You sit in a chair perched on the edge as Orpheus steps back. A book tumbles off the shelves above and lands open in his outstretched hands. He waves a palm over it and closes his eyes.
“The tale begins as most do with a young fool overburdened in coin, land, and an uncanny ability to miss the bloody obvious in front of him.”
Claremont sighs. “Please, do not hold back on your myopic opinion.”
Orpheus waves his hand and twin paper dolls puncture out of the book. They stand, one taller than the other. “Upon the death of Lord Claremont senior.” The taller paper doll clutches its chest and falls to the ground. The younger runs to it, but the paper turns to dust and falls to the ground. In a flash, a cemetery rises from the book, every tiny tombstone and mausoleum made of paper covered in text. “The younger Lord Claremont found himself overburdened with a manor.”
“Imagine waking one day before your trip across the continent to find your father taken by the reaper and his noose your necktie?” Claremont whispers. You reach over to catch his hands, drawing your fingers over the back of them. Pain radiates off the man, the otherworldly glow shifting to a jagged red. But the longer you soothe him, the more it fades until he glances your way and a smile plays with his lips.
“Young Claremont tried to continue what his father started, keeping up the employ of a noted field expert,” Orpheus said. His book display shifted, showing a man standing atop a mountain, the wind tugging on his paper scarf.
“Field expert means our dear Doctor Gravestone prefers rolling about in the woods for weeks on end. Smells ghastly at the best of times,” Claremont whispers in your ear. You feel a snicker rising, but shake it off. This is important.
Rolling his scarlet eyes at Claremont’s antics, Orpheus waves a hand and the page turns. “Life in the old manor in the woods was lonely, so Claremont invited his oldest friend to stay.”
Two paper men, one in a top hat, rise from the book. They walk together, though the larger one runs ahead excited. Clinging to a tree branch he peers over the edge of the book facing a fall to nowhere.
“Dominic?” you guess.
Orpheus nods, but Dominic whips his head around. “Yes?”
“That’s you…in the story. You were, or are, Claremont’s old friend.”
“Oh!” He smiles wide, then darts his eyes to the book. “I guess I was, for a time.” He frowns, his face puckering in pain and he turns away.
Waving another hand, Orpheus commands the book. “But the young master wasn’t happy with the teachings of a learned man—”
Claremont snorts and shakes his head at that.
“…or his closest friend. He sought company of another sort.”
The book slams shut, shaking you out of the chair. When it opens, a womanly form rises from the pages. She bears the same proportions of a cartoon ingenue, complete with closed parasol and sweeping Titanic hat. “This woman, this creature, this witch finds three men locked away in a house with none of the outside world to impede her, and she sets to work.”
“Claremont falls first, entranced with her beauty.” The paper woman sashays to the man in the top hat and kisses him. A twinge of jealousy flutters up your stomach, and you hear a growl rising in the room. It’s not from Claremont, but Dominic. The back of his hair’s risen as he glares at the book. Fearing he might try to rip it apart, you reach over and brush down the nape of his neck.
He blinks and turns, nuzzling against your cheek even as another growl rumbles in his chest. Orpheus coughs and redirects their attention. “He begged her to marry him, unaware of the spider’s strings plucking him to his doom.”
A sigh rattles up Orpheus’ shoulders and he seems to begrudgingly wave to the next page. Rising from the book appears a paper library and a lone man sitting at the desk. “The professor believed himself to be a scholar devoted only to the natural world. A man aloof from the world of men. He thought he needed no one as a friend or…more.”
The two men beside you narrow their eyes, both slicing through Orpheus who continues to gaze ahead as if he has no part in this. “I knew it,” Claremont snarls, “for all your protestations and better than thous, I knew you succumbed as I did.”
“She was…quite persuasive. Always stopping by the library, asking me questions.”
“Oh there’s nothing more potent to get Orpheus’ frozen blood pumping than a question,” Claremont snarls. You cling tighter to his hand, afraid the supernatural creatures might begin to fight. “Did you even care that she was my fiancée? Did that stop you for a moment?”
