the side, and February 29th was circled.
That was it. No other explanation.
She’d lost a friend at that Faire. And they never did figure out what caused it. Drugs in the water was the best they’d ever figured.
She had been planning to attend the festival anyways, and would be there on February 29th. Maybe the sender would be there and they could share some stories about John….
He saw his students huddled with some other patrons in a corner of Court Glade. Three bloodied yeomen stood with them, swords and staves at the ready. Cory looked back to the women he was rushing with. They needed him right now—to save a boy—and his students looked safe. For the moment. As safe as they could be in this hellhole. They’d be safer at Kid’s Kingdom. He told the women, “I’m coming with you, but I need a second to talk to my students.”
The redhead told him, “You know where the Well is. We’ll wait a few minutes for you.”
Cory rushed in the Glade. An older woman in magnificent black noble dress spied him. She sat regally in a plan chair at the foot of the empty Queen’s dais.
He walked to her. It wasn’t a thought. It wasn’t a question. She hadn’t beckoned him and it hadn’t occurred to him that he should do anything else. His students would be fine for a moment.
When he reached her, he asked, “Who are you?”
She didn’t given an answer, but a cohesive thought came into Cory’s mind. It was many images and ideas—all the things she was and wasn’t, a series of connections that made it perfectly clear that she was not the Faire and didn’t represent the Faire—because no one thing or person could—but for the now and in this moment, she was its embodiment and she wanted him to stay….
After Sara put another arrow into Westwood’s chest, he stopped for a moment, looked down, and shrug-frowned. He patted his chest and said, “That was a good shot, but my heart is over here.”
Sara picked up screaming Benjamin and ran back a few more paces. Then she settled with the bow and aimed again.
Poison Ivy was in full retreat as well, running along side them, but she’ didn’t have a bow. She called the trees the grow and sent branches to grab at Westwood’s arms and legs. Zebra would bump him and retreat, circle around, and bump him again. None of it mattered. Westwood was stronger, faster, and—however nice and reluctant he was about it—determined to do them in.
He almost reached Sara when she loosed another arrow. Right in the belly. No good for vampires. She scooped Benjamin up again and ran. They were almost to Ivy’s tree.
Westwood trumped through another branch and reached for Sara, but Zebra knocked him good in his side.
Ivy got to the tree first. She reached for Sara, touched her, and they were back in the real world. The colorful world. The world with dozens of vampires marching through Food Court, and one Italian Sara knew but not really right in front of them. He snarled, grabbed her arm, and bared his fangs….
Sara put an arrow into the Barone’s arm. It didn’t pierce the velvet, let alone the skin. And his heart, while often metaphorically on his sleeve, was actually in his chest, so not even close. She tried again, but the Barone wrenched her to the ground. She barely held on to the arrow. Benjamin fell to the ground and started wailing.
Not crying wailing. He’d been doing that so much Sara had tuned it out. This was more yelling wailing. Or maybe howling?
The Barone was upon her, had her pinned, was going for her neck. She tried to put the arrow at his chest, but he had her wrist. He squeezed the tendon so hard she lost all control of her hand.
Benjamin’s howling had changed to growling and a small, blond wolf stood in his place. Vampire Barone looked at it curiously and a goat came out of nowhere and knocked him off Sara.
In seconds, the Barone was downed by three yeomen, staked, and turned to ash. Yeoman Gibbs lifted Sara to her feet while Werewillowpond bucked and brayed at the other vampires. Werebenjamin growled and howled behind him. Gibbs said, “We’ve got to get to Court. They’ve taken the Queen.”…
Jason led his entourage backstage to Court. His entourage consisted of Clara. Things were not going well. But he still had plenty of thralls—and five or six that would be perfect for taking over the world—and he had his way out. He sent to Vavasour, Tom, and the Contessa, What is your status?
We’re coming in, boss, sent Tom.
The Contessa sent, The Queen is cooperative, for the time-being. She will be in Court Glade shortly after you arrive.
Vavasour sent, We’re leaving Kid’s Kingdom now. There’s some yeomen and were-beasts on their way, too.
Contessa, Tom, there are yeomen and were-beasts heading after the Queen. Keep her safe.
