A/N: For the Halloween entry contest!
Disclaimer: Property of Darren Shan. The fairies belong to Neil Gaiman.
In spite of the rich color of the Emerald Isles, the thin air clung like spider webs to Mr. Crepsley's brittle skin. He was sure if he breathed too deeply, his very breath could puncture the breeze.
If he said such a fanciful line aloud, the boy would ridicule him if he ever stopped whining.
"This place gives me the creeps," the boy Darren grumbled. "It's got a weird smell; I don't like it." Given the circumstances that had kick started their turbulent association with one another-which had begun with Mr. Crepsley robbing the child from a graveyard in the night-the boy acquired an understandable distaste for cold and wet and black places.
"Too much life," Mr. Crepsley agreed. Too much history would rot anything, including himself. He was not unaware of the fraying hems of his own gaudy red costumes.
"You may enter Hibernius," he added, smiling to see his friend for the first time in the treacherous weeks the traveling Cirque had endured.
He also smiled because he could hear the gears whirling crazily in the boy's head. Darren was a funny halfblood, preferring to formulate his own theories on vampires rather than directly asking how Mr. Crepsley detected Mr. Tall's approach to their tent without any knocking- as though the owner of the Cirque relied on the commonplace habit of knocking! The man moved like a ghost, which was especially extraordinary given his stature and Mr. Crepsley's honed senses.
"Greetings my friend. Salutations Master Shan. At the risk of redundancy, I wanted your affirmation that Master Shan will be pulling his own weight tonight."
At the risk of showing off to eyes not yet jaded, Mr. Crepsley mentally amended, casting his amused glance at his innocent wide-eyed assistant. After years under Mr. Crepsley's employ, Darren showed the occasional signs of culture shock.
"You would be in your nth decade of redundancy Hibernius. I do not believe for a second that I could surprise you. Your presence, as you intended, serves as a reminder for me to think of the boy." Mr. Crepsley had forgotten to tell Darren of his plans for the night, and Mr. Tall, being a mind reader, had known that. "I am on holiday for the night, Darren. Kindly perform with Madame Octa."
It didn't take a witch to divine the infinite directions to which Darren's thoughts launched like a thousand hungry Octas to the questions buzzing like flies in his head. For all Mr. Crepsley knew, Darren was going into shock at his employer relaxing.
Darren was probably spinning progressively complicated guesses about Mr. Tall's involvement in Mr. Crepsley's night off. Mr. Tall scratched his prodigious temple lightly, an action which brought understanding to Mr. Crepsley's eyes. Can you feel the migraine ready to strike from skimming the boy's chaotic head? Welcome to my world.
"Thank you," Darren said, uncertainly to Mr. Tall. Mr. Crepsley was pleased to see that the years had beaten some manners into the gangly suburban teen. He was careful to mask his approval in case the boy regressed.
"You are quite welcome. I will also warn you that tonight is a very special showing of Cirque Du Freak under a rare full moon. Don't let the fool moon pull you in." With that, Mr. Tall glided effortlessly through the draping exit.
Darren willed the spooked expression off his face. Very casually, he said, "I didn't know vampires took vacations."
"Not on my life," Mr. Crepsley said bluntly. "The closest acceptable term would be pilgrimage, and our time for Vampire Mountain is not yet upon us."
"Man, of course you would think pilgrimages are like taking breaks. Getting mauled by a mountain lion is not what I'd call a break."
Mr. Crepsley quirked his brow, irritated. "Speaking of this concept of 'breaks', I do not recall allowing you one."
The sun was quite low in the sky when Larten set off on his own to search present day Luimneach; however, far from burning, he was quite at ease meandering along a fairy mound in the shadow of a towering cloud. Despite the city's modern prosperity and newly sprung populations from overseas, Larten was somewhat taken in by its beautiful landscape. A century ago, he had walked under the shade of a mile long cloud. Today, and a century ago, it was the night preceding All Saint's Day.
The exact year was lost in memory, but the spirit of his last visit to Luimneach was forever preserved. The night of Samhain had hit a cold snap but the humans made do with seasoned apples, roasted nuts, and rivers of beer around many fires. Many of the humans were paired with one another, walking between the bonfires in rituals of purification, perhaps singing in worship or jigging to nonsense. He was there to slay any nearby monsters.
Larten was on the prowl, oblivious to the childrens' laughs as they swindled their neighbors for coin or sweet. A clever child earned both treacle and tuppence. Conversely, Larten jumped at the screams, annoyed when it was another child enjoying itself as a goblin. He thought the festivities to be in poor taste, given his vague knowledge of food shortages plaguing the lands in that time. It was hard to tell there were shortages with the women stuffing their menfolk silly... while one such as Larten stalked the lands, more tangible than the famine.
Without warning, Larten was pinned to the cold mud. His assailant warbled his intentions crazily through a crude goblin's mask, but Larten was not amused. He tossed the beer sodden creature.
"What are you doing with this Gavner?" Larten asked crisply, glaring down at the mask he held after picking globs of mud off his cuffs. "Especially when your own features are deplorable in comparison."