The vampire’s mouth parts, his shoulders squaring and neck extending. But his gaze darts to the side and he whispers, “What would you have me do?”
“Not bed my betrothed,” Claremont hisses, whipping Orpheus to him.
“Bed? I did no such thing. I’ve never…” He tugs on the knot in his cravat, the pale skin shifting to a bright red. “It was only a kiss. A foolish, stupid kiss she twisted my mind to take from me.”
A whine rises from Dominic and he leans closer, “Why are we fighting over her? Again?”
“What is she to have done so much to you all?” you ask. A vampire, werewolf, and ghost seem to be terrified of a woman that walked into their lives.
Orpheus closes his eyes. “I am sorry, mortal. The story, I owe you the full of it. I haven’t thought of this piece of my life in ages.”
“None of us have,” Claremont says. He crosses his arms tight and slumps back against the side of your chair. Though he does take your hand in his as if he cannot let go.
“The woman sewed discord in the house like dandelions in spring. Her roots ran deep before any of us realized what happened. It began with a mysterious package, no doubt meant for me. But it fell into Dominic’s hands instead.”
The book opens to a new page and the wide paper man rises. He hunkers over the box and lifts the jawbone of a canine up to the light. At that moment, the scholar enters, startling the man. He punctures his hand on the jawbone, tossing the half a skull to the ground. His body shifts, bones cracking and hair rising to twist him into a wolf.
“The scholar was in a panic over what he witnessed, his dear friend transformed into a lycan. He did everything in his power to shift the wolf back into a man. It kept him isolated in the library, answering to no one and missing every cruel machination the witch was doing to his patron.”
Orpheus waves his hand and the book opens to a scene in a parlor. A small fireplace rages with the book’s paper crinkling inside. The man in a top hat sits calmly in his chair reading through a book.
“I’ll narrate this part,” Claremont says sliding forward. “The man, dashingly handsome and charming though he may be, had no idea what lurked behind him.”
A shadow sweeps over the book and the woman rises from the ground. She tips a mystery vial into the glass beside the man’s chair, then vanishes into the air.
“He thought his life wonderful. Finally on track after so much turmoil. A strong house, friends, the annoying sage rattling around in the library. A beautiful wife to share in his burden and gift him a future. He was too blind to see his future was all she wanted.”
The paper man tips the glass to his lips. A green line dashes down the man’s face and chest. He drops the glass and crumbles to his knees before collapsing to the ground.
“A terrible day for us all,” Orpheus whispers.
“I dare say I had the worst of it. Unless you stubbed your toe on a bookshelf, then clearly you win,” Claremont snarks back.
“But not all was lost, the scholar discovered a cure of sorts for his friend.” The paper scholar yanks a tooth out of the wolf’s mouth, then puts a new one in. Quickly, the wolf rises to his feet, both jumping in joy until the scene melts away to a funeral. You recognize the mausoleum where you found Claremont’s skeleton. Both men stand shoulder to shoulder, and the woman openly weeps beside.
“Life in the house tried to continue on with the woman at the head of the manor. There were stipulations in the will that we must remain and she did not like that.”
Dominic snorts, his hot breath spraying out and startling you. “What cruel tricks she played against you…” He stares not at Claremont but Orpheus, which does not pass the dead bridegroom by.
“What of me? Poisoned by my own wife.”
“Clary, you could charm you way out of anything.”
“Not this one,” he whispers to himself.
“You were in your coffin still. You don’t know what she did,” Dominic keeps on.
Claremont shakes his head and gazes up at Orpheus. “Very well then storyteller. Tell us, what has my best friend openly weeping at your downfall while mine is a minor inconvenience.”
The look shared between Orpheus and Dominic doesn’t pass you by. Orpheus coughs and turns the page with his fingers. It’s the library on the page, the scholar looking ragged as he runs from one shelf to the other.
“The scholar did not sleep for two weeks, so consumed he was with challenging death itself.”
“Hoping to avoid the thrill of your bones exposed to the winter air?” Claremont mocks. “Not that I can blame you. Death is highly overrated.”
