London, present day, midnight.
The dead have a lot of unfinished business. The living have little time; the dead live for eternity. So they toil endlessly, striving to keep the wheels of the living world running. I have witnessed it since the beginning of life, nay, since the beginning of death. I have watched generations of ghosts and spirits wear thin, trying to figure solutions for their children’s problems.
We have our channels- the souls with one foot in the living world, the other in the dead—the vampires. We also have mighty hands at work, the werewolves. And we have our problems- the zombies. Not very different from your living world, you say? Ah, but there is a difference- the dead work as a team.
We are influenced by modernization just the same. Our problems are now as virtual as real, and as global as local. We need reform.I need my keeper to emerge once more—this place of the dead needs a rebirth.
It is the night of the full moon. I watch two men walk side by side. One pale, the other hairy. And a beautiful woman totters behind them, clutching her handbag. I smile as they push open my rusted gates. My signboard reads-Highgate Cemetery.
(A few hours earlier)
Isis Alarie drew three cards from her deck. They were sitting in her den, with her tarot cards arranged in a cross on a round table.
Pale complexion, cyanotic lips, jet-black hair combed back, the man opposite her had not aged a day in the three decades she had known him.
“Please end the suspense, dearest Isis.” Count Drake murmured.
She laid the first card down- the Emperor!
“I knew it! The keeper of the dead, the Lord of the cemetery!”
Isis laid down the second card, face-up- the Bear.
“What does that mean?” The vampire’s ample forehead furrowed.
“The Bear stands for ambition, leadership; and introspection. It…”
“Say no more, dear girl! You have always been my lucky charm. Ever since I met you playing with that deck of tarot cards when you were seven. You are gifted!”
“Wait, there’s more.” Isis turned the Bear face down.
“What does that mean?” The forehead furrows were back. There was blood spattered on the back of the card.
“That you must have your dinner before today’s meeting.”
Both turned around to the familiar baritone.
“When did you come? I did not catch your scent.”
“Because you were busy gloating over your imminent victory.” Dr Gray smiled through his thick beard.
“You think so?” The king of vampires asked pensively.
“Only because I, the Alpha werewolf, am not interested in the coveted position. What does a keeper do anyway?” Dr Gray scratched his nape.
“Gray, how often have I told you not to belittle the great achievements of our magickal world.”
“I bet you have lost count?” The werewolf grinned.
“This blood spatter keeps reappearing…” Isis stepped in between the squabbling pals.
The trio looked on as she wiped away the blood. It materialized again, fresher.
“The vampire will constantly suck blood after he becomes the keeper.” Dr Gray mocked.
“Go on and the blood will be yours.” Count Drake rose from his chair.
He turned to Isis while walking towards the door, “We’ll pick you up at half-past eleven.”
“Why me?” Isis shuddered.
“You must be with me when they umm…crown me…” Count Drake lowered his voice, “Besides, with that blood spatter, I would want my lucky charm to be around.”
A reassuring glance from the werewolf was all Isis needed to nod in consent.
This duo was the closest she had to guardians. And safety was the least of her worries.
Isis switched off the lamp casting mysterious shadows on her impassive face. The last client was out of the door. Time to raise the curtain.
She sat on her rocking chair, wondering again, what made her click?
She had inherited the tarot reading business from her late mother, along with the hacks and body language reading skills she employed to ‘predict’ the cards for her clients. And she had turned it into a successful enterprise. From social media hackers to traditional detectives, she made use of all information available to make her ‘precise’ predictions. Her tech-savvy mind coupled with the mystic aura she pretended to carry had the affluent and the power-hungry clamouring for her appointments.
Was it plain luck? Some of the long shots she had taken had changed the course of economy for a few business empires, and the course of matrimony for many others. How does it happen all the time? A question that puzzled herself as much as her rivals.
Was it possible to consistently excel at something you did not love?
Running this scam could have been thrilling, as it was for her mother. But for her, it was just a drag. A rewarding one.
Isis glanced at her watch. Almost time. She cracked her knuckles. She was not scared- the Highgate Cemetery was a familiar place. Her father was buried there. A tombstone with no epitaph. A father she knew nothing about. She had chased butterflies hovering over the shrubbery. She had smelled the wildflowers that seemed to bloom wider every time she visited. The cemetery was a warm, welcoming place.
Why was she uneasy then?
She clutched the third tarot card she had drawn for Count Drake.
They were here. She hastily put the card in her handbag and hurried out.
“You are just a familial anaemic, your ancestors drank blood to compensate for the lack of iron. You could modify your diet now, you know. And blood transfusion is possible now.” Dr Gray unlatched the gate of the cemetery and the trio entered.
“My immortality must have some scientific explanation too?” Count Drake flashed a lopsided grin.
“Of course! You have a genetic mutation that prevents the process of ageing. Like I have one that makes me hirsute and all-powerful.” Dr Gray replied matter-of-factly.
Isis was no longer listening to them. She walked ahead; her beatific face illuminated by the full moon.
“Owwwww!” The werewolf growled.
“Don’t you have a scientific solution to curb your howling?” Count Drake looked exasperated, as the werewolf shifted shape into his wolf form.