"At leas' I not gussied up lie a stuffy ol' man," his associate drawled. He tossed back the pint in his hand.
"What charming guise be this?" Larten inquired, scrutinizing the carven teeth and bulging eyes. Aside from the clumsy chiseling, there was much fault to be found with the slapdash paint.
"I'mmer bloodsugger, nabbin away all sortsa dark or fair maidens. I don' care which if she's willin," Gavner leered. Given his vicious smile and scarred cheek, he was more like the stuff of scary stories without the ridiculous block of wood strapped to his head.
"Were I weak of will, I might shuffle off this mortal coil knowing that one such as you outranks one such as I," Larten said disapprovingly to his fellow.
"Iss called livin' Larten old fartin'. My shenses..." Gavner belched and blinked through his merriness. "My senshes are keen this nigh'!"
With the racket Gavner made, there were eyes upon them. Some of them were flirtatious, aimed primarily on the thoroughly marinated vampire sitting in the mud. Larten quickly lost respect for the females of the human race who showed smiling interest in the bumbling lummox.
"Ye get to live afore you off yourself!" Gavner jumped nimbly to his feet and swaggered to a pair of brunettes conversing by the fires. Though they smartly rebuffed his overtures, soon the women and Gavner were arm in arm, sharing apples mouth-to-mouth.
"I don't believe this," Larten growled. He scratched his nose uncomfortably, looking around as though expecting someone to yank a hair from his nostril for his lapse into casual language.
Barring Gavner's idiocy, his advice wasn't totally unsound. Since Arra, Larten had coupled with no one.
"This Hallow's Eve, I might play the fool," Larten declared, laying the abysmal mask over his stern face. He looked around for an individual who might suit him more as a companion than as a snack. Hopefully the experience would not prove scarring.
No sooner had he donned it did a howl tear through the night; it was not the baying of his cousins, the wolves. Larten flitted towards the howling, the plazas and jolly homes blurring far behind him. The poison mounted in his breath and the anticipation of a good fight snapped his limbs into action. He could fraternize with a woman later after his victory. His superior appendages picked out the enemy within moments.
She was a comely slip of a girl. Her shocking blond hair fell almost to her knees. What little of her body could be seen was covered in a gown both snug and flimsy.
There was no trouble with her; rather, the problem lay in the bloated and red-splattered Vampanese barreling through dense thickets of prickly shrubs to get at the lovely damsel.
Larten tackled the bulky, rabid fiend into patches of nettle. He shoved a thick clump of nettles down the beast's throat. Rage practically blackened the mad Vampaneze's face as he snapped Larten's neck and threw him like a rag doll.
The damsel screamed, but not the terrified shrieking that Larten associated with all women. "Oh, you foul brute! Why don't you try being a stinkweed forever? That might sweeten ye!"
If Larten's nose hadn't detected the sudden absence of sour blood that characterized a Vampaneze, he wouldn't have believed it. When he cracked his neck into its proper place, his eyes confirmed it: She had indeed turned the slobbering beast into a stinkweed, capable of harm only to the barefoot traveler.
"Are you quite alright? I thought humans died from broken necks."
"They do," Larten answered. Though it had been a clean break and he'd healed quickly from the fresh blood he'd fed upon earlier, a nasty bruise mottled his neck. It was easier to be annoyed at the pain than going into shock. His eyes had seen no illusion or trick or hallucination. The lone stinkweed was real.
"You're not human?" she asked, kneeling beside him to peek closer, causing her gown and her hair to spread about her like a glimmering pool. Her nose wrinkled. Prettily. "You smell a bit like that monster, only a bit, mind you. I know what blood's like."
"Milady," Larten began stiffly, affronted by the idea of smelling like a Vampaneze, "if you are unharmed then my duties here are fulfilled lest you require further services." He managed to keep most of his sulk out of his tone. Larten stood and politely offered his hand to her crouched form.
He was startled when she took it; the texture of her skin was different.
"Please don't hold my magicks against me," she said, her little hands barely covering his. "I want to see the face of my saviour."
"What are you?" Larten asked, bemused from her ethereal beauty. He was not feeling like himself. When she tugged his hand, he went willingly to her side. Her scent gave away nothing except flowers and rain.
"Take off your mask," she wheedled. "I'll be curious forever."
Compelled by her honeyed words, Larten drew off the goblin mask. He hesitated when his eyes broke contact with hers, but she tossed the thing away and put his hands on her breasts. Gavner would string up his insides if he turned down such a beauty.
"I do not-" She hushed him with a kiss that scattered his resistance. When her dress and his breeches were off, he was too far gone to notice the green tinge of her lush skin. They coupled wildly the first time. Afterward, she bade him to guide her to where the humans celebrated, to see the merrymaking and to taste of the harvest. He was glad to have her with him as the music sounded and the fires blazed. Like any young fool, he'd whispered poetry and praise of her as they pressed close up until the daybreak. Her breath was sweet when they kissed or when they joined intimately.
He never sampled such delights again, but that hardly surprised him. Milady had clearly been a fairy or elf visiting the earth on the day that all magical barriers wavered.
