To Granny’s House We Go, part 2 of 2

A Supernatural Noir Short Story by Robert Lee Beers

To Granny’s House We Go

part 2 of 2

A Tony Mandolin Short Story

by Robert Lee Beers

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Chapter 2

The house had used the term hovel to describe the place we were headed toward. I think she’d been a bit too complimentary. Dump was closer to the truth, and not one of those new ventures where the landfill is done in such a way that the rotting trash doesn’t assault the senses. No, as aromas go, this wasn’t Chanel No5. It was far closer to channel number two. Of course, the rest of the neighborhood wasn’t all that inviting looking either, more of a multi-barreled assault on the senses.

Alcina murmured, “Tony, I’m getting that bad feeling all over again.”

Bain added, “Listen to your senses, girl, they’re the best tool you have in the world of magic.”

“I prefer the world of science,” She muttered, “It makes more sense.”

Bain’s expression said he had a differing opinion. I decided my safest place was taking advantage of my right to remain silent.

In many ways, the place where Julius’ grandfather was said to be held, looked an awful lot like the lair of the wyvern in that case I worked for Dracula. It was more tumble than down, but in that race, it was a photo finish. The walls bowed out in a pretty distressing fashion and, it looked the front door wasn’t attached to either hinge, it just leaned there, kind of like a flophouse wino trying to stay upright. The windows, if you could call them that, were holes, pounded into the walls of the place. It looked like ragged sheets or old blankets were being used as curtains.

I saw a brief glint appear in the gap between the edges of one of the holes and its blanket.

I said, “We’ve been noticed.”

“Indeed,” Bain growled. “How about we let them know we’re not easy prey?”

“That’s an interesting term,” Frankie said, balancing his head knocker in his right hand.

“Would you prefer victim instead?” Bain asked.

Frankie pursed his lips and said, thoughtfully, “I’d rather be considered badass if given a choice.”

That actually got a small chuckle from the Wizard. Which, frankly, was unnerving in itself. Then Bain added to my apprehension, “Yes, Jackson,” He growled, “Let’s make them believe that one.”

He reached out as if grabbing a huge… something, and then threw his invisible whatsit at the hovel’s doorway.

As far as I could see, he had grabbed nothing and threw nothing, but something hit the building like it was a twelve-ton wrecking ball. And then Bain ran, screaming like a maddened Viking right at the gaping hole left behind. Bellowing a bass organ counterpoint to Bain’s tenor, Frankie was right behind him.

I mentally shrugged and muttered, “What the hell,” and ran in after them, calling to Alcina, “Stay back and watch for ambushes.”

This time, instead of arguing, she said, “Right.”

I should have stayed back there with her. Yeah, I had the gun in my hand and yeah, it was cocked and ready to fire, but being cold-cocked by something large, dark and really, really hard will ruin the best-laid plans.

I do remember some of the fight, and yes, there was one. I just didn’t have much to do with it other than try to stay conscious. I think I saw what looked like some of those poisonous flying monkeys Elphaba used back in the fairytale dimension, and then this thing that looked like a toad had been mated with a twelve-foot crocodile came over toward me and swung its club.

When I came back to reality, I was leaning back against Alcina and bracketed by Heather and Violet. Both girls had their guns drawn and aimed at something in front of us. Between us and the something stood Bain, his arms curved outward and down, energy crackling around his hands, and his fingers formed into claws.

Bain was saying something, but the thing in the haze kept shouting over it, and then a knife flew out of the haze. It was wreathed in flames, spinning right at the Wizard. The knife pinged off of some kind of magical shield scant inches from Bain. Sparks flew.

The Wizard snarled, “Thank you, all I needed was an excuse…” He released the energy crackling around his hands. The screaming went on for a while. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I can still hear it.

Julius tugged at my sleeve.

“G-way,” I mumbled, “Lemme sleep, all right?”

“Tony, you can’t fall asleep, you might not wake up.”

