This blog is a mixture of semi-autobiographical musings, fantasy, experimental, and love letters to london

Chapter Ten: The Great Tree Festival

Chapter Ten: The Great Tree Festival

It was twelve o’ clock when Penny, Forrest and Riider left the Mason residence. As she walked down the cobbled drive, Penny felt fit to burst. She had been excited to see real meat on the table, and ended up taking quite a few rashers of bacon and minted lamb chops. The pretzels and cinnamon swirls were delicious too.

Meeting Gardien had been an amazing experience. They were interested in her, and not for the first time since coming to The Cave, Penny was made to feel welcome and cared for. Luckily, the news reports had informed them about the Tarquin incident, so there was no need for her to reopen her wounds and relive the moment on the bridge. They had seemed like the type of people who wouldn’t have asked, anyway.

“I’m very sorry about the leader, Penny,” said Forrest. “He was ruder than I thought he would be.”

“That’s all right, Forrest.”

“No, it isn’t. I can only hope he isn’t too harsh on you during your time at his house.”

“Can you believe that guy?” said Riider. “Getting Penny to do all his work! Penny, if he tells you to clean the toilets, you tell him where to stick it!”

“Riider!” said Forrest.

“Whaaat?” said Riider.

Once they were outside the black iron gates, they walked to the end of Gold Street and waited until a vacant carriage came rolling their way. Riider whistled at it and the driver halted beside them.

“Where to?” he said gruffly. He was a warlock.

“Scare, please!”

“Git on, then.”

The trio bundled into the carriage. Penny looked back at the way they had come. Never before had she been to a place that was so intimidating. London paled in comparison to the luxury and grandeur of Gold Street.

Scare was just as busy as always, but there was something different about it. The streets were so packed, the witches were forced to fly over the crowd in clouds of broomsticks. Creeps carried black fir trees in their arms, had tied them to the backs of carriages, or had them in wheelbarrows. Other Creeps carried decorations and boxes of fireworks. When the trio got off the carriage, Penny looked around thoughtfully, a frown on her face.

“Is it Christmas or something?” she asked.

“Whassat?” asked Riider.

“Never mind … what’s going on?”

“The Great Tree Festival happens on Monday,” said Forrest. “We need to buy a tree.”

“The Great Tree Festival?” asked Penny.

“They say the fifteenth of April is the day Creepen made the great tree where all us Creeps came from,” said Riider. “So we all buy trees to decorate our homes for three days leading up to the fifteenth, and then we have celebrations and fetes and fairs. Then, on the day itself, we have a big festival, a carnival, a fireworks display … all sorts, really. It’s one of the biggest days of the year for us Creeps – Hallowe’en being the second.”

“It’s similar to Christmas,” said Penny. “What with the tree and all…”

“I know about that now!” said Riider. “Is that the story of the baby in the manger? And there was a spaceship—”

“Eh? Spaceship?”

Riider looked at Penny with mild surprise.

“Wasn’t there a spaceship in the sky that day? I thought it showed the way to the three doctors who helped deliver the baby.”

“Pfft! You're insane.” said Penny. Every time she glanced at Riider's perplexed face, she burst into laughter.  

Magic Woods was squashed between a cottage that sold pets and a blood bank. Penny, Forrest and Riider stepped into the shop and were immediately hit by the fresh, minty smell of the evergreen trees that brushed the ceiling, despite the trees all being black and apparently dead. Several Creeps milled between the aisles of the dark shop, sniffing the trees and testing the strength of the branches before purchase. In addition to the trees, the shop sold orange decorations shaped like maple leaves, and little figurines of witches, vampires, mages and wraiths. Penny couldn’t help but notice that the warlock figurines were absent.

“I like this one!” said Riider, pointing at the biggest and fattest tree of the lot.

“No, Riider,” said Forrest. “That can’t fit in our house.”

“Oh come on!”

“Penny,” Forrest rounded on the spinead suddenly, and she flinched instinctively. “Did you know we have this argument every year? How long do you think it will take for Riider to get the message?”

“It does look a bit too big, Riider,” said Penny. “What about this one?”

She pointed to a rather round fir that was only slightly taller than Forrest.