Then he and Clara stepped into the Court backstage. There were small pop-up tents and a kitchen, but only one person. A costumed woman in a floppy hat stood ready to greet them. She held an actual magic wand in one hand and chastised, “You cannot win.”
The Queen walked into Court Glade with an escort of four yeomen and four Italians, all vampires by the look of them. A woman in silk led the Queen by the hand. She was clearly a captive, but it didn’t show in her bearing. This woman walked with her head high, and clearly owned the world. She walked down the center of the row of benches, where her chair waited.
A man in peasants sat on her chair.
“You are sitting in my chair,” she said without any hint of malice.
“That’s exactly the deal, I think. Your chair and your life for mine.” The man smiled and hopped to his feet. He shouted to the sky, “You hear that, Puck! If you want your Queen to live, I get free passage out. Me and any of my thrall. We leave and the killing stops. Say, ‘No,’ and the Queen is the first to go.”…
Abbie saw Cory at the No-host Mixer and decided she couldn’t wait. She pulled out his book from her bag, waited while he finished his conversation with Wes and Michael Steven Gregory—the guys who put on the conference. Wes was the kind of guy that only went by one name. Michael Steven Gregory needed all three to contain his…exuberance. After a moment, Cory looked at her and asked, “Do I know you?”
“I was in your critique group in Long Beach. I was hoping you’d sign your book for me.”
Cory’s face lit up as he took STORMFRONT from her. “Of course, um…”
“Abbie. Abbie Normal.”
“Cute.” He scribbled something in the book. She’d read it later.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“STORMFRONT is so much different from your first book. Why the change?”
Cory’s face went white. He closed his eyes. His hands shook a moment, then he went back to smiling. “I owed that book to John. For what he did.”…
Sara climbed out of the Well first, followed by Willowpond, Benjamin, Zebra, Poison Ivy, and Yeoman Gibbs. Allison quickly scooped Benjamin up and held him a tight embrace. He nuzzled her neck. Allison was also green and scaly, but Sara had seen too much today to be startled by anything.
She shook off some of the water, then told the assembled Water Women and Ploughboys, “The vampires are taking the Queen to Court Glade to make some kind of deal. Puck needs us all there, right away. He says, ‘If death shall come, to its end will it go.’”
Peach Bottom strode out of the crowd and leaned on his hoe. He scratched his ear, then stretched his back until it popped. He looked skyward and said, “I’ll go, but I’m going for the Queen. And we’re square after this, Puck, got it?”
A breeze ruffled the water in the well.
Some of the women stretched their necks. Allison wrapped Wolf Pup Alexander in her sling, and Werebenjamin climbed up her back. A gruff-looked Ploughboy hit a chime, then all the women started humming in tune. Peach Bottom cracked his knuckles, Willowpond brayed, and Yeoman Gibbs asked, “Do you know what I heard about being a vampire?”
Peach Bottom looked at him firmly. “What?”
Gibbs said, “It sucks.”…
[Alyce Jean Rose Grimm]
Cory watched another man die as the yeoman stormed the dais. Another yeoman speared him without a second thought and had to wrench his pole arm from the collapsing body. It had been a strategic death, Cory could see, because the next not-vampire yeoman reached the Queen. A sword went through his stomach, but he fell on his attacker, and the third not-vampire yeoman was able to put himself between the vampires and the Queen. His head was quickly lopped off, but the Queen was retrieved by the next two yeomen.
Cory could swear the Queen was looking at him the whole time. It wasn’t his brightest moment, but he’d been the hero half the day. He’d been trying to reach his students. They weren’t being guarded right now, but they had hidden themselves safely in the corner.
But the Queen looked at him directly again, calm as day even while the washer women shrieked some zombies so bad their head exploded and the merry wife with the Becky Crocker smile sent a lightning bolt into a crowd of adventurers. The Queen made eye contact, dipped her head, then looked hard right without turning her head.
She had pointed him to the peasant on the throne.
The man at the top was busy making some kind of magic. It was hard to tell. But everyone he focused on started fighting off imaginary creatures until some real creature killed it. Or he’d point at someone who’d just been killed and they’d pop back up and start going for someone’s brains. Definitely the leader.
