Yeah, I know. Some of my beta readers are thinking, why is he still calling it “Is it Not Midnight?” when the google doc he sent over is calling that silly story “The Shelter” now? Sorry guys, you’re watching the child’s development in utero. Lots of hormones and chromosomes flying around in there. Stuff’s gonna get weird before its through.
Actually, this is the exciting final installment of the first Zoltan story. I am working on the next one now (it involves vampires, so pack extra underwear).
If you haven’t been following along with this please take a moment to catch up:
If you’re all caught up, please enjoy the exciting conclusion:
She staggered past Winslow and Alisha toward the unyielding door without a word. Alisha’s free hand moved to cover her swollen belly as Charlotte moved past.
“Stand aside,” she croaked. “I can help.”
Zoltan eyed the burnt cinder of a woman with suspicion, but allowed her passage. Frankel followed suit. The stairway was fully wreathed in flames now. The group had no idea what to expect from the little woman. Charlotte produced no visible key or tools. She placed her hands against the door and was silent for a moment.
“Whatever the hell she plans on doing she better do it quick!” said Frankel.
The flames roared closer. They were less than ten feet from Winslow and Alisha now. They huddled close to Frankel and Zoltan, making every inch count. Winslow thought about his parents. He wondered if there would be any remains for them to bury. A lifetime passed before his eyes. A thousand wonders and ten thousand more regrets. And then, CLICK.
Whatever enchantment had held the door shut was ended. It swung open to reveal a broad wood panelled hallway on the ground floor of the mansion. Without hesitation, the group rushed out of the stairwell. The unearthly flames blazed behind them. The floor was warm on Winslow’s bare feet.
“We have to get out of here,” he said between ragged breaths. “If the fire keeps eating at the foundation, the whole thing’s gonna collapse.”
The party fled down the hallway and up another until they came to the room with the chessboard floor. The fireplace was now dead and the room was dark. The moon cast its pale light through the leaded windows.
Without a word, Zoltan strode up to the bust of Tanit. With a grunt, he lifted the stone from its platform. Charlotte gasped audibly. He walked carefully toward the windows, lifted it above his head and, with a mighty heave, sent it sailing through the glass into the night. He snatched the black baton from Frankel and quickly cleared away the jagged edges the statue had left. With a little bow and he ushered everyone through the window and into the chill of the night. As Charlotte passed him, Zoltan gave her a penetrating stare but said nothing. In the dimming light of the moon, they hurried across the garden. The enchanted blue flames were visible on the east wing of the mansion from which they had fled.
Next came a thunderous crash. The east wing collapsed as its foundation was eaten away. In an explosion of dust and debris, near half of the formerly luxurious Victorian structure fell to earth. The structure’s buckling appeared to extinguish the blue flames. Or, Winslow reflected, the magic had run its course.
“What in the hell just happened?” Frankel breathed.
“A temporary victory.” said Zoltan, although he pronounced it ‘wick-tory.’ “The cult of Tanit is wounded but not dead. The high priestess and her consort will find new names and new faces. They will find a new nest. They will fester and grow strong.”
“Where is Charlotte?” Alisha’s voice betrayed a hint of alarm.
Everyone cast about but she was nowhere to be found. The little woman had melted into the black trees. Zoltan used what must have been a particularly foul Hungarian expletive and then looked skyward and breathed the fresh air.
“Ah well,” he said after a moment. “She may not have been too far gone after all.”
“That’s it?” Winslow exclaimed. “After everything she’s done or likely to have done? We’re just letting her go?!?”
“None are beyond hope,” he murmured. “Besides, she is gone, it is cold, and I am hungry. Mr. Frankel, you know a suitably casual bistro?”
The shivering little party marched past toward the gravel driveway. The leafless trees were black against the eastern sky and they breathed a little easier with the coming of the dawn.