“Perfect,” said Forrest. He went over to the counter and returned with a short Creep that had long, droopy ears and cobalt skin. His eyes were two obsidian pools burrowed beneath his hooded forehead, and a straw-like mess was bundled as hair on top of his head.

“I’m a sprite,” he croaked to Penny. “Welcome to The Cave, Spinead.”

“Erm, thanks,” said Penny.

The sprite carried a long thin stick in his hands. After eyeing the tree, he jabbed it in the trunk. The tree jumped and shook its leaves, showering the trio with thin black needles. And then it began to walk towards them. The trunk separated into two thick legs, complete with a pair of shiny red wellingtons.

“Can it talk?” said Penny as the tree bent towards her, trying to look at her with eyes that did not exist.

“Nah, trees can’t talk, Penny,” scoffed Riider.

“I’m going to tie you up, so hold still!” the sprite said, immediately whipping out a long roll of red rope from his pocket. He then spun widdershins around the tree until it was bound tightly. Once tied up, the tree stopped moving.

“Forrest can get the wheelbarrow. We’ll buy the decorations, ‘kay?” said Riider, leading Penny to the colourful stand. The women brought a box of the orange maple leaves, twenty wraith figurines and a carton of black and silver ribbons. Once everything was bagged and bound, the trio left the shop and made their way home.

They were almost at Closet Road when a reporter jumped out at them from behind one of the bushes that framed the entrance to their neighbourhood. He brandished a camera and took several pictures in quick succession. Penny blinked as white stars pulsed in her vision before glaring at the reporter, who, judging by his grey robe, was a mage. Unlike the majestic beings she was accustomed to, the reporter's clothes were shaggy and moth-eaten, his appearance dishevelled and slightly desperate.  

“James Derby, Cave Post,” he said. “I just wanted to ask if the spinead was doing anything special for the Great Tree Festival?” He now had a pen poised above his notepad, waiting anxiously. Forrest growled behind her, but Penny waved at him in a placatory way.

“Not really,” she said, “I only just heard about this festival ten seconds ago.”

“And are these your bodyguards?” asked Derby, pointing at Forrest and Riider with the butt of his pen.

“Ha!” said Riider.

“Erm, no,” said Penny. “I don’t need any bodyguards.”

“How brave! I always assumed that you know, being alive and all that, Tarquin would come back after you, finish off the job and all,” he then began scribbling on the notepad furiously. “‘Spinead says: “up yours, Bloodbane!’

“Hold on!” said Penny.

“‘I don’t need protection!’”

“Enough!” said Forrest. He took a step forward and made to snatch the notepad from Derby’s hands, but he stepped out of the way.

“Calm down, mate!” said Derby. “I’m just making a story is all—”

He didn’t get to finish. Forrest splayed his hands outwards and a gush of wind hit the reporter, sending him flying backwards. The notepad fell to the floor and Riider snatched it up, smirking. Derby scrambled to his feet. A rowan staff appeared in his hands, apparently out of thin air. He twirled it quickly above his head, and the ground began to shake. 

"Hold on!" said Forrest. He grabbed Penny by the shoulder with one hand, and mimed an intricate pattern in the air with his other, his fingers dancing before them as if scribbling invisible symbols in the aether. A curtain of shimmering, grey matter encased them on all sides. It moved like a waterfall, cascading upwards to the sky, with lines of wind disturbing its translucent, turbulent surface. The matter was cold, and within it, both Penny and Forrest's hair whipped about their heads. Outside the cocoon, James Derby began levitating rocks from the ground he upturned, a great mass, and hurled the debris towards them. The direction of their wind curtain changed, moving diagonally like a tornado. The rocks ricocheted, crumbled, or disintegrated before their eyes.

Penny pressed close to Forrest. She caved into his chest, feeling slightly stupid and childish, but the sudden onslaught of magic silenced her. She had forgotten, rather carelessly, that she was in a city of the paranormal. Forrest and Riider had told her that they could utilise the power of the wind, but this was the first time she had witnessed it. 

"He's a mage, so this will be difficult," said Forrest, yelling over the power of his creation, "mages create magic using aether. All they need is oxygen and they can do anything. Our powers are similar, but they have the upper-hand. Aether is the very atmosphere in which our wind powers are created. Derby can easily cancel this." 

