The Neophyte

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The Worldly Realm

TRISTAN

The mansion was newly-repainted but otherwise it looked exactly as I remembered. The gardener was mowing the lawn as I passed the gates. He looked up and waved.

“Young Mister Embers! It has been a year!” He greeted and hugged me.

“It’s great to see you again, Robert. You look healthy as always. The flora is flourishing, might I add.”

“Thank you. Last week, Mrs Ryans dropped by. She invited your mother into her book club. And there were a few mailmen who delivered some parcels, nothing more. Your father has been very busy working from his office. His construction firm seems to be successful. Just a contractor, engineer and an architect that came by for meetings.”

“How often?” I asked.

“Bi-weekly. Them folks always have them in the conference room where your father conducts them. Sometimes I can see them through the window when I trim the hedges near the gates.”

“I hope my parents are well?”

Robert grinned, “Healthy as horses, aside from the event from last night.”

“Was Mrs Ryans involved?”

“I believe she was the culprit, or at least it mimicked her. Just a week before her visit, she came over to the house looking for your mother. Said her daughter just had a baby and wanted to invite your mother to her home but your mother turned her down wisely.”

Daughter?” I asked, quizzical. “Did she mean Delilah? As far as I’m concerned, I thought she lives alone.”

“Yes. She may only be in her forties but her mind is in the gutter, sadly.”

I glanced at the house next door. “Is she all right? Where is she now?”

“There is a nurse that comes by fortnightly to check on her. Your mother worries but she keeps her distance.”

I nodded, mentally keeping note. “Thank you, Robert.”

“You’re most welcome, dear Mr Embers. Your father is in his office,” he said, pointing to the third storey. “Would you like me to ring him first?”

“No need,” I smiled. My presence was to be a surprise.

Robert nodded and led me to the door. With a pair of gardening pliers in one hand, he rang the doorbell with the other. I straightened my coat and looked around. The cameras I placed a year before were still intact and functioning. Robert had been cleverly identifying all the comings and goings of the guests and my parents.

The door opened. My mother’s olive-green eyes bore on me, her mouth agape. Without further hesitation, she pulled me into her arms and we embraced. A year was too long for my dear mother.

“My boy,” she uttered into my hair. “I’ve been worried.”

“I’m here, mama. Are you all right?”

“I’m all right, my love.” She pulled away and held my gaze, “Would you like something to eat? How long are you planning to stay?”

“A week, if you and father don’t mind.”

“More than happy,” she hugged again. She led me in and Robert closed the door.

“Robert deserves a raise,” I said, removing my coat and hanging it on the rack. My mother was already halfway to the kitchen.

“We’ve doubled his salary after what happened this last night.”

I followed her. “Walk me through it.”

She poured hot tea into a mug. “Mrs Ryans came by to ask me to join her book club. I said no but she insisted. We thought that was normal, considering her, you know, waning mind.”

“But she’s only forty-three?”

“She has a condition, Tristan. Anyway, she came by the night after I rejected her offer to ask for sugar. Then she told me that her daughter just had a baby and asked if I wanted to go and visit.”

I leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed my arms. “Why is she talking to you, after all these years? And what’s this I hear about Delilah? Did she not pass away nineteen years ago? We were all at her funeral.”

My mother did not look up from the teapot. She daintily placed it back onto the stove and brought the mug to me. She closed the distance between us and lowered her voice, “She’s been acting rather strangely these days, I’m not sure what to believe. Even last night, I believed she was...deranged.”

She stepped away to get to the refrigerator. She bent over and pulled out a plate of leftover cheesecake wrapped in cling wrap. With her hands holding the plate, she eyed me, “Your father suspects that she wasn’t herself because she might be dabbling in some dark magic.”

I could not resist a smirk, “Mama, there is no such thing. Casting such spells would require the Spellcaster to summon the Unholy black aura which is impossible for mortals. Only Vampires have this aura and last I looked, they can’t cast spells.”

She smiled like she was amused. “I knew you’d say that. Anyway, your father went over to her house one night to see if she was all right. We were worried. When he stood on her porch, he saw that she was not alone.”

“The nurse?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No, sweetie, your father saw Delilah.”

I was digesting so much information. “But she—”

“Dead? Yes, but your father insisted. The same red curls, the rosy cheeks and she was rather animated. They chatted away so lively in the night. She still looked eighteen, according to your father. Poor man, he hardly slept that night.

