Night of the Cloud Spectre
by Mike Phillips
part 1 of 2
Drawn by the call of sin, a spectre came in search of a victim. Cursed to spend the daylight hours drifting above the earth in cloud form, it had to wait to harvest its next victim. Day turned to night and the spectre took shape. Once again a part of the mortal world, it fell from the sky into a large body of water. It sank to the bottom and started walking, step by step to the shore.
As she sat near the campfire, Jenny Bracco was oblivious to the danger that approached. She was reading a book, trying not to pay attention to her aunt and her aunt’s new boyfriend as they did heaven knew what in the back of the van. In the flashlight beam, she tried to focus on her only escape from the hushed laughter, the rhythmic squeal of rusted springs.
It was a story about a wingless fairy named Patrick and his friend Danny. They were trying to save a young fairy boy from a bad spirit called a Shathowein. When she looked at the illustration, Jenny felt a chill, like she was being watched by some evil spirit herself. Perhaps the artwork was a little too real.
A crow cawed. Jenny looked up into the trees and saw the bird staring back at her. She watched it for a while, the firelight shining on black feathers.
“Why are you crows always bad in stories?” she wondered aloud. “I don’t think you’re bad. I think you’re very pretty.”
With no answer from the bird, Jenny closed the book. She had to go the restroom again and was regretting the two cans of soda she had drunk at dinner. She knew she would probably be going all night long.
The bird flew off when she stood. Jenny called goodbye, watching it fly into the night, sad to see her only friend go.
The crash of the waves on the beach was a preferable sound to the constant groan of the van’s suspension, Jenny tucked the book under her arm and headed toward the lake. It didn’t take her long to decide to use the bushes rather than to go all the way back across the parking lot to the pit toilets. There was no way she was going back there again. The smell was beyond grotesque.
In a place suitable to the purpose, Jenny started her business, but was taken by the same feeling as before. It was like being watched. Or maybe, it was more like being singled out as prey. Finished, she stood and buttoned her jeans, seeing a strange figure rise from the lake.
It looked human, but it showed none of the effort that she felt while walking in deep water. The thing was ponderous and slow but relentless as it moved through the waves. In the faint light of the stars Jenny caught sight of the hands, long fingers splayed outward as if ready to grip someone’s throat with deadly strength.
The man, for she could see no characteristics that would mark it as a woman, went straight out of the water toward the campfire. As she got a better look, firelight glowing dully on gray skin, Jenny was struck by the notion that it wasn’t human at all. It only was trying to look human in the way a tiger tries to look like grass.
Jenny watched in growing fear as the cloud spectre left the water, but she was too scared to move, too scared to shout a warning to her Aunt Genie as the thing headed toward the van. She felt as if her will had been conquered and had fallen under the evil thrall of the spirit in her storybook.
Soon the evil thing disappeared behind the van. The cloud spectre opened the van door and entered.
Touched on the shoulder, Jenny gasped, only now remembering to breathe. A petite woman with black hair was looking at her with the darkest, most penetrating eyes Jenny had ever seen. The woman was wearing a simple, but well-made dress of black gingham, long and flowing like the summer dresses Jenny had seen her grandmother wear in old photographs.
The woman said something that Jenny didn’t understand, but she instantly felt cured of whatever the thing from the lake had done to her. The woman then said something Jenny understood, “Have courage, child.” And she did.
“Miss Weigenmeister, it’s you,” said Jenny, looking guiltily down at the book in her hand. “I’m sorry. It’s only two days past due. I’m going to bring it back, honest, just as soon as my mom can drive me to town.”
“Yes, I see,” the librarian replied condescendingly. “I’ll renew it for you first thing in the morning, but you will be obliged to pay the fine.”
Jenny blushed. “Thank you.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
“Here,” said Miss Weigenmeister, handing Jenny a handkerchief. “Now, time is short and we must being going. I think this creature is attracted by wickedness, but that doesn’t mean that it will pass up other opportunities.”
“What about Aunt Genie?”
The van door slid open. The cloud spectre appeared from the van, walking toward the bush in which they sheltered. It was covered in blood.
“Run! Run with me and don’t let go,” shouted Miss Weigenmeister, taking Jenny by the hand. “Bless me, if only you could fly, but running will do. Let us go!”
As she held tightly to the librarian’s hand, Jenny felt the pull of the world upon her, trying to press the rules of gravity and speed to no avail. They moved in a blur, hardly seeming to touch the ground as they went. If she wasn’t so frightened by the creature, Jenny would have cried out with the joy of it.
“What was that?” Jenny said excitedly when they came to a stop.
They were in the driveway of an old, two story farmhouse. There was a scraggly oak tree and a fenced garden, a gravel road that looked only barely wide enough for two cars to pass. Though she had no idea how far from the park they had come, Jenny felt safe. It was a place where evil was not welcome.
“Did I scare you?” said Miss Weigenmeister. They started toward the house, the gravel crunching under their feet, the stars shining in the night sky so the faint outline of distant mountains could be seen.