“He should have known why the witch asked so many questions. Why she kept stopping by with food and drink to distract him. Why she would glance at his papers while pretending to find him…witty.”
Orpheus closes his eyes and turns the page. The scholar stands before the mausoleum, the door torn open, a skeleton exposed. “All he wanted was to bring his friend back to life.”
“You…it was you?” Claremont starts, his arms falling open.
“He…” Orpheus begins before flinching and starting over. “I tried. I did not mean it to be as you are. I thought it’d work. Bring you back whole, not as the undead, but the man you were. But she knew, and she couldn’t have you back to interfere with her plans.”
Claremont falls silent beside you and you reach over to rub his shoulder. His body is rigid as if rigor mortis has returned. Waving his hand, Orpheus shifts to another page. “The scholar was not careful. He required exotic ingredients to cast this spell. The liquid squeezed from a tiger’s eye, the stamen of a ghost orchid, and the milk of an asp. Crates came from around the world, the scholar thinking nothing of what was inside. Only that he needed them quickly or risk losing their potency and the spell.”
The scene on the book shifts to a room full of boxes. Standing beside them is the scholar, his head bent over and crowbar in hand. At that moment, the woman appears. She speaks to the paper man then leans forward to kiss him.
“He was bamboozled by her words, by the idea that anyone could show an interest in him. He did not inspect the shipping tag.”
The paper scholar yanks open the crate’s top and a snake flies out. Its fangs sink deep into the scholar’s arm, red lines jarring up his paper skin. Orpheus stills, the scene of him screaming in agony from the poison frozen on the page.
“What happened next? How did you shed your color and sprout fangs? Not that I remember you having much of a smile to speak of,” Claremont asks tipping his head to the side.
“It was me!” Dominic shouts. He leaps forward, one hand clasped to Orpheus’ shoulder. The other wrenches against Claremont. “I’d just lost my oldest friend, I couldn’t watch my second die. So I asked her to save him.”
“What do you mean, you asked her? Dom… Dom?” Claremont’s soft voice hardens as he stares at the wilting werewolf. “Did you know she was a witch?”
“She told me she was a fairy. Like in Orphy’s books. I saw her cast a spell when on a hunt. So I knew that if anyone could save him it’d be her. I said I’d do anything she wanted as long as she saved his life. Maybe that was too much.” Dominic winces as he weighs his past misdeeds.
“What did you promise her?” Claremont pushes, but you can already understand.
“The tooth,” you say.
Dominic nods his fallen head, Claremont whipping his gaze to Orpheus who explains. “She asked for a tooth and she took the one that keeps him human. She forced him to live eternity as a wolf.”
“Then how am I this specter? How am I trapped in this hellfire of limbo forever appearing and fading into nothing but a whisper?” Claremont storms before he groans. “You cast the god damn spell.”
“I thought it’d be my last great deed, to bring a man back from the dead before I succumbed to the snake’s venom. I fear I missed an ingredient or read a word wrong.”
“So you’re why every Hallows Eve the dead in the graveyard rise up for a little chat and dance. Excellent showing there, Orpheus. Only you can create a party you’re not invited to.”
“This witch, she turned you into a vamp…a what you are?” you ask, focusing on Orpheus.
He closes the book to illustrate his tale and tucks it under his arm. “Yes. She ‘saved my life’ by ending it. But more than that, she delighted in trapping me inside this library. Centuries of unending time, and I cannot leave to see a single leaf of this world.”
A terrible tale, no doubt, and the witch sounds like the absolute worst, but one question keeps darting through your mind. “What does this have to do with me?”
Orpheus takes your hand and pulls your to your feet. “All these years we’ve been separated, forced into exile at her will. She wedged herself between us, but you mortal. You, wise…”
“Kind,” Dominic says, taking your hand and brushing his cheek against yours.
“Positively breathtaking,” Claremont purrs, bringing your knuckles to his lips for a kiss.
“…Mortal can help us defeat her, and banish the witch once and for all. Will you do it?”
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