“It was a quarter past midnight. Your father kept tossing and turning. Then he woke me up because the lights started flickering. When the lights turned off again, we both sat up in the dark. I held his hand and I could feel shivers up and down my spine. The hairs on the back of our necks stood—we knew what was to come.

“A soft snicker. It sounded female. Your father reached out for his wand on his nightstand but that was when it attacked us.”

My mother placed the plate on the countertop. Her voice began to shake but she cleared her throat. “Let’s go check on your father. I’m sure he’s been wanting to see you again.”

We climbed up the stairs to the third floor. My father had turned two guest rooms into his office and conference room. They were modern with a minimalist bookshelf, a computer desk and wide window frames. He was typing away when we entered the office.

“Tristan!” He looked up through his reading glasses. He put them away and stood up. We embraced for a minute or so before he pulled away to grip my shoulders and looked squarely in my face.

“You look more and more like your grandfather in his heyday.”

I returned a smile and we took a seat. I chose an armchair and my mother perched on the armrest to my left. She set her hands on my shoulders as my father swung his office chair to face me.

“Mama was telling me about Mrs Ryans. You were attacked?”

“Yes. But we escaped the scene unscathed, thanks to Robert. He was alerted by the breaking of one of our lamps when I was wrestling with Mrs Ryans. He knocked her almost unconscious and I managed to cast the oblivion spell. But she escaped and fled. She hasn’t come by since.”

I rubbed my face and leaned back. “May I see the footage, father? From the cameras?”

He whirled his chair back to the computer and began clicking. I got up from the chair and stood behind him to watch.

“I’ve brightened the picture,” he said and lifted a brown finger to a corner of the screen. “She’s right there at the doorway.”

It was their bedroom, just as my mother had said. I squinted to look. It was a silhouette of a lady, but it did not look like Mrs Ryans.

“Could you zoom in, please? And turn up the audio?”

He did and handed me a pair of headphones. The silhouette stayed there the whole time my father tossed and turned and my mother slept. It appeared at approximately eleven, an hour before the lights flickered and made itself known to my parents.

“That is not Mrs Ryans. No human can pass the motion sensors without setting off the alarm. If it really was Mrs Ryans, Robert would have known,” I said and listened carefully. “I can hear someone murmuring.”

“What is it, son?”

“Indistinct chatter, I presume. The intonation sounds repeated; I believe it could be a chant. Like a spell, maybe?”

I listened again. I could not make out what spell it was. I removed the headphones and turned to my father, whose brown eyes still glued to the computer. “I’ll need to speak to Mrs Ryans.”

“That’s too dangerous—”

“I’ll be careful,” I assured my worried mother, “You and father must stay here. I’ll have Robert to look out for anything unusual.”

“Yes my dear, I trust that Tristan can take good care of himself,” my father chimed in. “After all, he is a Sage.”

* * *

Evening was approaching by the time I set out. Autumn in suburban Orchidville could get very chilly. I put on my grey beanie and my red coat and headed out the door. I pocketed my gloves and felt for my wand in my inner coat pocket. Still there. I held the box of brownies which my mother baked; an excuse.

I left the front gates of the mansion and watched the sky darken. My boots crunched the gravel as I made my way down the road towards Mrs Ryans’s house. Along the way, I noticed a peculiar trend among the other houses on that street—they were all empty.

Suburban Orchidville was placed up a hill where we could look down onto the city centre. My parents’ house was situated at the end of the street, for it was the biggest one yet, while the other mansions were still grand but not as large. I arrived at Mrs Ryans’ house after ten minutes of walking. The gates were opened and the buzzer did not work. I walked up to the porch.

“Hello? Mrs Ryans?” I knocked on the door. The sun had fully sunken beneath the horizon. Night had arrived.

The locked clinked and the door opened. Mrs Ryans stood before me, a head barely reaching my shoulders. I held out the box of brownies.

“I’m Tristan, Margaret Embers’s son? I’ve come to say hello and brought you these. I baked them earlier this afternoon, and thought I’d drop by. How have you been?” Just as I had rehearsed in my head.

Mrs Ryans was small in stature and looked older than she really was. Robert said she might be suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, but I highly doubted it. She looked sane and genuine when she greeted me.

“Tristan, of course! What a pleasant surprise,” she received the brownies from my hands. She held my wrist and towed me in. “Has it been so long?”

“It’s been nineteen years since we last saw each other.”

“The funeral, yes,” she smiled. Her teeth were yellow and the rims of her pupils were greyish. She was not even forty-five yet.