As if on cue, a tear appeared in their tornado, and James Derby's haggard frame appeared through it. He raised his staff again, intending to cancel the enchantment, when a shower of silver needles rained upon him. Riider was above them, her long dreadlocks floating dreamily above her head, and her scarlet eyes wide and shining. With every downwards arc of her arms, another shower of needles appeared. Derby leapt back, held his staff above his head, and an invisible umbrella repelled the needles. However, wherever the needles landed, an earthquake erupted, and they pelted bullets into the ground, the walls, shattered windows. The residents of Closet Road shouted from their homes, and the affected neighbours rushed out to see the commotion. Distracted, the invisible umbrella faltered beneath Riider's attack, and Derby fell to the ground, his face and hands streaked with blood. 

"All right, all right!" he said, holding his hands up. He dropped his staff on the floor. An irate witch, a group of young mages, and two warlocks appeared on the scene, instantly knowing who the villain was, and started casting spells towards Derby's stunned body.  

“Fine!” said Derby, scrambling to his feet, “I’ll get my story, don’t you worry!”

He gripped his staff desperately, tapped it on the ground, and disappeared in an explosion of blue smoke. 

Penny appraised Forrest and Riider. They were more powerful than she had ever anticipated. And there was something disconcerting seeing the normally serene Forrest panting with anger, his eyes cold and dark. 

“What was that about?" said the witch. She was covered in ribbons and tinsel, having been distracted from her Tree Festival preparations by the affray. 

"James Derby," said Forrest. 

"Oh goodness," said one of the mages, a pretty blonde girl with purple eyes. "I bet he said he's from the Post? I know James. I'll get onto him."

"Fraud, is he?" said Riider, coming to meet them on the ground.

"Understatement," said one of the other mages, a taller black girl with braids, "he goes to school with us, but he's totally failing so he's trying his hand at being a hack." 

"I have an idea!" said the third made, a young, gangly man with a handsome, smooth face and round, wide-set eyes. "Don't you worry, Forrest, we'll get him next week! Oh, it'll be the best spell for that idiot." 

"Okay everyone!" said the black girl, "we'll happily mend your windows for you all. Please return to your festivities." 

The neighbours looked upon the trio affectionately and did as they were told. They gave polite goodbyes to Forrest, Riider and Penny, before allowing the young mages to do as they had promised.

  "Thanks, guys," said Riider, "you lot are always helping us out."

"We mages have a code you know," said the blonde, "and James Derby always breaks it."

"If a mage does wrong before your presence, uphold dignity and restore the peace" said the boy solemnly.

"Well, thank you very much for restoring our peace.," said Forrest, "you're welcome to our home any time." 

"Thank you, Forrest!" they said. They nodded to Penny pleasantly, and began their work. 

"Let's get a move on, shall we?" said Riider, "hope we didn't scare you, gel."

"No way," said Penny, "you guys are kind of cool."

The wraiths laughed shyly, before turning into their home. They immediately set to work once inside. Forrest tentatively unravelled the rope from the tree and patted it appreciatively.

“I would like you to stand by the window, please.”

The tree complied, waddling towards the box window and sending several black needles fluttering towards the floor. Once it was in place, it wiggled its wellingtons and stood tall and proud and still. Penny and Riider then hooked the orange maple leaves on the tips of the branches, and then the figurines and the ribbons. It didn’t matter what any Creep said, Penny thought, this felt very much like Christmas.

Seeing the tree in all its glory in the living room bought back uncomfortable memories. Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Lockview because of its ‘Pagan Connotations’. This wasn’t something that had been voiced to any of the young people, however; December 25th always ambled by just like any other day. Penny uncovered the village’s stance the hard way.

 She had just started working at T. Rex Records when Alex invited her to a Christmas party at his house. Penny had sneaked there in the dead of night (she was frightened to do it, and for a long time she had assumed that the deed had gone by unnoticed, but the following year Reverend Joseph brought it up with her – she still didn’t know where her had been hiding). She had been astounded by the faerie lights, puddings, pies and decorations. It had been one of the best nights of her life, but it left her feeling so confused of as to why her parents wouldn’t want to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Buying the Christmas tree had seemed like such a good idea. She had even decorated it with an angel at the top, waiting patiently and excitedly for her parents to return from the printing press. 