Violet joined him. She was a bit less gentle. “Snap out of it, Tony. You can’t just sit there and let the rest of us— omigawd, you’re bleeding!”

I heard Julius say, “I can smell my grandfather. Wait here, I’ll get him while they’re distracted.”

“Distracted?” Heather sniffed, “They’re terrified.”

Frankie had rushed over to my side as Violet had said the word bleeding. He fussed over me, saying he was going to get me right over to Grannie’s as quickly as he could. I don’t know why, but that made me feel a whole lot better. Then again, maybe I do know, I liked the house.

Alcina joined me at my side, “Here, perhaps I can do something. Maybe my anatomy classes will be a help…”

I felt her hand touch my head. The scalp wound was letting me know it was there all right. Actually, it was shouting.

I flinched from Alcina’s touch, “Owww! Sorry.”

She murmured, “Biggest babies there are, men.”

I could hear Violet’s mental chuckle from a mile away.

Cold, icy, biting cold washed over my head. It felt like I’d stuck it under an artic waterfall in winter. And then the cold left, replaced by a blessed warmth, taking with it the headache and the rising nausea. Yeah, add one more concussion to the Mandolin database. Joe Montana was a piker in that category.

Along with the healing came a realization of where I was, and what was going on. I turned my head to where the screams were coming from, but all I could see was more haze. The stuff was as thick as a Frisco fog. I couldn’t even see Bain.

Something moved in the haze, sending swirls through it and then Julius came out of it accompanied by an older man. What hair he had was white, but he moved with none of the hesitancy you usually see in older folks.

“That has to be his grandfather,” Frankie exclaimed, pointing.

The big guy had the right of it. The geezer sure had the same features as Julius. And, if you looked closely, he moved in the same way as well.

“Over here,” I called, gesturing.

Julius saw me and said something to his grandfather. Then they both hurried their steps.

Pontius, that had to be who he was, said, “I appreciate you young folks coming to get me. The rat obviously cheated.”

“We can talk about that later, Violet said, “After you’re safe,” then she pointed, adding, “And that isn’t here.”

“Come on,” Frankie said, “I’ll take you across the street to Grannie’s.”

He gathered both Julius and Pontius into his arms and led them out of the hovel.

More sounds came from the haze and the gloom beyond, but none of them had anything to do with what I’d term inviting. Well… not unless you were Steven King’s analyst.

I asked the girls, “Do any of you see Bain?”

“Uh, uh,” Was Heather’s response.

“Nope,” Violet said, “But frankly, in all of this I can’t see crap.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “Same here. Alcina? You getting anything with your superpowers?”

She shook her head and said, “No… it’s almost as if there’s interference, like static coming over an old radio.”

And then Bain came out of the haze. He looked tired. I’d seen that look before. He may have gone and done it again, used more of his power than he should have. He looked back, over his shoulder.

I said, “Get ready, Alcina, we may have to pull Bain’s nuts out of the fire.”

She muttered, “You almost said the word ‘again’. So this isn’t the first time?”

“You know,” I said, “You are so much smarter than me.”

She smirked, “Get used to it, lover. It’s only going to get worse.”

I readied my gun as I muttered, “And so it begins…” I wondered, just how much would Alcina remember? And then the other thought came, would it matter?

Frankie came back in, saying, “Julius and his grandpa are over at Grannies. Can we go home now?” And then he gasped, “Oh my dear Lord!”

I was looking up at the big guy when he said that. I turned to look and, coming out of the gloom was a… thing, I think it is the best word here. It was bigger than Frankie’s bear and uglier than… well, a really ugly thing. Mirrors wouldn’t break, they’d run away, screaming as they shattered. Imagine an orc mating with a toad and then getting it on with some really big spiders before slapping on a few of the worst attributes of those deep-sea fish with giant teeth. And then things got a whole lot worse. Why, oh why did this have to be a repeating refrain in my life?

