KNIGHTS OF MELION,
(APRIL 21, 1912)
To most people, the Knights of Melion was simply a fraternal organization that had been founded, in 1880, by veterans from both sides of the American Civil War. An organization with regional lodges all around the country. And, with the president of each lodge required to give the same speech to each year's crop of newly sworn-in members.
Lewis Cross--formerly a captain in Mosby's Rangers; now, President of the Stockton Lodge--hobbled up to the podium to give that speech.
He told the audience the legend of Sir Melion. A Knight of the Round Table who was turned into a wolf by a magical spell cast by his unfaithful wife and her lover. He told of how the poor man had to spend the next seven years roaming the harsh wilderness of sixth-century Briton. And of how Sir Melion finally achieved justice for himself before the fully assembled court of King Arthur.
"The moral of that story is that one should never judge by appearance, alone. Unfortunately, most people either forget--or just plain ignore--that fact, more often than not. Yet, you are no longer most people. You are now Knights of Melion! So, when you go out amongst the less fortunate, seeking to do good on their behalf, you must look _beneath_ the surface. Because, if they were born with any true nobility, at all, that is where you will find it. More often than not. I thank you."
Naturally, he was given a standing ovation.
Ten minutes--and a hundred shaken hands--later, one of the waiters hired for the reception handed him a calling card. The little white square had black lettering which read:
"Howard A. Phillips.
Below that, scrawled in pencil, was a parenthetical instruction to turn the card over. Whereupon, he read the following Biblical verse (evidently printed with the same pencil).
"O, Death, where is thy sting?"
Lewis immediately used his cane to hobble to the sound-proofed room that served as his office. Waiting for him there was a scholarly-looking man, in his early fifties, wearing a gray suit (with matching cloak and top hat) and pince-nez spectacles.
The two men shook hands.
"Mr. Phillips, I presume?"
"Your servant, sir. Although, actually, it's Professor Phillips."
"I see. And how can I be of assistance to you all?"
The fifty-three year-old professor removed a beige folder from underneath his left arm and gave it to the ex-Confederate.
"This was delivered to me from the Manhattan Lodge, by special messenger, three days ago."
"Three days?!" echoed Lewis, incredulously, as he sat down: "How'd you get it out here, so fast."
"It wasn't easy. I had to go by express train to Chicago; by Curtiss seaplane, to San Francisco; and from there to here in a Stanley Steamer Raceabout! If bureaucratic string-pulling was an Olympic event, I'd be the gold medalist, right now."
Lewis smiled...until he saw the photographs in the folder.
Each one showed what looked like an apple-core doll next to a wooden ruler. Hurriedly, he grabbed a nearby magnifying glass with his right hand, and re-examined the photos. Then, he looked up.
"They used to be the captain and crew of the 'Mother Carey's Chicken.' A fishing boat out of Long Island. A Revenue Marine cutter, searching for survivors of the Titanic, found them adrift in a lifeboat from that very ship. And, of course, the first officer initially assumed they were just abandoned children's toys. That is; till he saw one of them actually struggling to breathe!"
"Good Lord!" muttered Lewis: "Where are they now?"
"In medical isolation at the Fort Jay infirmary on Governor's Island. Along with the officers and crew of the cutter! As to how we confirmed the identities of these poor souls? It wasn't easy. But, the Fort Jay provost marshal managed to fingerprint them. And, luckily for us, the New York City Police did have a set of matching prints on file. From a drunken waterfront brawl, last year!"
"Have all the other lodge presidents been notified?"
Phillips nodded, adding: "The Fort Jay chaplain has likewise contacted the Apostolic Delegation, in Washington. But, even with Marconi wireless, it will take some time for the Vatican to activate the American Benandanti."
Lewis shook his head, while simultaneously massaging the bridge of his nose.
"Thus, do our worst fears come to pass, after almost half a century."
* * * * *
(OCT. 31, 1919)
The Halloween play party had ended an hour ago. Lewis Cross was now alone in his private second floor room. He wrapped the shawl, draped across his shoulders, more tightly about himself as another hacking cough racked his seventy-nine year-old, wheelchair-bound body.
"Dang it!" he swore to himself, as he nearly lost his grip on the rubber hot water bottle beneath the shawl.
