Awkward

From last post:

Leticia stopped fighting and had the same blank stare she did when Pickman first showed up. Then, with a look of fury, she ran toward me.

Leticia grabbed Pickman and flung him. She raced to where he landed and threw him again. Ella, Ingrid, and Pike stagger-jogged over to me and we followed Leticia.

After a couple minutes we came across her at the edge of a gully, with her back to us. She was tossing aside the crossbow bolt previously lodged in her back. Her head turned slightly as she approached.

“I really wish you guys would stay back,” she said. “I got a little, ah, carried away.”

Ingrid borrowed Ella’s flashlight and shined it into the gully. “Whoa-ho!” she said.

“So he’s dead,” said Ella. She sounded almost irritated.

“Hey, um, Leticia, what happened with you back there?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said. She still wasn’t looking at us.

“Was he controlling you?” asked Pike.

“Not exactly,” Leticia responded. “Out of nowhere I had this urge. No, it was way stronger than that. It was like I had to…”

I waited for her to finish but she didn’t. “Do you suppose Pickman did something when he took our memories?” I asked.

“Maybe,” she said. “I’ve got people I can ask.”

“Miriam might know,” said Ella.

Leticia turned around. She looked at Ella for a few moments. I thought would be a good occasion for Ella to apologize for shooting Leticia but she just looked back.

“I think,” said Leticia, “I should probably…keep my distance for a while. Until I know for sure what happened.”

“You’re fine now,” I said. “Getting rid of Pickman is probably all you needed to do.”

Leticia sighed. “Maybe. But still…I guess I need to work out whether it’s safe for me to be around, you know, regular folks.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Ella, without much trace of anything resembling sympathy. I looked at her with a little annoyance and she did the same with me.

“All right,” I said, “Well, um, don’t take too long.”

Leticia smiled. “I should probably clean up,” she said. She went in to the gully and hoisted Pickman over her shoulder. She leapt to the edge opposite us.

“Hey Ella,” she said. Ella raised an eyebrow. “Nice shot,” Leticia said. It was too dark to see Leticia’s expression from where I was standing and I couldn’t really read her tone. She sped away.

We went back to the scene of the fight, where we retrieved what gear we could find. Pike was willing to wait until daylight to see if he could find his knife, and was pretty excited about finding Pickman’s camera. I asked Ella why she was less than pleased about Pickman’s death.

“He must have had some astonishing information that we’ll never know,” she said. “But I didn’t think someone I shot with a crossbow would be in a mood to accept criticism.”

We did consult with Miriam the next day, who said that Pickman probably implanted the magical equivalent of a post-hypnotic suggestion in Leticia, one that required his concentration to work.

Come back soon, Vampire Fangirl.

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The bride of darkness

From last post:

Leticia was standing in front of Pickman, her shoulders perpendicular to his. She was holding her right arm straight out and in her hand was what I guessed to be the dart Ingrid had fired. Leticia looked over her shoulder at us, eyes wide and fangs bared.

“Oh crap,” said Ingrid. She got her crossbow ready. “Does silver work on vampires?” Pike said he thought so and that’s what his knife was made of.

“But is it, like, an allergy?” asked Ingrid. “If I hit her foot am I going to kill her?”

Pickman laughed. “You must be Ingrid and Pike. Mr. Pike, surely you appreciate the opportunity to give your life for visual art.”

“Die for an art film? Never. Your wolfman’s going to be cake.”

“I’m afraid my associate doesn’t do requests,” said Pickman. “Anyway, I prefer the smaller, more emotional drama of a fight between friends.” The creature growled something at Leticia and loped off.

“OK,” said Ingrid. “So, Leticia, I don’t know if you can hear me or what’s going on, but I’m really sorry that I might have to…”

Leticia charged at Ingrid, checking her with her shoulder and knocking her against a tree. Ingrid collected herself and raised her crossbow, but Leticia grabbed her and threw her into Ella, bouncing the pair of them off another tree. They fell to the ground.