“Mandolin…” Its voice had this stomach-turning liquid quality with subsonics that vibrated the floorboards, the audible equivalent of verbal diarrhea, “Mandolin, I smell you. Come forth and do battle. This weakling of a Wizard tires me.”

“Oh good God,” Frankie muttered, “What is that thing?”

“It knows you, Tony,” Violet exclaimed, “How? Why?”

“More important is that it thinks Bain’s a weakling,” Alcina added.

“Yeah,” I muttered, “That’s something different.” I pulled the trigger.

You know that old saying, the bigger they are, the harder they fall? Well, they should add a second line to it about being too big to fall. The enhanced rounds tore through the thing just like they were supposed to. I could see light coming back through the holes.

The impact of the rounds staggered the thing, but it didn’t fall. What was even worse was, it laughed, “Ho haw ho, Mandolin. Not this time. No, not this time. Try as you might, you cannot defeat me. No… never again…” The last came out in a snarl as it charged.

I emptied the magazine into the thing’s face and then dove to the side as it continued on, right through the wall and out into the street. The popopopopopop of the gun was nearly drowned out by the thing’s roar.

I grabbed another mag and slapped it into the butt of the gun, yelling, “Frankie, come on, we have to keep that thing away from Bain and the girls.”

The big guy answered, “Uh… okay. But that thing is huge!” He was right, it had to top out close to twenty feet tall and almost as broad.

I snarled, “You want to see what it might do to Heather, Violet or Alcina?”

“No.” Came the sullen reply.

I got a thought, “Your utility belt, is it packed?”

Frankie answered, “Of course it is, Tony. I always… Ooo… that’s a good idea!”

Right after I took him on as my partner, Frankie had a special belt with pouches attached to it made for him by one of his many friends. This guy was a leather smith, or whatever they’re called. The thing was black, with fancy scrollwork tooled into it. The pouches snapped closed so they would not come open under what the big guy called combat conditions. Frankly, it was a pretty good bit of thinking on his part and what he kept in it had already saved our hides a couple of times.

Frankie snapped open one of his utility belt’s flaps and lifted out a silvery ball, about the size of a large marble. “This,” he said, turning the ball in his fingers, “Should do something.”

The thing stood, rather unsteadily, in the middle of the street. It glared at us, and I could see what this dimension considered daylight coming through the gap I’d shot into the back of its skull. The disgusting mouthparts worked and it burbled, “You failed again, Mandolin, and you will continue to fail. I will have my revenge, on you and all you hold dear. Just as I transformed your changling, I will—”

You did what!!!” Frankie’s full-throated bellow was loud enough to rattle windows.

The thing stood three times the big guy’s height, but Frankie stalked toward it as if that didn’t matter a hill of beans.

“Ah…” the thing turned its head to look at Frankie, “The—”

You did what??!!” If anything the big guy’s voice was even louder. He raised a fist and shook it.

The thing bent forward, putting its face at about a level with Frankie’s head. It opened its mouthparts and began to say, “I—”

Shut the hell up!!!” Frankie jammed his fist right into the thing’s mouth.

Its eyes, all four of them, widened, and it acted as if it was going to say something, but it choked, and then it gagged, a puff of reddish dust billowed out of the mouth.

Turning to face me, the thing pointed at me and said, “Man—” and then it choked again, and then it screamed, the sound tearing against my nerves like steroid-enriched nails on a chalkboard. Cracks opened in its hide and more of the reddish dust puffed out. Small flames flicked along the edges of the tear, and then the entire body burst into flame as if someone had set off a thermite charge.

I backed away from the heat.

“Frankie,” I said, “What the hell?”

“Tony,” he said, “I was a teddy bear! A teddy bear! And that thing said it did it!” He pointed at the quickly crumbling lump of burning whatsit.

Yeah, I guess the big guy had a point there.

