“What are these doing here?” Blaise indignantly asked Miriam as he gestured towards the luggage in the hallway.
“I’m sorry, I just thought…” Miriam started to answer as the doorbell rang for a second time.
I picked myself up as Blaise chided Miriam, “See, I don’t believe you were thinking or else you wouldn’t have left them in such a haphazard spot!”
As Miriam apologized for the inappropriate placement of the bags, I briefly considered ignoring the person who had come to visit because no decent person deserved to get subjected to this clown show, but then I decided to open the door in hopes that maybe it would compel everyone to act normally! To my astonishment, it wasn’t a stranger who had chosen the most inappropriate time to come, it was Roxy! Actually, I shouldn’t have been too surprised about that- she was across the street a few minutes ago! “Blaise, Conor left the luggage there!” Phoebe stepped into that foray. “He-.”
“And why was he doing your job?” Blaise accosted Miriam.
“How can I help you, Roxy?” I loudly queried Roxy in case no had realized that their conversation was no longer private.
To my dismay, Blaise and Miriam kept contending the same point, but Roxy either hadn’t noticed their scuffle or chose to ignore it. “Can I use your bathroom?” she requested.
Phoebe tried to intervene and put an end to that ruckus, but they continued to loudly debate each other despite her most earnest attempts at reconciliation. It baffled me that Roxy could witness such chaos where two of her teachers lived and not even bat an eyelash, but since it didn’t appear to bother her, I supposed that there was no harm in allowing her to enter. “Fine, go ahead!” Big mistake- you’ll see why in a minute!
Roxy went around the participants of that fracas as unmoved as she might be having to steer around an overgrown bush on the sidewalk, and as she nonchalantly strolled past the valises, I lost my patience with this kerfuffle and bellowed, “Alright, that’s enough!” Everyone froze, and admittedly, I felt rather proud of myself for this feat! My father was always able to command attention like that from me and/or the neighborhood kids if anyone was acting up, and if we knew it was one of the rare instances he didn’t have to work, we strove to behave our best to avoid hearing the scary dad voice! …Not that we were bad that often… Anyways, I hadn’t become a parent yet, so I didn’t know I could do that! I made a mental note to keep this tool in my back pocket for my students at school, and then I spoke to Roxy first, “Not you, you can go to the bathroom!” Roxy gratefully sped into the restroom at the end of the hall.
I turned to Blaise and reasoned, “The longer you bicker, the longer the luggage stays out here where you don’t want them to be! So, let’s get your things to your room and focus on getting everything settled for your stay instead.” Miriam swiftly grabbed the baggage and hurried them into the extra bedroom. Blaise clearly didn’t relish someone other than him commanding the helm, so prior to him protesting this standard, I warned him, “It’s my home, so you gotta listen to my rules!” After I heard myself utter those words, I remarked, “Wow! What’s up with me today? Am I being possessed by my father?”
“Are you?” Blaise probed. He then peered at me with great interest, which I found incredibly odd! So much so that it was too difficult for my brain to wrap around this peculiarity to give him a reply!
“Mister Fenmore?” Roxy broke the uncomfortable silence quite unabashedly.
I somewhat vexedly responded, “What?”
She replied, “Your toilet is clogged.”
“Oh great! We’ve got extra people here now, and this is the moment we find out the toilet is broken!” I ranted. “Ugh! It’s too late in the day to call a plumber! We don’t even have any de-clogging fluid!”
“You could use salt and boiling water,” Miriam suggested. “That’s what we used to do in our old commune. We did most of our own fixes ‘cause repairmen tended to avoid going to our place…”
I exasperatedly shrugged and declared, “It’s worth a shot!”
Phoebe filled a pot with water and set it on the stove, and Miriam advised us, “You gotta let the salt sit for a while…”
Still fairly irate, I grabbed a container of salt and marched over to the guest bathroom. I began pouring some in, but I wasn’t certain on the correct amount, so I momentarily quit. I was about to consult with Miriam about this issue when I espied the salt already getting sucked into the drain! “Wow, it’s working without the…” Suddenly, the water inside of the tank started swirling around without being preceded by a flush! “That’s kinda weird…”
“Ooh, it could be magic!” Roxy, who had interestedly peered over my shoulder, excitedly theorized.
