Once Upon a Town
“Most of what I’m about to tell you is gleaned from what I know and saw with my own eyes; mixed with what others have told me, and also some speculation based on bits of information Zedda has let slip.” Egann said, in a precise manner that reminded Mike of Spencer.
I wonder what the Dreadniks are doing right now, Mike thought to himself, Peggy especially.
“I don’t know if Zedda was born here in Murgent,” Egann continued, “But I do know she spent most of her childhood here. From what I gather, it was a lousy childhood.”
“She has my sympathy.” said Mike, with no small degree of sarcasm.
“When she was old enough,” Egann went on, “Maybe even before then; she left Murgent. She was gone a long time, twenty some odd years, by my calculations. At some point in that span, she gained access to a buttload of magical powers.”
“Here, speculation ends; and the true facts, as I know them, begin. Five years ago, Zedda came back to Murgent, and she didn’t come alone. With her, came the one we know as Mr. Blessure.”
“What about Mr. Balooda?” Mike asked.
“He didn’t come until later. Anyway, the day Zedda came back was the worst day in the history of Murgent, and only the first of many. She worked fast; setting up the invisible force field upon arrival. Then, every animal other than human keeled over and died: cows, chickens, fish, horses, dogs, cats, etc. Birds fell from the sky in a rain of thuds; and every creature that died, putrefied in minutes.
“Zedda had only just begun.
“Soon after, every town water source: the tap, the well, the lake; became foul and undrinkable. Even the thirstiest person in creation would not be able to stomach even smelling it. Boiling didn’t help; it just made the stench more pungent.
“Vegetation came next. Every crop, fruit, vegetable, flower, blade of grass, and weed in Murgent took on a yellowed and desiccated look. Trees became dark, twisted things.
“Of course, nothing was edible; anyone doing so would suffer violent spasms and horrible horrible hallucinations.
“Stocked away foods fared no better. Frozen, refrigerated, and pantried food all went bad overnight. Canned foods, boxed foods, preserves, the whole deal. You’d open up a jar or can of something, only to get squirming maggots, or rotting filth.”
“Didn’t anybody realize it was her doing all this?” Mike asked.
“Eventually,” Egann answered, “But there was a lot of confusion in the beginning, as you can well imagine. Zedda and Mr. Blessure took over the Sarrgoset Hotel, after driving everyone in it out, with dread illusions. By then, the people of Murgent had put two and two together.”
“Did they try to stop her?”
“Oh yes. But nothing worked. Any gun or rifle aimed at her would jam, and then turn red hot, burning the would-be assassin’s hand. Anyone getting close enough to attack her would be torn to ribbons by Mr. Blessure. They tried burning down the hotel, but the fire wouldn’t take, even with gas. Some tried lobbing explosives through the windows, but they wouldn’t go off, until Zedda had them fly back to the throwers.
“It was impossible to communicate with the outside world, as well. Help could not be called. At last, the townspeople decided to go after Zedda and Mr. Blessure en masse, with torches, knives, and clubs.
“Zedda made them all go insane.
“In one fell swoop, with one powerful incantation, every person in Murgent, above the age of fifteen, went stark raving bonkers. They started attacking each other, and other buildings in town, but never the hotel. They never get too close to the hotel. That’s a method in their madness Zedda made sure of.”
“Why did she spare the kids?” Mike asked.
“I was getting to that.” Egann said, “That night, the night all the adults went nuts, we were all summoned. An irresistible urge to go into the hotel possessed all the youth of Murgent. It was like we were sleepwalking. Only when we were there, did we awake to where we were. Zedda addressed us all from the balcony, and told us that this was our new home, and that from now on, our lives were to be lived in her service.”
“I assume that didn’t go down very well.” Mike said.
“No, but with the Bitch Goddess and her thug on one side, and insane townspeople running amok on the outside, we had no real options but to comply. Some did try to rebel, or escape; but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Those were the first to taste death at the hands of Mr. Blessure, and the awful return to life. Zedda had him kill us all, one by one, slowly; and everyone else was forced to watch.”
“Damn.” Mike said.
“After that, everyone pretty much fell into line, myself included; my rebellious days are long behind me. I’m sure my parents, were they sane, would be amazed.