The house had almost burned down. The sight of Richard tearing the lights off the tree and sending sparks onto the carpet was etched onto her skull. Then there was Caroline, dragging her up into her room and locking the door. Later on, Penny had smelt fire, and saw that Richard and Caroline had put all the Christmas stuff on a bonfire, hiding the evidence.    

“Gel?”

Penny snapped out her reverie. A wraith figurine was broken to pieces in her fist.

“Nothing,” she muttered, and turned on her heel and went to her room.

Why was she so angry? Ever since her meeting with Tarquin Blood, her emotions were all over the place. One minute about to burst into tears, the next trembling with rage. Penny was annoyed at herself for getting so irate over Lockview. Richard, Caroline and Reverend Joseph did not deserve this much emotion. Here she was, fighting with unresolved conflict, and they were probably at home, having a celebratory dinner. She didn’t want to voice that she hated them, because that would give them a special place in her heart.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she muttered just as the knock sounded on her door.

Sitting up, Penny put on a brave face when Forrest’s head popped around the door.

“Are you okay, Penny?”

“Mmm…”

He came into the room fully, brandishing a moleskin notebook. It looked tattered and worn, but Penny’s eyes drew to it immediately.

“I thought you might want this,” he said, sitting next to her, “we used to be given these books as Academy students. No one ever filled them out, only the aspiring novelists and journalists in the year.”

“What’s it for?” asked Penny, taking the notebook from his outstretched hand.

“A diary. I think it will be good for you. I’m not going to pretend to know what it felt like to live in a village like Lockview, but you obviously need to get some things out of your system. And think of it this way: one day, your children, grandchildren whatever, are going to want to know what it felt like to be ‘Penny Dido: the Creep who used to be human’. You could pass this down, you know.”

“Thanks,” said Penny, flicking through the old, yellowing pages, “thanks a lot, Forrest.”

He patted her on the shoulder and went to the door.

“We’ll be going off to the Tree Festival street party at ten.”

He left the room.

Penny extracted a violet fountain pen from the drawer by her bed, rubbed off some of the congealed ink, and started scribbling.

….

Scare had been transformed. Black pine trees lined the streets, standing gaily between the purple eagle lights. Ribbons and streamers ran between shops; faerie lights hung from every fixture and the clouds above The Cave had been tinted gold. Food stands, performance stages and Ferris wheels and helter-skelters were everywhere. In the middle of the city centre, next to the owl fountain, stood a great tree. It looked more like an oak. The leaves were a healthy green instead of the usual black of the cave. Plastic apples, pears, plums and all sorts of fruit that Penny couldn’t even name hung from the twigs. The fruits had little characteristics to them, things to pay homage to the Creeps they were styled after. The apples wore little pointed hats for witches, the pears had fangs for werewolves and the oranges had tiny bones thrust into them for the skeletons.

“Whoa…” said Penny, but her gasps couldn’t be heard over the yells and screeches from the crowds.

“Toffee apples!” shrieked Riider, pulling Penny towards the stand. She soon brandished three shiny toffee apples and passed them around. The trio passed from stand to stand, eating all manner of sweets before Forrest put a stop to it.

“We’ll ruin our teeth,” he said, wiping treacle from his chin.

“You only get to do this once a year, Forrest!” said Riider.

“We have two more days of this, remember? Let’s stop.”

Penny looked longingly at the giant chocolate fountain, where a large group of Creeps plunged strawberries, marshmallows and honeycomb into the stream. A group of young wraiths were turning themselves invisible to get to the front of the crowd, and a lone warlock laughed as he Body-Bound people, causing them to fall face first into the chocolate.

“Hey!”

Penny, Forrest and Riider turned to see a familiar group of people. Felix Brown and Dami Price took up the front, with Silvia Peters and Shaun Forbes trailing behind.

“Guys!” said Riider, hugging all round whilst Forrest shook hands.

“And the little gal,” said Felix. “How are you, Penny?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

Felix was shoved rather roughly to the side by Dami, who scrutinised Penny and frowned.

“I have heard,” she said, “about what that … man Blythe has done to you. Expect a potion to be made in the next week.”

“Whoa! Er, you don’t have to poison him. I don’t really care about it anymore, to be—”

Dami grabbed Penny by the front and started to shake her.