“Oh please, it’s not magic!” I disagreed. At that instant, the water rose out of the bowl in a vortex that swirled like a tornado! I stammered, “What the… What’s it… Why… Phoebe!”
Phoebe ran over to us, and the speed of this phenomenon heightened substantially! It whirled faster and faster until it morphed into a ball and shot out towards the wall behind us! We ducked, and when we felt ensured that we would be safe from projectiles, we looked up and beheld the portrait of a pallid, slightly older man with a large bald spot, a crown of darkly hued hair, an obtuse and very crooked nose, and beady, black eyes hung above us on an old nail and rather aged twine! Phoebe and I remained speechless, but Roxy triumphantly exclaimed, “I told you!”
I couldn’t contradict her- obviously, that occurrence hadn’t been produced naturally! I couldn’t comprehend how it came to pass, but I did know one fact regarding this sordid event, “I didn’t do any spells!”
My heart nearly leapt out of my chest when the portrait opened his mouth and articulated, “It’s not a spell, it’s an effect of a potion! And you poured in the final ingredient to make it brew!”
A million bewildered cognitions flurried throughout my head! Did Roxy create a certified jinx for once, or did Blaise set her up? Did Miriam know that salt was needed to produce this enchantment? Did Damon’s key really contain a curse after all, and if it did, why did it wait until right then to manifest? I couldn’t get past this aura of familiarity I got from that man in the painting, so I chose to bring that up in the leadoff, “I’ve heard your voice somewhere! Are you…? No way! You can’t be the guardian of the Netherworld!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the man in portrait challenged me.
“Well, in that abandoned house, you sounded like a… Your pitch gave the impression that… I pictured you more demon-like! I never would have imagined that the scary speaker from the depths of hell was just a grumpy old monk!” I altered my tone completely when it dawned on me that while a talking portrait was super creepy, it didn’t seem like it posed much of a threat! My slur made him pout in an overly miffed manner, and I hypothesized that if he had the same potency that he did previously, he would have struck in that second! I snarkily inquired, “So, what does this spell do other than give you the power to be very annoying?”
He took exception to that characterization, “How dare you! First of all, it’s a potion, not a spell! But more importantly, while I may not be able to attack you personally, I am still guardian of the Netherworld- I could wreak havoc on you if I really wanted to!”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “Seriously? You’re gonna claim that you don’t actually wanna hurt me at all? A few months ago, you threw several bolts of lightning in my direction so your minions could disembowel me in order to retrieve something I swallowed! And now you’re gonna show me mercy?”
“I am not showing you mercy!” the man refuted. “I could easily unleash my wrath if I wanted to! I’m not going to yet though because I need something from you.”
“Oh?” I put my hands on my hips to brace myself for this doozy.
The man requisitioned, “I want my key back!”
I pulled the spoon out of my pocket and pondered, “This is yours? I was under the impression that it belonged to that old geezer, Damon!” Roxy stared at me dubiously, so I let her know, “He was wearing a young person’s disguise! And not a very good one, he had the looks of a rejected extra from The Great Gatsby!”
“Wow, you’re insulting my masterpiece now? You’re not very nice!” the man commented.
“Psh! You tried to kill me, and you want me to show you politeness? You can go to Hell! Oh wait, you’re already there!” I laughed at my own quip partly to incense him further but also due to my lack of sleep making everything seem hilarious!
The man seethed, “I’m in the Netherworld, we’re a grade above Hell! I mean, we do partner with them, but it’s not quite the same! In this realm, the inhabitants are neither alive nor dead…”
I loudly yawned, which wasn’t on purpose but had opportune timing, and then I disinterestedly regarded him, “Alright, that was very interesting, but if that’s all you got, I have other stuff to do…”
“I don’t!” Roxy chimed in. “Is my Damon in there? Can I see him?”