They caught up with Isis, who had stopped at a grave.
“How’d you know the grave of Father Cemetery?” Count Drake eyed her admiringly.
Isis did not reply. She looked fondly at the tombstone with no epitaph.
“So how does this…selection work?” The wolf barked.
“In my six centuries as an elder Vampire, not once have I witnessed the selection. The last keeper was a werewolf, before my time.”
The grey wolf lifted his head,” What is that smell?”
The trio looked in one direction after the other.
“We are surrounded!” Count Drake shrieked, baring his razor-sharp fangs. There were hordes of zombies stumbling forward.
“They are peculiar!” The vampire squinted to focus.
The zombies were obese, thrusting forwards, heads bent, looking into devices held in one hand. No pale skin, no maggots. No smell of death.
“That’s because they are living zombies-lombies. They are absorbed in their virtual world, fighting enemies on their electronic devices.” The wolf snarled.
The ‘lombies marched ahead, their eyes scorching red, glued to the illuminated screens. They winced and swayed; dodging bullets aimed at their heads by enemies hidden behind the screen.
And they raised their daggers, fervently stabbing in the air.
“Zombie-World!” Isis screamed.
The vampire and the werewolf stared blankly at her.
“That’s a mobile game…you know, the kind you play on the screen.”
The duo shrugged under the weight of centuries of ignorance related to all matters technological.
“The one in which you are a zombie… and you try to kill the vampires and werewolves and witches…They try blowing your head off with a bullet…and you go stabbing them…” She offered helpfully.
The ‘lombies’ were advancing at a snail’s pace. “EvenI might run out of time before they attack us.” The vampire snorted.
“Not so fast. Look at their daggers.” The wolf stared at the daggers, half wood, half silver, “Their pace might not worry us, but their sheer numbers should.”
Their feet shuffled rhythmically; their eyes never peeled away from the screens.
“Their game seems to have possessed them.” Count Drake drew in his breath, ready to go for the jugular.
“Someone seems to have possessed their game.” The werewolf crouched, preparing to leap as well.
“The bear!” Isis shot up. “A bear card could mean an upheaval…”
The werewolf motioned to a grave a few meters away. It looked freshly dug, from inside out; with an empty coffin within.“So, an unusually smart dead mind is at work.”
“Aargh!” a shriek pierced the slow thumping of the marching crowd.
One of the flailing daggers had accidentally stabbed a lombie. A fountain of blood sprayed across the screens of a hundred lombies. They looked up in unison, jolted from their trance. They directed their attention to the trio in the centre, quickening their pace.
“Stand back, my girl!” The vampire leapt in front of Isis, even as the werewolf pounced on the lombies.
From every corner of the city, a thousand lombies seemed to teem, spilling into the cemetery. They surrounded the vampire and the werewolf, slicing into their flesh with their daggers.
Suddenly, the stench of rotting flesh permeated the air. The lombies tore themselves apart, to make way for a sole shadow, that glided from the freshly dug grave to the grave of Father Cemetery.
As if on cue, the lombies around him bowed reverently.
“All hail, as I lie in the grave, and claim it…and become the keeper!” A cracking voice emanated from the shadow.
Count Drake and Dr Gray strained to break in, as the lombies danced in a thousand circles in ecstasy, with their eyes eerily glued to their screens.
Isis stood, whispering to herself. The emperor-the ruler. The bear- the upheaval, striking at the right time. And the third card. The swan, the ace of cups. Realising your own beauty. The moment you rise above ignorance about yourself.
It was her!
She tore through the maze of lombies, and they fell back as if struck by lightning. As she stepped beside the grave, the coffin lid fell open, and the light of a million full moons radiated from it. A sword rose from the coffin and fell at her feet.
The lombies shrieked, the werewolf howled, the earth shook…and the fetid shadow bent over to seize the sword. The moment it touched the gleaming metal, it went up in emerald flames.
The lombies wailed, still staring at their screens. And then their screens snapped dead, with a single flicker. A million devices died in a moment.
They looked up from their screens, their bent necks creaking at the unaccustomed movement.
There stood Isis, wielding the heavy sword like it were a feather. A flickering current radiated out from the tip of the sword, fanning like a net high above. The nemesis of all electromagnetic devices was here, and the new keeper stood by, flashing a million-watt smile at her wounded guardians.
A mad mob of the undead- bats, wolves and the like flooded the cemetery, to stand in solidarity with the King Vampire and the Alpha wolf.
The lombies with their sore eyes slumped on the ground, prodding chubby fingers at their dead gadgets.
You have the gift of seeing the future, my dear daughter. You ‘predict’ much better when you do not cheat. Your success is not incidental, your devices were faulty.
As for the job of the keeper, you were born to be. And you have plenty of help. An affectionate vampire, a cerebral werewolf, and a thousand-year-old cemetery for a father. What else do you need? Some overgrown shrubbery, a few wildflowers, butterflies to chase, and a deck of tarot cards.
The prompts allocated to me were: Tarot reader, Highgate cemetery, Bear, Blood spatter
Highgate Cemetery: A famous cemetery in London, known for the famous figures buried there, including Karl Marx. It has been featured in several horror movies.