Continuing on my October/Halloween story today… You can find Part One here on the Tale if you’d like to catch up on things…
The perception of good—or evil, for that matter—can be very dependent on what one’s perspective is. Horns, tails, and so on aren’t always what they represent. Sometimes they are, however. The thing that is the most difficult is being able to tell the difference when it matters. Beyond that, sometimes the choice made matters more, even if one cannot see it at the time.
The Second Coming
There are some that say getting there is half the fun, that the journey is more important than the destination. In fact, there are a lot of sayings which refer to the important aspects of traveling and that one should remember them fondly. As the airplane touched down on the runway, Cleo found herself mulling those thoughts over in her mind, if for no other reason than to distract herself from the flight she had shared with Mandy, time spent being more intimate with her than anyone Cleo had ever been with before. Save for … him.
His words still haunted her dreams sometimes. Damn him to hell, even if he was there already.
She shivered at the unbidden thoughts and looked across the aisle to where Mandy was sleeping, the screech of the tires not waking her up, nor the roar of the engines as they slowed the jet down. Reflecting on the past hours and what happened between them, Cleo didn’t quite understand exactly what pushed Mandy, why she felt this was the time to say what she did, what had made her say those three words:
“I love you.”
Cleo knew this, had known it for a long time, if she was being honest with herself. But she also had to be honest in other ways. Mandy was much younger, or perhaps it was better to say that Cleo was far older. The difference would make any real relationship awkward at best, impossible at worst.
Mandy remained blissfully unaware of Cleo’s thoughts. She curled up under a thin blanket, laying across some folded down seats in an impromptu bed of sorts. Cleo smiled a bit at the angelic expression that her apprentice showed as she cuddled around a pillow.
She wasn’t quite an angel on the flight over. No, that wasn’t the right thing to say. Nor was what Cleo had to explain to Mandy:
“You need someone better than me.”
It wasn’t the truth. She knew that. Mandy did, as well, she suspected, because it didn’t stop Mandy from what happened in the middle of the night, somewhere over the Atlantic.
Thank God for small mercies.
Looking at the sealed case which had accompanied her, as it rested on the floor, the question was if she’d be able to make good on her bravado and contain the succubus. Hopefully the answers were in the case.
The lights of the taxiway streamed by, flashing on and off as Cleo looked out the window. Was she ready for this? Could she do what was necessary? A cough from Mandy crystallized her thoughts.
Yes, because there was no other way.
Rubbing sleep from her eyes, Mandy mumbled: “Hey.”
“Oh … good enough.” The red head—when did her hair get so red?—waved her pillow: “Need a better pillow, though.”
She knew what was coming next, but fell into the trap anyway: “Too lumpy.”
“I like your lumps.”
Turning away, Cleo started to gather her things, trying to hide a light blush as she did so. Mandy had pressed herself against the window and was regarding the scene outside: “So, where to first?”
“Need to pay respects to officials in the diocese that reported this. Then we should go and talk to the pastor involved before getting to … her.”
The plane came to a stop, the engines spooling down in the next moment as the main door was opened from the outside. Mandy considered things, but then offered: “How about you go and deal with the diocese and I’ll go and talk to the pastor. I’ll meet you at the hotel after.”
“Any particular reason?”
Mandy’s answer was to point at her T-shirt: “I’m not exactly dressed for the occasion. You, however, look boring, and I’m sure they’ll love that.”
Cleo peered through her glasses: “Probably right; they’re not expecting you either.”
“But you’re only going to see the pastor, nothing else; right?”
She rolled her eyes: “Fine. I promise I won’t go and do something stupid.”
Nodding, for really there was nothing else that she could do, Cleo gathered her things and left the plane a moment later. Mandy watched from the airplane window as Cleo was driven off to her meeting.
As Cleo’s car vanished out of sight, the cockpit door opened and one of the pilots asked: “Need anything, Miss?”
Mandy had the oddest look as she slung her backpack over her shoulder and made her way out: “Oh, lots of things. But I’m working on them.”
The pilot watched her walking towards the terminal building until she was called by the other pilot about an issue. By the time she looked back, Mandy had vanished.
The drive to the diocesan office was uneventful. Cleo really not paying much attention as she looked through the file and reminded herself, several times, that she was here to make friends and influence enemies. The sigh at not having Miranda there was a long one. Like most bureaucracies, the diocese ran on its own schedule, and she found herself sitting in a reasonably comfortable waiting room for her turn to pay respects and get her marching orders. While she had left many of her things with the driver, she had retained the sealed case with her in case she needed it.
Pushing her glasses up into place, she hoped not to.
“Sister? If you would?”
Moments later Cleo had been ushered in and found herself on the other side of a dark oak desk being stared at.
“Hello, your Grace.”
“We find ourselves in a trying time, Sister. If what this seems to be is correct, it must not be allowed to become public knowledge.”
As if that was the real problem here. “Of course. I shall endeavour to be discreet.”
“Do you require anything?”