“Do not make excuses. Of course you care! He is taking advantage of not only your gender but your age! This is a typical trait of men like Blythe Mason, men who are powerful and rich! They walk all over us! They try to get us down! But we will not stand for it! Fight, Penny Dido – teach him a lesson!”

“All right, Dami!” said Riider. “Penny ain’t a criminal!”

Dami sighed, shaking her head in Riider’s direction.

“We can’t let him get away with this. I shall make a potion and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!”

The group looked decidedly uncomfortable, all except for Shaun, who seemed more interested in the gold clouds above them. His usual vacant eyes saw something up there he liked, and he smiled dreamily.

“Well, um … I think they’re doing the opening ceremony … shall we get some seats?” said Silvia.

They were only too happy to comply and went towards the giant oak tree by the owl fountain. A bell sounded and the ground shook. Penny looked around to see if anyone else was worried by this, but those in the vicinity seemed to have been waiting for it. Four concentric semi-circles appeared on the ground behind the oak tree, and from these circles, a series of benches appeared, shuddering as they rose from the ground. They reached several feet in the air, and the waiting Creeps took their seats, with the Gardien bunch taking the front benches.

“Ah … lookit,” said Shaun, pointing a lazy finger towards the approaching crowd. Dagwood and his partner Brian, along with Ulrich Dagger and Josh David appeared, taking their seats beside the rest of Gardien.

The lights dimmed until The Cave was enveloped in the golden light from the clouds. Candles appeared from nowhere, dancing eerily around the benches. The roll of a snare drum cut through the sudden silence, soon accompanied by a bass, and then a sweet trilling sound that could only come from a band of piccolos. The music was so high it seemed to have a hypnotising effect; the Cave crowd was completely silent. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath as the haunting notes from the piccolos rang through Scare. It made the hairs on the back of Penny’s neck stand on end.

The music got increasingly louder until the band of mages came into view, wearing silver gowns and scarves around their heads. They assembled themselves around the oak tree and continued playing whilst another group came into view.

It was a group of Creeps from a reception class. The crowd erupted in awws as the candid faces shone through the darkness, carrying a giant paper structure of what looked like an angel with black wings. The Creeps carried the angel to the tree, touched with lightly with one of the papery fingers, and the leaves exploded into light, enveloping the angel with fire. Penny almost jumped to her feet, but when she saw that no one else cared about the fire, she calmed down, looking on in anticipation as the little Creeps let go of the angel and watched it fly upwards towards the clouds.

And from the leaves, the wraiths were made!” someone said in a booming voice that carried to the topmost benches.

Wraiths appeared from nowhere, some even sprung from the benches, scaring several people. They wore red flaming capes and ruby-studded jewellery, which shimmered as they cartwheeled, danced and spun towards the tree. By now the piccolos had been accompanied by fiddles and harps. The band played merrily as the booming voice appeared for the second time.

The mages came from the branches!”

They looked majestic, all decked out in purple velvet robes with silver and gold stars sprinkled across the hems. The mages walked regally down the same path the piccolos had come, holding their polished staffs as if they were the most precious things in the world. When they were at the foot of the tree, the mages held the staffs high in the air and a flash of lightening danced across the tips, shot up in the air and hit the gold clouds. There was an impossible light as a million stars fell towards the crowd.

From the bark came the vampires!”

There was a loud screech and Riider nudged Penny.

“Look up there!” she said.

Penny followed the wraith’s gaze, and saw, to her amazement, a group of vampires sailing through the air. They must have been leaping ten feet, fangs and teeth barred, their black capes billowing out behind them. They looked pale and stunning and Penny was filled with longing just looking at them. For years she had read about vampires, and now she was only a few feet from them. Their beauty was intimidating, but something about the way they danced to the tree made Penny want to be included into their circle.

She didn’t have time to dwell on this, as the announcer had just summoned the witches, who flew above the crowd on their broomsticks, showering them with phials of some unknown substance. A phial fell in Penny’s lap and she picked it up with her thumb and forefinger. The last time she had seen one of these, she had almost died. Curiosity got the better of her and she unstopped the bottle and sniffed it. Penny was pleasantly surprised to smell brownies.

“Lucky!” said Dagwood beside her. “Sprinkle that on any meal and it will taste like your favourite dessert!”