I said, ‘Right, let’s collect Bain, the girls, Pontius and his Grampa and let’s get the hell out of here, all right?”

“All right?” Frankie replied, “You are singing my song, honey. You are singing my song!”

I nodded and then asked, “What did you ram into that thing’s mouth?”

He grinned, “One of my cold iron pills. A little iron oxide with a touch of silver nitrate. I don’t think it agreed with it.”

I couldn’t help laughing.

The door to Grannie opened as we approached.

“Come in, come, children. My but you have had a busy day.”

Nobody was touching me, but I still felt like I was being hugged. I looked over and saw this expression of contentment on the big guy’s face. He saw me looking and mouthed, “Grannie loves me.”

I am not a hugger. I never have been, and so I asked, “Where’s Bain? And where’s Julius and his grandfather?”

“Upstairs, dear, of course,” Came the reply. “Poor Landau was just exhausted and both Julius and Pontius needed some quiet time alone. May I suggest you all enjoy a nice lunch while they rest?”

I smelled lovely smells wafting my way at the word lunch, and it was then I realized I wasn’t just hungry, I was starving.

“Ooo,” Frankie cooed, “Comestibles.”

I saw the direction he was looking and so I joined in. Spread along one wall was a for-real smorgasbord. No, not a fancy buffet, but a real Viking feast along with the fish and the beer, plus all the extras that make the difference.

I said, “Grannie, can I marry you?”

That got me a warm laugh and then she said, “I think the age difference may get in the way, dear.”

As the girls were oohing and awing at the spread, I saw Frankie dig in. He came up for air, chewing and then he said, “Tony, this salmon mousse has fresh dill and lemon in it!”

Mousse is fine, for an appetizer, to build up the appetite but I already had one and it was demanding solid food. I saw the sliced prime rib and zeroed in on my target.

It was the a-hem that brought me out of my own version of culinary heaven. I turned around and then swallowed my last bite. “What?” I asked.

Violet, her arms crossed, pointed at the serving tray behind me, and asked, “Are you going to hog it all? I thought it looked like there were about five pounds there. Now, I think I see just an ounce or two plus drippings left.”

Alcina said, “Yeah, I should have mentioned that.”

Violet replied, “What, that the guy has a black pit as a stomach?”

It hit me, I was eating just like I had when Tiny healed me in the hospital.

Alcina explained, “It was the healing. I used his own metabolism to speed up the process. He has to eat like this or it’ll be worse than if I didn’t heal him at all.”

“Oh yeah,” Violet slapped her own forehead, “I remember. There was this time in the Snug he put away enough for three people and was still looking around for more.”

Yeah,” Alcina replied, “Thank God for this spread. With him and Frankie together, we’d be out of provisions in a second, otherwise.”

Heather was over near the end of the spread where the sweets were. She looked to the side and said, “Hey, everyone, Julius and his grandfather are here.”

Both werebeagles looked a bit ragged around the edges, but the smiles said that was just appearance. Julius had an arm around his grandfather’s shoulders as they came into the room.

Frankie was the first to greet them, “Haloo! Welcome to the feast. Grab a plate and enjoy.”

“Oh,” Julius said, his eyes widening, “Grandfather, look at all the food!”

Pontius said, his voice carrying with it the tone of age, “Well…” he murmured, “I guess I could eat…”

Never invite a pair of werebeagles to dinner unless you’ve cooked for twelve. It seems Julius got his appetite from his family tree. Old Pontius could put it away with the best of them.

As the werebeagles were working on the sixth or seventh trip to the spread, Grannie said, “Landau is coming down. Please be gentle with him. He’s been through a lot.”

Grannie was right, the Wizard looked rough, and I’d seen him in the middle of a multi-month bender.

Bain came into the room and looked around. His eyes hit the food and then he shuddered. I guess his stomach wasn’t really in the mood right then.

He asked, “Does anyone around here have a drink?”

Grannie answered, “It isn’t good for you, Landau, you know that.”