"Lewis!!!" a female voice suddenly exclaimed in exaggerated shock: "Is that the kind of language a pillar of this community is supposed to utter?"
The ex-Confederate army officer looked up, squinting into the dim light.
"Who is it? Who's there?"
Two auburn-haired women stepped forward. Each one wearing what resembled a semi-strapless Roman toga. And each one standing...
...over seven feet tall.
"Hello, Lewis," said the one who had spoken first.
"Long time/no see," added the one to her left.
Lewis could not help gasping.
"Charlotte? Deirdre?? Good Lord! You haven't aged a day."
Feral grins appeared on both of the Sillitoe twins' faces, at the same time.
"Eternal youth," replied Charlotte: "That's just one of the blessings one can expect when one worships...the Melissae."
"You can receive that blessing, too," added Deirdre: "All you have to do is give yourself to Labia. The same way you promised to give yourself to Heraclitoris!"
"Think of it, Lewis," continued Charlotte: "Once you're rejuvenated, it will be as if you never caught the Spanish flu! You'll be strong and virile for the rest of eternity."
The septuagenarian glared at them.
"As if I never caught it?" he echoed: "I know full well she was the cause of it! From the moment the Titanic inadvertently released her from her icy prison, she's been traveling the world. Infecting innocent people's bodies, with her evil, when she couldn't infect their souls. I'll never submit to such, voluntarily. Any more than I did with her sister!!"
The two empusae glared back at him, pure malevolence in their respective gazes. Then, they grinned once more, as a third woman appeared behind them.
A ten foot-tall woman with long, raven-black hair.
"You talk as if we were giving you any choice, Lewis," chorused the Sillitoe twins.
Whereupon, the empusa called Labia began to crawl on her hands and knees (like a cat stalking a mouse) towards the elderly invalid. Which, in turn, gave the latter a clear view of the former's bare breasts. Provocatively exposed (along with, to a lesser extent, her legs) beneath a trailing black-feathered cloak.
The moment she was face-to-face with Lewis, her canine teeth instantly--and fearsomely--elongated. She then carefully lowered her wide-open mouth towards the jugular vein of Lewis' throat. Whereupon, Lewis exposed his hot water bottle...
...and the sawed-off Greener shotgun behind it.
The twelve-gauge shells that tore through the rubber vessel sent holy water splashing into Labia's face! And, as the shells had been filled with wheat flour, some of the water droplets became particles of paste. Adhering themselves to Labia's face, and searing her flesh like acid!!
Furthermore, when she instinctively reached up to try and wipe off the paste, her hands likewise became stuck. The holy water thereby burning them, too.
Meanwhile, Lewis had not been sitting idly by. With his now-free left hand, he withdrew a single-action Rogers and Spencer revolver (in .44 caliber) and began firing it at Labia. Successfully managing to plant three blessed steel-jacket bullets into her upper torso, at point blank range, before Charlotte lunged forward with a roar. Throwing the seventy-nine year-old man against the far right-hand wall!
When she tried to finish him off, however (using her own elongated fangs), she suddenly began experiencing a burning pain within her own upper torso. Courtesy of a Colt .45 Model 1911 being fired by Jack "the Hammer" Martelli. Meanwhile, Deirdre was being similarly pumped full of "lead" by the Model 1898 Mauser of Matthew Lancer. As a result?
The two empusae fell to the floor, writhing in pain as they burst into blames. But, while each of these men began to reload, in order to finish off Labia, the elder empusa took advantage of the opportunity to spring at them. Knocking them aside, as she stood up to her full height. Thereby putting a hole in the ceiling and crawling out through it on to the roof of the lodge! From there, she leaped into the air. Taking on the appearance of a raven, in the process.
But, one roughly the size of a golden eagle.
The two mercenaries regained their feet and went over to examine Lewis. They had no concerns about his other two attackers, as the latter were now just ashy silhouettes.
"D-D-Did we...do it?" whispered Lewis, as they propped him up against the wall, as gently as possible.
Lancer shook his head.
"We were only two-thirds successful, I'm afraid."
"We'll find it, Lew. I give you my word."
With that reassurance, Lewis Cross (Captain, Confederate States Army, retired) was able to meet his Maker in peace.
Sillitoe Twins: see A "SMALLER" SHADE OF GRAY.