Matt brushed the rain from his hair as he got under the cover of the porch. "Well, Cara, at least the rain waited until after the party. It would have been sad to disappoint all the little ones."
Illya didn't look any happier for that news, though, especially when Chiquitita raced up and shook mightily, sending a spray of water everywhere. "Thanks a lot, dog. It could have waited just a half hour more so that we didn't have to clean up in it." Illya was drenched to the skin. "Come in and let's get warm by the fire."
"You leave a fire going, Chef?" Rocky stomped his feet to try and rid them and his pants of water.
"Nope, I had Napoleon come over and start one just as the party was winding down. I didn't want him to get anymore chilled." Illya led the way into the small house he shared with Napoleon. "Speak of the devil."
Napoleon waved from the couch where he'd been reading. On the coffee table before him were four big mugs of steaming liquid and trays of hors d'oeuvres that they'd sent back from the party. Chiquitita raced up to him wagging her tail so hard it practically knocked here from her feet.
Moutard, and Buerre Noir looked less than happy to see the dog and Buerre Noir growled softly, just to remind the dog whose house it was.
"Buerre Moir, be nice to our guests," Napoleon murmured. "Hey, Chiquitita, how are you, pup?"
She dropped to the ground and rolled over on her back, exposing her tummy to him.
"What is this magic you have with women, Napoleon?" lllya pulled off his soaked shoes and socks.
"Trick or treat." Rocky said, peeling off his jacket as Napoleon got up to take it. Chiquitita ran to the fireplace, turned around three times and plopped down.
"She's got sense, unlike some men I know. "When it started coming down, I went ahead and put out robes for you two in the guest bedroom. Get out of those wet things and I'll put them in the dryer."
"Thanks, Mr. S," Rocky sounded genuinely appreciative.
Within a few minutes, he and Matt, now wearing fluffy white robes, were sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, sipping their hot chocolate spiked with cherry chocolate brandy, as they leaned against the side of an armchair. Chiquitita sprawled out in front of them, seemingly dead to the world.
The cats had grudgingly acknowledged their house guests and curled up in one of the many blankets tossed over the furniture in the small living room.
Illya had changed into a pair of jogging pants and a tee shirt and was happily nestled in Napoleon's arms, a slight smile on his face as they stretched out on the couch.
"Talk about heaven on earth," he murmured and sighed, his eyes closed.
"Home, sweet home." Napoleon tightened his embrace. Just then there was a sharp crack and all the lights in the room went out. "And that makes three times this weekend. Jackson really needs to do something about its power grid. You two can sit in chairs, you know."
"From your lips to God's ear." Matt sipped his drink. "I am happy here, close to the fire. Perhaps when I warm."
"Rocky, there are some candles on the mantle if you two are afraid of the dark." Illya finished his mug of hot chocolate and was considering one of the trays. "You did a very nice job on the strawberry ghosts, Matthew."
"Thank you, Cara. You just need a steady hand and some patience. I could never have carved all those piccolo faces in the peppers. Your knife skills surpass mine."
"The parents really seemed to enjoy those stuffed peppers, Boss. The sausage meatball mummies were great, too," Rocky said as he picked up one of the meatball treats.
"That venison makes great sausage." Illya helped himself to a deviled egg with an olive cut to resemble a spider. "What about you, Napoleon? What was your favorite?"
"I liked the cheese stuffed pretzel balls and the won ton bat bites." Napoleon refilled his glass of wine and offered the bottle. "This will go better with the food than the hot chocolate."
"That Halloween party had to be the best one we've ever had, certainly the best attended." Matt sampled the wine and nodded. "New winery?"
"New, but the word is getting around. Their sparkling wine is some of the best I've tasted outside of France." Napoleon raised his glass. "To present friends and absent enemies."
For a few minutes, conversation lagged as they ate and listened to the storm raging outside.
"You know what we need now?" Rocky said, polishing off the last of the caramel apple grapes. "Ghost stories."
"Oh, I don't know. The last time, I didn't sleep very well." Matt frowned at the suggestion. "I have too much immaginazione."
"You, Matt? I don't believe it." Napoleon laughed. "I thought you chefs exhausted all your imagination on your dishes."
