When your name was Florian Aglethorp Rosicroun Persimmon Hacklebee the Third, you did not expect to be eaten to death by zombies. Well, Flarph supposed, probably no one expects to be eaten to death by zombies, at least, not until several moments before it occurs. But I will definitely be the first Hacklebee to hold that distinction.
He was unenthusiastic about the possibility, which was why he was now holding an empty drawer, knee-deep in Maid Felicity's lacy underthings. Which, as it turned out, proved to be quite distracting.
He envisioned Felicity returning at just that moment, and an awkward conversation played out in his head.
"No, I can explain! Please don't, er, do... whatever it is that device does... to me?" The last came out as a kind of question, more for the oddity of the thing that the imaginary Felicity was holding in her hand. He held the drawer like a shield before him.
"This," imaginary Felicity explained impatiently, "is a hair curler. It was the first thing that was at hand when I discovered someone was in my house. Which you are, standing amidst my underwear, while zombies are trying to break in." That last came out as a statement that implied a question, with a certain sort of dangerousness to it that suggested that, depending on his answer, he might discover heretofore unimagined uses for said imagined hair curler.
"Yes, well, you see," he shuffled, dislodging something that contained a large amount of black lace except that it didn't contain large amounts of much of anything, "I got back to my house in time to put out my ancestor candle which then tried to attack me and I wound up hacking it to bits with a fireplace poker and felt very good about myself until Vincenzo Caiaplante burst in the door missing half his face and groaning and then he tried to attack me and the fireplace poker didn't do much good and so I ran out the back and fell down the embankment and was sure I was going to die but landed on one of the Bancourt's cheese wagons and--"
"Which explains why you smell like Gorgonzola," imaginary Felicity smiled with bared teeth, holding the hair curler in what looked like a fencer's grip. "Now. Skip. A. Bit."
"Your house is the last one in the village! I was covered in cheese and had nothing to keep me warm and figured I could hide here for a while and get my bearings! We have to get out of here," he added breathlessly. "I think those shades that tried to attack you turn people into zombies when they kill them. Most of the village... maybe all of them..."
She softened. "Mister Hacklebee," she said, "you have to escape. I am a figment of your imagination. I am really on a steam-powered airship, flying far away from here and forgetting all about my unfortunate life here. Though I would be very sad about the village, if I knew about it."
Flarph sighed, and the image faded from his mind's eye before he could finish explaining why he had been rifling through her underwear drawer. "Rifling" was the wrong word, anyway. "Frantically dumping on the floor" might have better characterized the activity, though Flarph did have to admit that he'd been taken aback for a few moments by the myriad straps and strange buckles and tiny things held together by string. He hadn't encountered such wonders firsthand before, and wished that he had a bit more time to make a study of them before he died.
Maid Felicity certainly had a diverse collection of bedroom attire, though he had never heard of her needing the opportunity to use them with any man in the village. Perhaps her imagination was as inventive as his own? Where had she gotten all of these, anyway? And why --
-- fingers, tracing their way along the shoulder strap, tickling a little as they went. The blonde woman giggles, and nibbles at his neck while he plants a finger one one side of the bra and uses his others to unclasp it and pop it off with a deft motion --
Flarph shook his head, alternately hot and then cold. He looked around: the room was still empty: no blonde woman, no lover, though at least no zombies. That hadn't felt like his imaginary Felicity, and he had never met the blonde woman he'd just seen so clearly. He had smelled her, all sweat and perfume and pheromones. That hadn't been his imagination, because he was sure he couldn't imagine what a woman in the throes of passion smelled like, nor would he have even thought to do so. That had been like... a memory. His fingers mimicked the movement unconsciously, and a scent lingered in his nostrils...
One that would get him killed if he pondered it for much longer. He could hear groans from the street now: low, aimless moans that communicated only an empty hunger. He gulped, and peeked out the window of Felicity's upstairs bedroom, hoping for a good view of the street below.
One of the shades was flying by, hunting. Who it had been, Flarph couldn't guess. Its whole body was engulfed in flames, the flesh blackened and unrecognizable. When it saw the flicker of movement, its whole body turned, bit by bit: first the head, then the shouders and torso, and then the legs, as if it were made up of parts that all moved independently of one another. Then it flew at him.