Leticia whirled around in time to see Pike approaching, with the knife instead of the sword. They circled each other briefly, but Leticia put an end to that with a kick to Pike’s temple, knocking him down. She then kicked the knife out of his hand.

I could see why Pickman referred to the situation he created as art: Leticia was a visually stunning adversary, performing incredible feats of strength with elegance, her coat twirling dramatically around her. My awe overcame my common sense, causing me to stand still when she approached me, though I don’t see how flight would have been an option. She grabbed me by my neck and lifted me.

“Poor little man,” Leticia whispered. “Wanting what you can’t have.”

That statement may seem strange now. But looking at her face, whose beauty was weirdly enhanced by an almost feral exultation, the meaning was clear to me.

“Now that’s just the influence of the evil warlock talking,” I responded.

Leticia laughed softly. “I haven’t truly feasted on a human since I was first turned.”

She opened her mouth but instead of approaching my neck, she shrieked and dropped me. She spun around and I saw, sticking out of her lower back, a crossbow bolt.

Crawling to my right I saw Ella, holding an empty crossbow pointed at Leticia. Her head was angled over the weapon, so her hair hung over her face. She looked kind of hot.

Leticia ran at Ella but Pike and Ingrid intercepted her, grabbing her and tackling her to the ground. I saw a light approaching them: Pickman with his camera. I approached the light, walking in a wide curve. Leticia, meanwhile, was on her feet, but her three opponents were putting up a good fight. Soon I was close to Pickman. Close enough to Taser him.

Pickman dropped his camera with a yell. Leticia stopped fighting and had the same blank stare she did when Pickman first showed up. Then, with a look of fury, she ran toward me.

Pickman’s model

Two weekends ago Ingrid notified me that, as promised after our Twilight trip, she was ready to hunt the creature in Pickman’s video. She had been doing some searching over the last several weeks and discovered tracks that she thinks it left. The party would be Ingrid, me, Ella, Pike and Leticia, and we would be tracking it at night.

As with the werewolf hunt, we first gathered at Ingrid’s. Ingrid was bringing her machete again but was using a pistol instead of a rifle for tranquilizer darts. She also had her crossbow slung over her shoulder. She gave Tasers to Ella and me. Pike had the sword he brought to the cabin and a knife in his belt. “I guess you don’t need anything, huh?” Ingrid said to Leticia. Leticia responded by assuming a fighting stance and saying “Hwa-cha!” All of us were bundled up but she was wearing a simple black overcoat.

Ingrid had night vision goggles and Leticia had her natural version, and the moon was bright enough so that the rest of us didn’t need our flashlights to follow them. The local university operates a laboratory farm that includes a horse barn and rodeo arena, and it was there that we parked and made our approach to the wooded area that the amphitheater also borders.

The werewolf hunt had kind of a thrill but for this one the feeling of danger was stronger. It was kind of funny, trying to think of why hunting a werewolf wasn’t as big a deal as hunting a wolf Bigfoot or whatever it was we saw in Pickman’s video. Ingrid assured us she found only one set of tracks, which gave us some slight relief.

Leticia picked up on the creature’s scent before Ingrid spotted fresh tracks. As we mere humans followed the trail we too detected an odor like decaying meat. So we weren’t surprised when Leticia soon held up her hand and Ingrid raised her crossbow. We moved forward slowly.

We saw it in profile as it was digging in the ground near a fallen tree. After I had been looking at it for a few seconds it turned its head toward us with a smooth movement and stood. It was at least six feet high. I knew what it looked like from the video but seeing it in the flesh I saw that its face was more expressive than I thought, more like an ape’s than a dog’s. It growled in a way that sounded like it spoke a word. I thought it sounded like “gadara” but Ella says it was “garuda.”

“Whoa,” said Ingrid, “Ella! Should we, like, talk to it?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Well, yeah, you’re into weird stuff.”

“You hunt werewolves!”

“Shhh!” It was Leticia. “There’s someone else here.”