“Best save that for some really nasty cooking, Penny,” winked Brian.

Penny pocketed the potion just as the announcer bellowed:

And the warlocks came from the roots!”

There were fewer cheers when the warlocks came down the path. A few Creeps hissed and booed from their benches. Dagwood looked at his feet and fiddled with his hands. That gesture made Penny angry.

“Shut up!” she yelled at the crowd behind her, but the noise from the music and the other cheers were so loud that hardly anyone heard her. The ones who did looked at her in bemusement, and Penny saw, to her horror, that James Derby had chosen that moment t to take her picture.

“It’s okay, Penny,” said Dagwood, tugging her chin to make her look back at the ceremony. Penny felt her cheeks flush and she folded her arms tightly across her chest.

By this time, The Cave lightened and the performance Creeps bowed at the cheering crowd. A mage wearing a set of gold robes appeared in a puff of white smoke. Penny jumped, almost forgetting about the hisses and boos the warlocks suffered, but it hadn’t fazed the other Creeps.

“Hello one and all!” he said, revealing that his was the booming voice from before. “I bring you greetings from my family to another Great Tree Festival! Please join me in thanking the kids from Greymalkin’s Academy!”

The crowd cheered louder.

“So much happens in a year! Creeps have come, Creeps have gone, but the Cave Spirit remains! I know that this has been a trying few months, what with a deranged warlock on the loose,” more boos from the crowd, “but please be aware that Gardien is on the case! I just thought I would get that out the way…”

He paused to take a notebook from his robes.

“Millions of years ago, when this world was just a rock in the middle of a blank, black, starry sky, surrounded by the great orbs of our solar system, a great being appeared. We call Him Creepen…”

IT!” hissed Dami, but the mage hadn’t heard.

“Who is that?” Penny asked Dagwood.

“Ross Rowe. He’s the mayor of The Cave.”

Ross Rowe stood in a relaxed manner on the stage, as if he was making a speech at a wedding reception. His wispy hair had streaks of grey in it, and he had bags under his eyes, yet there was a sense of grandness to him that told Penny that his job paid well. He spoke about the Creation with pride in his eyes, waving his hands around dramatically as he spoke about the Tree and all that Creepen had done.

“…And that is how we came to be! A story above all stories, a tale above all tales! We are a body of people that is special and fantastic, no matter what humans may say of us, or other planets may gossip about.

“But there is more to this story, isn’t there? Creepen had a great sister, Sharen, and she inhabited another planet far away from Earth. She was lonely there, just like Creepen, and out of her sorrow a great race of people was born, a race that outshone all the others. But the Creeps were not jealous of this race, the Sharans, as they brought healing and new magic with them when they came to Earth. We in London are lucky to have four Sharans living with us from their home in the Sahara Desert!”

Ross Rowe disappeared in another puff of white smoke and the lights dimmed once again. Gold stars rained onto the crowd and drifted towards the path that all the other performers had come from. There was no music, no noise, no breathing. Penny leaned forward in her seat, waiting for the big entrance of this Sharan race.

And then they came. Dressed in iridescent robes and dresses, two young men and women walked grandly down the path. They had rich copper skin and silver hair; brown eyes and long, pointed ears, like elves. The Sharans had an otherworldly beauty; they were so stunning that their bodies looked to be sculpted by divine hands.

“What are they?” Penny breathed, as the Sharans bowed before them. The music started playing again, and the spell that had been cast on the crowd must have vanished, for they resumed their cheering.

“The most powerful race in this world,” said Dagwood, looking wistful.

As Penny gaped at the quartet, she couldn’t help but notice that the Sharans looked decidedly uncomfortable, as if the attention was embarrassing. Once they were by the tree, they lifted their hands to the leaves. A warm glow enveloped the tip of the tree and then spread down the bark until the very ground it was standing on lit up. There was an explosion of light. Penny felt herself falling to the ground and she closed her eyes instinctively, only to be met with a fanfare upon opening them.

The oak tree had gone, along with the bleachers and the stage to make way for a dancefloor and an array of food stands. Penny looked around in amazement at the now dancing Creeps. She wanted to locate the Sharans, but they had vanished as magically as they had appeared.

“My God,” Penny heard Ulrich say from behind. “What a tacky dancefloor. And why is Claudia Pippin dancing like that? Has she no shame?”

