The lunar eclipse is fucking beautiful.
A big swollen harvest moon rises over the city early in the night when I start my patrol. A dark mist slowly creeps across the moon, dyeing it crimson. It hangs over me in the clear dark sky as I leap across the rooftops of Old Town. I’m listening to Dead Can Dance on the audio system, getting the whole vibe going.
I skid to a halt on a slick tile roof when I spot the figure on top of the Masonic Temple, a shadow among the gargoyles and chimneys. Wombat?
A couple of huge leaps and a rebound lands me on top of the Temple, where I find that the shadowy figure is definitely not Wombat.
She pops into a defensive stance – a beautiful raven-haired woman in a black satin dress.
“Oh,” I say. “Hi.” Smooth.
The woman stays in her stance. Her eyes are narrow with suspicion behind a black domino mask.
I look at her, not sure what to do. What’s the protocol here?
“We’re not going to fight or anything, are we?” I smile.
She relaxes her fighting stance. I don’t recognize the style. “I don’t know,” she says. “I haven’t decided yet.” She sounds like Katherine Hepburn.
Doesn’t look like Katherine Hepburn, though. She’s a lush, ivory skinned woman poured into a tight strapless black satin evening dress. Her arms are sheathed in matching opera gloves, and two daring slits in her dress reveal shapely stockinged legs. Violet satin flowers adorn the dress. A black domino mask and lipstick caps off the ensemble. Her scent drifts to me on the fall breeze – she smells like, like…
“Hydrangea,” she says. “My name is Hydrangea.” I've never heard of her.
“Hi. I’m the Velvet Marauder.” Damn, I just now realize how stupid my name sounds.
“I know. Wombat said I could find you here.”
Thank you, Wombat.
“Uh… what can I do for you?” I say. I’m intensely aware of her beautiful, fragrant scent, and the swell of her bosom against the satin dress.
“I’m hunting the reincarnated soul of an evil lama named Yungtun-Trogyal, who I believe intends to open a portal in your city to a hellish dimension called the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” She says it so matter-of-fact that she could be talking about her dry cleaning.
“Sure, okay,” I say, hoping to convey the impression that I’m used to shit like this.
She looks up at the bloody moon. “The eclipse – tonight he will perform the portal ceremony. Tonight he will sacrifice to the zhidags, and they will tear open the fabric between worlds. The portal will grow and the Hungry Ghosts will enter the Human Realm. The Hungry Ghosts infect anyone they bite, multiplying, invading. Evergreen City will become a wasteland of ravenous ghouls.”
“That sounds bad,” I say cheerfully. Ravenous ghouls? That sounds awesome.
She shoots me a look. I get the impression she’s measuring me, appraising me. “Wombat said that you know this city, that you could help me. Will you? Can you?”
I don’t like her tone. “Hey, this is my city," I say. "I have a strict zero tolerance policy on ravenous ghouls. What kind of help do you need?”
Hydrangea seems to make up her mind about something, then says, “Yungtun-Trogyal will use recently deceased bodies as vessels for the Hungry Ghosts once the sacrifice is complete. We need to check places like hospitals, morgues, cemeteries.”
“Okay.” This is getting better and better. Cemeteries and Hungry Ghosts. It’s like a Scooby-Doo episode.
“I thought you could check your underworld sources, see if there’s been any unusual activities, particularly in the Chinese community.”
“Right, I’ll um, check my sources.” Hopefully I sound totally convincing. What sources? I hadn't even heard about the Brain Frogs.
She goes on. “Tonight we should focus on trying to stop the sacrifice.”
“Got it.” Human sacrifice. This is good stuff.
“I’ll check the cemeteries, you check the zoo,” she says.
“I’m sorry, what? The zoo?”
She nods. “Yungtun-Troygal must sacrifice a goat, yak, or other horned, cloven foot beast to the zhidags, the demons who guard the portal between the Realms.”
“Oh. Right. No human sacrifice?” I’m sure I sound bummed.
“Tibetan mysticism doesn’t require human sacrifice, Marauder.”
She hands me a little bronze brooch, shaped like a figure eight. “This is a dorje. Think of me when you hold the dorje and we will be able to communicate. Summon me if you find anything interesting.”
I take the brooch. “We’re not teaming up, checking out cemeteries and stuff…?”
She smiles, not unkindly. “Let’s rendezvous tomorrow night here and compare notes.”
Her fragrance nearly overwhelms me, then is washed away by a great blast of wind. Hydrangea rises up off her feet and into the air. Her dress swirls around her legs tantalizingly.
“Don’t let anything bite you,” she says, which is good advice, really.
Then she lifts off, levitating away and into the night with a rush of crisp autumn air.
I’m left on top of the Temple, alone except for the lingering scent of Hydrangea.
Man. She is hot.