Flarph flung himself aside, landing on the bed and bouncing straight off of it onto the other side. The shade came through the window with a crash, scattering shards of glass everywhere and bringing with it the reek of sulfur and death. Its pounce brought it straight into the pile of Felicity's underwear, and it seemed to slip on something, getting tangled in the mess of straps. It thrashed and screamed, and Flarph scrambled on all fours past it through the door and into the hall. He pushed himself to his feet and half-ran, half-plummeted down the stairs at the end of the hall, into Felicity's living room.
The contraption the he'd been assembling there was not much to look at. It amounted to a wicker yard chair bound with dozens of yards of twine to a patchwork canopy of burlap sacks and floral-stitched dresses sewn together with the same twine. It wasn't exactly Tailor Soukin-quality work, but Flarph had been working feverishly, and had to use a crochet needle in any case. He'd run out of dresses about two-thirds of the way through, and had been in Felicity's bedroom searching for something else he could use to make his getaway.
Floating underneath the canopy were balloons, dozens of them. Each was filled with a green gas that sparkled and pulsated, which had made Flarph nervous at first. It didn't help that they seemed to pull towards him; he'd only had to reach up with a hand and one drifted through the air of its own accord and pressed itself into his hand. Rounding them up had been child's play; hacking together a balloon chair to make his escape had taken maybe ten minutes. Some of the balloons had a greasy, green residue on the outside of them, and it had tingled when it had touched his fingers.
He'd heard Felicity mention something about "thaumiol", back in the village square, before the strangers had come. He knew that thaumiol was magical fuel, but not much else.
As he careened down the stairs, one of the balloons slipped out from under the unfinished canopy, and flew at him. He staggered into it, and with a nosy BANG! it popped, coating him with the stuff of magic.
It tasted like cinnamon.
-- the man wore robes of woven gold, smooth as silk against his skin. With a wizened hand, he added a handful of powder to the flame beneath the glass bauble of the precious green liquid. The flames flared, and soon the contents of the glass were beginning to emit a green haze. Carefully, the wizard reached out a candle over the sparkling smoke...
The resulting explosion destroyed the majority of his laboratory and several priceless volumes of magical theory from the Third Interregnum. His robes were untouched, but several hairs on his beard were badly singed. The explosion had penetrated even his mystic shields. Most interesting...
Flarph pulled himself back, more consciously this time than before. The vision of the woman had ended abruptly, leaving him dizzy and confused. This time, he was able to end it, pull away from the scene playing out in his memory of a thing that he had never witnessed. He could still smell the singeing of his beard -- no, the wizard's beard -- and his mind felt flooded with strange knowledge. Much of it was slipping away already, spells and incantations and the names of demons, but one thing remained.
And there was a flaming shade, just upstairs, that any second would be coming for him. Unless Flarph got him first.
He reached out his hand, pulled another balloon out from under the canopy. With a whisper whose meaning faded from his mind even as he was uttering it, he released it, and the thaumiol-filled balloon flew with a purpose up the stairs, moving as if a gentle breeze blew behind it.
The front door crashed in. Vincenzo and half a dozen other undead villagers fell through it in a heap, moaning and eyeing him with hunger. Flarph jumped into his wicker chair and tugging loose the knot that had held it to the ground. The chair jerked up toward the ceiling, which wasn't very high. A few of the thaumiol balloons slipped out from under the unfinished canopy, and Flarph made a grab for the burlap edge, but couldn't reach it without pitching from his chair. Vincenzo was getting up, staggering towards him.
This was going to be close. Either he was going to die very quickly, or...
With a deafening roar, the shade met the balloon. The explosion tore the roof off of the house and sent timbers from above crashing down onto Flarph's balloons.
"No!" he cried out, as he watched his escape torn away. Jagged wood beams crunched downward, tearing through his canopy and bursting the balloons left and right. Flarph saw Vincenzo and the others pinned under debris from the collapse of the second story, and barely had time to register that the thaumiol gas from the balloons was pouring into him, being drunk in by his skin like a sponge soaks up water. He felt swollen with it, but had no time to appreciate the feeling as another timber came straight for him...
... and he woke up, somewhere else.
Flarph will return. "Flarph and the Marvelous Mnemonic Mystery Machine", coming soon!