“Come on, Lou!” said Josh, dancing like a maniac, but Ulrich didn’t look impressed. He remained rooted to the spot, staring at all the Creeps in the vicinity with mild disgust.

Dagwood was still fidgeting, his eyes dancing from Creep to Creep. Brian stood awkwardly beside him.

“Erm,” said Brian. “I’ve got Hocus Pocus on DVD. It’s some human film that’s supposed to be good. Want to watch it?”

Dagwood let out a sigh of relief.

“Sure. Let’s go. Goodbye, Penny. Enjoy the festivities,” he added, patting Penny on the shoulder.

“Bye,” said Penny. She turned to see Shaun dancing with Riider, Felix taunting Dami with a black rose, and Forrest and Silvia in deep conversation, both referencing an old copy of Othello.

Penny had just decided to take another look at the giant chocolate fountain when someone grabbed her shoulder. A female mage wearing the same gold robes as Ross Rowe came to stand before her. The mage held her head high and looked down her nose at Penny, her brown hair swept into a bun so tight the female Lockviewians would have looked on in envy. The Creeps closest to Penny and this mage stopped what they were doing to gawk at them.

“Peaches Rowe: daughter of the amazing Ross Rowe and ‘Miss Cave’ 2008 and 2009.”

She held out her hand, but Penny was reluctant to shake it. Some of the spectators whispered at the mutiny, but Peaches seemed unperturbed.

“The spinead is shy! Not to worry, Penny Dido, that is understandable. I officially welcome Penny Dido, first spinead, to The Cave, London!”

Peaches Rowe started to pose in front of the cameras that had materialised before them. Penny slinked off into the crowd, hoping that she wouldn’t come into contact with Peaches Rowe again anytime soon. She found herself next to Felix and Dami, the latter picking several thorns from the tip of his nose.

“That Peaches Rowe,” muttered Dami. “Yet another victim of this patriarchal society we are living in. Miss Cave, I tell you! Does she not realise how demeaning those competitions are?”              

“Mmhmm,” said Penny, who was too busy looking at the beads of blood dripping down Felix’s face. His blood was black.

“Black blood?” she said.

“Erm, yeah,” said Felix, shooting Dami an irritated look. “All Creeps have black blood – even vampires. I’m guessing you thought we were dead, right?” he added with a smirk.

Penny flushed.

“That’s what it said in the horror stories!”

Felix smiled. He then grabbed Penny’s hand and placed it on his chest, which was hard and cold, like wood. He had a heartbeat – slow, but definitely there. She wanted to ask Felix more questions about vampires, but Forrest appeared beside them, folding his book in two and telling Penny that it was time to go home.

“What time is it?” asked Penny incredulously.

“Two a.m., Penny. I’m sure we’ve all had a good enough time.”

Riider was near enough to hear this, but she pretended not to, even when Shaun nudged her shoulder to alert her attention to it. After several minutes, in which Riider had continued to dance desperately on the spot alone, the wraith finally admitted defeat.

“It was just getting good!” she hissed at Forrest when they were on Closet Road.

“But we have to be up early tomorrow,” said Forrest. “Patrol duties,” he added to Penny.

“Well you better make this up to me!”

“In fact,” said Forrest. “Faust is having a Tree Festival dinner tomorrow. What do you say?”

Riider’s eyes widened. She hopped on the spot and started screeching excitedly.

“Who’s Faust?” asked Penny once they were inside.

“My older brother,” said Forrest. “He’s one of the Creeps who work undercover on the maintenance team that looks after Tower Bridge. He closes off the top floor every year to have a Tree Festival dinner. It’s all very fun. He’d love to meet you.”

“Tower Bridge,” said Penny. The last time she saw Tower Bridge, she was with Tarquin Blood, and that hadn’t been a happy experience. But she was with Forrest and Riider, who were sure to protect her if anything went wrong.

“Sounds fun,” she said finally.

Her eyes felt heavy and she yawned. Penny hadn’t even realised that she had in fact been tired. She couldn’t get to her bed sooner.

 

Chapter Eleven: The Rumour on the Bridge

Chapter Eleven: The Rumour on the Bridge

Chapter Nine: Gardien

Chapter Nine: Gardien