Cory took a breath. He didn’t want to be the hero again. He gritted his teeth and ran for another tree to get a little closer to his students.
A goat charged three zombies near his path, then turned away at the last second, which left them staring right at him. Cory froze. The zombies moved on toward a building further away, where a woman in blue would pop up from under a counter and throw flaming bottles of not-alcohol at more zombies.
They hadn’t seen him. Nobody had tried to kill him this whole battle. Was it the Woman Who Was But Wasn’t Faire? Had she made him invisible or something? He looked back to the Queen, now down to two bodyguards and a giant gray wolf.
The Queen looked him over again, dipped her head again, then gestured to the peasant on the dais. This time it was clear: he was invisible so he could kill that particular vampire.
Cory took a deep breath, drew out a sharpened stake, and charged the dais.
* * *
Jason didn’t think he could take on all of Faire, but he was doing it. Every living soul he took out came back a few seconds later. His Italians were pressing the washer women and ploughboys back. Clara was doing great things with exploding people’s internal organs. Puck would make a move soon, but Jason had an iron dagger waiting for that eventuality. And the Faire, it seemed, had picked a champion.
A young man, covered in blood, jogged toward him with a wooden stake. Jason had run into him in the morning and thought nothing of him. Not literally nothing—he’d sized him up and decided “nothing” was there. There was no way he’d misjudged him. Still, none of his zombies reacted to him and none of his vampires seemed alarmed. He sent to Clara, keep me safe, then he pretended he couldn’t see the man until he’d reached the dais.
* * *
Sara saw the man run for the vampire on the dais. She couldn’t believe anyone would just run up the center row like that in the middle of all that death. But he’d passed vampires and zombies without any trouble. That couldn’t be luck, but by all rights it looked stupid as hell.
She called out to the girls in the Inn, “Who’s in there?”
“It’s Alyce,” came the response.
Sara grabbed her bow and climbed onto a table that had been wedged into a corner—normally until lunch time, but that schedule was long gone. She had all of three arrows left, but they were worthless against zombies. Might as well plug the leader. She nocked an arrow just as the leader pounced on to the incredibly stupid participant.
* * *
Cory’s stake had been jarred loose and his back slammed into the steps of the dais. The vampire was stronger than he imagined. He’d staked others today, but this one had him pinned before he could blink. He gritted and tried to move his arm toward the stake. It wouldn’t budge under the man’s weight. The best he could do was wiggle his feet.
The man stared at him with blood red eyes, then looked skyward. With blood dripping from his teeth, he asked, “Was this your plan, Puck?”
Puck? Cory reached for the stake again. The vampire had him right at the elbow. There was no moving. His death was all but assured.
* * *
Jason went for the man’s throat. He almost reached it, almost sunk his teeth into the tasty red nectar.
Instead, two hundred pounds of gray wolf hit him. Actually a hundred and ninety, as the wolf had been riding his exercise bike a lot, but it was enough to knock Jason’s head back. The wolf pressed his hind legs into the dais and snapped at Jason’s face.
Jason raked his nails against the wolf’s face, then the wolf jumped and bit into Jason’s neck.
The force of it almost knocked Jason off his victim, and the burning pain at his neck almost stole at his nerves. Not enough, though. He was a vampire and he hundreds of thralls now. He’d grown more powerful with every one.
Jason dug both hands into the wolf’s belly and lifted the beast up even as it chomped at his neck. He pushed the pain and hefted the wolf as high as he could.
Protect me, he sent to Clara.
She answered with two words, “Lightning bolt!”
* * *
Sara let her first arrow go in surprise more than anything else. It sailed well clear and struck the plywood wall behind the dais. The sharpened wooden haft thunked against the wood and fell to the ground. Two arrows left.
Werejames had torn through vampires and zombies all morning. He’d been able to down most of them in a single bound. Sometimes two.
This vampire had lifted him into the air like he was a paperweight. Then Clara—Clara!—had sent the bolt straight through John. He’d gone limp instantly and there was a hole in his chest. That had done it. She’d let the arrow fly because her brain had leapt to the conclusion that they were all dead now.
She swallowed down her despair and brought another arrow to the bow. Time for anger management.