She told him almost mournfully, after their last kiss. "Farewell. We will not meet."
"Farewell Milady," he said, conscious of his thick claws framing her impossibly radiant face. "I will not forget."
As she had predicted, he could not find her again nor another of her kind no matter which bonfire or sparsely wooded area he circled.
Larten was in a different village in present day Luimneach, although the couples and the children and their cheery rituals echoed the previous century. Larten knew that if he continued further he would have hit the city of nonbelievers where no warmth braced the eerie night. Perhaps the ghosts of the previous century chilled the land upon which their homes once stood. The city, while beautiful with the lighted castles, held little charm for him unlike the rustic Luimneach he'd treasured.
Mr. Crepsley had buried himself inside his maudlin contemplations. It was time to return to the Cirque where he belonged.
He tracked Hibernius to where the entire troupe performed miles away outside overgrown farm land, abandoned by its owners either in death or for dreams of the city. Larten experienced deja vu to see the Cirque perform in primitive conditions by hand-pitched torch light. The boy had already performed his act with Madame Octa, for the Wolf man was sedated and lead around by his chains amongst the pumpkin patches where an enthralled audience held its breath (and its disbelief).
The Cirque was clearly feeling its roots this Halloween, putting on its freak show under a bloated red moon with the barren dirt as a stage. This must be what it was like when its first maddened owner conjured the first freaks. He regretted missing much of it after the disappointing changes wrought in Luimneach.
The showing concluded but the spectators dared not clap aloud, for all present paid to break the laws. To Larten's incredulity, Hibernius allowed the audience and the circus folk-barring the wolf man-to mingle after the show. Curious, Larten flitted closer in the shadows. Hibernius kissed the hands of a beautiful, regal woman dressed richly in velvet gown. She wore a fine circlet of rubies and gold on her black hair. By her side, his arm possessively around her waist, towered a man with mighty horns crowning his fair head. He was also terribly beautiful.
Larten immediately identified them as fairies; he should have listened closely to his friend who had hinted at an unusual performance night.
"The Cirque is honored to cater to your Royal Highness and your court," Hibernius said.
"We have had the pleasure," the Queen stated, withdrawing her hand. Her eyes, brighter and sharper than the stars, rested expectantly on her royal consort.
"We were amazed to witness such earthly wonders. Our memory of the night might outlast humanity itself," said the horned King. He looked down at his wife with challenge.
"Should any of your troupe desire to be immortalized, they might do so now," the Queen said. The King gazed upon her inquisitively and she winked at Hibernius.
"If what you offer is genuine, I will have them decide for themselves," Hibernius stated cautiously.
"What of you?" she asked. "I sense that you are not a man without a story."
"That is enough teasing, my love," the King said, whirling his beloved wife away from a bemused circus owner. "Please send the Dream King our regards for tonight's arrangements."
"Halt Auberon! I wish to speak to that young lad with the pretty spider!"
"Forsooth, I glean the day is upon us. I promise you, sweet Titania, that you may make a doll out of the next pretty little boy besotted with you."
The King summoned the Royal Court to follow, with a stern warning to the stragglers. At another command, many of the smaller fairies in the bunch chorused sweet notes which caused many, save for notable exceptions, to slump on the grassy knolls. Gertha Teeth jerked to attention and then, like a felled Redwood, landed on rocks. Without her impossible gnashers, she might have required dental work. Of course, no one laughed. Rhamus Twobellies rolled into a snooze while Alexander Ribs pretzel-ed snugly on some moss.
The boy Darren, being half human, wobbled drowsily watching everyone else fall around him. Larten, unaffected as a vampire, caught the boy before he lost his footing. A bright flash illuminated the night, and the Fairy folk stepped off the face of the earth.
"Didja have a good time trick or treating?" Darren asked him, yawning widely.
"I did no such thing," Mr. Crepsley said, amused once again by the boy's mind. Small wonder that the Fairy Queen had taken a shining to him. He would not have allowed her to spirit Darren away, even if she did turn him into a stinkweed.
"Yeah, you're all tricks. Happy Halloween," the boy murmured, finally succumbing to an enchanted sleep. In the morning, he would be mortified if he knew how uncharacteristically endearing he sounded.
If Darren became like Mr. Crepsley one day, he could go wherever he could or do whatever he could-only to be haunted twenty or fifty years later while the times died around him. Not for the last time, Larten questioned himself on dragging the sleeping boy to this isolated existence. Though Darren had surely picked his sacrifices, was it just of Larten to demand payment in full?
'For him, it is not just,' Larten decided. Tomorrow he would wake and that boy would be waiting or biding time with chores until Larten charged him with a task. For Mr. Crepsley, it was nice to have someone relatively uncomplicated living for him.
Maybe Darren would like the locally-made candied apples Mr. Crepsley had purchased as a treat. He knew that a bag of apples were a poor exchange for a holiday spent at home amongst friends and family.
Better give the boy hell tomorrow or he will assume they are laced with poison.
"Happy Halloween," Larten said, tucking Darren gingerly into his hammock. He paused, pitching his voice above any human range of hearing. "I'm sorry."