“You can see him if you give me that key!” the man offered.
Roxy lunged after the spoon, but I held it up high enough where she couldn’t reach it. She still kept leaping towards in desperately, but I tuned her out as I addressed the man, “Even if I had any inclination to give you Damon’s key, how would I even do that?” I put it up to the portrait and pointed out, “You can’t exactly grab it, can you? And I don’t know if that spell unclogged the toilet or not…”
He corrected me, “Damon borrowed that key from me. I placed it on earth ages ago so that I could gain direct access to this region and cause even more mayhem!”
“You enjoy causing trouble, but you’re not in Hell?” I needled him.
“No!” He shuddered in annoyance. “We simply allied ourselves with them! You’ll see what I mean when you get here!”
I sardonically posed to him, “I will?”
He insisted, “Yes! You will open the portal and return the key to me! I can’t take it directly since the magic I used before broke when you locked the door, so you got to bring it to me yourself! You can get here through that locked portal. Oh, when you get to the front desk, tell them you’re there to see Babelsama and someone will guide you up here.”
Front desk? He conveyed a visit to Hell as though it was a mere jaunt to an associate’s office space! It was intriguing, but I didn’t pry into it since I had no desire to comply with his demand! “Why would I do that? You’re trying to spread death and destruction throughout the land- why would I let that happen?”
Babelsama made a noise of irritability. “I wouldn’t do anything to you personally! Mayhem is an important part of the life cycle, and I’m just doing my job to make sure that it goes on!” Phoebe and I appeared extremely skeptical, so he growled, “You know what, forget it! I’m not explaining it to you! I’m going to give you one last chance to make the correct choice…”
“Pass!” I rejected his proposition.
“No! I haven’t done anything yet!” Babelsama snapped. He closed his eyes and concentrated hard, and once he built up enough stamina, he released it in a fury of lightning bolts around him! When he finished, we gazed all around the vicinity, but everything seemed unchanged! Before I could say anything smart-alecky, Babelsama instructed, “Give it a while! I had to make it go the long way!”
We let another beat elapse, but we still didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary. I was starting to get the opinion that he had been bluffing when a thunderous clatter blasted from across the street! Babelsama cackled in delight as we ran to the front window and peeked outside in sheer curiosity. To our astonishment, we saw a white glow emanating from the area of that abandoned house where the final vampiric battle ensued, and it grew bigger and bigger until it unexpectedly decided to jet over to our abode! I had no clue what he sent over to us, but what I didn’t expect was…
Roxy shrieked, “Eek! It’s my Damon!” She raced over to give him a hug, but her arms slipped through his transparent body as he floated over us in confusion.
“Why did you bring him here?” I hollered to Babelsama. “Also, I thought you couldn’t do any magic here with the portal closed!”
“I didn’t use the portal,” Babelsama relayed to me. “That was Damon’s final resting place. I may not have the capabilities I’d like to, but I still have power over the undead! If you don’t hand over the key, I’ll keep him there permanently!”
Roxy squealed, “Yay!”
We walked through Damon to return to that bathroom, and I stated to Babelsama, “If you think an annoying presence will tempt me into buckling down to you, you’re dreaming! I’m a teacher- I deal with plenty of them, and no one has broke me yet! I’ve been desensitized to that sort of crap!”
“I didn’t send your typical, run-of-the-mill ghost; I equipped him with the power of the fear mongers!” He glimpsed at us with the assumption that this would paralyze us with apprehension, but we all had blank expressions on our faces. “You know, the fear mongers! Really?” He huffed and then educated us, “They have the ability to conjure up the deepest fear of their chosen victim! If you agree to take the key back to the Netherworld, I won’t allow him to bother you, but if you don’t, he will unleash an unbelievable amount of terror in your community!” He snickered at our perturbation, and then he entreated, “So, what do you say now?” My eyes flickered between him, Damon, and my housemates as I mulled over how to respond to this…