Prayers would be nice. Some divine help even better. “I have what I need. What remains is finding where she is, confronting her and putting an end to this.”
“I see. Should you have need of something, contact me directly.” In other words, don’t call me unless it’s dire.
“As you wish, your Grace. Is there any new information you can give me?”
He gestured to a small stack of papers: “That is all we know about the possessed herself. There are some new photographs—shocking. She remains attached to the apartment building.”
As Cleo looked through the papers, her mind reviewed what she had been told was to be her fate so long ago. To build a nest, fill it with devoted lemmings, then use them to open the gates and draw … that … to the Earth.
It seemed like the succubus was starting the process, but she didn’t have everything she needed. Thankfully, that wasn’t going to happen; the nun had left what the incubus had gathered in the catacombs.
But it could still be a trap, and she was the one going into it.
Cleo half-listened to the bishop going on, but her focus was on the photograph of a young woman attached to a summary of her life—Miss Ordinary more than anything else. She seemed nice, all things considered. The diocesan staff had managed to come up with a lot of detail on her: from a small town, small family, no relationships known of, excelled in college—was interested in archaeology, no less—and was working as an assistant to the National Museum before this all happened.
Cleo pursed her lips as she turned the page over and looked at what she had become: “Damn.”
Cleo’s eyes broke from the page: “Sorry, your Grace. Just … surprised as to her transformation.”
“It is … severe.”
You mean that she’s attractive. “Yes.”
Cleo looked at the succubus: “Not my type … Thank God.” Stuffing the papers into her case, her eyes returned to her: “Is there anything else, your Grace?”
“No, I think we’re done here. Please keep me informed.”
She gathered her belongings: “Of course.”
Soon after, Cleo was on her way to the hotel to meet Miranda, hoping against hope that her apprentice didn’t do something stupid.
It had taken Mandy some time to locate the pastor involved. She had even taken the time to make herself look more presentable along the way, trading in her tempting look for Cléophée for something somewhat less sexy. While the jeans weren’t riding so low on her hips and there wasn’t any tummy being shown, the T-shirt still had a saying on it: “Give me cuddles”.
The church was, truly, one of the most beautiful places Mandy had ever seen. Lovely grounds; she especially loved the rose bushes dotted about the landscaping. There was a warmth, a joy that she felt the further she walked into this domain. The redhead, her hair in a scrunchie, had loved the little sign near the walkway leading towards her destination: “He could walk on water. Please walk on the grass.” So, of course, Mandy did so with delight. She had just reached the steps leading to the main building when her attention was diverted.
“Welcome! What brings you here on this fine day?”
Mandy turned towards the person greeting her and found herself in the presence of a kind gentleman with sparkling blue eyes.
“I’m looking for the pastor.”
“It would seem you have found him.”
He offered his hand in greeting and she didn’t hesitate to shake it, even with the gardening gloves he was wearing: “It’s good to meet you! I’m Sister Miranda and …” The handshake turned into a warm affectionate hug which Mandy enjoyed to the fullest. There were so few she had encountered that she liked at first blush, fewer still whom she felt had the wisdom of God within them.
There was no doubt that he was this and far more.
“Oh! Forgive me! I was going to tend to our roses! I’m sorry!”
Her laugh was sweet and unconcerned: “Please, don’t stop on my account … and I don’t mind the dirt. I work in dusty places all of the time.”
He peered at her through his glasses: “Dusty?”
“Yes. I’m … involved in the catacombs of the Synodical antiquities library. I’m Sister Cléophée’s assistant.”
A spark of recognition appeared: “Ah, yes! How is she? I haven’t seen her for years! Is she doing well? I trust she’s looking after herself?”
Mandy shrugged: “Bit stressed, but okay, thank you, Father.” Then she considered him: “How is it you know her?”
He nodded in the direction of one of the larger rose bushes: “Come, please? We can talk while I tend to things.”
Mandy found a small rock to perch herself upon as he began to trim: “I met Cléophée … oh … it must be just about 1999 or so. I was on sabbatical, working on some papers I was intending to publish. Found myself needing access to things that weren’t normally available, and so …”
“So you went to visit her?”
“More like came to odds with her. She’s very protective of her charges.”
Mandy just laughed: “Yes, well … that’s Cléophée.”
He continued trimming for a moment, then: “Well, if you know what sort of chocolate she likes, and where to get it …”
They both laughed over that revelation, both knowing instinctively that each had used that particular temptation on Cleo in the past.
He placed some clippings aside, regarding her: “So, what brings you here to visit?”
Mandy considered this for a moment, contemplating how to say something without saying it: “I’m here to … look into something Cléophée was made aware of by the diocese. About a certain woman who has … a very high sexual appetite.”
He was in the midst of clipping off a dried-out branch and paused: “She’s … been sent here?”
“No, we’ve been sent here. Well, in reality the church only knows about her, I’m … working in the background.”
His voice was a whisper: “If you are close to Cléophée … You’ll know her one secret.”
