Disclaimer: Do I look like Neil Gaiman?
This follows on from my earlier story 'Wells Street Station'. If you haven't already, I'd advise reading it before starting this one, as this uses original characters and refers to plot points from that story.
As always, any constructive criticism will be gratefully accepted.
'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'
- H. L. Mencken
Through a tunnel, there was a door, and through that door, there was a room.
It was a wide, low-ceilinged room, lit by guttering gas-lamps along the walls. They threw the room into aspects of deep, golden light and fluttering shadow, playing over the old-fashioned chests of drawers and low sofas. Pristine gold and cream colours predominated, clashing against dark mahogany.
It looked warm and homely, like an elderly and much-used living room. But from inside, there was a subtle, polluted texture to the air. And if you looked in a large mirror that hung from the middle of one wall, you would have seen the room in lifeless shades of black and grey, choked over with dust and cobwebs.
The door sat at one end. At the other, a monster loomed over a child.
"Be good for your mother," crooned the monster. She had the lower body of some hideous spider, four metal legs digging into the golden carpet. Her upper body was human in shape, with her torso covered by a ragged cream velvet gown. Her hair was a mass of yellow ringlets, and her button eyes gleamed with a goldtone glint. Her mouth was curved into a ghastly smile, her teeth gleaming like metal shards. Her hands were skeletal and metallic, and held a needle and spool of thread.
"Please, let me go," wept the child, pressing himself further into the far wall, as if seeking to push himself through to safety. "I want to go home."
"You are home," said the beldam. "I'm going to look after you for ever and always. Haven't I been good to you so far?"
The unconvinced child kept trying to shy away, in whatever room he had left to go. The beldam tutted with impatience.
"Very well," she said, pressing the needle closer towards the child's face. "If I must be crude about this..."
She was cut off suddenly by a ferocious bang from the little door on the opposite site of the wall, which rocked on its hinges. The beldam hissed and turned, while the child looked past her with wide eyes.
"What?" snarled the beldam. "An intruder?"
There was another crash from the door, and it was sharply bent in down the middle, nearly broken. Then there was another bang, and it flew off its hinges and landed several feet away on the floor.
From the darkness of the tunnel, a stooping figure emerged, peeling away from the shadows. It rose and stood, standing in one of the patches of deepest shadow. All that the beldam could make out was that it was garbed in some heavy coat, and that it held some long, gleaming stick in its hand.
"I'm giving you five seconds to let that kid go," said the figure. It had a woman's voice, a little rough and full of force. It hefted the stick it bore, which didn't identify itself as a shotgun to the Beldam's inexperienced eyes.
"You dare to intrude upon my domain and threaten my hunt?" the beldam screeched, her hackles rising, her face splitting into an ugly sneer, her hands spreading. "I will rip your name from your dying throat, scum!" She span away from the child with her full body, and threw herself into a unnaturally quick scuttle along the ground. Her fingers and leg points gleamed as she ran. The shadowed woman tensed, keeping her shotgun levelled at the beldam.
The beldam leapt – and then the shotgun roared with a shout of fire, hitting into the beldam's midriff in mid-air, and sending her flying back across the floor. The child screamed with the sudden noise, and the woman walked forward at a brisk pace. Her hazel eyes caught the fire from the lamps, and blazed under a peaked cap.
Mad with pain, the beldam struck up with her sharp hand, up at the woman's arm. Her claws cut into the fabric, but glanced almost immediately off something hard and bitterly cold to the touch, and the creature was forcefully shoved away. The shotgun stock blurred out – once, twice, thrice – and connected with brutal blows to the chest and head that sent the beldam tumbling across the room towards the other wall. The child scrambled out of the way, and watched with wide and terrified eyes.
The beldam lay, choking and recumbent, and the woman pressed the blued-steel nozzle of the shotgun into the creature's head of curly hair. She panted, and her mouth curved into a satisfied smile even as her eyes bored into the beldam, her finger trembling against the gun's trigger. She forced herself to look away, and met the child's gaze.
"Go home, kid. Your mom and dad are worrying themselves sick," she said softly. The child immediately took her advice, and looked back once, fleetingly, before running back through the open door.
The beldam coughed up tarry blood, and looked up at the woman. One of her hands went slowly to the wound in her lower torso, and she bent her head painfully around to look at it.
She saw the glint of an cold iron slug in the wound.
"You … know of the bane?" she whispered.
"I've done my homework," said the woman coolly. The beldam looked at her with disbelief.
"Very few of humans know of us, let alone our weaknesses." Then a spasm of retching and coughing took her, and when she looked up, she said quietly "Please, end it. It hurts."
"It's not as bad as it feels," said the woman. "I used an alloyed round. It'll hurt like hell, and leave you wounded for a long time, but I doubt it'll certainly kill you unless I help it along." Her eyes narrowed. "I want answers to some questions."
"What … what questions?"
The woman stepped closer, the dark fabric of her midnight blue trench coat catching the golden light. Her face suggested a woman in her mid-twenties, youthful but with emerging maturity and wisdom. Her face was pale and heart-shaped, with a sharply pointing nose. Two long, sharply-defined scars ran along her left cheek, atop each other. Blue hair fell out from under her cap and ended at her shoulders.
"How long have you been here? How long have you been preying on children?"
"I-I only started recently. That one was to be my first. I'd fed before, a sip here and there, but never a complete soul before. Never a life."
"If you're wise, you'll restrict yourself to sips. If I find you again and discover you've been feeding, I won't be merciful."
"I won't feed, I swear," hissed the beldam, the steel nozzle of the shotgun pressing into her head. "Not after this. Please, don't kill me."
"Of course – if you answer some more questions. Are there any others like you in this area? Any beldams?"
The beldam shook her head.
"What about other species? Other predators of the Sur-real. Any horlas, ragamolls, seelie or unseelie?"
The beldam stared with mounting confusion.
"Who are you?" she said. "Who are you that knows about this? About us?"
The woman hefted the shotgun and supported it under her arm. With her free hand, she dipped into a pocket and drew out a button. It was a plastic facsimile, white with a red trim. She threw it at the beldam's feet, and it clattered on the floor.
The beldam looked down at it with shock, and then all her confusion transmuted to terror when she looked back up at the woman. She looked much as the child had done only a few minutes ago.
"It's you," she said with cold dread. "The Stormcrow."
"You beldams keep calling me that for what happened in Chicago, I've noticed," said the woman dryly.
The beldam hung her head. "What do you want?" she asked.
"For starters," said Coraline Jones, Secretary of the United States Department of the Supernatural, "I want the truth."