We heard footsteps on the snow and then a light shone on us. The surprise made the light seem larger and brighter than it was. Once I collected myself I saw that it was a light attached to a video camera. I heard a man’s voice murmuring. Then he spoke.

“So pleased to see you again,” the man with the camera said. “Though of course you don’t remember our first meeting.”

“Pickman,” I said. I looked at Leticia, who had fought Pickman in our first encounter, but she was just staring blankly. The creature hadn’t moved.

“That’s Pickman?” said Ingrid. “Should I put him to sleep?”

Ella and I agreed. Ingrid fired her pistol.

And then Leticia was standing in front of Pickman, her shoulders perpendicular to his. She was holding her right arm straight out and in her hand was what I guessed to be the dart Ingrid had fired. Leticia looked over her   shoulder at us, eyes wide and fangs bared.

Another blog, another Twilight post

This weekend I joined an actual vampire, a werewolf hunter, a scholar of the weird, and a sword-wielding filmmaker for a matinee of the new Twilight movie. It was something Leticia suggested, I guess to show us there were no hard feelings after we crashed the film festival last month. Or maybe to punish us.

Seeing New Moon isn’t something I would have considered if Leticia hadn’t asked and I think Ella, Ingrid, and Pike felt the same way. Before the movie started we would periodically look at each other with “So…um…Twilight” kinds of expressions. We sat on a side bank of seats near the back, so Pike and Ingrid wouldn’t obstruct the views of 90% of the people in the audience.

The order we were sitting in was Ingrid, Ella, me, Leticia, and Pike. My position in the middle gave me an interesting auditory experience. For instance, here’s what I heard from my left and right in the scene when Bella mopes around for three months:

I: chortle
E: exasperated sigh
L: sympathetic “mmmm”
P: derisive “pfff”

Here’s what I heard when Jacob whips his shirt off:

I: chortle
E: intrigued “mmmm”
L: luxurious “mmmm”
P: exasperated sigh

Afterward we went to Perkins, where Leticia assured us she wouldn’t take it personally if we didn’t like the movie. Her only complaint seemed to be that the sole red-haired vampire was a villainess. Actually, most of the time we spent on the movie was asking Leticia how closely it matched up with her experience. There weren’t a lot of questions she was comfortable answering directly.

Ella asked her if there was an actual vampire council like the Volturi and Leticia responded that if there was, you wouldn’t have to get in an elevator to see them. Ingrid asked if Edward was a typical vampire. “I’ve met some like that,” Leticia said with a smirk.

Pike wondered if vampires’ fangs get in the way if they kiss humans and requested that Leticia demonstrate a safe mouth-to-mouth kissing technique on Ingrid. Leticia and Ingrid laughed and Ella uttered the same sigh she did during the movie.

I  asked about human-vampire couples. Actually it was more like, “So, a human and vampire…you know…is that…I mean…do…” Leticia responded that it was complicated. Actually it was more like, “Yeah…I…there have been…it’s not…um…” Ingrid put an end to it by slamming her hand on the table. “Dudes!” she exclaimed. “We’ve got to hunt that dog thingy once there’s snow on the ground and I can track it!” We agreed.

Maestro

From last post…

“You guys shouldn’t be here!” [Leticia] whispered. I asked what she meant. “I mean that everyone here is…” she glanced to my left and gasped. I looked in that direction and saw a pair of guys glaring at me. They looked familiar but it took me a few seconds to place them: they were the vampires Leticia was with when we first met her. They strode toward us.

“Pike,” I said, “are we crashing a film festival of the undead?”

“You brought them here?” snapped one of Leticia’s former companions.

“She had nothing to do with this,” I said.

Other people in the crowd were starting to look at us. “We’re just here to see the Pickman film,” said Pike.

“You’re not welcome here!” hissed the second guy. I think he’s the one Pike hit with his sword in our first encounter. He opened his mouth wide, exposing his fangs. “You will regret this intrusion.”

“Ho ho!” said Ingrid. She pulled from her purse a metal rod and shoved the purse at me. “You want a piece, Twilight?”