“Anyway, at first Zedda ran the show around here hands on. She wasn’t as heavy as she is now; she could still run things herself, with Mr. Blessure as back-up. Then, about a year-and-a-half later, she introduced us to Mr. Balooda, who started running things down here, while she and Mr. Blessure retreated to the top floor. Now, we only see her when she summons us up to be brain-drained.”
“Where did Mr. Balooda come from?” Mike asked.
“Haven’t you guessed? Blessure and Balooda are not human.” Egann said, “They’re some sort of demon, summoned by Zedda’s witch magic, to serve her.”
“I figured it had to be something like that.” Mike said, remembering how Balooda had grown monstrous and oversized, when he spat on him. He shivered at the recollection.
“I’ve heard her refer to them as Morrtogs.” Egann added.
“Morrtogs, huh? The name certainly suits ‘em.” Mike ruminated, “Wait a minute! I just thought of something.”
“Where are the older kids?” Mike asked, “You said that everyone below the age of fifteen was spared the insanity. That was five years ago. Those who were fifteen then, are now twenty; but I haven’t seen anyone around here that looks that old.”
“We’re here,” said Egann, “But the same spell that keeps us from dying, keeps us from visibly ageing. We have six and seven year olds among us who still look like toddlers. I myself am pushing twenty.”
“Okay,” said Mike, “Next question. If the food and water and vegetation all went bad, and all the animals died; what do you people eat? What does Zedda eat, for that matter? She lives here too, doesn’t she?”
“The hotel is the only place in Murgent where good water runs from the tap, and pantried foods stay fresh. Once every other week, Zedda sends Mr. Blessure to the nearest towns to get food and other supplies. He goes in a truck that used to belong to the grocer, and returns with the truck full of stuff. Neither the force field, nor the townspeople, gets in his way; Zedda controls both. The food, though, is only for them. Zedda’s spell is all that keeps us alive,” Egann said, bitterly, “We’re not allowed to take the merest sip of water, or the slightest taste of food. Punishment is severe for any infraction, and Zedda always knows.”
At that moment, a boy of about (seemingly) twelve entered the bathroom. He carried a bundle of clothes with him, which he handed to Egann, who handed them to Mike.
“These will do until we get the blood out of yours.” Egann said, “By the way, this is Ray.”
“Hi, I’m Mike.” Mike said, offering Ray his hand.
“I heard.” Ray said. He took Mike’s hand and shook it. “I also heard you pissed off Balooda big time and he messed you up good.”
“He spit in his face.” Egann said.
“Whoa!” Ray said, “You’re either very brave or very stupid.”
“It’s a combination.” Mike replied.
“Ray is working the laundry room this week.” Egann said, “Before you put these on, feel free to use the sink here to clean up; there’s washcloths in the shelf there. Just don’t taste a single drop of water, no matter how thirsty you are, if you know what’s good for you. Don’t ask how Zedda can possibly know; she just does.”
“Need help getting up?” Ray asked.
“Nah, I think I got it.” Mike said, but when he tried to get up, the walls started to move on him, and he had to fight to keep from swooning.
Egann and Ray helped him up. Once up, Mike stood and tried to get his bearings straight.
“Death’s a bitch, ain’t it?” Ray said.
“It’ll pass,” Egann said, “Once you’re clean and dressed, you’ll find me in the kitchen; I’ll have to put you to work somewhere. You can go ahead and leave your dirty clothes in the hamper there; I’ll have Ray pick them up later. Any further questions?”
“Where’s my friend Edward?” Mike asked.
“I have him working in the kitchen.”
“Is he okay?” Mike asked, “He looked kind of vacant when Zedda was finished with him.”
“That’s just a temporary side effect of the brain-drain,” Egann replied, “Though, the shock of your death seemed to have knocked it out of him sooner than usual.”
“Oh yeah, he was there, wasn’t he?”
“He saw the whole thing.” Egann said.
“Crap,” Mike said, putting his hand to his face, “Poor Edward…”
“Mind if I ask you a question?” Egann asked.
“What happened to the girl who came in with you and Edward? Why didn’t she get sent downstairs?”
“The girl? That girl is my sister, Callie,” Mike said, “And that’s a question I’d like answered as well.”