When the Neighbours Come Calling …

“Mashta! Mashta! Da villagers are revolting!”

Standing on the balcony of my high tower, I can see the long line of torches winding their way up the mountain road towards the castle. “So I see, Ygor. Please stop all that yelling. I’m trying to work here.”

“But Mashta … dey ‘ave pitchforks and uver sharp fings wiv dem!”

The clouds rumble ominously overhead.

A storm is brewing. I’ve been waiting for weeks for the storm, and now that it finally arrives, I’m distracted by the neighbours.

“I haven’t got time for this, Ygor. Release the hellhounds on them.”

“Yesh, Mashta!”

Turning away from the madding crowd, the scientist walks into his laboratory. He can feel the static energy in the air. Soon, he will have the power he needs to complete his work. They considered him deranged, and threw him out of the university, but he would show them.

Lying on the metal table in the centre of the room was the woman of his dreams, or should that be the women of his dreams? He had collected all the best bits and put them together into one divine specimen of womanhood.

Lightning strikes and the woman comes to life.

The body convulses, and a delicate cough comes from her sweet lips. (They had once belonged to a gypsy girl that Ygor had kidnapped from the Spring Fair).

Her eyes flicker open and she looks around disdainfully.

Finally, he had created the woman of his dreams; his lover, his life partner, (and hopefully his cook as Ygor couldn’t boil an egg without burning it.)

“Ahh, my darling, at last you live … How … How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine …” she replied. Her tone suggested that all was not fine. Suddenly, he sensed that he was in deep trouble.

Dr. Stein had named her Francine after his mother, and the less said about that the better.

Francine was critically inspecting herself in the mirror.

Dr. Stein’s needlework was far from exemplary, but what worried her more were the tan lines. Her arms where a different shade than her face, and to make matters worse, her legs were covered in a light peppering of freckles. She would have to book time into a tanning salon at the first possible opportunity.

Then, there was her hair. Clearly, the good doctor had an affection for redheads. Francine envisaged herself as a blonde.

At this point Ygor rushed in, clearly in a panic, “Mashta! Mashta! Deyve eaten da hounds! Dey’re banging on da gates …” Ygor’s eyes rolled around in his head and nearly popped out when he noticed Francine hiding her nakedness with a sheet.

“Well don’t just stand there, you overgrown turnip-brained idiot. Invite our guests in for dinner, but make sure they wipe their feet first…” Francine demanded, shooing him away with a dismissive flick of the wrist. “You could have told me we were expecting company!” The last remark was aimed at the doctor. “I’ve absolutely nothing to wear!”

“I took the liberty of having a seamstress make you a up few things,” assured Dr. Stein confidently. “You’ll find them in that wardrobe yonder. I had some shoes made for you too. I gather women like shoes …”

Francine inspected the garb critically. Her first assessment was that there must be a shortage of cloth in the neighbourhood, as the dresses were low-cut, low-backed, and minimalistic. Many were summarised with one word … shimmery.

To make matters worse, they were all various shades of blue. Although only alive for a short time, Francine already knew that blue was not her colour.

With a heavy sigh, she selected a dress and slipped into it. Her shopping list was getting longer by the minute. Looking at the shoe rack only confirmed her worst fears. Not a single pair of comfortable footwear in the lot of them. Hearing footsteps approaching, she opted to remain barefoot.

She was still unhappy with the length of her dress. Meeting guests while dressed like a harlot would do nothing to make a good impression with the neighbours.

Deftly, she pleated the sheet, and with the help of a few safety pins, she soon had a presentable evening gown.

“Mashta! Erm … M-mishtress …” stammered Ygor.

The villagers walked into the room, many looking a little sheepish. They had not planned this far ahead.

“Where are your manners?” declared Francine, striding forward with her hand out in greeting. “Collect our guests coats, and their …”

“Pitchforks?” Ygor chipped in helpfully.”

“Yes, yes … and their pitchforks … exactly. Do make yourselves at home. We’re honoured that you took the time to pop by …”

Turning to the doctor, she admonished, “Well … don’t just stand there, Darling … They must be parched after the long trek up the mountain … Why don’t you fetch our guests some drinks?”

Dr. Stein hurried to obey, a little proud of his creation. Alive for only a few minutes and she was already entertaining guests. Perhaps his experiments weren’t a complete failure, after all.

Helping gather coats, he followed Ygor into the kitchen, and began to pour wine. A terrible thought struck him. “What’ve we got to feed them, Ygor?”

“I fink dere’s some pashtries in da pantry, Mashta, and a wheel of cheese.”

“Is that all?”

“Well … dere’s a deer in da cellar, but it’s a bit ripe!”

“I’m sure they won’t care, the way they polished off the hellhounds.”

In actuality, one hellhound survived, though he was the runt of the litter. He looked more mangy terrier rather than Beelzebub’s terrible mastiff, but the gene pool still ran true. He had the same ferocious nature and was as fearless as a gryphon, especially when terrorising the neighbourhood’s rodent population, of which there was many. In fact, the rebirth of the Black Death had been avoided by the stalwart endeavours of this little fellow, much to the chagrin of his namesake: old Lucifer himself.

Dr. Stein returned to find Lucifer in the arms of his bride, having his belly tickled.

“Finally! I thought you’d got lost. Here, give me them before our guests die of thirst.” Snatching the tray of drinks out of his hand, Francine handed Lucifer over to the surprised doctor, who held the hellhound in a similar fashion to many a new father on having their new-born child placed in their arms, or perhaps one of the new-born’s freshly soiled nappies.

“But …”

Lucifer immediately started to growl; a menacing sound deep in its throat. The dog might have been handbag sized, but his heart was as big as a lion’s and his teeth were razor sharp.

Dr. Stein tried to placate the dog, but snatched his hand back quickly before he lost a finger. Lucifer’s head had whipped around to meet the approaching hand, his drooling jaws already reaching for any available digit.

Noticing that Francine was busy charming the local priest, he swiftly dropped the dog to the ground and leapt back out of biting range.

Lucifer briefly considered pursuit, eyeing the doctor up before dismissing him as unworthy of the attention. He was content to urinate against the leg of the table and move on to greener pastures, ones filled with plague rats, hopefully.

A bell rang in the distance. Not the light-hearted tone of a chime this, no. It had more in common with the mournful clang of a death bell. Nevertheless, Francine greeted the sound with enthusiasm, “Ah! Dinner is served. Let us make haste to the dining room. I’m famished.”

Taking the reluctant priest by the arm, she led the way through the palatial residence, leaving the others to follow in their wake.

“You were telling me about these witch-hunting trials you recently visited. They sound fascinating. Tell me … did you get a chance to witness the Inquisitors in action?”

The priest blanched visibly as the rank odour of venison assailed his nostrils, but he was gracious enough to hold his stomach despite its protests.

The rest of the village was near to starvation and barely noticed the stench. They hadn’t eaten in days, which is the reason that they had agreed to the priest’s suggestion to attack the castle. They hadn’t believed a word of his pulpit ranting, but starvation had left them with few options. Much though they feared the hellhounds that roamed the forest each night; hunting man or beast, the prospect of food gave them courage.

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