I didn’t find out until later that Ingrid was holding a collapsible baton. The reason I didn’t find out is that we heard a voice say “Stop.” It was an interesting voice: calm, commanding, and with the purity of a struck tuning fork. Everyone was silent.

I looked around and saw a figure that I somehow knew was the source of the voice, even though his back was to us. He was wearing a long, dark coat and had hair to match. He was standing in front of an open door and we saw his pale face in profile. He raised his right hand, pointed into the room he was standing in front of, and went in. I followed the direction without questioning it for a second, and it appeared that Ella, Pike, and Ingrid were equally compelled.

red_birch

We found ourselves in a classroom, facing two men. One was the person who directed us into the room, a man whose face had a refined majesty that evoked the portrait of a great historical figure like Washington or Jefferson. Or Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies. The other was a man with a beard and a scar near one eye, and I realized he must be Bertrand, one of the vampires Ella met at the bookstore. Ella, Pike, Ingrid, and I stood in the middle of the room while the other people took places around the walls. I spotted Leticia, who looked worried.

“Greetings,” said Maestro Nosferatu or whatever he was, in that same fascinating voice.

“Hello” I said. “Nice to meet some fellow film fans.” I gave Leticia a small grin, and she responded by widening her eyes and shaking her head.

“Well. An insouciant [I had to look that word up] young man who is acquainted with our sister Leticia and whose company includes a warlike Norsewoman. Arthur Lewis Ormand, I presume.”

“Yes.” I was a little surprised, which Maestro appeared to pick up on.

“I find value in the public chronicles of the hidden world. There are others who do not. Leticia has told you this.”

“She has. She’s not the reason we’re here, by the way.”

“You need not fear for her. What you will do is tell me why you are here.”

I explained our earlier run-in with Pickman and that we thought the film was by the same man. Maestro asked his people if Pickman had made an appearance at the festival and he hadn’t. Next he spoke to Ella, asking her if Pickman was connected to the lore she discussed with Bertrand; Ella said she was unsure.

Maestro and Bertrand had a brief conversation and Maestro looked at us. “One of us will deliver the Pickman film to you,” he said, “if we feel it would be…appropriate. The four of you shall leave, unimpeded. Bertrand shall accompany you, as there are some things he wishes to discuss with Miss Sherrinford.”

Maestro then looked at me and everything around us seemed to grow dim, as if we were on a bare stage, each illuminated by a spotlight. “I trust, Arthur Lewis Ormand, you will make a better attempt to stay on good terms with those who walk in the dark. You will need all the allies you can acquire, if you continue to confront these eldritch things.”

I don’t remember what I said in return, just feeling desperate to get out of there. Pike, Ingrid and I stayed close together while Bertrand and Ella walked ahead, talking in low voices. I glanced at Leticia, who gave me a relieved sort of smile.

On the way to the car I kept looking behind me, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” running through my head. When we got there Bertrand departed with a slight bow. We all let out a sigh. Except for Ella, none of us had said anything since we left the classroom.

“We totally could have taken those guys, you know,” said Ingrid.

The discussion between Ingrid and Pike on the way home, going through the various combat scenarios possible with Ingrid’s weapons and whatever objects we could find on site, helped make me feel a little less anxious about the whole encounter. Not by much though. I think Ingrid picked up on that, because she proposed that we all stop at her home before we went our separate ways. We wound up staying there until dawn.

More movie fun with Pike

Last post I talked about some video Pike recorded at an underground film festival and he recently told me about another festival that was keeping a low profile. He hadn’t heard of this one before and found out about it through someone he knows at the University of Minnesota, who said that a screening room on campus was reserved all weekend by an unidentified organization. Pike went there the first night and, while he didn’t pick up a schedule or see any movies, was able to use his camera to zoom in on a large schedule posted outside the door, where we were able to see Pickman’s name attached to a film.

I asked Pike why he didn’t investigate further, and he told me the crowd there was “dressed like the board members of a goth corporation” and he would have stood out. Not a good thing for an event he and most other people apparently weren’t supposed to know about.