Mandy stood up and walked to him, placing her lips close to his ear: “All Hallow’s Eve … the catacombs, the sealed up section …” She paused, considering, then added: … an incubus, wanting her as his succubus.”
The sigh was telling even if Mandy didn’t see his eyes: “Yes.”
He remained kneeling as Mandy stood next to him, a hand gently lying upon his shoulder.
“Cleo wouldn’t talk about it much; said she came within a soul’s breath of being a succubus.”
He nodded: “Yes.”
The realization hit Mandy and she dropped to her knees beside him: “You … You were there.”
He nodded again, not saying anything.
His focus was on a single rose, partly turned black: “It was All Hallow’s Eve, 2001. I was looking for what was rumoured to be some tablets telling of the earliest days of the church. She had started her work on cataloguing everything there, and she suggested we have a look in the deepest annex. We … didn’t find what we expected.” He picked up the shears and cut off the dying rose: “We found dark things that never should be touched. We were … lucky.”
She nodded: “Lucky enough that Cléophée was saved, the place was sealed and that would be the end of it.”
“Now it seems that someone found the missing link in the chain, has been possessed by it.”
“You knew immediately, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I … saw Cléophée, turned, on the way to being a succubus.”
Mandy’s mind reeled at the thought: her Cléophée a succubus? At the same time she found herself wondering what she looked like … and rehearsing some of her desires for Cléophée. “How do we stop this succubus?”
“I … don’t know. But I had to let someone know about this. They have to be stopped. Can you imagine the power they have?”
“I … have an idea.”
“No, you don’t. I hope you never do.”
He pushed the shears into the soil and turned to Mandy: “Whatever happens, don’t let her fall. Don’t leave her alone with the succubus.”
“She’s meeting with the diocese. I … offered to come here and talk to you. She didn’t exactly put up much of a fight over that idea.”
“She … probably never wants to have anything to do with me.”
Brushing his hands on his apron, he considered: “Would you want to be reminded about what happened? I still have nightmares about it.”
Mandy wasn’t satisfied with that answer: “Okay. You aren’t telling me the entire story. Out with it: what aren’t you saying?”
“I’ve spent my life trying to get over what happened. What we did to each other, how close things came to both of us losing our souls.” His eyes scanned the grounds: “I came here seeking solace for my sins. This is the only place I’ve found where I’ve been able to rest since that night.”
He turned to her once more: “When you crossed onto these hallowed grounds … what happened?”
Mandy didn’t hesitate: “There’s … a warmth here. Like …”
“Like Goddess herself was here with you?”
“You mean God?”
“We each see God out of our own experience and perceptions. Some see him, some her, some see something other. All are valid ways of seeing and seeking the Divine. Each of us has our own path.”
“So why ‘Goddess’ for you?”
He smiled: “That, my dear Sister Miranda, is a matter of faith … and of using a reference that the listener most appreciates. ‘Goddess’ seems to fit for you.”
Mandy was silent then, watching him return to his work. A soft buzz brought her attention to her phone: “Cléophée is on her way to the hotel. I should be going.”
“Do you call her ‘Cléophée’?”
“Only when we’re being very serious about something. She’s ‘Cleo.’”
“Mandy … most of the time.”
“Don’t lose her. If you need me …” he dug into a pocket and handed her a card, “… call me … anytime.”
She fingered the card, the only thing written on it a phone number: “You haven’t said your name.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Names have power. Lesson one from the hell we unearthed.”
“I need to know more, a lot more.”
“You know everything you need to know; more than I did.”
“You’re speaking in riddles.”
“They do, as well.”
Mandy’s frustration came to a head: “Why aren’t you telling me what I want to know?”
“Because … I was the incubus to Cléophée’s succubus.”
The revelation made Mandy step back: “Stay away from me.”
His expression was hurt, almost to tears: “I was the host to the incubus. I was the one used. I was the one that fell and almost took Cléophée with me.”
He left the shears in the dirt, standing up: “If she falls, then I will. She will come for me. She’ll come for anyone she loves because that’s what gives them power. If she falls, she’s coming for you, too. Then all will be lost.”
“She’s never said she loves me!”
“But you love her … don’t you?”
Mandy covered her eyes, sobbing loudly: “Oh, dear Goddess …”
He didn’t answer her. When she could see again, he was gone, leaving only the shears embedded in the earth, a single red rose cut and laying at Mandy’s feet.
“Damn you, Cleo, you’d better be waiting for me or I swear I’ll never forgive you.”
At that moment, Cleo was being driven towards their hotel, the car passing in front of a certain apartment building. A tenant within the building looked down as Cleo passed by, her long black fingernails leaving scratches as she drew her hand over the glass.
“Little foolish Cléophée. Run about, chase your tail.”
She pulled back from the window: “Now, as for you, slave, I have need of you.”
The shrieks of pleasure echoed down the concrete canyon in the wake of Cleo’s passing, she never hearing them … But, from within her sealed case, a faint red glow seeped past the edges, as if trying to escape before it faded away.