"Oh, trust me, Mr. S. He knows the best stories."
"Really? Illya sat up. "I'm game if everyone else is."
"Go on, Matt. Tell them aboutPoveglia."
"What is that?" Napoleon topped off everyone's wine glass and waited for Illya to toss another log onto the fire. Matt stared out the window and sighed.
"It's a small island just off the bay by Venice. It is a beautiful island, green and with un perfecto view of the bay, but you will not find anyone willing to take a tourist there, not for any amount of money. The city has proclaimed it… what is the word… proibito?"
"Forbidden?" Illya suggested.
"Yes, that is it, forbidden."
"Why is that, Matt?" Napoleon grunted as Illya settled back against him with a plop. "You putting on weight, Kuryakin?"
"You would know, but you're interupting Matt. I want to hear why no one will go to the island."
"In the old days, it was where the plague victims were taken. Dead and the vicino alla morte would be tossed into pits and buried on the island. For a long time, it stood abandoned and then a doctor decided to build a hospital there. He offered the best care that anyone could ever hope for. Soon, there was a long waiting list of patients waiting for a bed, hoping for the miracle cure this doctor was supposed to be capable of."
"I'm sensing a big but."
"The patients, they never returned to their families. Upon their recovery, they would go away and then would not want to leave. At first there would be letters and then nothing. After a while, even the letters stopped. Then nothing was heard for a long time. Finally some brave souls ventured out to the island."
"All dead?" Illya asked as Moutard settled down onto his lap.
"Si, many from the good doctor's hand. He had performed horrible things on them and they could not leave. How they suffered, many were chained to their beds and appeared to have starved to death. Some even attempted to eat themselves in an attempt to escape. But they could not find the doctor. They searched all the rooms and then they heard the bell in the bell tower ringing. When they arrived, they found the doctor hung from the bell's…"
"Clapper?" Illya suggested.
"Yes, yes, that is it."
"So he killed himself?
"They were never sure as his arms and legs were bound and he had been devastato."
"As if by wild animals."
"That actually sounds like something someone would make up to keep others away from the place."
"The government let some of those people who talk to the dead ones..."
"Psychics," Rocky explained
"... visit and they were driven mad. Now the island is forbidden to everyone. Not even animals live there. Even to see the island is said to cause madness."
"Guess that's one place to cross off my list. Illya, do you want to grab another bottle of wine?"
Illya lifted Moutard off and reluctantly climbed from his spot. He was back in no time, two bottles in his hands.
"Not scared are you, Cara?" Matt teased as he leaned forward to pet Chaquitita.
"Certainly not, but I do resent having to leave my nice warm nest for the chilly confines of the kitchen. Looks like all of Jackson is out. At least it's cold enough to keep the freezers until morning."
"What happens then?" Napoleon asked. "Maybe you should think about backup generators?"
"That's an idea. As for the other, I will worry about that in the morning." Illya passed to bottles to Napoleon and tended the fire. "What about you, Napoleon?" You come from the land of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman."
"Well, there is the story about Black Aggie."
"Who is Black Aggie?" Rocky offered his glass for a refill.
"Not a who, a what. It was a statue that was erected over the Agnus family crypt. It was a figure covered with a shroud, caught in a moment of intense anguish. It was frightening in the day, but at night, it almost seemed alive." Napoleon laughed, shaking his head. "It wasn't long, of course, that the stories started circulating. If the shadow of the statue touched a pregnant woman, her child would die. If a person happened to be there at midnight and locked gazes with it, they would go blind. It got to the point of where it became a tourist attraction. The cemetary took to locking the front gates to keep people out."
"Not that it did, of course," Illya murmured.
"You know human nature, too well, Amante," Napoleon said. "And it was about that time that the local fraternity decided that they would make The Statue of Grief, or Black Aggie as it was commonly referred to part of their initiation rites. The candidates would have to spend the night on the ground with their back to the statue."
"I will never understand fraternities," Rocky said, a disgusted look on his face.
"I agree with you." Napoleon paused to take a sip of wine. The house moaned and cracked as the wind hit it. "I'm glad our insurance is paid up to date. It sounds like that wind is going to take some branches down. Anyhow, as I was saying, Black Aggie was popular with the fraternity boys and one night, two members took an initiate out to spend his night with the statue. There was something very odd that night, almost an air of forboding."