Pike was going to go again that night and asked if Ella and I wanted to go too and see if we could get in. Both of us were interested. I also called Ingrid, who’s interested in that creature Pike showed me from Pickman’s video, and she wanted to go as well. I tried to invite Leticia but was only able to leave a message on her phone.

Saturday evening we arrived at the screening room, all dressed in dark semi-formal wear. Ella used this as one of her rare occasions to wear makeup, which included eyeliner and dark red lipstick. Ingrid was wearing a long skirt, which was the first time I’d seen her not wearing jeans, and carried a large purse which I imagined contained her high-class evening combat gear.

We must have arrived between screenings because there was a small crowd outside the doors. No one seemed to look at us like we were out of place and we checked out the schedule of films. When I looked at Pike’s image of the schedule I didn’t pay attention to the entries other than Pickman’s, but now I saw that the film that we had apparently just missed was created by someone named Leticia.

I pointed this out to the others and looked at the crowd, wondering if it was a coincidence, when I saw “our” Leticia talking and laughing with someone. We made our way over to her, and when she finished her conversation she noticed us. Her expression quickly became one of shock.

“You guys shouldn’t be here!” she whispered. I asked what she meant. “I mean that everyone here is…” she glanced to my left and gasped. I looked in that direction and saw a pair of guys glaring at me. They looked familiar but it took me a few seconds to place them: they were the vampires Leticia was with when we first met her. They strode toward us.

“Pike,” I said, “are we crashing a film festival of the undead?”

Favors and sharing

Saturday Ella went to Minneapolis to connect with her old roommate Tes, who added a comment about Pickman to the last post. I asked Ella about Tes’ uncommon name, and she told me Tes is short for Tesla. Tes has a twin sister named Faraday, who goes by Fara.

Ella was supposed to work at the bookstore on Saturday so needed someone to cover for her on short notice, and I volunteered. When I got there Saturday morning, Ella and Miriam appeared to be finishing up some kind of kids’ event. A blond girl with gumdrop-shaped cheekbones was writing something on a whiteboard. Nearby was a young boy with a bandage on his chin, looking around with a “what just happened?” kind of expression. Their mother soon collected them and let them out of the store. “Bye El-la!” said the boy. “Bye El-la!”

I picked up pretty quickly from Ella what I would need to know that day, and we agreed to get together later that night so she could tell me what she learned from Tes. Ella deleted the history on the store computer’s browser and I kidded her about that. She told me that some of the things she had been looking at were “kind of intense” — I chose to do the gentlemanly thing and not take the bait.

DSCF6742

There were only a couple of customers and I was able to handle them fine. I did have a strange experience with someone who seemed to have mistaken the store for the university’s rare books collection, based on the titles he was asking for. He must have been from out of town because I have to believe that I would have noticed him before in a town the size of Detling: he was astonishingly tall and had a weirdly resonant voice.

The most interesting experience of the day was a visit from Pike. He showed me a video he had secretly recorded at an underground film festival, produced by a filmmaker named Pickman.

I saw a familiar-looking stone ring in the ground at night. An arm shot up from it, and I saw a clawed hand grasp the edge. Then another arm and claw. A dog-like head emerged, and then the entire creature leapt out. Its body was shaped like a human’s but with a forward slumping posture, and the camera followed it as it loped away from the ring.

Pike stopped the video. The whole thing had a home movie kind of feel, with no music or stylized lighting. “It gets pretty nasty after that,” he said.

“That monster looked pretty realistic.”

“I don’t think it could have been more realistic.”

“You don’t think it was, like, real real, do you?”

“Actually, I do.”

Pike may have been on to something. He joined Ella and me at Emmie’s Bar when she reported on her conversation with Tes. Apparently many years ago there was a painter by the name of Pickman in Boston, whose artwork featured astonishingly lifelike depictions of monstrous creatures. And Tes had learned of an urban legend that claimed Pickman used living models for his work.