“Scare me? No, that was great! Can we do it again?”
“No, I’m afraid the effort has left me quite fatigued.”
“Can you teach me how to do it?”
Miss Weigenmeister laughed and said, “We would have to train you up a bit first. It took me some time to learn how, and there are other skills to master first. No, I am sorry, but I don’t think it very likely.”
“Oh,” said Jenny, disappointed. “Where are we?”
“At my home,” Miss Weigenmeister replied as they came to the steps. “Come inside. Are you hungry or thirsty?”
“But is that thing still after us?” Jenny asked as she followed, looking over her shoulder as if expecting the spectre to appear at the mailbox.
With what looked to Jenny like a genuine skeleton key, Miss Weigenmeister opened the door and said, “If it could find us, yes, but I think that there are others that are closer and more easily had. Let us get inside all the same. We have things to accomplish and time runs short.”
“What is that thing? A vampire?” Jenny looked inside, finding a cozy little foyer with a hat stand and a table. Cut flowers were in a porcelain vase. Family portraits lined the walls. She was charmed. It was like no other place she had ever seen, like something out of a fairytale.
“I think not. No, I have the ability to turn the mind powers of the more ordinary undead like vampires to more friendly purposes. And your aunt was wearing a gold crucifix, blessed too, if I don’t miss my guess.”
“My grandma gave my mom one like that for her confirmation.”
The memory touching her heart, Miss Weigenmeister frowned and went on, “Though I know it isn’t a vampire, it is a supernatural being of some kind. I am not able to touch it, not like many of the other evil things in the world.”
“Earlier today I felt something strange as I worked in the garden. I looked up to find a cloud passing above me. There was intelligence there, a presence, but even then I couldn’t fix my mind upon it. When darkness came, I felt something terrible, something that I had never felt before, so I decided to find out what it was. The cloud must have materialized over the lake, perhaps when the sun went down. That’s sometimes the way of these things.”
Jenny said admiringly, “You sound like you’ve done this before.”
“Yes, I have a certain talent for finding troubles like yours. I have been told it is a gift.”
“What do you think?”
“Why don’t we see how this night turns out before I answer that question?”
“Was that you as the crow?” Jenny asked, trying with some difficulty to match the librarian’s quick pace as they walked into the parlor. “I thought I saw something more than a bird.”
“Yes, that was me, but you must promise to keep my secret. Will you do that?”
“Yes, I’d be glad to.”
“My thanks. Now, have a seat and I’ll collect a few things that we may need.”
“Need for what?”
“Why to take care of that thing, of course. We can’t let it hurt anyone else.”
“Why don’t we just call the cops?”
“Any police officer would likely be the next victim. You surely realize they aren’t prepared for such an enemy.”
“But what can we do?” Jenny protested.
“Have courage, child,” said Miss Weigenmeister, adding the unintelligible words and putting a hand to the girl’s shoulder as she had done before.
Jenny relaxed and the panic she felt was gone.
“More than you think, perhaps, but that too we will see. Now have a seat, mind, and don’t go poking into any corners while I’m gone. A few of my things are trouble.”
As Miss Weigenmeister went about the house, collecting what they would need for the inevitable confrontation with the cloud spectre, Jenny sat on the davenport and tried not to let her curiosity get the better of her. Most of the furniture was ordinary, if not outdated, and not very interesting. But there seemed to be a voice, quietly tempting her to take a peek at the bookshelf or the china cabinet. Thankfully, Miss Weigenmeister returned, or else Jenny might not have behaved as well as she had pledged.
“What is that?” Jenny said, pointing and giggling at what looked to be some ancient firearm. The barrel was bell shaped and inlaid with scrollwork. The stock was carved into a dragon. The thing looked foolish when compared to the modern firearms she was used to seeing.
“This, my dear, is a blunderbuss, and it is all the weapon that I’ve ever needed,” Miss Weigenmeister replied, slinging a rather large purse over her shoulder.
“Okay, but seriously, you’re not going to use that, are you? My mom has a shotgun under the bed and a pistol in the closet. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you borrowed them, since it’s for a good cause and all.”
“Not knowing exactly what it is, my plan is to use the tried and true to dispatch the creature. In short, a silver bullet will generally do the trick.”
“Wow, where do you get those?”
With a regretful sigh, Miss Weigenmeister explained, “In this case, I melted down a few of my silver pieces. It was from my family set, passed down from one mother to the next for generations. Dessert forks, the lot of them, and though I thought I was going to be able to find replacements, I haven’t been able to.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Yes, but sometimes these sacrifices have to be made.” Miss Weigenmeister gave her young friend a bow and swept out her hand, saying, “Now, shall we go?”
Miss Weigenmeister led Jenny out the kitchen door and to a single stall garage. Inside was an old Volvo, boxy and black, a big disappointment to Jenny.
“What? No broom?” she said.
Miss Weigenmeister opened the car door and said, “Really, do children get all of their information from the television these days? No one ever travels by broomstick in the real world, how absurd.”
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Mike Phillips