Mrs Ryans closed the door behind us. “I’ll put these in the kitchen.”

She disappeared through the beaded curtain. Junk from the seventies strewn about in the living room; vinyls on top of an old record player, a dusty dim lava lamp, red-painted walls and a retro movie poster half hung on the wall, its top half caked in dust. The floorboards beneath my boots creaked from my weight. I stood awkwardly in the middle, hands in my pockets.

“Lovely place,” I said out loud, “very cozy.”

“Oh yes,” she replied from the kitchen and laughed, “The world has moved on to the new century but I’m still living in the seventies.”

Seems normal, I thought. The Carpenters were playing from the record player. Mrs Ryans began talking loudly about her new book club. My eyes noticed the dark stairwell next to the kitchen. The only lights were the one from the kitchen and an old-fashioned string of christmas lights hanging above the mantelpiece. I eyed the knick-knacks that were aligned above the unused fireplace. The temperature had dropped and I could see my own breath.

“Mrs Ryans? Would you mind turning up the heat? It’s a little chilly out,” I asked. No answer.

I waited. I scanned the room to look for a thermostat. “Mrs Ryans?”

I turned to the kitchen but it was dark. The only light source was coming from the colourful lights in front of me. My heart began to race but it was not because I was afraid. The hair at the back of my neck began to stand.

As a mortal, these are the signs that one should start to be wary of. I looked around me, my eyes adjusting in the dark. The only sounds emitted were The Carpenters and the floorboards. I reached into my coat pocket for my wand.

A movement. I caught a glimpse of it from the stairwell. The room got much colder. Mrs Ryans would not have been able to move that quick. No mortal could.

It fleeted from one end of the room to another, coming closer. Then it stopped at the main door. A silhouette of a lady, similar to the one in my parents’ bedroom from that night. I light up my wand with the light of the Lunar. It began to shine bright like a torchlight.

“Show yourself,” I demanded. The shadow stepped forward into my light. I almost dropped my wand, “Delilah?”

“Don’t kill me!” She cried, holding her hands to her face. “Please, Tristan.”

I could not see her face. I recognised her red hair and pale skin and my thoughts flew to her. But of course, that was not Delilah.

“Every mortal knows that magic cannot kill.”

She moved back into the shadow. There was a glint of her true form before she was obscured by the dark. Then she laughed, a deep-throated, maniacal laugh.

“Show me your true form, djinn!” I pulled out my wand and pointed it towards it, “Arsonion!”.

White flames extended my wand towards the door but the silhouette dematerialised just in time. Instead of meeting their intended target, the flames melted the door knob.

From behind, I felt it appeared. As I was about to turn, it swung me forward and I fell hit hard onto the door.

“Useless, Sage!” It raged. It did not sound like Delilah anymore.

The djinn grabbed my throat and lifted me from the floor. I struggled and choked as it laughed. I shut my eyes and channeled all my energy into the spell, “Arsonion oblivion!

It dropped me and stumbled back. The spell cast a black hole within its target as it caught in flames. I watched as it screamed in agony into the dark. Its strength could not overpower the black hole as it absorbed every part of its body, down to the last, black claw. The room returned to its silence, even the record player stopped playing. I felt an ache in my lower left rib as I stood up for the door. Then I remembered about Mrs Ryans.

“Mrs Ryans?” I asked, holding up my wand. Absolute silence.

“Mrs Ryans, the djinn is gone now.” I coughed and then winced. I definitely broke a rib or two.

I made my way up the stairs to look for her. I let my instincts lead me to one of the bedrooms on the upper floor. All the rooms were opened except one. The door was shut and there was a blood handprint on the door frame and knob. I froze the doorknob with a freezing spell and kicked it open. A gust of cold air rushed out of the room.

The room was immaculate, to my surprise. I turned on the light but it did not work. I shone my wand inside. Everything was caked in dust. The furniture in that room was simple—a wardrobe, a dresser with drawers and a bed. I scanned inside the wardrobe. Just clothes. I moved to the dresser with a mirror and a stool. Looked like my grandmother’s.

There was a pile of unsent letters written to Mr Ryans. I remembered him—a sailor with rough hands who never returned from sea. No one knew what happened to him and his crew. I looked up from the papers to the mirror. A small scratch on my cheekbone. Then I noticed something behind me on the bed. I straightened myself and whirled on my heels to see it.

A fully intact skeleton laid on the bed, clutching a portrait of Delilah.

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