He groused, “I do not like being nagged. What I would like is some privacy, a drink and a place to think, all right!?”

I did not know a house could sigh. This one did, and then she said, “As you wish.”

A tumbler. Filled halfway with what could have been ice tea, but I seriously doubted it was, appeared in Bain’s hand.

He lifted the drink and sipped. His eyes widened, and he then muttered, “Thanks,” as he headed toward the closest chair.

Heather sidled up to me and whispered, “He… looks old… Really, really old…”

I whispered back, “He is old. I don’t know how far back that goes, but he once indicated he had a conversation with Shakespeare.”

“Luella Shakespeare, like in the BBC detective series?” She asked.

“No,” I answered, “William, like in Hamlet.”

“Ohhhmyyygawwwwddd…”

“Yeah,” I replied, “Yeah.”

She was right. The last time I’d seen Bain look this drained, I’d been nearly cooked to death by an ancient Norse elemental fire demon. Bain had spent his life force shielding the big guy and me from the worst of the heat.

The Wizard sipped from the tumbler again.

Grannie said, “Now, dear, you just rest there and drink your medicine like a good boy…”

I leaned over and whispered to Heather, “I think we’re out of the woods here.”

She whispered back, “What in the world are you talking about?”

“The drink,” I said, “I think Grannie has access to the same pharmacy Tiny does. The drink, if I’m not missing my guess, will begin to show some results.”

She said, “Huh?”

“Just watch,” I said, “The last time it was something in Tiny’s mead. I’m betting that this booze is more than just booze.”

Heather muttered something about missing it when her world was just skip-chasing and spying on cheats, but she did keep her eyes on Bain.

I heard Grannie murmur, “I do love to see a good appetite.” Julius and his grandfather were still working their way through what was left of the spread.

Heather’s gasp and Violet’s murmured, “Well, I’ll be…” Took my attention away from the werebeagle’s display of chomping artistry.

Alcina chuckled, “It’s working, Tony…” She pointed.

Bain, who had looked almost like he did back when I saw him die of old age, was doing his own version of the reverse-aging bit sometimes shown in bad sci-fi flicks. His hair, mostly gone, not just white, was coming back in, and it was darkening. The wrinkles in his skin smoothed, and the liver spots lightened and then vanished entirely.

Bain’s eyes opened and he scowled. Actually, that made me feel better than if he had smiled.

Violet said, “Hey there, handsome.”

It was Bain’s turn, “Huh?”

Alcina said, “Someone find this young man a mirror.”

He looked at Alcina, “What?”

Frankie spilled the beans, “You, sir, look just like you stepped out of a GQ modeling session. Oh, I could just faint right here and now. Who knew?”

Bain fixed me with his best glare, “Mandolin,” he growled, “What in the blue hells is going on here?”

I pointed at the tumbler. It still had a finger of liquid in it. “That’s not just whiskey,” I said.

He held up the glass and stared at it. Then he sipped, and said, “Tastes like whiskey, and not the cheap stuff you usually bring me.”

He sipped again, “In fact, this is some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s even better than Pappy’s best.”

Grannie said, “That’s because I made it, dear.”

Bain replied, “Well… I could sure do with some more, whatever it is.”

“I think not, my dear. You’ve had enough.”

“What?” Bain’s temper began to show.

“You don’t want to have to go through having your nappies changed again, do you, Landau?”

“What?”

Alcina asked, “Where’s that mirror?”

“It’s on the table to your left, dear.”

Violet was the closest, so she picked up the mirror and held it out to Bain.

He held the mirror up before his face and then just stared at it for several seconds.

Frankie leaned over to me and whispered, “What do you think he’s going to do? He doesn’t strike me as a man who handles change well.”

I just grunted.

Finally, Bain put the mirror down and murmured, “Damn. I’d forgotten how good I looked.”

Grannie replied, “Yes, you do, dear. And now it is time to go.”

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