The Magic Quill No. 163: The Golden Cap
Contest winner: Sir Read-a-Lot
All the ghosts in Venice were rioting. Head Quidditch hooligans, every one of them. Il Comte di Bestemmia winced at the sound of massed wailing, moaning, and rattling of chains. The walls of his compound dripped ectoplasm as ghostly apparitions of severed body parts were hurled at them like pieces of rotting fruit. It was giving him a splitting headache.
"Ombra," the wizard called weakly, shuddering as an army of ghosts marched below his window playing musical saws. "Fetch my manual of exorcism, if you please."
A simpering house-elf ran out of the room. While il Comte waited for his return, something went crash in the garden. He hurried, muttering, to a window on another side of the room. The beastly ghosts were getting into his greenhouse now! Il Comte wrung his hands, thinking about some extremely rare plants that might not recover from the cold, clammy touch of these unquiet spirits. "What is taking that elf so long?" he wondered aloud.
All his attention was focused on the lagoon side of his private island, from which more ghosts were still rising from the sickly fog over the water. So il Comte did not notice a separate disturbance developing on the canal side. In a small square just opposite il Comte's jetty, Rigel was encircled by five burly figures cloaked in heavy furs. He turned round and round in a defensive posture while rummaging in his parallel-universe pocket locker. His assailants seemed content, for the moment, to wait and see what interesting weapon he would come up with.
Rigel's fingers closed around something. He pulled it out with a triumphant "Ha!" The defiant gleam in his eyes changed to dull grimness when he saw what he held. It was a rubber chicken.
Before he could recover from this disappointment, the first of his opponents charged. Rigel flourished the chicken in its face before stepping aside. The wind of the giant's passage caused the young wizard's robes and hair to flutter. A flapping hem of the attacker's fur cloak slapped against Rigel's calf.
For a moment the five cloaked men stamped and pawed. Then the one most directly behind Rigel charged. He felt rather than heard its approach, felt it in the ground vibrating underfoot. He turned and smacked it in the face with the broad side of the chicken. When a third opponent came at him, Rigel stuck out his foot and tripped him. The fellow went stumbling out of the circle.
"It's a lucky thing the bad guys always attack one by one," Rigel mused aloud. Then he added, "Whoops," as four massive figures closed on him at once. He crouched down and rolled through their legs, laughing at the sound of their bodies colliding and the brief bout of shoving and cuffing that followed it.
Now Rigel was outside the circle. He turned to face a line of five gigantic men. No, not men... yaks.
"Yikes," Rigel squeaked. He started backing away, digging once more in his pocket.
The next thing he pulled out was a golden cap. The Golden Cap, rather. Rigel allowed himself a half-second's distraction as he recalled purchasing it at Jude the Insecure's "From Out of This World" outfitter. He racked his brains, trying to remember whether he had used it twice or three times...
The yaks took a step toward him. Rigel was not keen on turning his back on them. Did yaks have an instinct to chase anything that ran from them, he wondered? He walked backwards, faster, risking a glance over his shoulder as he turned the cap round and round in his hands.
"Well, there's nothing for it," he told himself when his back bumped wall. He tugged the cap onto his head. The yaks were a dozen meters away now. Standing on his left foot, Rigel chanted: "Ep-pe, pep-pe, kak-ke!" Seven meters and closing. Shifting to his right foot, he intoned: "Hil-lo, hol-lo, hel-lo!" Three meters! On both feet now, Rigel screamed: "Ziz-zy, zuz-zy, zik!"
The nearest wereyak was so close by now that Rigel could smell its breath. It reeked of rancid butter, fermented tea, damp fur, and a sweet, gassy, grassy scent. Slobber dangled from the creature's lips. Its nose was damp with yak bogies.
"I'm only going to say this once," said Rigel warningly. The wereyaks stopped. Swallowing with an audible gulp, he added: "Surrender now, and it will go easier for you."
The yak in front of him snorted. Foul-smelling snot splattered the front of Rigel's robes.
"All right then," Rigel said in a shaky but grim voice. "Give these dirty beasts a bath, boys!"
The air was suddenly filled with the flapping of wings, screeches and howling laughter. The already shadowy corner of the square darkened even more as the space overhead filled with a squadron of diving, grasping creatures.
The yaks turned and bellowed. Rigel edged toward a nearby alley, barely wide enough for his thin shoulders, and darted away from the ensuing melee.
Moments later, he found himself on the edge of the canal. Il Comte's private jetty stood but a stone's throw away. It might as well have been miles, with the waters in between infested with merpeople who served that cruel master. In the distance, he could see flashes of light as the ghosts, at his instigation, continued their riot. It seemed they were trying to burn down il Comte's gatehouse, using ghostly torches that burned only on their own, insubstantial plane. He sighed and shook his head, then began digging around in his pocket again. There had to be something to get him across the water...
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #165 +++
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