"Boo ha ha. " Illya suddenly said, making Matt jump. The redhead scowled at Illya and resettled himself against Rocky.
"The young man took his place and the other two were suddenly shocked to see what looked like grey shadows clustering around him. Unnerved, they started forward and then were stopped by the gleaming red eyes of the statue as it swept foward and grabbed the unfortunate young man. He screamed and the two took off like bats out of hell."
"The statue, it killed him?" Matt's voice was a little shaky.
"That's what the cops wanted to find out. They headed back out with the frat boys to check it out and they found the young man dead of an apparent heart attack. He was only twenty. The Agnus family was so upset by the incident that they had the statue removed and donated it to the Smithsonian where it currently sits in storage. For one reason or another, the museum has chosen to never uncrate and display it."
There was a sharp crack and both Matt and Rocky jumped. Illya fought his way to his feet and opened the front door. "Looks like the storm was too much for the old oak across the road. It's come down. Brr." Illya hurried closed the door. "It feels like death warmed over out there."
He headed back to the fire and knelt in front of the grate, paused there to warm his hands. Chiquitita stretched, got up turned around and laid back down. "It's a dog's life," he said as he gave the animal a pat. He scratched his chest and returned to the couch, helping himself to another sausage mummy. "These are even good cold."
"So what about you, Kuryakin?" Napoleon said, taking an opportunity to sort out the blankets wadded around him. Buerre Noir arched her back, yawned and began to knead the back of the couch.
"Me? Why would I have any stories about ghost or goblins?"
"You're Russian. They cut you and you bleed ghost stories."
"Well, there are the Rusalka," Illya admitted as he rearranged the pillows around him.
Illya nodded. "Usually the spirits of young girls who were drowned or unbaptized babies. There was one part of the Ukraine that feared them so, they would have a priest standing by at each birth, just to be on the safe side."
"You're joking," Rocky said.
"Yes, actually I am, but there was and still is a strong belief in the Rusalka. It was said that they would appear as a lovely young maid, wearing a white dress and wearing a garland of flowers. They would lure their victim to the river on the pretense of taking them to their underground palace. In fact, they would actually drown them."
"That's a fun story." Napoleon got up and disappeared down the hall towards the bathroom. He came back a moment later. "Forgot that the lights weren't working." He grabbed a flashlight and disappeared again.
"These Rusalka, Cara, what did they want?"
"You to participate in their underwater dances." Illya reached for the bottle of red wine. "The stories are true, you know."
"They are not." Napoleon rejoined the group.
"Yes, they are. One of my friends was caught by them. He was walking home late one night and the next morning, they found him dead." Illya reached for Napoleon's glass and refilled it.
"In the river?"
"In the middle of a field and his lungs were full of water. Across his chest was a garland of flowers. His parents were so sure the Rusalka had taken him that for a week, they prayed and at the end said that the Ruslka had been driven away by all the garlic and incense, not to mentions the crosses, magic charms, and special songs."
"There's no such thing as…"
Abruptly the front door swung open and a large white shape burst in, its limbs flailing.
"Shit!" Illya yelled and scrambled over the back of the couch. Rocky and Matt screamed and sought out the safety of behind the chair. Napoleon gasped, as Chiquitita started to bark, then he laughed as the monster shook the snow from its cloak and opened to reveal Celeste, one of the twin barkeepers at Taste. Her sister, Stella, was on her heels.
"Hi, sorry, we didn't mean to scare you," Celeste pulled off her coat. "It is really coming down out there. Our power is out and we don't have any heat. Can we sleep on your floor?"
The men exchanged looks and Illya nodded. "Sure we still need a ghost story from Rocky."
"Oh, not ghost stories. I'll never sleep," Stella said, climbing out of her coat. "But I have heard about the Colma Inn…"
The fire popped and hissed as coworkers sat and laughed the night away while souls wandered and angels cried.
Ruslka - /wp/russian-ghosts-superstitions/
Black Aggie - /folklore/2010/07/black_
Poveglia - 2008/11/08/most-haunted-places-in-italy/