* * *
The wolf that had saved Cory slumped over the side of the dais, but he’d managed to occupy the vampire. Cory couldn’t move his legs because the vampire’s weight was still on him. He couldn’t reach his stake, it was just too far. What did he have on him in the second or two before the vampire re-pinned his arms?
He had a potato from the yeomen’s woo earlier. And an onion. And a carrot—that one was weird—and a bulb of garlic. Vampire’s didn’t like garlic.
He reached into his pocket for the garlic when the vampire turned his attention back to him. Not enough time.
Then, screaming. It shook the dais, the vampire, and the whole of court glade. Cory felt the musical note course through the ground and all of him. Every wave and vibration went to the vampire, who lifted his hands to his ears.
Cory pulled the garlic out and jammed it in the vampire’s mouth.
* * *
Allison was still screaming and the world shifted in 6/4 time. Every vampire, zombie, were creature, siren, and ploughboy slowed to a crawl. Every vampire, that is, but one. The lead vampire scrambled backward off the stupid patron and grabbed for his throat.
Every human had dropped to their knees. Every human but one. Sara was already on one knee and she already had her bow nocked with a wooden arrow. The cascading D minor gave her a moment to pull back, to point the arrow a hair below the vampire’s neck—to get the right droppage—and take a breath. She exhaled and released the arrow.
She did not miss this vampire’s heart.
The wooden shaft drove straight through. He even had time to look down at it and say a curse word before he burst into flame and disintegrated….
[Christine Bartley Williams]
Dottie arrived at Allison’s new place after the sun had gone down. She parked behind a suburban in the gravel driveway and followed the music to the back of the secluded house. Technically estate, but it wasn’t a big house. Don’t get the wrong idea.
The pool on the backside of the house danced in blue moonlight and yellow fire light. Most of the girls drifted in the water, sharing stories of the good old days. Dottie had heard them before, but she never grew tired of them. Dottie gave a round of hugs and slipped into the water, then started added her take to the stories she was party to. It was kind of like old times. Instead of a well, they had a pool beside a nice fire pit.
In the two years since the Faire had closed, the washer women had only gotten together a few times. Everyone had scattered. Most had gotten money from Jason’s sire—given, he said, without apology—and some hadn’t. Allison was offered money, but hadn’t taken it. Nobody knew how she had afforded ten acres in southern Oregon, but nobody really knew how much property went for out here. It was a point of contention, but Allison merely sat by the fire with her two boys. She occasionally stood up to play hostess.
Of course the Faire had closed. No Renaissance Faire in the country can withstand more than two or three lawsuits. Most can’t withstand one. At the end of the carnage, when the lawyers got involved, the corporation that owned the Faire was completely bankrupt. The patrons who were there that day, or their surviving kin, were refunded their ticket price. That’s it.
Lives had been lost. Families had been broken. Those who became zombies had been put down as quickly as possible—though it was rumored the government found and kept a few for experimentation. Those who had become vampires had a more difficult time. Some couldn’t handle what they had become. Or what they had done. Late night therapy became hugely profitable in Southern California. Some adapted and took night jobs. Some prospered. Vavasour created a start-up whose open motto was “World Domination.” It’s doing well.
Puck moved on, of course, with the heart of Faire intact. He’s looking for a new home for it. That’s actually why the Washer Women came tonight. “Dan Will” had a part in Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in a few days. He was playing Bottom. Peach Bottom got the role of Puck, oddly enough. Life is weird like that.
As for what happened at the Faire, they still hadn’t ruled out terrorism or some sort of brain virus. The people who were there knew better. But the vampire sire had bought their silence. It was payment for services, not damages. Everyone needed the money. There was also a promise, to every surviving participant—whether they took the money or not—that a vampire would show up some night to silence them for good if they ever spoke of the incident.
But that rule didn’t apply to patrons. Who would believe them? Cory’s book told the whole story. Whenever a surviving participant was asked about it, they smiled and said, “No,” and refused further comment.
Nobody had pieced together that the book didn’t match his style at all. And that Allison had a bigger house than she could afford. And nobody remembered that you can’t kill a werewolf with lightning; it takes silver. But the washer women weren’t about to tell, and nobody was going to complain about the gray-haired wolf lounging next to the pool. He was cuddly and he made Allison happy.